Saturday, December 02, 2006

Humans and Nature

As I sit here inundated with images of people victimized by typhoon Reming, I wonder how many of the casualties and destruction to property could have been prevented. Were these people aware of the danger they were in? Did they not think of evacuating to some place safer? Were they not warned? And if so, did they pay heed? Or did they opt to take their chances with nature, fatalistically crossing their fingers and themselves, hoping for the best?

The Bicol region is no stranger to the caprice of nature. It is often the entryway of many typhoons. Have they not devised emergency measures to mitigate the effects of such calamities in the past few decades? Storm after storm, the TV networks chronicle the same results; people killed senselessly and infrastructure and agriculture destroyed.

The incidence of poverty in this country seems to coincide with the perennial path of these forces of nature. In the 2000 Poverty Estimate of the National Statistical Coordination Board, these regions are included in the 44 poorest provinces in the Philippines.

Region IV: Marinduque, Quezon, Romblon, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro
Region V: Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Masbate, Sorsogon
Region VI: Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Negros Occidental
Region VI: Bohol
Region VIII: Biliran, Eastern Samar, Northern Samar, Western Samar, Leyte

Fatalism, is a means to adapt to things beyond human control, things like earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, volcano eruptions and typhoons. Fatalism implies living in constant fear of nature. Nature is seen as both provided and destroyer. Its vagaries cannot be understood rationally and so one must learn to live with its desires.

Our people have all sorts of customs and ceremonies in relation to the environment. Often it seems that we plead with it. We pray for rain, we pray for sunshine. We pray for good harvest. We offer sacrifice to nature’s gods. We see ourselves as an integral part of our environment, a decidedly pre-modern view of nature that seems to persist even today.

One of the prerequisites of the march to modernity is Science. Science destroys humanity’s organic relations to nature. Nature is objectified. It is a thing, separate from us human beings. If it seen as an object, then it may be manipulated to suit our purposes. It can be poked and prodded and tamed. With the advent of the sciences, human beings no longer lived in fear of nature, mystified by its seemingly irrational manifestations. The history of capitalism itself is the history of man’s mastery of his environment. Curiously, in other places in the world where capitalism threatens to stretch the limits of nature, people gone back to espousing “environmentalism” and green politics.

If poverty is caused by fatalism which is caused by pre-modern views of the natural world, then what can be done to end poverty in these provinces?

Of course we cannot claim that fatalism and backward notions of nature are the only factors to be considered. There are many others. But culturally, fatalism certainly explains how tragedies wrought by Milenyo and Reming keep occurring in the same provinces year in, year out. Fatalism also explains many other things.

Now flash these images of people pleading for help from their families elsewhere, their families abroad, the local and national government. These TV networks seem to maliciously underline their abject helplessness and we are enjoined to help. As the montage of cadavers, ruined houses and lives unfold, one wonders when calamities such as these will cease making sensational journalism and sensational TV.

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