Friday, 25 April 2014

Two major transport disasters and their implications

The past few weeks have been dominated by two major transport disasters, firstly the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean, and secondly and more recently the sinking of a South Korean passenger ferry, the Sewol, travelling from Inchŏn to Cheju-do.

Suspicion that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 – which was scheduled to go to Běijīng of all places – was a terrorist attack or even an act of betrayal on the part of its pilots has by no means disappeared from my mind. Unlike with the September 11 terrorists attacks, I know of no messages that might confirm or disprove hypotheses of terrorism, but there is no doubt that many Muslims in Southeast Asia – despite their relatively peaceful reputation vis-à-vis the Islam of Africa and arid Asia – would have the same motivations that brought Muḥammad Atta, Marwan ash-Sheḥḥi, Hani Ḥanjour and Ziad Jarraḥ to carry out the September 11 attacks.

What is troubling, though, is the fact that passengers on the plane did not call relatives for help if and when they realised the plane was off-course. When I have flown in the past, I have generally been able to recognise where I was by looking down – which is not dangerous though I often have nightmares about it – so I imagine more experience air passengers would have known they were going in the wrong direction. This suggests a possibility that something (more potent than the mace used on Flight 11 and Flight 175 on September 11, 2001) was sprayed to prevent the passengers from recognising they were going in the wrong direction – or that the sign not to use “mobile phones of other electronic devices” was not turned off as it normally is.

The sinking of the Sewol by sixty-five-year-old Lee Chun-sŏk has attracted attention via a comparison with Italian captain Francesco Schettino, whose cruise ship Costa Concordia struck a rock and was wrecked in the Mediterranean in 2012. Schettino faces multiple manslaughter charges – still not finalised – yet Lee, who killed fifty-eight people as against thirty-two, may not face manslaughter but merely negligence. Lee deliberately speeded the vessel to cope with delays caused by very wet weather, which makes his offence worse than that of Schettino – though not murder, because unlike (say) with Atta and possibly with flight 370 there was no intent to kill the passengers. Recent news in fact suggests that there were many problems with the Sewol such as overloading that could effect responsibility severely

There are many questions about these two events that I have not asked for a long time beforehand. One of them is whether, as fertility rates decline, people troubled will turn to even more radical politics – as Ross Douthat seems to say about the radical individualism of the Millennial Generation in the Enriched World and seems to be observed in Russia and the Ukraine as we see a potential invasion. It may also be why, as David Goldman suggests in How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too), extremism is a natural response when a system cannot respond to social change, as has been ongoing ever since the Industrial Revolution in the Enriched and Tropical Worlds and may be reaching a “critical mass” as more and more nations compete for specialised industrial sectors, whilst a very few monopolise the remaining “high-technology” resources of flat land, aluminum and titanium.

The Sewol disaster may reflect the effects of persistent poor quality and endemic corruption in may parts of the Enriched World – which in turn results naturally from a situation where businesses can become rich by appealing to the very poor or taking advantage of government, as has been characteristics of Asia and Latin America.

We will likely see powerful political radicalism and hostility characterise the Enriched and Tropical Worlds in the future, whilst Australia cloisters itself from these events and moves down a strongly traditional pathway with greater economic growth if at inconceivable environmental costs – which the rest of the world is unlikely to even have the power to demand be paid on an international basis.

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