Like everyone else, I’ve been closely watching the events in Japan over the last week. The tragedies arising from the earthquake and the resulting tsunami are powerful enough to defy easy attempts at explanation. Still, that hasn’t stopped us from trying, and a tension has emerged between those who see in the disaster hubris on the one hand, tenacity on the other.
Events like this, says the first camp, are reminders that we humans, like the rest of the life on this planet, are at the mercy of forces greater than ourselves. We can put men on the moon, but we can’t save ourselves from nature’s fury. By contrast, the second camp, while acknowledging the terrible reality of the disaster, is encouraged by the fact that human ingenuity has, if not averted it, at least drastically reduced its scale. The Sendai earthquake was a thousand times more powerful than that which hit Haiti just over a year ago. However, due to strict building codes, sophisticated warning systems, and prudent emergency planning, the death toll, while still significant, is over a hundred times lower. We cannot conquer nature, but at our best we can strongly curtail its destructive power.