Monday, January 12, 2015

Flying, Fear, and Numbers (Minus Actual Numbers)

The flight data recorder from Air Asia Flight QZ8501 was recently recovered, which is obviously good news.

Unless, of course, you do not value information. As much as the finding of this crucial piece of evidence may come as a relief to the families of the victims, aviation professionals, and just generally anyone who is capable of giving a shit, this is still frustrating news for some.

Alas, there is another plane still missing. Worse yet, it was lost in the same region of the globe. There are many theories regarding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but until the wreckage can be recovered, we're left to wonder.

And by "wonder," I mean stew in discontent and make wild assertions that ultimately place a lot of blame on someone somewhere for the fact that it's still missing. The latter part is most significant, and is why I don't really feel I have to address the specific details of any one particular theory. We cannot accept that a plane could just fall from the sky without a trace. One of the biggest reasons we cannot accept this is because it really is a rare and unique situation. While CNN was (and still is) rightfully mocked for its coverage of the incident, which was one of the most dazzling displays of unintentional self-parody I've ever witnessed, the disappearance of a commercial airliner is definitely international news. If someone hacked into the airplane's various systems, with the intent of committing some act of terror, or whatever else might compel someone to go through such extraordinary effort to kill lots of people, it would be an unprecedented example of foul play. If that is even remotely part of what happened, it's very frightening to think about. It is technically possible. But it's also a lot of speculation and only begs further questions. Absence of evidence does not equal evidence. This is, in part, what made CNN's coverage so darkly and unintentionally comical. The original twenty-four hour news network was basically having an existential meltdown. "We don't know" needed to be repeated in an urgent but entertaining fashion for twenty-four hours a day.

What a lot of us also don't know, apparently, is just how massive the ocean is. Or, maybe most people do know that oceans are large, but they have no perspective or appreciation of this fact. They also have no appreciation for how miraculous it is that we can fly so safely and efficiently to begin with, because of course when something goes wrong, it goes wrong enough to be a very stark reminder of our own individual imperfection, smallness, and mortality. God forbid we allow ourselves to reflect on that.

I have had this opinion expressed to me both online and off, that if we have such amazing technology in the first place, how can we possibly lose a modern commercial airliner? Therefore, someone must know where it is and is covering up the truth. One gentleman in particular reasoned that if he loses his phone, it can easily be recovered via its built-in GPS and, hey, it's just tiny cellphone, planes are huge, right? This is one of my favorite examples because it comes so tantalizingly close to something resembling rational thought. Yes, planes are huge compared to your phone. Now, reflect further on this comparison you're obviously capable of grasping. Can your phone fucking fly at hundreds of miles per hour, thousands upon thousands of feet in the air, and have you ever lost it only to recover it in a body of water? Your phone is small, and so is your existence. I'm sorry that this is the incident that is forcing you to acknowledge that. But your phone is also amazing, and you're budding with potential yourself. We'd rather believe that all of the nations involved in the search efforts are succeeding in an elaborate and evil conspiracy than accept that they are cooperating for the benefit of humanity and failing. At least evil has faces and an agenda. It's got something to do with us. The big cold ocean doesn't care.

Other commercial aviation accidents serve as reminders that while we do have technology, and we can use it to do great things, it isn't perfect. And it's not that we can't wrap our minds around that, it's just a little sad that it takes so much tragedy to force us to acknowledge our place in the universe. Even then, we're stubborn and reluctant. It's as if we think that if we admit that we are the source of our own ability to fly, we're not owning up to our imperfections and their inevitable consequences so much as we are either spitting in the face of god or validating (and admitting) his absence from the situation.

["When Dad gets back he's gonna KILL us. He said he'd take away ice cream after dinner!"

"Boys, how many times do I have to tell you this? There was no tree of knowledge. It was a joke. You were going to learn all that stuff anyway. Your father meant well, but he couldn't control his temper, and that's why we aren't together anymore. It's not your fault. I'm so sorry, but he really isn't coming home, no matter what that damned serpent keeps telling you."]

So, yes, something very complex and nefarious could have caused MH370 to disappear. It's all the more reason to be patient, especially if you're a network news channel. It's frightening to think about any single one of the possibilities. Imagine how the families of the victims feel. They don't have the luxury of choosing to be sane and rational about the situation. Making that choice for ourselves is the very least the rest of us could do for them.


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