Water, Water, Everywhere: On Death, Flint & Formation

Consider images of water flooding recent news and pop culture:

Parents holding up baby bottles filled with brown water. Black and brown children with invisible toxins running through their veins, attacking their futures. Families paralyzed, unable to sell houses hooked up to poisonous infrastructure.

A police car submerged in water. Ladies in formation dancing in an empty swimming pool. The Queen Bey herself drowning as the police car on which she is standing disappears in a flooded New Orleans street.

A reality-show presidential candidate gleefully promising the return of waterboarding if he is elected.

Stranded sea lions unable to find the food that lives in cold water and needs ample ice to cover the earth.

Water has become the instrument of our demise.

For a generation, ecologists have been warning us that the next generation of wars will be fought over water instead of oil. Indigenous peoples living on disappearing islands and social margins have been experiencing the effects while we theorize. Corporations have been privatizing water in plastic bottles as we ignore infrastructure at our own peril.

Religious traditions understand the power of water. Water is central in sacred rituals like the Jewish mikvah, Muslim ablution before prayer, and Christian baptism. The Ganges river is considered sacred for Hindus. For religious rituals, water is often a both/and: water brings an end to prior things (an old life, a dirty or unclean body) and signifies new things (life, month, mindset). Water is sacred. It is essential for life. And yet …

The lack of it kills (see: biology).

Too much of it kills (see: New Orleans and the Gulf region).

Invisible ingredients in it kill (see: Flint).

Misuse of it kills (see: waterboarding).

The wrong temperature kills (see: the planet Earth).

There is something going on here that is more than the scientific fact of the power of water to give life and to take it away. Politics and systems of economic oppression have brought these things about. Failure of government created the Flint crisis and allowed the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina to rise to epic levels. People suffer and die in these places as a result of economic vulnerability at the hands of a state not paying attention to their best interests.

Water is just doing what water does.

Human activity in a capitalist fossil fuel economy has changed the climate in which we live so that soon we will join stranded sea lions who are not be able to survive. Using water as in instrument of torture is simply the most obvious example of state control of the source of life and death. Lead poisoned water is simply the most recent indictment of the human capacity for structural and interpersonal evil.

Water is essential for life, and before our eyes we can see how the corrupted control of it is nothing short of death-dealing.

Flint River image via wikimedia.


Originally published at www.patheos.com on March 3, 2016.