Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Koyaanisqatsi: Iowa Floods

One of my favorite movies is Koyaanisqatsi. It's a film by Godfrey Reggio with a soundtrack by Philip Glass. The title is a Hopi Indian word meaning life out of balance or a state of life that calls for another way of living. It seems to me that one of the basic themes of the movie is that Man has gotten out of balance with the world.

I thought about Koyaanisqatsi as I read Joel Achenbach's article Iowa Flooding Could Be An Act of Man just as I thought about it when hearing about other floods including the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Let me be very clear about this: I am not blaming the individuals who are the victims of these floods. I feel great sympathy for them. I just think that groups of people (helped by governments) have made decisions about how to develop along the Mississippi that are out of balance with Nature.

Mankind in general and Americans in particular often get the idea that we can control anything by shear force of intellect and will. Sometimes when we go too far, Nature does its thing and our man-made plans go down the drain or up in flames. This happens with floods, fires, drought, and other natural disasters. Why do we build cities in flood plains? In Deserts? On landfills on top of tectonic faults?

When I was younger, I thought of levees as acts of violence against everyone downstream. Now, I also think of them as acts of hubris. Every time we build a levee, we are screwing with Nature's way and continuing to build societies that are out of balance.

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