As is the case after every natural disaster, last week’s deadly flash floods on Rhodes were widely described as “the wrath of God,” “the wrath of nature” and other such stereotypical tripe, which basically explains nothing and, more importantly, serves no purpose whatsoever. And while we are all very well aware of the futility of such superstition, we continue to fail to turn this knowledge into steps that will change the way we do things so that we are not caught unawares each and every time disaster strikes and can, instead, moderate the magnitude of the disaster. The least we can do is try to save lives, such as the three that were lost on Rhodes.
The duty of the state and of a society is to do its best to save lives, not to hide behind age-old superstitions. Nor to revert to ideas that belong to a much more premature stage of cultural development, where awe for nature was given metaphysical dimensions.
No one is saying that we should not have faith, but irrational faith cannot serve as the guiding principle of government policy nor should it shape social behavior. If we allow this, the next stage is the complete dismissal of responsibility and decision making, leaving the heavens to run things instead.
How can the flooding of a stream that has been blocked by trash and construction debris be explained as the work of God? And nature? Does it really manifest itself as a badly built, narrow bridge that is too small to do its job properly, as was the case on Rhodes, or a storm drain system that was never completed ostensibly because of a lack of funds? Nature is not vengeful, as we so monotonously like to say in Greece, neither on a grand scale – as was the case of the Philippines – nor on a smaller one – as was the case in Greece.
The wrath of nature, God or any other supernatural force is our own construction. Because the responsibility for tragedy arising from a natural phenomenon is all ours as well, as is our disregard for what goes on outside our immediate sphere of interest. We think that we can move ahead without considering time and space, without a thought for what may come tomorrow and what may happen somewhere else that may be of concern to us. Instead, we concentrate of getting rid of our rubble in the handiest ravine, building illegally in woods and streams, pouring concrete wherever we please, and so on and so forth. We are certain, you see, that there will be no punishment, which gives rise to another trite saying in Greece: “What is the state doing?” And we know that the state will legalize our illegal buildings and ignore the rubble in the stream either because it needs the money or because it needs the votes. And so tomorrow will find us in the same place we are today: fatalistically observing our own demise.