If it keeps on raining, levee’s gonna break…
I’ve often wondered about synonyms. Is it really just a coincidence that words with different meanings that sound exactly the same, or is it possible that perhaps the meaning has some connection, but the connection has been hidden under the many layers of connotation as language evolves? There are many who believe that it is the sound of the words we exhale that hold the true power, not the definition that we believe the word has. Like the incantation of spells, we speak the world into being.
I muse on etymological matters now because of the crisis at the Oroville Dam. One of the largest dams in the world, and the tallest dam in the United States, Oroville is on the verge of a catastrophic collapse, owing to heavy rainfall and inadequate engineering and maintenance. At least it appears this way, as many of the problems that are now surfacing were recognized years ago, with action delayed only to save the cost. What is the true cost though, we have to ask, when things like this happen? The difference between natural economics and artificial economics, between oikonomika and chrematistics, is the difference between considering the long term ramifications of something and externalizing as many costs as possible for quick profit. In a get rich quick society, it doesn’t matter whether or not someone else may suffer or die down the road for poor decisions, so long as the money comes in and the exit is clean.
Building dams is a tricky business, generally speaking. Yes, beavers do it, and little boys have a seeming natural predilection for damming up streams in the woods, but this is very different from dams of the Hoover or Oroville sort. The ecological ramifications of stopping up an entire river are vast, and many argue against the soundness of such practices. Even if they don’t collapse, the impact of large dams cannot be denied.
So back the etymological question. Where does the word dam come from, and why does it sound exactly the same as damn, the most basic of all curse words? What is it to dam a river? It is to stop it’s flow, to impede it from its natural course. At first glance, there appears to be no connection between this and the idea of being sent to hell, but if one assumes that all souls, created by some loving God, are meant to dwell in the divine presence for all eternity, then to be damned is not so different from the fate of so many dammed rivers. The natural course of the river, returning to its source, the sea, is impeded by an artificial barrier. If the natural course of the soul is to flow through a lifetime in a body before returning to the source, then for it to be dammed (damned) is for it to be impeded from flowing its course. The question is, why dam(n) anything at all? What’s the point? Agriculture, urban water systems, jet skiing, and hydroelectric powers are the textbook answers, but what I want to know is, (and this gets back to the long term view of economics) are we paying too high of a cost?
Nearly two hundred thousand people have been evacuated from downstream of the Oroville Dam, because the danger of a total collapse and a cataclysmic flood are very real. This is not just some metaphor. People’s lives and homes are at risk, and it really has me wondering just what the heck we think we’re doing, interfering with nature for our own profit and convenience. I used to get into with Jerry, my now deceased mentor who was instrumental in the licensing of numerous nuclear power plants, over whether or not nuclear power is safe or justifiable. His argument was that shutting down all the nuclear power plants would only result in more coal plants, which are much worse, as far as pollution goes. Of course, the real solution isn’t to switch from nuclear to coal or hydroelectric. The responsible course would be to re-examine our lifestyle, maybe to lower our demand for electric power.
Jerry just laughed at this idea, perhaps with some justification. How likely is it for humanity to make such a sacrifice, even if to save ourselves from Armageddon? Either a quick death from a wall of raging water or a slow death by radiation sickness are possibilities that seem preferable, to modern humans, to giving up our technocratic lifestyle. We damning ourselves by choosing power over flow.
I don’t mean to wax too philosophical. I do hope to draw attention to the crisis at Oroville, which must be resolved, regardless of what kind of lesson we may learn from the whole situation. I am not in the United States currently and my time online is limited while I travel, but I can at least recommend one extremely informative conversation with a dam safety expert, Scott Cahill, regarding the situation at the Oroville dam. I learned a great deal by listening to it. It is several days old, and I don’t know what the current situation is, but I hope that everyone will take some time to think on this matter, to pray for those whose lives could be ruined by a collapse of this dam, and to contemplate the soundness of our current way of life.
I don’t have all the answers, regarding just how we could pull off such a big change, but a major theme of my life has become advocating such a change, and I know that something’s gotta give. Like the bubble of the artificial, controlled-through-corruption economy, the levee’s gonna break, one of these days. What I want to know, is how long is going to take humans to figure out that civilization, the lifestyle of forcing nature into submission to serve the short term economic interests of mankind, is a dead end? Maybe, like the addict who has to hit rock bottom before he finally decides it’s time to change, an all out collapse is the only thing that will wake enough of us.
But maybe, in the back of many people’s minds, the knowledge that something is deeply wrong with the world is beginning to grow, like the germination of a seed in spring. Maybe those of us who dare to dream of a brighter, saner future, where people don’t make decisions that may damn their progeny to a slow and painful death, can actually begin to make the necessary changes. It is for these changes that I am striving, and I truly believe that better way is possible. We’ve got to get busy, though, because our world truly in peril.
Not to fear, though. God doesn’t dam rivers, nor does he damn people. We do that ourselves. The power is all ours, and if we apply our creativity as fervently towards solutions and towards re-harmonizing our society with natural law as we have applied it creating technology and seeking profits, then we’ll be out of this pickle in a jif. Tune your thoughts, my friends, and remember the timeless way of being.