Monday, October 31, 2005

W Retreat: a book

I was at a writer’s retreat a week ago.  We were given some subjects to expound on, one of which was selecting a book, from memory, that had an impact on us.  Here is my selection and what I wrote about it:

Isaac's Storm: a Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson

The folly of human arrogance towards the nature of weather.

We, as Canadians, have a certain respect for the weather as it appears to us.  The rest of the world, I’m not so sure.

Isaac was a meteorologist at the turn of the century, along the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston, Texas.  The Storm was a bad hurricane coming in from the Gulf as we have seen so very recently.  We have the advantage of the NOAA and satellites watching our every move, but back then only elder weathermen with experience could forecast anything with any degree of accuracy.  It befell upon the Cuban fishermen, protecting their tiny island for so long, to know the warning signs of impending doom.  They had properly forecast the coming onslaught but seeing as their methodology wasn’t up to the 1900’s scientific community standards, they were summarily ignored.

Carnage ensued of course, with Isaac surviving his error in judgement, his complacency and arrogance.  Several thousands lost their lives in this massacre that nature had wreaked upon the unknowing.  I’m not sure it would have made any difference if Isaac had said anything different.  Today’s reality was simple, they couldn’t get everyone out and they tried. Back then transport was even more difficult, although less people may have been involved.  

The storm came in towards the surrounding lake and filled it up with high winds during the afternoon.  As nighttime fell, the winds had changed direction and were now using the back-filled lake to flood the city confines.  The water rose some 10 to 20 feet or more in minutes if not seconds.

Thousands died in the debris.

Isaac cannot be blamed for his ignorance.  Indeed human folly goes way beyond even in our daily lives. Decisions of life and death taken on unknowable terms.

The arrogance however is typically human and self-serving.  In many ways this is what bothers me to the core.  Many of us, especially in business, where so-called acumen is celebrated, remind me so very much of Isaac’s stupidity.  The sheer blindness of our potential failure is cause for concern.

When that blindness is thrust upon others as holy writ, I cringe.  It is one thing to espouse an idea, a plan, a strategy, it is another to thrust it upon the unsuspecting.  Or worse, thrust it upon those of us who know better but do not have the power to change anything.  So it is with religion, so it is with government, so it is with our beloved but so flawed values and mores.

Isaac’s beliefs, and that’s what they were, cost human life and suffering.  Those who trusted were betrayed.  How is this different than our own reality?  We trust in those who govern us, we trust in those who police us.  Even worse, we trust in those looking out for our safety.  Such is society.  A measure of trust is given, and then taken for granted, that is until the killer hurricane comes along and ploughs us under.  Then we bitch and grieve that someone else should have taken better care… someone just like Isaac.

If he were being malicious, it would be easy to condemn him, but he was not.  Isaac was simply being arrogant, just as he has been taught to be by the scientists that trained him.

And what of that old Cuban fisherman who saw this coming.  His credentials were just as solid as those Isaac brought to bear, but in another type of society.  One dismissed for the sole purpose of claiming to be right among scientific circles?  

And this is so very representative of our social reality.


Anonymous Cookie said...

I now wish I had not cancelled out of going to that writer's retreat. You certainly seemed to have enjoyed it. Me, I had to work, flying off to Toronto for the day. I have lost count, but I believe I have been working for 16 days in a row. No end in sight. Talk about tunnel vision!!

I did enjoy reading your text, it is quite powerful and beautiful. The issue it discusses is a testimony to the strange vagaries of the human spirit.

November 03, 2005 6:02 p.m.  

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