Sunday, April 17, 2005


State of Disrepair

In reading The Outlaw Sea: A World Of Freedom, Chaos,and Crime, by William Langewiesche, the stories of piracy and terrorism were less disturbing than those of simple but widespread malfeasance. One story in particular, about the tragic sinking of the Baltic passenger ferry Estonia, is a classic study in why almost any modern resolution of public controversy is doomed from the outset by communication-challenged bureaucrats, ethically bereft businessmen, and emotionally confused consumers of mass media.

The possibility that we are forever hopelessly vulnerable to accident, disaster, sabotage, terrorism, revenge, and reckless indifference, places communication on the frontlines of the fight for public health and safety. It is, unfortunately--as this story illustrates--not a task we can confidently entrust to institutions, no matter how well intentioned. Rather, as a practical matter, we are now forced to view states, markets, and other gatekeepers and purveyors of information as yet additional obstacles to overcome in understanding social problems. Maybe it was always that way.

In a very real sense, the Estonia conflict serves as metaphor for the human world today: perhaps poorly designed and constructed; undeniably abused and mishandled; and unconscionably maintained in a perpetual state of disrepair. An intriguing read, but not a book to lift your spirits.


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