The sea claims them for their hubris, and still we worship them because of their wealth

Unless you were away from social media and television for a while and just got back—or you have a supernatural ability to avoid trending news—you know that the story of the week involved five people lost deep under the ocean surface.

Five very rich men who decided to explore the wreckage of the Titanic in a submersible vessel of dubious construction to begin with and that certainly wasn’t rated for the depths it was going into.

Five men who are now confirmed dead after the Titan submersible imploded under pressure it was never designed to reliably withstand.

The only one of the five for whom I have any sympathy is 19-year-old Suleman Dawood, son of Pakistani investor Shahzada Dawood, who apparently had grave worries about the trip but went along with his father so as not to disappoint him—especially on Father’s Day.

But his father? Or British businessman and chairman of Action Aviation Hamish Harding? French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet? Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate, which built and operated the Titan? Nah.

I would think if one possessed more money than any human should be allowed to hoard—as most of these men did—you would be more concerned with personal safety. I mean, if I were ever contemplating a voyage to the ocean floor (spoiler: I would not), I would want to make sure that the vessel was top of the line. Safe as possible, equipped with every safety feature possible and capable of being tracked and monitored by some of the smartest folks in the field.

You know, maybe something like the $10-million Deepsea Challenger. But no. Rush very publicly mocked the idea of safety and fired people who told him the vessel wasn’t up to snuff for the job. He wanted a cheap ride so he could profit handsomely off the $250K-per-person price of the trip. His Washington-based company operated in international waters I’m sure in part to avoid having to deal with pesky regulations and the like.

And the three other very fully grown men who should have known better than to ride in Rush’s underwater deathtrap—well, I guess for the very well-heeled who never have to worry about any bill or other expense in their life, they need something more than a bungee jump or a parachuting adventure to get the adrenaline going. When living life isn’t a daily challenge, I guess the very real risk of throwing away your life is all you have left sometimes.

There is an entire market of “high-risk” adventure. Companies like OceanGate tap into a market to stretch the limits of what is, to folks like me, simple common sense.

For enough money, you can take a trek into space, scale the highest mountains, or cruise down to the ocean floor.

And in the process, safety be damned. Either because wealth has made you believe you are immune to harm or because you’re just that disconnected from reality thanks to obscene wealth clouding your perceptions.

Me? I am just a mere mortal, born of working class and poor stock, who by nature likes to plan ahead and prepare for the worst so that I can avoid it. Not rush headlong into it.

But you know what? That was their choice. They gambled, and the lost in the biggest way possible. Here’s my actual problem: The attention they got and the resources they sucked up because of their hubris.

There was an international search effort underway for these men. Who was leading the effort? The United States. The same United States that Stockton Rush didn’t want in his business with their pesky safety regulations. But other nations too, pouring millions upon millions of dollars and potentially putting their own people at risk to rescue thrill-seekers.

When the wealthy scions of society make bad choices, the world drops everything to save those people. But what about migrants at sea? You know, people who are in surface vessels rather than deep underwater. People who are risking their lives to escape poverty or oppression instead of trying to feel alive by being reckless like those rich men.

When those who are escaping oppression and seeking safety are lost at sea, it barely registers. In many cases they are not white—and, well, we know they are not wealthy—and while we pay lip service to caring about all humans, the truth is that we don’t. In many ways we are living in an Animal Farm simulation, where some of the animals are far more valuable than the rest, but we lie to ourselves and pretend that is not true. 

Earlier this month, a fishing boat filled with migrants from Libya trying to make their way to Italy sank. More than 100 people were rescued but 81 dead bodies have been recovered and there are concerns that hundreds are still lost. This story received very little coverage despite the sheer volume of people involved. Certainly less than the mega-rich men on the Titan. And if so much wealth were not hoarded by the greedy, would so many people have to flee their countries in hopes of more welcoming shores? Boats full of people that are routinely turned away or left to struggle on harsh seas. Where are the orchestrated multinational efforts for those people?

In our culture, rich men and the people adjacent to them are the most valued.

There are a lot of reasons why this story has garnered so much attention—and the “adventurous” and freakish nature of it has a lot to do with it. But the uncomfortable truth is, it also says a lot about our values. We have come to accept that hundreds will die regularly trying to flee harsh living conditions but we cannot accept that a few reckless rich people who typically profit off the suffering of others might have to pay a price for their bad decisions. We say we care about all people, but do we really?

Truly fascinating to me are those people who feel it is in poor taste to speak negatively of these five men. Why not? 

In a world where economic and social inequity grows and most of the suffering experienced by the masses is due to the incessant greed of the ultra-wealthy, I say those people are fair game for criticism and even ridicule.

To comment on the sheer arrogance and stupidity of these absurdly wealthy men who were arrogant enough to think they were too important for the ocean to kill is less about wishing harm on them than it is a statement of fact. And, again, a reminder of misplaced money and misplaced values.

We are free to live the lives of our choosing (kinda, it’s really resource-dependent), but the decisions we make ultimately reflect who we are as people, and what our lived values are. 

Interestingly enough, many of us little people may say we are going to “eat the rich ” but when nature decides to intervene, we struggle with that reality. We fall back on a manufactured framework of good and bad that says you can’t speak ill of the dead. Or that it’s in poor taste to make jokes about people who literally gave a middle finger to the Grim Reaper and dared him to take them.

To see the volume of resources being expended to rescue those men, despite the fact that the owner of the company went out of his way to avoid safety regulations, is ironic.

Rarely do we expend resources on those deemed “unworthy.” Instead, we are indoctrinated by society to see the rich as better than us, even if we never utter those words. Or we tell ourselves that everyone matters—but if we mattered to the ultra-wealthy, the very real inequity gap that has more people than ever sleeping in tents or on streets and has many of us living financially precarious lives wouldn’t exist. Or at least it would be vastly lessened. We don’t matter to them.

In a fair and just world, do we actually need billionaires? As we all know, we are all hooked into the Amazon machine, which has made Jeff Bezos one very wealthy man. At the same time, Bezos is not exactly known for sharing his largesse with the very people who are part of his great empire. Unlike his former wife, who recognized that at a certain point, one can have too much money and needs to do good with it, the Bezoses of the world don’t expend as much care and concern for the rest of us. 

At this moment, I can’t help thinking of the souls lost to the sea during the Middle Passage and how hundreds of years later, we are still arguing about making things right for the ancestors of those who survived the voyage to end up in slavery.

That’s one of the things I need to remind people of in social justice work, including anti-racism. Racism and capitalism have forever been intertwined. Most suffering is intimately tangled with the drive for wealth. And the systems that allow this are not made up of amorphous machines; they are made up of people.

The men who died in the Titan represent a larger system that seeks to dehumanize us all. While I won’t dance with joy over their demise, neither will I mourn them. They most certainly didn’t value their own lives and it’s not likely they valued the lives of “common people” below them. Maybe a lesson for us all is to not glorify the wealthy but instead to seek common ground across our shared humanity and to all do our part to make this a better place for everyone. A place where we stop accepting that some should relegated to sleeping on the streets or dying as refugees while others have so much that they can’t even spend it all and behave as if they are gods.

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Image by Peter F via Unsplash