What’s going on out in the Tulare Lake bottom “might be legal, but it isn’t ethical,” said Mark Grewal, once a loyal Boswell employee. “It’s corruption and evil,” said a friend from church who works for an irrigation district.

These two responses are different takes on the same problem: the problem of corporate actions taken for self-preservation at the cost of the neighbor, the neighborhood, even the regional community and the taxpayers of the state. The huge size of the corporations makes the costs huge. These costs are not just economic, but also include costs to the effectiveness of our democracy, our social structure, our environment and even our cultural capacity to respond.

How are we to think of this problem in our midst, if we think about it at all? I think it’s right to question how much of it is actually legal, since these enormous westside landholders have gotten away with legal murder frequently in the past. Anyone, and most everyone not under Boswell’s sway, can see the lack of an ethical frame that most of us, as individuals at least, try to adhere to with our lives. Corruption is a natural byproduct of the power wielded over public servants by the power wielded over everyone else. But evil? What about evil?

“Evil” is a tricky word because it has been attached to so many different problems and people, too often with evil intent (the Salem witch trials come too quickly to mind.) It has been used to cage and dispose of people who are merely different, but different enough to threaten the fragile status quo. An article in last month’s Scientific American (which was sent to me by one of the readers of this column) documented the correlation of witch hunts to economic upheavals, including land tenure disputes and displacements. Declaring evil is so often an evil act that anyone with any knowledge of history is rightly reluctant to use the word.

And yet, looking westward, it comes to mind.

Evil is a step up from unethical, though I don’t know where you’d draw the line between them. For me, the line shows up in orders of magnitude. It’s unethical for me to allow garbage to build up on my property (which I unfortunately do) because it impacts the neighbors in multiple ways. In religious terms, it’s sinful because I’m practicing sloth, one of the seven deadlies. I hope it’s forgivable because I do not intend to hurt my neighbors, and I do intend to clean it up someday. But is it evil, or driven by evil? I hope even my neighbors would say it is not.

I think evil is the blindness, the inability to see when your actions harm others, and then blocks the ability to care when you do see. The extreme case, I think, which we’re seeing much too often now, is the inability of gunmen in mass shootings to see that their deliberate and violent taking of lives is so harmful and wrong. That the violence is wrong. That those now-missing lives are huge losses themselves and to the people who loved them or might love them in the future, for the world that might have benefited from their lives continuing. Whatever blinds people to that, I think, is evil.

And so, when we try to think about what’s happening in the bed of the lake we lost to big-scale agriculture and industrial minds… 

When we think about what could have happened to Allensworth and Alpaugh had not one of our true elders caught the illegal cutting of the Deer Creek levee in March by being out in the middle of the night to check floodwaters for the safety of his neighbors… 

When we think about the dairies and orchards that went underwater thanks to the backed-up floodflows pushing against Boswell’s impenetrable levees preserving company profits and tomato fields in the bottom of the lake… 

When we think about the decades of mangled water policy, diversions, reappropriations, and downright water-grabbing schemes costing other regions their water supplies… 

What do we want to call that?

Trudy Wischemann is a long-time student of water who lives on the northeastern edge of the Tulare Lake Basin. You can send her your definitions c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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