by Charles Marowitz
(Swans - February 14, 2005) In Shakespeare, natural disasters always foreshadow the dissolution of the state. In Julius Caesar, for instance, the assassination of the emperor is preceded by inexplicably powerful storms; in Lear, the doddering king's downfall is accompanied by howling rain and turbulence, and in The Tempest, Prospero conjures up storms and shipwreck in order to right the wrongs he has suffered at the hands of his usurping brother, Antonio.
Is it too fanciful to believe that the "dogs of war" unleashed in Afghanistan and Iraq and the present administration's incursions into civil liberties, preemptive strikes and acceptable torture are in some unverifiable way related to the disaster in the Indian Ocean which has swept away over 120,000 souls with thousands more marked for death? Is it a pitiful descent into superstition to believe that there is some symbiosis between the force of Nature and mortal actions?
Was the biblical deluge anything more than God's anger and exasperation at the failure of His human experiment? Is global warming, perforations in the ozone layer and its attendant pollution only a continuation of His discontent with our inability to preserve the sanctity of the earth we inherited from Him "in the beginning?"
We analyze tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes with our scientific equipment and arrive at hypothetical conclusions to reassure ourselves that, despite being subject to forces beyond our control, we are still in control of our universe. But it takes only one inexplicable catastrophe to shake our confidence and incline us to search for causes beyond the realm of human happenstance.
No, I don't think that AIDS is a plague sent by the Maker because he is rattled by the idea of gay marriages, nor do I believe an angry god is punishing the earth because Sukarno corrupted Indonesia or Bush is trampling on the American Constitution, but I do believe that the energy of evil can coalesce with matter and produce global tremors that can shake the planet to its foundations.
I believe it because I have seen how accumulations of negative energy can erupt into quarrels, mayhem and uncontrollable mob violence. Because I have seen how a woman embittered by a rejected lover can ignite a raging forest fire, and how one solitary act of violence -- like the assassination of an Austrian archduke -- can initiate a world-wide conflict that draws in many nations.
Is it because of the apocalyptic nature of our times that we seek out metaphysical explanations for environmental calamities and natural disasters? Can concentrations of ill will really generate floods and famine? Can trampling a beetle underfoot cause a star to be extinguished? Is the Death Instinct constantly battling with the Life Force in ways we cannot yet comprehend? Was Shakespeare and his generation right after all? Is there in fact a Chain of Being that rattles when you shake it and splits its links when shook too forcibly?
Disasters like the recent one in Sumatra and Thailand which assembles and detonates more force than anything lurking in our or our enemies' nuclear arsenals is a sharp reminder of our fragile mortality. It reinforces Antonin Artaud's belief that: "We are not free. And the sky can still fall on our heads." It should give us pause, and in that pause we should reconsider the inestimable value of life.