TCS Daily

When Your Mother Kills

By Carlo Stagnaro - December 28, 2004 12:00 AM

A tsunami killed more than 40,000 in six Asian countries. Hundreds of thousands are either injured or missing. Cold numbers, however huge, cannot give you an idea of what kind of tragedy occurred. Pictures do. Corpses are lying everywhere, families are destroyed, buildings fall down.

All of this takes our mind away from today's comforts and technologies and gives us a glimpse of the world as it was centuries, if not millennia, ago. Namely, hostile: every single moment of the human adventure on Earth is part of a struggle between man and (mother) nature. Every step forward in our history has moved us toward a more humanized world: cold has been defeated by fire; difficulty to travel has been overcome by the wheel; food scarcity has been tackled by agriculture; the need for energy mitigated by the harnessing of fuel.

Our planet is savage, uncomfortable for men. This is why we still have to struggle against it, in order to make it less harmful. Human ingenuity is a powerful tool against the natural forces' challenge: we may, and should, go on and on, finding a way to innovation and harm reduction.

For instance, the Netherlands have been for centuries under the sea level. Nevertheless, they survive due to the technological knowledge and capital that have been developed thanks to the incentive created by free trade. Poor countries have nothing like that available: this is why natural phenomena tend to be more painful and lethal there.

Actually, the obvious gravity of the earthquake in Asia doesn't change the fact that there's a trend towards a more skilled approach to natural disasters. Thanks to scientific progress and a stronger control over nature, the number of victims due to natural disasters is declining. Death rate has fallen by 98 percent in the last century: it fell from an average of 66 every 100,000 killed yearly in early '900, to 1.4 every 100,000 in the '90s. In absolute terms, this means that -- despite the demographic boom which occurred in the meantime -- the number of killed has fallen from 1.2 million casualties at the beginning of the century to 77,000 at the end of it. This is still too many, but it has significantly improved in the last few decades.

Whatever the Gaia worshippers believe, nature is not a man's friend. By their stewardship over the environment, humans make it ordered and beautiful; natural forces can be a wellspring of life; but if they are not harnessed or controlled, they can bring about destruction and ugliness -- as they did in half a dozen countries on Monday.

Such is the lesson from the Christian tradition. As Rev. Michael Beers points out, if every feature of the Creation is found by God the Creator as "good," only man is defined as "very good." Only man is blessed saying, "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth."

Writes Rev. Beers:

"For a single human being to starve or to lack the means of livelihood because of deference shown to any other created being, animal, or plant, is a denial of the dignity that humanity alone enjoys, that dignity that Saint Francis recognizes to be uniquely the highest in all the created order. Many environmentalists will present the depletion of the Amazon rain forests as an argument for creating nature preserves to be kept free of all 'unnatural' human intrusion. This, however, is nothing more than a 'straw man' argument, for they refuse to acknowledge that nature has, in fact, over millennia depleted these forests to a far greater degree than has the human use and development of these resources; this is the natural order of things."

After all, those who campaign on a daily basis for population control should toast at every tsunami.

Anyway, it is now the time to get down to work. The countries that were struck by the tsunami are looking for a future, that may come only thanks to the free market. Foreign aid may help, but that's not the key. The key is the creation of wealth in order to make those places even more pleasant than how they used to be before the tragedy. Everything has to be reconstructed, brick after brick -- no matter if bricks and cement are politically incorrect.


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