Hannah Arendt, Lawrence of Arabia, and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

by Corey Robin on March 22, 2014

This peculiar preoration by Geoffrey Gray in The New Republic (h/t Aaron Bady) about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370—

I’ve found myself asking a different question: Do we really want to find this missing plane at all? The families of the victims deserve answers, of course, but as the days go on and more nautical miles are searched for missing debris, there’s an undeniable urge for investigators to keep on looking, not find anything, and let the mystery endure.


The New York Times’s Farhad Manjoo argues that the “terror” isn’t only that we can’t find the plane, but being off the grid itself, untethered to our friends and family. I disagree. Our “hyperconnectivity,” as he calls it, is the very reason we need this mystery right now. In a moment dominated by the radical adoption of new technology, with reports of the NSA’s massive snooping, talk of Amazon drones making deliveries like toilet paper door to your doorstep, or checking the status of a flight through a pair of Google glasses, we need to feel that there is at least something out there that the grand orchestra of satellites and supercomputers can’t find or figure out.


It’s more than a tad ironic, but apropos, that it took a missing airplane—one of man’s greatest technological innovations—to remind us that there’s still some mystery left to humanity.


—reminds me of something Hannah Arendt said about T.E. Lawrence in The Origins of Totalitarianism:


He was tempted only by the basic endlessness of the game and by secrecy as such. And secrecy again seems like a symbol of the basic mysteriousness of life.



Lawrence was seduced into becoming a secret agent in Arabia because of his strong desire to leave the world of dull respectability whose continuity had become simply meaningless, because of his disgust with the world as well as with himself.


The analogy is certainly not exact, but as Arendt points out, the white man has often sought an escape from the burdens of civilization—be they respectability in Lawrence’s case, or hyperconnectivity in Gray’s case—in the brown man’s misery.

Gray claims we always divine existential meaning in air catastrophes:

There’s a precedent for missing airplanes prompting big, existential questions—well before “Lost” became a hit TV show. After World War II, as planes became larger and faster, slews of flights were seemingly swallowed by the sea. Navy bombers, search-and-rescue missions—all types of airplanes disappeared, many in the western part of the Atlantic that became known as the Bermuda Triangle. The legend of vanished planes only heightened the national anxiety over flying, prompting airlines to sex-up stewardesses to ease passengers nerves. Perhaps it was against God’s wishes, many thought, for man to fly like birds.


The hijacker era in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, in many ways, was a protest against the increasing size of the flying machines and the big companies making them. In the fall of 1971, as jumbo jets were rolling off the production lines at Boeing, the hijacker known as D.B. Cooper boarded a plane in the Pacific Northwest, ransomed the passengers for bags of cash, and parachuted out midair, never to be seen again, he became a cult hero. Cooper was, in the words of a sociologist back then, “one individual overcoming, for the time being anyway, technology, the corporation, the system.”


Gray’s two examples don’t demonstrate anything of the sort: in the first case, the fear of flying prompted more concerns about safety; in the second, a thief’s willed and brash midair escape turned him into a folk hero. Not quite the same as Gray, well, doing this:


Wherever the Malaysia Airlines plane is, it found a hiding place. And the longer it takes investigators to discover where it is and what went wrong, the longer we have to indulge in the fantasy that we too might be able to elude the computers tracking our clicks, text messages, and even our movements. Hidden from the rest of the world, if only for an imagined moment, we feel what the passengers of Flight 370 most likely don’t: safe.


I can’t help wondering if Gray would have been quite so forthcoming with his ruminations —or quite so cavalier about the families of the victims (“of course”)—had the plane in question been USA Airlines Flight 370 or England Airlines Flight 370.

{ 75 comments }

1

bob mcmanus 03.22.14 at 2:40 pm

Lawrence Eng, “Strategies of Engagement,” Ch 4, Fandom Unbound, 2012

Information is the most important thing, but information does not have fixed intrinsic value. The essence of information is secrecy; the utility of information comes from its movement.

The otaku concept of information is different from the hacker or
cyberlibertarian notion that information is nonrival (meaning that its
value is the same no matter how many people use it), and that it “wants
to be (or should be) free.” In contrast, otaku view information as having
relative (as opposed to intrinsic) value, and otaku are most concerned
with information that is valuable. Information value, following from
Claude Shannon’s definition (as summarized by Goonatilake 1991),
is the statistically based difference between what is uncertain and what
is already known or widely available. Therefore, that which is similar
to what is already known or is predictable has low information value.
Knowledge that describes the unknown and things that are rare
have high information value. When information is freed and widely
distributed, therefore, information value is necessarily lost.

Think of an information market, with use-value, exchange-value, and value. The medium of exchange is attention space/time. All the safe landings had use-value for passengers and families etc, but little exchange-value for the rest of us.

2

Straightwood 03.22.14 at 3:00 pm

The notion that we have achieved some sort of plateau of information ascendancy entailing a loss of innocence, wonder, and mystery is just a load of rubbish. We are only beginning to explore the poorly understood structures of the mind and the mechanisms of consciousness, and imagination. The basic questions of philosophy raised by Plato remain unanswered. We still don’t really know how best to live. The more we learn about the physics of the macro- and microcosms, the more their mysteries deepen.

The proper response to the disappearance of Flight 370 is not to make some kind of mystical totem or cultural ephiphany out of it; it should be to correct the stupid policy oversights and technical shortcomings that allowed this aircraft to be lost without a trace.

3

Lynne 03.22.14 at 3:00 pm

Gray’s take seems very odd. Okay, he’s sick of the hyperconnectedness of his life but to envy the people on the lost plane, which is very nearly what he’s doing, is just cold.

And this: “The hijacker era in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, in many ways, was a protest against the increasing size of the flying machines and the big companies making them.”

Where does he even get that? He’s projecting his own concerns like mad. And yes, Corey, I agree with your speculation in your last sentence. If the flight had only been something he could relate to everything might have looked different to him.

4

W R Peterson 03.22.14 at 3:37 pm

“I can’t help wondering if Gray would have been quite so forthcoming with his ruminations —or quite so cavalier about the families of the victims (“of course”)—had the plane in question been USA Airlines Flight 370 or England Airlines Flight 370.”

If you can remember back to the time before the Unabomber published his manifesto, me, my friends and people like my friends *liked* the fact that he was out there.
We may have felt differently if one of our relatives been a victim but the ethnicity of the people he sent bombs to was irrelevant.

I, like Gray, currently lean towards a preference for the plane to remain missing. To suspect that I would feel different if the passengers were the same color as I am is to truly misjudge me.

Also don’t misinterpret this as a cavalier attitude toward the safety of Others.
In the early years of the Burning Man event there were hardly any safety precautions. People could and did get hurt and die. That was part of the appeal.

Likewise, I backpack. Not in the sense of tourists who go to cities without international airports, I mean I take some food and walk out into the woods. Safety is not assured, survival not guaranteed, there’s nobody to sue because it’s nobody else’s fault if something goes wrong.

Some people need there to be wild in the world.

5

Bernard Yomtov 03.22.14 at 4:15 pm

The hijacker era in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, in many ways, was a protest against the increasing size of the flying machines and the big companies making them.

Nonsense.

The hijackings of that era were result of the discovery that airplanes were quite vulnerable to takeover and forced rerouting, and that this could be exploited for individual or political purposes.

To hijack a plane to Cuba was no sort of protest against technology or any of those other things. It was the act of a lunatic making a political statement.

6

Barry Freed 03.22.14 at 4:47 pm

Let me just put in a plug for Brendan Koerner’s fascinating”The Skies Belong to Us” which chronicles the rash of hijackings from the 1960s to the early 1970s because it seems like no one has read it and they really should. As for why they did it, it was for all sorts of reasons:

Why did people hijack airliners in those innocent days, long before it occurred to Osama bin Laden and friends that they could be used as instruments of mass murder? Let us count the reasons. Some did it out of half-baked but sincere commitment to political causes. Some did it out of sheer exuberance. Some were clinically insane. A surprisingly large number were teenagers making an unexpected flanking movement in the perennial adolescent war against parental restriction. One fellow was annoyed at how much he was being charged to go to agricultural college. Another wanted independence for Hawaii. Some did it to raise ransom money. Some were drunk. Some got drunk in mid-hijack, like the gang who emptied the whole plane minibar over the course of a five-airport jaunt around the Lower 48.

The largest number seemed to be working off obscure and long-lasting personal grievances against persons or institutions entirely unconnected with the world of aviation. Their aim was to force people in authority to listen to them while they made long, rambling speeches. Wherever they forced the plane to go, the final destination they had in mind was the press conference. If that was followed by the penitentiary, it was still a price worth paying.

“Though the men and women who hijacked planes would claim dozens of different motives,” writes Koerner, “they all shared a keen sense of desperation – a belief, however deluded, that only the most extreme of measures could redeem them.”

Block quotes are from an excellent review here: http://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/books/the-skies-belong-to-us-a-look-at-the-era-of-airline-hijackings

7

Barry Freed 03.22.14 at 4:52 pm

There’s a great Tumblr for the book which is well worth checking out:

http://skyjackeroftheday.tumblr.com/

8

Bruce Baugh 03.22.14 at 4:52 pm

I wonder if Gray would want his friends and family to shrug and go “eh, it’s a mystery, let’s not try to solve it” if he disappeared.

9

mud man 03.22.14 at 5:13 pm

What terrors does Geoffrey Gray have, and what is his need to project them? To sink them in the Southern Ocean?

10

Ronan(rf) 03.22.14 at 5:17 pm

This Geof Gray appears to be another marginal idiot writing tediously long articles about nothing in particular who has now wormed his way into my life and for some reason finds himself as the latest update to my rss feed.

11

Shatterface 03.22.14 at 5:25 pm

It’s more than a tad ironic, but apropos, that it took a missing airplane—one of man’s greatest technological innovations—to remind us that there’s still some mystery left to humanity.

What a complete fuckwad.

There’s plenty of mystery yet – neurobiologists recognise that the science of the mind hasn’t yet reached the ‘Periodic Table’ phase and cosmologists and particle physicists are producing questions at a faster rate than they can even attempt to answer.

I don’t need to prolong the suffering of Chinese families to just to add spice and mystery to my life: I can get that by avoiding spoilers for True Detective

12

Anderson 03.22.14 at 6:29 pm

“another marginal idiot writing tediously long articles about nothing in particular who has now wormed his way into my life and for some reason finds himself as the latest update to my RSS feed”

I feel the need for a short way of putting that for frequent use, due doubtless to the hyperconnectivity that has brought this fuckwad to my attention.

13

Tom West 03.22.14 at 6:56 pm

It should be pointed out that he’s not prolonging anything, and has no influence whatsoever on the events playing out. His ruminations, odd though they might be, won’t make an iota of difference to helping those who are terrified for their loved ones.

In my mind, his crime, such as it is, is not that he valued his ruminations over the impact that the victims will have over him. Given that they are physically and culturally distant, it’s not surprising that their suffering has essentially no impact upon him. It’s that he’s valued the public discussion of his rumination *higher* than the chance that someone who *is* directly affected will chance upon his article, and be even more upset.

In my mind, that’s not a trade-off worth making, but realistically, the chance that anyone is truly impacted by his words are pretty small.

And, of course, Corey is right. The emotional impact upon the author would likely be higher if victims were geographically or culturally closer. But then that’s the same with every tragedy. My observation was that discussions of 9/11 that utterly ignored the personal impact of the victims started farthest away, and have slowly crept closer to New York as time passes.

14

RSA 03.22.14 at 7:51 pm

Creepy. I wonder if he’s considered writing an article about missing children?

15

Clay Shirky 03.22.14 at 7:55 pm

Peterson @ 4:

“If you can remember back to the time before the Unabomber published his manifesto, me, my friends and people like my friends *liked* the fact that he was out there.
We may have felt differently if one of our relatives been a victim but the ethnicity of the people he sent bombs to was irrelevant.”

These two sentences, taken together, rather proves Corey’s point, I think. Ethnicity is a red herring — what Corey is writing about is social distance from harm.

And let me second your suggestion that, had a mentally ill thug targeted you and yours, you would indeed have felt differently. One such feeling would have been a horror of people who grouped backpacking with murder of law-abiding citizens into the set of things that they “need” to make life seem thrilling.

16

SusanC 03.22.14 at 8:31 pm

I consider a lot of TV news to be a malign kind of violent pornography. Events which are no doubt tragic for the people directly involved are turned into entertainment.

It’s particularly malign in the case of terrorism, because terrorist groups want to promote their political cause (and/or themselves), and know that terrorism is a reliable way to get themselves on TV. There is a causal connection between TV viewers enjoying (at some level) watching this stuff, and more terrorism being committed.

Other examples of tragedy as entertainment include child abduction (e.g. Madeleine McCann), and the plane crashes that weren’t due to terrorism.

In nearly of these cases, the actual risk to the TV viewer of suffering a similar fate is extremely small. Air travel is very safe, and any given individual is very unlikely to be involved in a plane crash. Newsworthy child abduction by strangers is also probably rare (though other forms of abuse, e.g. within the family, are regretably more common).

I question whether social/ethnic distance between the TV viewer and the victim is an essential ingredient. The child abduction stories seem to get more traction when the victim is a blonde white girl.

On the “protest against modernity” bit, I’m not sure. It might be the case that terrorist groups chose airplanes not just because they are a reliable way to get on TV, but also because they are an iconic symbol of modernity. Compare this quote from Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent:

This is what you should try for. An attempt upon a crowned head or on a
president is sensational enough in a way, but not so much as it used to
be. It has entered into the general conception of the existence of all
chiefs of state. It’s almost conventional—especially since so many
presidents have been assassinated. Now let us take an outrage upon—say a
church. Horrible enough at first sight, no doubt, and yet not so
effective as a person of an ordinary mind might think. No matter how
revolutionary and anarchist in inception, there would be fools enough to
give such an outrage the character of a religious manifestation. And
that would detract from the especial alarming significance we wish to
give to the act.

… followed by the description of a plan to blow up the Greenwich Meridian (based on the true story of the 1894 Greenwich bombing).

17

bob mcmanus 03.22.14 at 8:42 pm

what Corey is writing about is social distance from harm.

But that isn’t what 370 is particularly about, or why it has gotten attention. There were several Asian tsunami movies, and we just rewarded a movie with best picture that was about a great harm at a very great social distance. However much we may attempt to cover our rubbernecking here as compassion, what I have read in public forums follow flight paths and pings and are much more about a mystery than a tragedy.

There are a lot of tragedies that haven’t been covered so exhaustively, possibly a few recent ones, possibly even plane crashes not so recent. Gray is on to something.

18

Tom Hurka 03.22.14 at 8:52 pm

To me the question is:

Who’s more pretentious, Gray or Arendt? It’s a tough call.

19

oldster 03.22.14 at 8:59 pm

I share Shatterface’s reaction–Gray is just doing hand-me-down Baudrillard shock-jock nonsense. The New Republic really ought to be ashamed to publish it.

It is unfeeling, sophomoric, leering, voyeuristic, and nearly blasphemous. It may also be racist, but it is sufficiently bad without that vice to still count as thoroughly vicious.

20

oldster 03.22.14 at 9:27 pm

Shorter Gray:

I’m a weak-willed iPhone addict who can’t quit refreshing Slate. They’re a couple hundred families who lost loved ones and are now losing hope of closure. Clearly my plight is far more momentous.

21

Collin Street 03.22.14 at 10:09 pm

Okay, he’s sick of the hyperconnectedness of his life but to envy the people on the lost plane, which is very nearly what he’s doing, is just cold.

Occam’s razor suggests — very strongly — that the reason people write significantly disturbed things is because they’re significantly disturbed.

22

Nine 03.22.14 at 10:51 pm

Clay Shirky @ 15 – “One such feeling would have been a horror of people who grouped backpacking with murder of law-abiding citizens into the set of things that they “need” to make life seem thrilling.”

Not only that, one wonders if he leaves his smartphone at home or has one in his Northface backpack alongside the canned food.

23

Philip 03.22.14 at 11:24 pm

@Susan C, see Charlie Brooker re mass killings.

24

Ken_L 03.22.14 at 11:35 pm

Gray can’t make up his mind whether he’s talking about the desire for mystery, the fear of not being able to control technology, or individual privacy (“a hiding place”). Trying to work all three separate themes into a single short piece was bound to end badly. However his main idea seems to be a vague concern that people should retain the ability to function as individuals with some guaranteed freedom from observation.

Privacy and individualism are very recent concepts for the human species; even today, they are the exception rather than the rule in many countries. Most Filipinos, to take a random example, never experience a moment of true aloneness in their entire lives. It would be literally unthinkable for them to imagine doing anything as an individual, nor would they ever want to. Gray is of course free to put individual privacy forward as something he values for himself but he should not presuppose that it is some kind of universal human characteristic.

25

W R Peterson 03.22.14 at 11:48 pm

Nine @ 22
Sometimes I bring a phone with me, sometimes not. I began backpacking more than 2 decades before the iphone was even invented

Shirky @ 15
Perhaps you are right and ethnicity is a red herring and I should have known that the OP’s use of the phrase “the brown man’s misery” was just meant to throw me off track.

And did I say thrilling? No I did not. That is not quite what I am looking for. Rather I think a better word would be ‘untamed.’
I don’t believe I would prefer to live in a world that was totally untamed but neither does a totally tamed world sound appealing.
Some people may be able to get their fill of spice from television but I do not look up to them.

I have been miles from the nearest road facing a bear with nothing in my hand but a fishing pole. The bear sat in my path watching me for quite some time before moving off. If the bear had been hungry rather than bored I would have become scat. Would it be enough for you to live in a world where the woods had no bears?

26

bad Jim 03.22.14 at 11:54 pm

Nine @ 22: backpackers take freeze dried rather than canned food, and there is seldom cell phone service in the wilderness.

27

W R Peterson 03.23.14 at 12:27 am

I’ll add one more thing because I thought of a better way to say it.
My story of the bear might sound ‘thrilling’ but it was not a heart-racing experience.
It was humbling.
That’s what I get from the untamed, a humbling confrontation with my own limits.
Finding the Malaysian plane would reinforce our sense that we have tamed the world, not finding it would point out our own humble limits.

28

Ronan(rf) 03.23.14 at 12:33 am

Do we not know that we haven’t ‘tamed the world’ as is ? We’ve made habitable a very small part of the world and extended life by a few years, but we can’t really control anything and we’re all going to end up dead in no time..i dont see where the taming has occurred.

29

W R Peterson 03.23.14 at 12:47 am

Because we die nothing is tamed?
We are probably not defining our terms the same way.
When I fly over the country and see the endless expanses of geometric shapes of farmed fields I see tamed land.
When I am on the ground and see all the corn in a field exactly the same height like it had been mowed by a 6 foot tall mower because the plants are all genetically modified copies of each other I see tamed plants.
Perhaps those things look untamed to you.

30

Ronan(rf) 03.23.14 at 1:17 am

The land itself might be parcelled into neat packages and all the corn at one height, but the underlying determinants of food production are highly contingent on very specific weather patterns of which we have no control. The land patterns themselves are dependant on market fluctuations and ownership configurations removed from any central design. That we have, to some degree, worked around our contraints and created the impression of order at this specific moment in our history in these very limited geographical areas shouldnt fool us into thinking we’ve tamed anything. But thats kind of bullsh**ty so let me put it this way ..

Around the fishing village I grew up by there would have been a deep, intra generational, family to family knowledge of the industry, of the waters they fished in, the weather patterns etc which was all (in my lifetime) reinforced by technological advances, professionalisation and so on. To all intents and purposes it was an industry that had tamed its surroundings, boats went out at x came back at y with load z. There was a pattern and a routine. But still if you asked any of them had they tamed the ocean they would have told you to get a grip ! They learnt to work around it, thats all. And there was still *always* a disaster, because even with all these advances success was highly contingent on very small things going right.
I don’t see this as taming anything, more as luck and years of societal evolution leading to some order existing in some places at some times.

Now that all might be pretensious nonsense on my part, but where am I wrong ?! Or are we talking past eachother ?

31

Nine 03.23.14 at 1:22 am

“I have been miles from the nearest road facing a bear with nothing in my hand but a fishing pole. The bear sat in my path watching me for quite some time before moving off.”

This reads like a parody of Hemingway except everything else he’s written suggests a man who takes himself utterly seriously.

32

Main Street Muse 03.23.14 at 1:35 am

Ronan (RF) @10 nails it.

I find Gray to be pretentious and without any reason for feeling so proud. That New Yorker article is rubbish. It is idiotic to propose that the hijacking that took place in the 1970s “in many ways, was a protest against the increasing size of the flying machines and the big companies making them.”

That’s just moronic.

This is the line that bugs me most: “Our “hyperconnectivity,” as he calls it, is the very reason we need this mystery right now.”

Yes. Tell that to the families of those on that plane. Their lack of connectivity to those passengers who are for two weeks now have been in this terrible lost plane limbo is precisely the reason we don’t need this mystery right now.

Gray seems a man who’s lived very little and lost not a lot. In other words, ignorant.

33

W R Peterson 03.23.14 at 1:57 am

I’ll start with the fishing village and I’ll say that I don’t think you are wrong.

The weather…agreed, untamed.
The ocean…also, not something I’d call tamed

But I still get the sense that you are using the word tamed to mean a greater degree of control over something than I mean when I use the word.

There is a term ‘tamed river’ used of rivers that are dammed and the release of water controlled. Sure, times when there is danger of flooding they will be forced to release more water and during droughts less but I think there is a meaningful distinction between that situation and the one on what is termed ‘wild rivers.’

from http://www.rivers.gov/california.php
California has approximately 189,454 miles of river, of which 1,999.6 miles are designated as wild & scenic—1% of the state’s river miles.

Ok that info is not exactly on point because the designation of wild & scenic might be leaving out wild & ugly rivers but even so I doubt a very high percentage of CA’s river would be considered ‘wild.’
That does not mean the tamed rivers never flood or never dry up but I think the term is useful.

Somehow I feel like we’ve moved off-topic.

34

LFC 03.23.14 at 4:00 am

I started to write a comment and then lost it. Short version: I don’t think Arendt, as excerpted in the OP, is right about T.E. Lawrence’s motivations, not the part about fleeing ‘respectability’ anyway, as about a 10 or 15-minute refresher bit of research on his life will, I think, indicate. He was a complicated figure about whom an enormous amt has been written. (I don’t want to reconstruct the rest of the comment so I’ll leave it at that.)

35

Belle Waring 03.23.14 at 6:17 am

Christ, what an asshole.

36

js. 03.23.14 at 7:12 am

Finding the Malaysian plane would reinforce our sense that we have tamed the world, not finding it would point out our own humble limits.

Oh but frankly, fuck off. Maybe, just maybe your or my or “our” sense of what’s tamed and what’s not is not that fucking important.

37

Collin Street 03.23.14 at 8:43 am

It was humbling.

Which is odd, really, because someone who values humbling experiences you don’t seem to come across as very humble at all.

38

Ronan(rf) 03.23.14 at 12:52 pm

WR Peterson – Sorry, Id gone to bed before you replied. I see what you’re saying, my replay was slightly tangential and irrelevant to your larger point.
Don’t mind the haters .. Im not feeling you on the unabomber point (!jaysus : ) !) but I see where you’re coming from.

39

Ronan(rf) 03.23.14 at 12:54 pm

well, Im not feeling you on the bit js highlighted either, tbh !

40

Belle Waring 03.23.14 at 3:13 pm

I’ve flown the corresponding Singapore Airlines flight (Singapore to Beijing red-eye) with my then nine-year-old daughter, who was headed for two weeks at the parent school of her Chinese school in Singapore, all by her brave self (I was only delivering her late because I screwed up her visa application). I’m glad we didn’t get a chance to provide any “needed mystery” to Mr. Gray’s life. Both of my daughters and I will be flying this very Friday within the mysteeeeerious Orient and, again, one hopes that the peculiar hyperconnectivity of Lombok (where one often has much better wifi than access to potable water or electricity, unfortunately, since dongles are cheaper than power plants, and walls of mountain sheering into the sea are great sites for towers) will welcome us in a nicely plane-shaped configuration, at speeds tolerable to humans, and so forth. My younger daughter has golden ringlets; will this help us in any way?

41

W R Peterson 03.23.14 at 3:34 pm

Ok there has been a lot of comment about the content of my posts and I will take the blame for that because I did not make explicit why I made them.

I read the OP to be suggesting that Gray’s opinions about the missing plane had something to do with racism.
The racism explanation fits the presented evidence to a certain extent but it is not a forceful explanation imho because it does not consider whether other explanations could equally well fit the evidence.
I attempted to present a motivation alternative to racism that could also fit the evidence.
If you think racism is the only possible explanation for Gray’s opinion then the OP’s reasoning is sound. If other motivations are not ruled out, the OP’s case is not made.

42

Anderson 03.23.14 at 7:21 pm

“Who’s more pretentious, Gray or Arendt? It’s a tough call.”

Went back to the quotation in the OP, and I’m just not pretentious enough to catch the pretentiousness, I guess. Prof. Hurka however may not share my deficiency in that regard.

43

oldster 03.23.14 at 7:30 pm

Thank you, Mr. Peterson, for giving us a forceful reminder that not every type of sociopathic indifference to human welfare is the racist type of sociopathic indifference to human welfare.

44

bob mcmanus 03.23.14 at 7:32 pm

41: How about exoticism or orientalism?

After reading this post I wondered where are the Typee, Salammbo, and Seven Pillars of Wisdom for our times, presuming we haven’t evolved into a higher life-form?

I looked at the Top Movie Box Office of 2013 and found my answer, though I don’t know what it means.

45

bob mcmanus 03.23.14 at 7:38 pm

Ok, what it means.

I once argued with Holbo, who finds SF in Chesterton, that the useful origins are in Burroughs, who marked the mere trivial change in content from 19th century racist and imperialist fantasies to SF, horror, and superhero fantasies. We are still the same slavers and colonialists, our victims have just become partly imaginary.

Old news for SF critique, Gray is just playing slan/Ubermensch. Not interesting in himself, unless you see the Marvel and zombiemovies and Frozen playing the same games.

46

Corey Robin 03.23.14 at 8:01 pm

What Anderson said. I’ve never understood this claim that Arendt is pretentious.

47

roy belmont 03.23.14 at 8:15 pm

… the act of a lunatic making a political statement…
That’s gonna last me all day long.
So fertile, so rich in fertility, so pregnant with fertile fertility, and beyond the aesthetic/humor potential, so useful in so other many practical ways.

The boss media that I’ve seen – limited duration, limited sample base – were using the induced anxiety of El Plano de Fue to extend the comforting paternal/BigBro arm of technocratic ableness around the backs of American sofas everywhere, and armchairs too I bet.
We’re here, we’re on it, we’re trying so hard. We’ve got your backs America.
A chick that looked like Sarah Silverman in a flight-ish jacket in one of those stripped to the bare essentials re-con planes, looking ready to dive out the door the minute they spotted anything resembling the fallen vessel of lost passenger souls.

Maybe it’s just a silly little metaphor of how fucked we are, maybe.
Only with real people, on their real way to China.

I would like to take this opportunity to begin a pointing out, that I hope to make a permanent feature of my pointing things out generally, everywhere, that is that that in an arena which is practically taking up the entire stadium of public discourse, wherein the use of rational constructs is relied upon exclusively to be the only final and only legitimate arbiter of any human dispute, the informational and imagistical controlling apparatus of the control-minded minds behind that apparatus is being used exclusively and consistently and really constantly to control the emotions of the subject population. Not their thinkings, their feelings.
And yet emotions are consistently derided as insubstantial subjective and go away crybabies.
So the pointing out is that emotions are so important the entire thought-machine-creator-thing is devoted to making them and directing them and redirecting them night and day, and yet anyone who asserts that we should do or not do things based on “feeling” primarily and reason secondarily is a dunce of stupidity, probably merely a lawyer for crybabies.

The saddest thing so far, and probably all the way now, is a hand-lettered phrase on an insta-mural from Kuala Lumpur:

“Please come back”

48

Omega Centauri 03.23.14 at 8:30 pm

I think the “mystery” thing is actually quite correct. While those of us with great curiosity about the natural world -or about human culture etc. have no shortage of intellectual mysteries to pursue- I don’t think that applies to the vast bulk of the general public. This sort of thing serves as a shared form of mystery they can share with likeminded others. I’m amazed at how many people (including my wife) can spend and hour or two listening to the the latest televused “experts” (which really have nothing other than mere than speculation about possible (but unlikley to be real) clues).

49

Val 03.23.14 at 8:32 pm

@35 and 40 Belle Waring
Absolutely. My daughter flew from Singapore to Indonesia last night with her tiny baby. I’m so glad they arrived safely.

50

Val 03.23.14 at 8:40 pm

@48
You appear to have just completed the double whammy of insulting your wife, as well as the “vast bulk of the general public”. Maybe rather than being intellectually inferior (as your comment seems to suggest), they care what happened to those people?

51

ezra abrams 03.23.14 at 11:34 pm

Channeling F M Ford, it is possible for Grey to be complete idiot and right about something…if something about the loss of “unkown” on the map didn’t resonate, we wouldn’t bet talking about him
http://yro.slashdot.org/story/14/03/23/2224246/la-police-all-cars-in-la-are-under-investigation

52

W R Peterson 03.24.14 at 2:31 am

oldster @ 43
Sociopathic?
Not sure where you get that. From my admission of a time when I saw the Unabomber in folk hero terms the way others see DB Cooper or Jesse James or Robin Hood or whoever?
That’s a broader definition of sociopathic most people use.

Maybe it’s about the plane specifically? I never said I wished the plane to crash or that I was happy that it crashed. I merely said I shared Gray’s preference for the rapidly disappearing time when not all that is lost is findable.

Maybe there is something I wrote in this thread that I am forgetting or maybe you are just projecting things that are not there.

53

Belle Waring 03.24.14 at 3:58 am

mcmanus-sensei: wait, does my husband totally disagree with you about this? Because Burroughs is in fact correct. It doesn’t obviate the Chesterton point. It more that there are different streams of SF. As an obsessive lover of Sax Rohmer’s novels, I agree lots of SF is just taking a hard right at “beautiful slave girl from the Caucasus who’s secretly white, whom I must save from evil Oriental genius with god-like powers” and taking two steps to “beautiful slave girl from planet Zed who’s openly white whom I must save from evil alien genius with god-like powers. Inscrutable ones, though.”

Peterson, we’ve taken classes in formal logic too, even if we haven’t faced down the metamorphosis into bear-scat with naught but a fishing-rod in our hands. There are any number of logically possible explanations for Gray’s complaints, ranging in plausibility from “he just really liked that Krakauer book” to “he had a personal reason to hate each individuale on that plane, as it chanced,” to “aliens are controlling his actions.” But I think if you consider how likely is it that he would be taking this attitude, namely ‘the families deserve closure and all, but for the rest of us it’s great all those people were killed, because cellphones are annoying!’ if it were 300 Americans lost between California and Hawaii, then you will suddenly understand why racism is the most parsimonious explanation.

54

bad Jim 03.24.14 at 6:31 am

I’m annoyed by the reactions to Peterson’s wilderness experiences. Are we the only two who’ve ever backpacked? I’ve dealt with bears since my family started camping in 1958. In Yosemite they’re a fact of life.

My most memorable encounter was in 1976, entering Yosemite from the north, descending towards the Tuolomne. Just above a fork in the trail I saw a bear coming up the trail towards me. I quickly decided that the bear had the right of way, since it was coming uphill and might be considered a pack animal, so I stepped off the trail, elevating me another foot. My size was further magnified by my backpack.

It had been raining for two days and the bear was soaked. It eyed me warily and took the side trail. I have to admit to being apprehensive, but I’ll also admit a strong desire to stroke its fur. Poor bear!

During a previous night in Yosemite Valley, bears rampaged through our walk-in camp site and one fished a carton of Camels out of my back pack, discarding it as soon as it tasted tobacco. Over the years I’ve had more grief from chipmunks and raccoons.

55

Nine 03.24.14 at 7:51 am

bad Jim@54 – It’s not backpacking that’s the problem here – he linked his backpacking experiences rather insensitively (and not very convincingly i might add) to a) the unabomber and b) the plight of the passengers on the missing plane in wishing for them never to be found. Apparently a and b somehow provide continuation to what he found at “Burning Man” and when he faced the bear – that part is pretty funny to read though. A commentator who expressed the desire to relive his first time watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” through the story of the Unabomber would not only elicit a similar reaction and be similarly chastised, the people responding wouldn’t think twice since Texas Chainsaw isn’t some wholesome activity like backpacking.

I do wish i hadn’t taken the bait since his subsequent posts, thought they don’t make sense to me, are explained with great care.

56

bad Jim 03.24.14 at 9:29 am

Nine, that’s nice. I feel a little defensive since I haven’t been out in the wild for thirty years (I’m old!).

Perhaps I should add, as a coda, that although I’m not that bothered by bears, I really feel threatened by lightning. Climbing Lassen Peak was a family tradition, but the last time we did it there was a thunderstorm. When my mother reached the top, all her hair was standing on end; when I pointed out the phenomenon, she tied it down with a kerchief. (An English major, she had a loose relationship with cause and effect, and what’s ionization?) We descended as fast as we could, while lightning struck all around us fairly randomly. One strike directly in front of me, a few dozen feet away (ZAPKABOOM), was the most frightening thing I’d ever experienced.

After that, bears encounters, auto accidents and even lawsuits were, all things considered, comparatively entertaining.

57

oldster 03.24.14 at 10:34 am

“There but for the grace of god go I,” is superficially an expression of the deepest humility, and a disavowal of any personal merit. And yet the phrase has become, with good reason, a shorthand for describing arrogant people convinced of their deep and unique personal merit.

So too, “the wilderness should always be more powerful than puny man,” seems like the sort of thing that could in principle be said by someone who experienced genuine reverence at the insignificance of our species to a large and mysterious cosmos. But sentiments like this are more often expressed by would-be tough-guys who are sure the cosmos revolves around them. What they are really saying is, “my awesome adventure in the wilderness proves that I’m not one of you puny men.”

And, “don’t remind me about the interconnectedness of human society, because that would threaten my illusions of manly independence and indomitable self-reliance.”

Still sounds like second-rate Hemingway parody to me. I’m glad that Nine is nicer.

58

Katherine 03.24.14 at 2:56 pm

Geez, as if the complete failure to find the plane thus far hasn’t already provided us with enough of a reminder that the world is huge, we are puny and that, whatever glossy TV drama may show us, we don’t and can’t track everything everywhere.

No, that’s not enough! We need the mystery (and pain of people we don’t know) forever to provide us with enough white man’s angst about the untamed, unconnected world to last us to the next mysterious tragedy!

I second Belle. Christ, what an asshole.

59

David 03.24.14 at 3:05 pm

If Leonard Nimoy had said it, we would all be more sympathetic to his point.

60

Trader Joe 03.24.14 at 3:47 pm

I hope they find the plane, but likewise I expect the mystery will endure even if they do.

The “Why” is the part that nags me in the whole story and a jumble of mangled metal might provide some closure, but its unlikely to answer many questions.

Why the perpetrator(s) did it? How they did it? How the passengers felt? When they died? Why the plane ditched here (wherever here turns out to be) will likely remain a mystery – whether humbling, a connectivity lesson, or anything, still an unknown with some unsettling characteristics.

61

William Berry 03.24.14 at 6:22 pm

Mega-dittoes (ahem!) bob m @44 and 45. Exoticism and orientalism, precisely. We don’t even know when we’re doing it.

62

Ronan(rf) 03.24.14 at 6:54 pm

It’s callous and stupid, but I personally couldnt see orientalist and racist unless we’re running with some very loose definitions. He’s able to be blase about the lives of people he’s removed from geographically, that he doesnt associate (perhaps) with culturally or socially. That’s not a good trait of course, but it’s a common one, to all people everywhere, including here if we’re honest.
If anything it’s the opposite of orientalism, it’s an obliviousness rather than a patronishing reverence trading in simplisitc caricatures.

63

Anderson 03.24.14 at 7:16 pm

“(An English major, she had a loose relationship with cause and effect,”

Or say rather, she had deconstructed that binary opposition.

64

Jim Buck 03.24.14 at 7:50 pm

He’s able to be blase about the lives of people he’s removed from geographically, that he doesnt associate (perhaps) with culturally or socially. That’s not a good trait of course, but it’s a common one, to all people everywhere, including here if we’re honest.

I recall that it was suggested here, not long ago, that railroad trolley accidents may be inherently comic.

65

Barry 03.24.14 at 8:02 pm

Lynne 03.22.14 at 3:00 pm

” Gray’s take seems very odd. Okay, he’s sick of the hyperconnectedness of his life but to envy the people on the lost plane, which is very nearly what he’s doing, is just cold. “

An adventure is ‘a bunch of people a thousand miles away having a rough time’.

Alternately, ‘pundit’ is a late 20th/early 21st century US work for ‘idiot’.

Finally, ‘The New Republic’ (need I say more?).

66

Barry 03.24.14 at 8:04 pm

W R Peterson 03.24.14 at 2:31 am

” oldster @ 43
Sociopathic?
Not sure where you get that. From my admission of a time when I saw the Unabomber in folk hero terms the way others see DB Cooper or Jesse James or Robin Hood or whoever?
That’s a broader definition of sociopathic most people use.”

A guy sends letter bombs to random, innocent people because he didn’t like the direction that he felt that society was taking, and you like this? Yes, sociopathic would be a word. A very good word.

67

js. 03.24.14 at 8:25 pm

I recall that it was suggested here, not long ago, that railroad trolley accidents may be inherently comic.

Are you actually comparing criticisms, even dismissive ones, of absurd examples in philosophy papers with Gray’s—what to call it—musings about the Malaysia Airlines crash?

68

johne 03.24.14 at 8:48 pm

Off at a tangent:

Do most who follow the story see the Flight 370 passengers as,
a.) Mainly oriental or,
b.) Mainly airline passengers.

I submit that most have seen them as b.), mainly airline passengers, like many of them or their relatives have been, and could be again, someday. The story was riveting from the first, when it was not clear who the passengers were.

Much of the fascination of the story is due to us imagining ourselves in the position of the flight’s passengers, who found their worst fears about air travel were being realized.

69

Jim Buck 03.24.14 at 8:51 pm

No.

70

John Quiggin 03.24.14 at 11:32 pm

On the side topic of iPhones, they work well as GPS trackers even in the absence of phone coverage. Because of this, I always take mine with me. I was very surprised, and not entirely pleased, to receive a phone call when I was at the top of Mount Jagungal, which is about as wilderness as you can get.

Also, and as usual, what Belle said.

71

AJtron the Invincible 03.25.14 at 4:50 am

> On the side topic of iPhones, they work well as GPS trackers even in the
> absence of phone coverage.
Let me just put in a plug for the Android phones which also have a GPS tracker.

72

bad Jim 03.25.14 at 7:36 am

Anderson: “Or say rather, she had deconstructed that binary opposition.”

Sure, but tying down your hair is not a practical response to a static electrical charge on top of a ten thousand foot dormant volcano.

I wish I’d taken a picture, but only my Dad had a camera, and he was down in Bumpass Hell when the storm broke (yes, this is a disco joke). He was waiting for us in the parking lot at the base of the mountain, and I’ve never been so grateful to jump into a Faraday cage.

73

DaveL 03.25.14 at 4:20 pm

Simpler Gray: “I’m auditioning for a job at Slate.”

74

AJtron the Invincible 03.26.14 at 5:51 pm

> He’s able to be blase about the lives of people he’s removed from geographically,
> that he doesnt associate (perhaps) with culturally or socially.
Even if being blasé (note the acute accent) is an initial reaction, it is worth thinking about whether it is , at the end of the day, an inappropriate one.

> I recall that it was suggested here, not long ago, that railroad trolley accidents may
> be inherently comic.
Yes, but I did bring up the Aam Aadmi Party and its manifesto in that conversation. I submit that the Aam Aadmi Party’s manifesto is also quite comic. It reads like a high school student’s typo-ridden essay. Even if finding it funny is an initial reaction, it is, again, worth thinking about whether it is, in the final analysis, an appropriate one.

75

Ronan(rf) 03.26.14 at 5:56 pm

Acute accent noted, AJtron the Invincible.

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