In defiance of a tragedy foretold

Coming away from the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review hearings in Old Massett and Skidegate this past month, and after a few days of letting everything settle, I still feel the strength of many good people, and I am inspired and encouraged by the stories of my friends and neighbours. There was a lot of dignity and respect shown in the JRP hearings and I believe it has spoken well for all of us — in difficult circumstances.

But, when the light is gone at night, and the silence falls, like so many others, I encounter the great shadow of dread, the fear of forces gathering in dark places that I can’t see. The black phantom of my nightmares rises out of the darkness and I can hear the beat of its wings. I have a name for it – I call it hubris.

Hubris stalks our land and the waters of our seas— huge, voracious, arrogant, deluded with the power of its own purposes.

Hubris is a word out of old Greek texts, and it means overreaching pride. It’s about marching around like a god when you’re not. Hubris means meddling with forces you don’t understand and paying the deadly price of the consequences. Hubris is about foolish pride that oversteps itself  and cannot foresee the punishment that mother nature will exact when treated with disrespect.

At one time western European culture knew all about hubris and its outcomes. The ancient Greeks wrote wonderful dramas about the fateful downfall of heroes — caused by hubris. I remember learning these in school, and was always direly impressed with the death, murder and mayhem that followed fast upon exploits of pride and arrogance. And I could particularly relate to the chorus of figures, shrouded and masked, who swayed back and forth out of the shadows chanting baleful forewarnings to the doomed hero and his approaching end.

But, somewhere in time, around the dawn of the age of science and reason, through the industrial revolution, and especially after the rise of corporations as superpowers, the lessons of hubris seem to have been forgotten and a collective amnesia induced.  In the glitz of commerce and the glut of stuff, how could anyone ever have believed that corporations are gods and technology will conquer all – including the titanic forces of the earth, the water and the sky?

In their hubris corporations have roared into the tar sands with monstrous machines, ripping up acres upon acres of wetlands in Alberta to dig out oily sand and clay. They intend to cut through two mountain ranges, blast tunnels through kilometres of solid rock, cut into the wilderness of northern British Columbia, track along numberless stream and rivers, and once they have reached the sea at Kitamaat, to contract out some of the largest supertankers on earth to ship bitumen through dangerous inland waterways, out to the high seas and all the way across the Pacific Ocean to China.

What on earth is it that makes people think that they can do all that perfectly, without misstep or error, and refuse to comprehend risk or acknowledge horrendous consequences?

Obviously, the lessons of the Exon Valdez in Alaska and the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf have not been learned. The federal government and the proponents of the Enbridge pipeline remain deliberately deaf to all the sure proofs of what happens when human beings overreach their abilities.

Like a Greek chorus chanting on the stage in unison, in the theatre of the JRP hearings,  a collective voice has sounded deep and resonant saying NO! to those foolish enough to think they can so carelessly tromp over the knowledge, principles and values of the peoples and cultures of Haida Gwaii.

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About blue sea sky

By Cynthia Jones Davies, writer researcher who lives on Haida Gwaii.
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