Taming the Wild
On the Impossibility of it, and the Importance of Reverence Over Conquest
On Sunday, the Titan, a chartered submersible exploring the Titanic’s wreckage, went missing.
The 22-foot carbon-fiber and titanium deep-water craft, was piloted by OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush and accompanied by four wealthy tourists: Hamish Harding, Shahzada Dawood, Suleman Dawood, and Paul-Henri Nargeolet. Trending videos of this submersible are absurd, highlighting the homemade features of a vessel meant to traverse the deepest depths of the ocean with a single “elevator button,” a $40 video game controller, and add ons from Camping World. But for $250,000 each, ocean-tourists were bolted into an anxiety-inducing tube for the thrill (or terror) of traveling 12,500 feet into oceanic darkness with the hopes of glimpsing the decaying Titanic in real time through a small porthole. As of yesterday, we now know the uncertified submersible imploded. May these five rest in peace.1
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I’ve been intrigued by this story since Monday afternoon when I saw the trending hashtags, initially assuming that OceanGate was a Twitter nickname for a breaking scandal of industry shortcuts, cheap “innovative” materials, and arrogant billionaires. But OceanGate foreshadowed the eventual outcome for anybody who dares dub their craft “unsinkable.” The ocean laughs. This story’s tragic ending is a cautionary tale of human hubris. We think we can tame the wild, conquer the depths. But we’re the merest of beings compared to the enormity of earth’s oceans. Perhaps we should leave these mysteries alone, remain firmly planted on dry land.
A few weeks ago, White Gladis the Orca gained notoriety for leading attacks on boats near the Strait of Gibraltar. Boats were bitten, rudders and hulls damaged by a matriarchal whale and her younger students. Experts believe White Gladis’s uncharacteristic behavior was motivated by trauma. And that trauma is most likely the result of human interference. We can no more colonize the Mariana Trench than we can interfere with an orca’s migration and assume they won’t react or retaliate simply because we know how to craft boats and submersibles. As Ian Malcolm iconically says in Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
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