An Innate Ability To Mess Things Up

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - January 25, 2012
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Weirdest happening of last week: First, watching horrific video on cable news of a cruise ship that ran aground and keeled over. Scary stuff of people screaming and running around in chaos, terror and confusion.

Next day, at the movies, a preview for ... Titanic. Scary scenes of people running around in chaos, terror and confusion. Art imitates life imitates art.

The 1997 film is being brought back, in 3-D, no less. The timing, while coincidental, is just eerie.

The thing about the movie is that, frightening as it was, it was just a movie. Sure, based on the real tragic event, but I was able to put it in the box labeled “cinematic special effects.” Surely, I thought, this could never happen again, certainly not in this day and age. After all, we’ve made ships safer, procedures more foolproof, rescue systems more dependable. Anyone who’s been on a luxury cruise can relate to the feeling of safety one gets on a vessel that feels like a self-contained city solid and too massive to hurt.

Right? Well, no. Wrong. Very wrong. I, like many of you, have been on at least one cruise. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I was lulled into a sense of security. What, after all, could rock this big boat?

In the case of the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia, it wasn’t a matter of what, but whom. It’s another horrible example of human error. The captain, Francesco Schettino, admitted he steered the ship off its approved course. And then, when all hell broke loose, he left the ship. (So long, people, sorry, gotta go.) In a hearing a couple of days after the disaster, Schettino says he “tripped” and fell into the lifeboat quite by accident. OK.

Audio recordings have the Italian coast guard ordering the captain to go back on board to supervise the chaotic evacuation. He did not.

Many people died. We saw scary, dark, shaky video of people panicking. We heard descriptions from people who jumped or were dumped into the ocean. It seems obvious that the crew was overwhelmed and almost as confused as the passengers. And the captain abandoned them all.

The lesson, I guess, is pretty clear. No matter how well we build things or how modern our toys are or how foolproof we try to make everything from ships to refrigerators to computers, it all means nothing if we don’t remember the most important thing. And that is, although technology can advance us in almost superhuman ways, the key part of that word is and always will be “human.” You just can’t take the human out of the equation. We run the show. We can ruin it. If ever there was an argument for making laws and regulations and safety policies and sticking to them -the awful fate of the Costa Concordia is it. The ship didn’t fail those passengers. Its captain did, as well as whoever was responsible for training and overseeing the crew. Have we really learned nothing from the Titanic?

I’m not going to tell people to stop going on cruises. I’m merely saying we can take nothing for granted, except for the inevitability of human failure. As the old saying reminds us, “pride goeth before the fall.” I’d add complacency to that, and greed, and maybe even forgetfulness.

Let’s not get too caught up in our own invincibility.

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