Discover more from A View From the Back Bench
On missing a little more than a sub
Last week’s sinking of the Titan, a deep-diving tourist submarine charging $250,000 US a shot to view the wreck of the Titanic out a 20-inch window for a few minutes, captured the imagination of the world’s media in a way that exposes some of the deep rifts of our society.
Very early in my mandate, just weeks after the 2015 election, there was a major terrorist attack in Paris, France, killing over 130 people. My newly hired staff, aware of the public attention the event was getting, wanted me to post a statement on my Facebook page, as politicians so often do.
I refused, noting that if we did so, we must also address the 89 people killed the previous day in a suicide bombing in Beirut, Lebanon. I was not going to post only about terrorist attacks that affected affluent Europeans; either we recognize all, or we recognize none. And if we were to do all, we would become little more than a newsfeed for terrorist incidents around the world. That was not our role.
The same day as the Titan lost contact with its mother ship, a fishing boat overloaded with refugees reported to be from Libya, Syria, and Pakistan, capsized off the coast of Greece, with hundreds of them dying and a muted ‘aw, man!’ reaction from nearby European powers, leading to widespread comparisons of the two events and our reactions to them.
What, again, is so special about five people on a high-risk dive to a now-ancient shipwreck requiring the mass international mobilization of navies and coast guards from both sides of the Atlantic? What makes them more special than the hundreds of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean?
The only discernible difference is that one of the vessels had a billionaire on board, while the other had people whose only hope was to have a most basic quality of life leaving, it should be noted, countries afflicted by extensive foreign interference over many years.
It takes us back to some core values we have in western culture, not all of which are to be proud of. When we meet each other for the first time, we often ask each other what the other does for a living. What, in other words, is your value?
If you shoplift from a store and are caught, you can face severe criminal penalties. If the same store steals from you, through dishonest marketing, underpaying employees, or overcharging customers, for example, it is largely dismissed. Pursuing it as a matter of criminal law is all but out of the question; pursuing it as a civil matter unachievable by those whom it affects. The store has more value and is better protected by social structures.
On the Titanic, the life saving equipment on board was insufficient for all passengers. Women and children were prioritized by the ship’s crew, and at that higher paying first-class passengers were given first dibs at living. In the end, 62 percent of first class passengers lived, with just four women in first class perishing, while only 25 percent of third class passengers made it ashore.
Back, then, to the Titan, now lying in pieces just a few hundred feet from the Titanic, forever linked not only by the value society placed on those aboard.