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Panorama Miami City – Florida – USA
Photo Credit: Ralph Nas / Pixabay

This is the fourth in the series of my reflections on the “shifts of being” proposed by Jem Bendell in Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos (UK/USA 2021).

#1: Reflections on the Nature of Being
#2: Reflections on Entitlement
#3: Reflections on Surety or Certainty

Jem Bendell uses the word “control” in e-s-C-a-p-e ideology to describe the idea among modern cultures in the West and worldwide that it is possible for the human, both individually and collectively, to control the environment and others, and that it is good to do so (Bendell, p. 131). As evident in the vast urban centers worldwide, we humans have succeeded in transforming our natural world to fit our needs. Yet, given global ecological collapse underway and the frequency of extreme global climate events as our planet grows hotter, it should also be evident that we are not in control of our natural world upon which our lives depend.

When the dangerous Category 4 Hurricane Ian struck the west coast of Florida on September 28, 2022, with maximum sustained winds of 155 miles (249 kilometers) per hour and a storm surge of 12 to 18 feet (3.6 to 5.5 meters), the people in its path had to get out of its way or hunker down, hoping for the best. Not everyone who sheltered in place survived Nature’s fury. Others returned home to find their neighborhood trashed beyond recognition. Faced with such a life-altering event, we realize that our control is lost in the rubble.

Though we have little or no control over our own lives, we assume control over others by applying labels to people we deem inferior and not worthy of the same basic human rights and self-determination. People become trash, the hordes, the deplorables, the anarchists, the fascists, the mob, unpatriotic, the enemy. They are no longer humans like you and me, or members of our tribe. Clouded by our delusion of superiority, we hide our human weaknesses from others…even from ourselves. In this way, we assume the right to control “the other” for our own purposes.

Bendell notes (p. 132): This othering and alienation among ourselves, or the group we identify with, are dehumanizing and allow us to ignore the plight of others or perpetuate abuses.     

As a young adult of a poor developing country, I learned that I had little control over my life. Our economic prosperity depended upon global market forces beyond my control. I could only control the way I handled my personal income. Frugality was the order of the day. Later, during the years I raised my two sons in Brazil as a sole provider, this, too, became an enormous task with a fixed income while the Brazilian economy suffered from persistent hyperinflation. My credit card kept food on the table. Until I was able to earn more, a monthly recurring credit card debt jeopardized my sleep and well-being.

Now that my sons are independent adult males, I can no longer try to control what they eat and drink, the friends they keep, choice of partner, political affiliation, and a host of other issues governing their lives. I can only control how I respond to adverse events in our shared lives. That, too, comes with its own limitations. Meanwhile, I do what I can to hold on tight amidst the turbulent winds of conspiracy theories and disinformation dividing our nation and my own nuclear family.

How did we get here?

The ways of men are beyond my understanding, Child of Men. It is Huraca’n, Rider of the Winds, who speaks. I am also known by other names. The ancient indigenous Taíno people of the Caribbean named me Guabancex (gwa-ban-seh), the angry wind goddess. They named my two male companions, the gods of thunder and flood, Guatauba (gwa-ta-ooh-BA) and Coatrisque (ko-ah-tris-keh).

It is not anger that drives my destructive force, Child of Men. The fearsome power of the winds brings balance to the heat across Mother Earth. Men have made this task harder by overheating the air and seas. The greater the heat, the greater my strength and destructive power. Yet, men remain in my path and rebuild again…and again. Could it be that in labeling me and tracking my path, men believe they are somehow in control?

If men do not change their ways, their great cities along the seashore will not withstand the ever-increasing might of the wind, rain, and flood. Take heed, Child of Men.

PBS News Hour: Floridians displaced by Hurricane Ian face decisions on how or if they will rebuild