How to answer the tragedy of March 23 - English

On Risks and Wrongs

By Juliane Mendelsohn6.04.2015Culture and Society

Calculatung risks, we really only have three options: mitigate, eradicate, accept. But what to choose when it comes to the incredibly tragic risk of a depressed pilot?


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In 1986 sociologist Ulrich Beck coined a term to describe our society (as sociologists do). He called us the „risk society“. If we are perceptible to anything at all anymore, it is to the fact that we are surrounded by multitude and plethora of risks. I am not talking about the immanent threats dooming in war-stricken societies, but the risks that loom in every virtual cloud and alley-way of our otherwise so sheltered lives: a car accident, a fire, a black-out, a not-so-common strand of the common flue, deflation, inflation, a terrorist, a religious person, credit default swaps, global warming…

PANIC! PANIC now! And unless you’re insured, do not fly (air pressure), do not run (knees), do not travel (Ebola) and that thing with the sunscreen (cancer), we apparently all got told in high school.

Here is an uncommon, shocking and by all degrees incredibly tragic risk: a co-pilot so depressed, that he drove a plane into the godforsaken Alps, taking the lives of 150 people (passengers and crew) along with him.

Where possible we try to avoid and mitigate risks. This is a very good thing and speaks for our intelligence as a species. But what to do about said co-pilot? Essentially there are three options: mitigate, eradicate, accept.

Place of employment or constant psychiatric ward? Your choice.

There has been an outcry about the lack of attention that was paid to this man’s illness. The depression of an airplane pilot left unattended? In order to mitigate such risks, we could hire a team of doctors, physiatrists and psychologists to do weekly check-ups and almost constantly analyse the patterns of the behaviour of such persons. What doctors worry about the most when persons get severely depressed, is that they may harm themselves. But no psychologist in world would be able to tell you with any degree of certainty when and where and why this is likely to be the case. Place of employment or constant psychiatric ward? Your choice.

The second option would be to bar any person with a history or a potential future of mental illness from such high-risks professions. But where do we draw the line? Could the baker not poison the town’s bread? The fireman fuel the fire? The doctor cause a new symptom or strand of an illness? (oh wait, the pharmaceutical industry already does that). The lawyer refuse to argue a case in your favour? In most cases you can sue these folk for damages. But what if they kill themselves before your case even gets heard? High risk? No justice?

There can be no moral justification or acceptance.

Acceptance. Acceptance really isn’t the right word. There can be no moral justification or ‘acceptance’ of the actions leading to the tragic event of March 23. The first, the second, the third … the 150th tragedy is that of the lives of the passengers and crew being lost in vain. But the 151st tragedy perhaps is that Andreas Lubitz was so distraught and so lost in depths of a mental illness, that he chose this course of action.

They say depression is becoming ever more common. They say people suffering from depression feel hopeless and isolated and lost. They say grace and even just a conversation can turn things around. Let us start having these conversations and perhaps discover the reasons for the ever-greater psychosis that is exemplary for us as a society and bears the fruit not of a plethora of risks but of tragedy.



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