And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
That is Genesis 1:28, and it may be the most dangerous sentence ever written. It’s very clever that ancient humans created a god out of their own image, so that He could give us carte blanche to treat the Earth as our personal play toy. This is the type of thinking engendered by a top-down, authoritarian, patriarchal culture, and the results are easy to see, if we just look around. Nature is far too unpredictable to trust, what with earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, and other disasters. Therefore it must be controlled. We may fool ourselves into thinking that we’re bringing order to chaos, but the truth is the exact opposite.
We began to control food production with the introduction of agriculture about 10,000 years ago. Hunting and gathering was too full of uncertainty. Now it was possible to have a surplus, to store for times of need. At this point robbery and theft was born out of greed (or laziness), which ultimately led to conflict and wars. Perhaps it was the first instance of the law of unintended consequences. This need for control can be seen in our language, as in forest management, a term I intensely dislike. As if forests were suddenly unable to manage themselves, something they’d been doing quite successfully for about 400 million years.
A close friend of mine suggests that humans don’t like things that wiggle, which is what the natural world does. So we have a tendency to pave it over. Asphalt doesn’t wiggle. Asphalt is predictable, and therefore safer. Authoritarian types, nearly always male, are afraid of uncertainty and unpredictability. I believe this explains their desire to control the feminine aspect, which isn’t so hung up on structure and rules. We see this with the anti-abortion people, but inexplicably these same people are also against the one thing that could easily prevent abortions, access to contraceptives. The reason for this seeming contradiction is simple; if she’s on the pill, she could be screwing around. Now we’re getting closer to the bone (pun not intended) in what’s behind much of this desire for control: fear. A lot of men are terrified that a woman could get, you know, out of control. This paranoia is taken to an extreme with Islam. Fear of uncertainty and of the unpredictable is only natural, I suppose, but if we want to control something, maybe we should start by learning to control our fears.
I want to be clear that I’m not condemning the concept. We have to control our car when we drive to work. Young children need some discipline and restraint from an early age, not only to protect them from harm, but to prepare them for living in a society. In coloring books they’re taught to stay inside the lines; the lines are your friends. If we just let them run wild and do whatever the hell they feel like, with no regard for how it affects others, they’ll grow up to be libertarians. We have more than enough of those already.
We have government regulations on air, water, and food quality. They are necessary to protect the public from the ravages of predatory capitalism, which cares not a bit for living things. Planes rarely collide in mid-air, because of the people in the control towers. Laws are controls imposed on society for the benefit of everyone, so we don’t have a surplus of murderers and maniacs running loose, (unless they have money or are well connected)..
Above all, control is all about power, or at least the perception of power. The corporate media no longer give us the information we need, but what they want us to know. Look at their commercials. When you’re constantly seeing ads from BP and Exxon-Mobil, it’s naïve to expect in depth reporting on the hazards of hydraulic fracturing. Notice how many ads you see from the big pharmaceutical companies. Do you think you’ll see any criticism of how they’re screwing us? Or how they’re screwing us up? When is the last time you saw media coverage of all these drugs being peed out and ending up in the waterways and back into our drinking water, because they pass right through the treatment plants?
Information is power, and so is control over our electronic communications. After 9/11 we freaked out and became a national security state. Former NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake said the NSA considered 9/11 a gift. With recent revelations of the NSA’s vast surveillance of all Americans (and most everyone else on the planet), our government has the kind of power over its citizens that would have made the Founders scream. Yes, I’m sure many of these people really believe they’re acting in the best interests of the country. But don’t forget that about 70% of this intel is contracted out to private contractors. Now they also have access to all our information and secrets.
Keeping the awesome power of nuclear energy under control is proving to be problematic, as the disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima have shown. There are about 400 nuclear reactors around the world, each with the potential for disaster.
Of all these obsessions with control, the most insane is our attempt to control nature herself. Thanks to ideas like the above verse from Genesis, we are actually arrogant enough to believe that we can improve on it. If that isn’t the very definition of hubris, then there is none. The biotech companies are the worst offenders, and Monsanto easily the worst of that lot. They have openly stated their ultimate goal of “controlling 100% of the world’s food supply.” If they get their way, GMO foods will be our only choice. Their assurances that GMOs will give greater crop yields while needing less herbicides & pesticides, have been proven baseless. It’s been quite the opposite, to the detriment of bees, wildlife, and the biosphere in general. And superweeds are appearing, as nature shows her ability to continually find a way.
Control is a necessary mechanism, when used for the benefit of all. Taken to extremes is becomes perilous to all. Right now the wealthy own the economy, the media, and the government, and let me assure you that these people don’t give a rat’s ass about democracy. If we ever want to regain control of our own lives, we had better find a way to reign in runaway capitalism, autocratic movements and governments, and our own dark angels.