A lot of people might think I’m a monster for saying this, but I’m not nearly as horrified by the recent event with the Columbia as everyone else seems to be. It does disturb me deep down, but not enough to affect my daily life. Certainly not enough for me understand why it warrants a half-mast flag day. I guess it’s good that there are still people out there who do feel that way, and if I weren’t so pessimistic about society already, I might think that it held hope for the future… but I am. So it doesn’t.
Why does this warrant more attention and grief than the forty thousand automobile deaths, or the one guy who gets stabbed walking down the street in the wrong area of town? In my book it doesn’t. That’s why I just can’t bring myself to feel the “tragedy” of the situation. Sure it sucks, but let’s get real, there was nothing more special about these astronauts than the many others who don’t get national recognition for their horrible demise.
It’s like when Mother Theresa and Princess Di both died at the same time. Who got the press? You know who. Why? You know why. I don’t need to spell it out. That’s what is most disturbing to me, what really horrifies me. It isn’t the death itself, everybody dies. It’s the public reaction to the deaths. It’s the systematic judging of who warrants the public grief, based on a calculable list of things like popularity, quantitative achievements, money, etc.
Quite frankly, I’m also getting jaded. Sure if someone I knew personally died, I’d be very, very upset. After all, I’m directly involved. A part of my life would be gone forever. But someone I don’t know? Regardless of their achievements, I just can’t get behind changing my behavior on account of their untimely end (or timely, who knows). There are just too many people out there who die. I cannot react to each of them, and I don’t want to have to decide who gets the attention. There’s no reason.
I was listening to them talk about this incident on Stern this morning, and they brought on a guy who crank called both MSNBC and CNN with rumors about the shuttle incident, practically right after it happened. Numerous other callers thought this guy was terrible, a scumbag, for doing such a thing. I think it’s great. It’s a big “in your face” to all the people glued to the television, just waiting for the next grisly detail. And the networks, so desperate to get the next scoop, put him on with no questions asked.
It was brilliant. The first call, he claimed to be a NASA scientist, with details about the accident. No credentials asked for, they just put him on the air. He makes some obviously false statements, and they take him off. So he calls someone else claiming to have a piece of the shuttle in his backyard. Once again, they put him on the air.
It’s not a fucking movie. There’s nothing to be gained by having the most spectacular death shots, the most grisly details. Oh, wait, of course there is. Ratings. Money. How silly of me, it’s practically the same industry. One just makes money off of fake mayhem, and the other exploits the real thing. Which one is worse? At this point, probably neither. They both just feed off of each other.
I take it back. News coverage is worse. I like my Schwarzenegger movies just fine.
The deaths of those astronauts meant something to me. You know why? Because they were acting on my behalf. They put their lives at risk to expand the knowledge of the human race. They dared to take a very dangerous step farther into the unknown than I ever have. Their deaths are a price paid to elevate all of us off of this stinking, dying, mudball and maybe, just maybe, drag us all into something greater. Our descendants will stand on the shore of new world because of people like the Columbia crew.
The poor slob that gets knifed in an alley is a tragedy. His life has value, like any other. But he did not put himself in harm’s way on my account. He didn’t accept the risk and danger and hardship so that I could live in a better world someday.
So, yeah, from that point of view, those astronauts lives are more important. They are special. Just like the millions that died in WWII fighting a madman’s army of terror and destruction. Just like any hero is special. They died in our service, and they deserve our respectful rememberance.
Posted by John Harper @ 02/07/03 04:08 PM
I could almost write a whole other blog entry just on your comment, but I won’t.
I see your point, and I do agree with you, but I’m still not overtly moved. I’m all for the hero, I’m sure you know that as much as anyone who knows me, and I’m all for paying my respects, but there’s something about this scenario that just rubs me the wrong way.
I’ve got far too many other things to say to possibly say them all.
I will say that “hero” is a matter of perspective though. if everyone who puts themselves in danger for the whole is a hero, then every policeman, fire-fighter, security guard, nurse, doctor, and paramedic could be considered a hero. And if you’re going to go there, then everyone who works in the shipping industry, providing supplies that go to all of these people, and in turn provide us with food could be. The list only gets larger from there, and it ends with a good portion of the population being “heroes”.
How do we know that some poor slob who gets stabbed in an alleyway wouldn’t have gone on to discover a cure for an incurable disease? Perhaps now the research will all be wasted, and we’ll never know.
This doesn’t sound as poetic as “standing on the shore of a new world” (which was pretty good, btw), but it’s how I see it. And seeing it like that just doesn’t give me the time or energy to mourn everyone in the world that dies.
Posted by haze @ 02/07/03 09:01 PM
I do know that you are all for the hero. You yourself have done many things that I would consider heroic, including serving in our armed forces.
Are police and firefighters heroes? Yes. They risk their lives safeguarding others so that I don’t have to. Like I said in my first comment, I think of the Columbia crew in the same way that I think of the Allied soldiers on the landing crafts on D-Day. Both types of people made the ultimate sacrifice on my behalf. They knew the risks, and accepted them so that humanity might reach farther some day.
I don’t think that means that everyone is a hero, or that the word has no meaning. The guy who “might have” cured cancer is not willingly placing the well-being of humanity before his own safety. He is not intentionally stepping into danger on my behalf. That is the quality that makes a hero. Someone who stares risk and danger and possibly death in the face and does what is necessary for the greater good.
I did not shed a single tear for the Columbia crew. Their deaths do not affect my personal life, and I do not miss them on a daily basis, the way their loved ones do. But their lives and deaths *mean something* to me. They were important, even though I didn’t know those people personally.
Posted by John Harper @ 02/09/03 05:06 PM
I see what you’re getting at now, and I agree with that last paragraph wholeheartedly. That may be where I misunderstood you in the first place.
However, I have to give my last piece about the “hero”. The reason I don’t consider the Columbia crew heroes, is that they were primarily following their passion. Much as Lewis and Clark had a passion for exploration, so (I believe) does every astronaut. It’s the thrill of discovering something new. There may be the ultimate added benefit of saving mankind, but there’s no way to know that for certain. There may also be risks, but then there are risks in driving down the highway. I think it’s heroic when you put yourself in danger with more consideration for someone else’s welfare than your own. I just don’t see that being the case here.
Posted by haze @ 02/10/03 06:24 PM
Once again, here we go agreeing with each other. This really has to stop. You’re right about the passion thing. I was somewhat wrong to equate Columbia astronauts with D-Day infantrymen. It’s not like the soldiers on D-Day were there because they had a passionate interest in getting shot at by machineguns. There is a difference.
Posted by John Harper @ 02/11/03 03:20 AM