The Big, Bad World.

The news that a plane had crashed in the French Alps three days ago was shocking on its own, but all day I felt uneasy about it, wondering what it was that could have gone so terribly wrong. If it wasn’t a terrorist attack (admittedly, my first thought), then why would the pilots not have sent a distress call? Of course, now it appears that the plane was deliberately sent into the mountainside by the co-pilot, for reasons nobody seems to be able to fathom.

I don’t really like to travel by plane. I’m not one to panic from the moment I get on until the plane lands, but if there are other ways to get somewhere, I’d really rather not fly. I know that statistically, flying is very safe, but I still feel anxious about it. Stories like this don’t help! Perhaps I can take a little comfort that the aviation industry is reacting to this event by changing security in the cockpit, but this also reminded me of a conversation the Handsome Sidekick and I had recently.

We were watching the first series of Black Sails, which follows the stories of pirates – both real and fictional – in the early eighteenth century. Their lives are brutally violent, dangerous, and unpredictable. Most of what happens around them is out of their control. They must face horrendous weather, risk to their lives and livelihoods, and potential treachery. I was often on the edge of my seat, wondering how things would play out. It’s a really great show, and I’m looking forward to getting the second series when it’s released here. Mostly, while watching it, I was struck by the ways in which our lives today are different from theirs.

“They used to take such risks, didn’t they?” I said to the Handsome Sidekick. “I mean, they didn’t necessarily live very long… people must have died all the time, not just from accidents but also from disease and infections.”

“Absolutely,” he agreed, “just think if you’d have been shot while out at sea…”

“But there is a sense within the characters that life was there to be grabbed with both hands,” I said. “Like you really lived, because you weren’t sure how long you had. We’re so careful nowadays. We’re so risk-averse, but what’s the point of living a long life if it’s really dull?”

I’m not saying I want to run away and become a pirate. I don’t even want to become a legitimate sailor – my feeling about boats is similar to my sentiments about planes. And I also don’t want to romanticise too much the kinds of lives they had. I also wonder if they were given the kinds of opportunities to avoid pain and disease as we are, whether they would have taken them (my guess is: probably.) So in our modern world, when we’re given the chance to avoid making a costly mistake again, we take it. That’s part of what has made humans such a very successful species. What if the pendulum has swung too far, though? That we’re so careful trying to make sure nothing terrible happens to us, that nothing amazing happens to us, either? I mean, consider this family in the US, who have been investigated by Child Protection Services because the parents let their children walk home from the park. Just how far do we allow public safety to go?

It would be foolhardy to begin to foster a mentality whereby we simply ignore risk, and by all means, I welcome the thought of making air travel safer. But the way in which accidents, or apparent acts of violence like this are reported and shared also makes me wonder if we’re just perpetuating the fear more than is necessary. No doubt this event is going to dissuade people from flying, in the same way that terrorist attacks put people off from travelling. We’re so worried about accident prevention that we forget it’s just what they are: accidents. Sure, we need to make changes where we can, but we need to understand that not every eventuality can be imagined, and that most of the time, it comes down to luck.

But then, on an individual level, what happens? If I lived in the age of piracy, no doubt I would have been terrified most of the time and just try to get by, perhaps making some money on the side. Such a dangerous and potentially brief life doesn’t allow for a whole lot of contemplation, so I don’t know that I’d be willing to give up my safe, comfortable existence for something like that. And although all those who died on Flight 4U 9525 were strangers to me, I hope that we might be able to ensure that nobody else has to die in this way. How terrifying, knowing that you are about to crash, and that you can do nothing about it.

Is there a middle-ground, though? We are appalled at violence and we recoil from disasters. We resent grief and death. However, just like learning from our mistakes, all of these are aspects of being human, too. We can’t avoid any of them, without losing part of our humanity. Perhaps as well as looking to prevent the darkness from taking over, we also need to learn how to live with it.


10 thoughts on “The Big, Bad World.

  1. Pingback: The Big, Bad World. | ugiridharaprasad

  2. All day yesterday our TV channel news programmes were full of this terrible tragedy.
    There was so much conjecture and speculation as to why the co-pilot crashed the plane and a lot of ‘expert opinions’ as is always the case when things are not understood and make no sense..
    Perhaps the co pilot was breathing ‘bad air’, became confused, disorientated or even lost consciousness, which was why the pilot received no response when trying to get back into the cockpit.
    Maybe he had a heart attack (possible even for one so young), or was diabetic and his sugar level rocketed.
    We don’t know for certain, and as for his being alive at the point of impact, OK, he may have been breathing, but was he actually conscious?
    I’m not making light of it, disputing expert opinion, or making excuses. Until the second black box is found, most of this shocking incident can only be opinionated theory.
    Our thoughts are with the families of those souls lost.

    • Even if he had lost conscious, the process of landing had to get started from someone. Otherwise the machine would have simply kept flowing towards Düsseldorf, like it was supposed to – that’s what the autopilot is for….and it’s not even the first time it happened. Since my sister is an avid watcher of Mayday I know about four or five cases in which a Pilot decided to kill himself that way.

      And really, I don’t get it. I don’t get it at all. I happen to life in the Ruhr Area and honestly, I would have preferred it to be a stupid technical defect instead of this. There are two singing voices less in the opera house because their owners were on the plane with their families (which included one baby). A school in Haltern is now missing a whole class with their teachers because they happened to be on board. How will their parents be able to life with their knowledge that their children are dead just because someone wasn’t satisfied with killing himself, he had to do it in the most attention seeking way possible, hurting as many others as possible in the process.

      I wish that there were some sort of law that people who do things like that are persona non-grata. That they are not allowed to get any attention, that their names are not allowed to get mentioned in the media and that they don’t get any coverage whatsoever. It might quell the idea that this is a good way to go.

      • We hadn’t heard any details of passengers on our coverage. It doesn’t make any sense does it and I don’t understand either.
        Again, our thoughts are with the families of those lost.
        I agree with comments in your last paragraph though regarding attention.

      • Oh, my thoughts are also with the family of the Co-Pilot. They now have a police detail in front of their house. Just in case someone overreact in his grief and decides that they are a handy target for revenge.

      • More and more it seems that this person has chosen to end his life and take all those people with him. I’m so sad about that. I’m sad that there is a culture where if you’re not mentally healthy, there is such a stigma associated with it that you fear disclosing this. And I’m sad that he decided that this was something that he wanted to do. All those poor people.

    • The opinions always bug me, too. It seems now that it’s possible he planned this, which is so horrific and something nobody wants to imagine. But our 24-hour news cycle is so frustrating when it comes to cases like this. I end up having to just switch off, because all they do is repeat what they already told you and then get a whole lot of other people in to speculate about what they don’t know.

      • I so agree.
        What has been said over the past few days is too horrific to comprehend.
        Two sentences are sticking in my mind from different reporters:
        ‘Who knows what this man was thinking?’
        ‘Could he have been stopped?’ (reporting on changes in procedures).

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