Thursday, June 22, 2023

Symbols of Class

The Titan submersible hasn't been found yet, and the supply of oxygen is gone. Some think they perished days ago from pressure or another type of malfunction, all horrific to think about. That likely won't stop anyone from looking for the vessel in order to recover the bodies. 

It's my worst nightmare to be under water in a container, particularly if it's bolted shut from the outside. 

Lots of comparisons are being made between this submersible containing five wealthy men who paid ¼ of a million dollars each to see the Titanic, stuck somewhere about 700 km off the coast of Newfoundland, to another vessel that went down 100 km from Greece, a fishing trawler carrying 750 passengers, some who gave their life savings to get from Libya to Italy, of which 81 bodies have been found so far. Neither vessels met regulations for travel, but if we have extra time and money to be creative, like make a sub that's run with a game controller, it's called innovation. If we do something similarly questionable or reckless for our own basic survival, it's criminal.

From the CEO, himself:

Some people are rich because they're cheap:

Some people online are mocking this expedition, the name of the craft or a fabricated plot by orcas, as a way to tip the scales a bit by deriding the five very wealthy men at their time of profound suffering while scads of cash are being spent trying to find them. Others shame the comedians because wealthy lives matter too.

We're all equal as we take our last breaths. But respect for those five lives shown in the media coverage and the money spent to try to rescue them, compared to that fishing trawler, speaks volumes. 

I understand the jokes not directed at the men, specifically, but directed at the symbol of wealth they embody, which makes it possible to mourn and mock at once. It matters that they died trying to get a better look at the Titanic, itself a poignant symbol of disdain for the working class. Some history from @dumbmailguy:

"More than 96% of first and second class children survived (29 out of 30, with only one famously lost when separated from family in the chaos), while 34% of steerage children survived. . . . The crew made up more than 40% of all people on board. Not a single engineer survived. Not a single electrician. . . . So when you reflect on those five rich clowns who were brought down by their hubris on their way to gawk at the graves of the poor, created by their upper class predecessors, think of it as just a small return fire from the class war."

The timing matters too. Some wealthy politicians are enjoying the cottage or dancing or traveling after removing all covid precautions so the rest of us plebs struggle to avoid getting sick from covid, or struggle with illness, disability, and the deaths of loved ones. So sympathies aren't running high, even though it's not these particular millionaires involved. New rules have made it illegal to offer goods or food to the unhoused in Barrie, and far too many can't cover their rent and food with the meagre amounts offered by ODSB, when it's even offered at all, which is creating more homelessness. The life expectancy of people without homes is half that of the average Canadian. These five men represent all those bulldozing wetlands to build highways despite all the fires, and all those who cut funding to hospitals to the point that firefighters were called to a hospital to do chest compressions because there's no doctors available. 

Income disparity is as bad as the 1920s, just before the great depression. For a while it felt like Canada was too socialist to get sucked into such blatant cruelty, but American practices and attitudes have bubbled up to make some feel justified in raising salaries and perks at the top while letting the bottom grow and  stagnate. We're so clearly still living in a feudal society, and our overlords don't see us as people. We're the filthy masses, and they're generous enough to let us stick around for a bit longer. 

So, while it's not at all fair, those unfortunate five men, just hoping to see a bit of history at the bottom of the ocean, have unwittingly become symbolic of the foolish excesses of wealth.

ETA: AppliedScience11's tiktok is bang on.

@appliedscience11 Here is why you are seeing all of the submarine jokes. Enjoy. #submarine #jokes #liberal #politics #leftist #democrats #chicago ♬ original sound - Joshua

Priyamvada Gopal wrote an excellent article: "Titan and the trawler: Whose lives matter?" highlighting the disparity of the treatment of the two vessels, some of the best bit here: 

"The sinking of the fishing vessel last Wednesday has been covered, of course, but with an air of weary repetition. Here was another boat full of 'illegal' brown people making a risky bid to enter Fortress Europe which has repeatedly warned them not to attempt the journey. The Greek coastguard is now embroiled in controversy about whether, when and how it responded to the vessel's clear distress over a period of several hours. In stark contrast to the heavy multinational rescue efforts for the OceanGate submersible, the trawler, like other refugee vessels, had little help. Human Rights Watch notes: 'No EU ships actively patrol anywhere near where most boats enter into distress. Frontex, the EU's border and coast guard, conducts aerial surveillance in service of interceptions and returns, not rescues.' . . . 

Facelessness and anonymity are the buffer between those of us ensconced in our homes and those who risk everything after leaving theirs. Without that buffer, we would have to acknowledge the singularity and worth of the 25,000 human beings, more than 1,200 in 2022 alone, who have drowned in the Mediterranean trying to get to Europe since 2014 and who have become, in our minds, little other than numbers with brown faces. They too would be worthy of full-blown high-tech rescue efforts instead of being criminalised as 'illegal' with rescuers also risking being charged with 'facilitating' asylum seekers. 

Why this disparity? The crude, if dismaying, answer is that ours is a world in which the lives of a few matter significantly more than the lives of the many, a disparity that intensifies along geopolitical, class, race, and caste lines. The poor, the vulnerable and the victims of war clinging to the sides of a rubber dinghy are not 'mournable' in the same way as the wealthy white man figured as an 'explorer' or 'adventurer' who goes to sea in an expensive bespoke vessel. 

This disparity is built into the stories we, and the media, tell ourselves and who gets to figure as a hero in them. Accounts of refugees and asylum seekers in the European media repeatedly play down the dangers they face in the their places of departure, usually their homes, painting them collectively as 'economic migrants' (read 'greedy') or making fraudulent claims in order to access Europe's welfare systems. They are also portrayed as gullible and foolhardy, giving their money to criminals in exchange for passage and risking their safety in craft that are patently not seaworthy. By flouting deterrents, it is implied, refugees bring catastrophe upon themselves. 

Contrast this with the air of tragic heroism and bravery already invested upon the five men in the Titan, its classical Greek name invoking not just the Titanic, the doomed object of its underwater tourism, but the might of the Greek pantheon. . . . Today's context for such expensive and generally superfluous expeditions is not so much the hope of finding new horizons as it is personal gratification, manifest in space travel for fun touted by billionaires like Richard Branson and Elon Musk. OceanGate's website offers its clients a 'thrilling and unique travel experience' with a 'chance to step outside of everyday life and discover something truly extraordinary.' . . .

Death is a reality that many refugees and asylum seekers also accept, though arguably they have far less luxury of choice in the matter. 'If I die right now, I'll die with no regrets....It was hell. Nothing less than hell,' said one refugee who left Libya in 2020 after being rescued from an overcrowded rubber boat in distress in the Mediterranean. Yet the courage of refugees in seeking to leave hellish situation and make new lives in strange new places is rarely lauded. As the poet Warsan Shire famously declared, 'No one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear saying-leave...anywhere is safer than here.'

No tragedy, at sea or elsewhere, requires us to forfeit grief. We are obliged, however, to ask ourselves whose lives we are inclined to mourn and whose lives we consign to our collective equanimity."  

ETA: This snippet, from Appeal to Reason, Kansas, May 11, 1912 (h/t @yeesterdaysprint): 

And this perceptive piece from @hystericempress:

One more very painterly cartoon:


Trailblazer said...

In an effort to show 'our rescue effort is better than your rescue effort' the UK flew out two large airplanes full of sophisticated deep dive equipment to join what has become a race to the bottom.
That national prestige and wealth over power our thoughts and desires is sickening.

Tragic as it ended we are! in a race to the bottom.


Marie Snyder said...

Absolutely a race to the bottom. But it's fascinating to me how often we get to a point of economic growth and prosperity with an equitable playing field, like the 1950s-1970s, or after each walk out by the plebs in Ancient Rome, then it gradually shifts back to a hierarchy of wealth and power. It's hard to keep that very human antisocial (as in, destroying society) bent in check!