Wednesday 12 December 2018

You can’t take it with you, and yet so many act as if they can

This article first appeared in Malta Today 

Do you know the one thing that all doomsday, disaster movies have in common?

It’s the fact that no matter what status you happen to hold at the point that the end of the world is nigh (whether it is due to a nuclear bomb, a hurricane, a tsunami, an earthquake or even a combination of everything), everyone on planet earth is reduced to the same level playing field. Even when aliens or zombies strike, as they love to do in so many films (a theme which seems to hold endless fascination for producers and scriptwriters), it really becomes immaterial whether you are just getting by on the minimum wage, holding down two jobs to make ends meet or living in the lap of luxury. The thread which I see running through all these movies is invariably the same: basically, when it comes down to the wire, as people switch to primal, self-preservation mode and are scrambling in sheer panic to escape whatever catastrophe unfolds, mounds of cash, countless properties, investments, stocks and bonds and everything material become meaningless. Ultimately, disastrous events are the great equalizer.

It is a sobering thought to realise that, in the grand scheme of things, we are just one calamity away from staring death in the face.

Of course, whether it is going to be due to freaky weather brought about climate change, a fatal illness, a tragic accident or natural causes, we are all going to be dead in the end anyway (although some seem to think otherwise). But the point is that, in the event of an apocalypse and the total annihilation of mankind at a single stroke, no amount of money is going to protect you or save you or make it possible for you to escape the inevitable. From those who are scraping by to those who are fabulously wealthy, we would all be facing the same predicament and it will be wits, survival instinct and just pure luck which will determine who will make it or not.

The recent tragedy in Genoa when the Morandi bridge collapsed, further underscores this reality: 39 people dead so far, and the death toll keeps rising. Who knows who among the victims was rich or poor, or somewhere in between? They all suffered the same fate and the only thing they had in common was that they happened to be crossing the same bridge on that fateful day. Italian media reports have cited “workers on their way to clock in, vacationing families and foreign tourists” among those who died. One man recounted how he just happened to survive because his car did not plunge immediately to the bottom, but got stuck on a steel pillar, so he clambered out of the car and climbed his way back up to safety. He described it as a miracle, especially as he escaped without any serious injuries. Yet in the same incident, at least three children have been reported killed – unfortunately, there was no miracle in store for them.

It has been widely reported that lack of proper maintenance due to corrupt practices and the hand of the Mafia are to blame for the collapse of the Morandi bridge. Also being blamed is Autostrade per l’Italia, the company that operated the A10 highway, including the bridge, which had “charged heavy tolls on the many Italian highways it managed, but had not invested enough in maintenance,” according to Cinque Stelle, which forms part of the governing coalition. However, it was the same Cinque Stelle which, while in Opposition, had opposed investing in new bridge.

When profits come at the expense of human life, this is the tragic result. Locally, we have had our own similar, abysmal track records and sometimes it is simply pure chance that more tragedies have not occurred due to cutting corners, negligence, and someone, somewhere making money. The ruin of our natural environment and the exploitation of the vulnerable are further casualties. One need look no further than those who are getting fat from their fish farms which are polluting the sea with foul-smelling slime, making it impossible to swim at various bays, and the farmer who turned his cow stalls into “accommodation” for immigrants, shamelessly raking in over 10,000 Euro a month.

The lack of control we have over our own destiny should be obvious to all, and yet when I see the unabashed greed all around us, of people sloshing around in their obscene wealth, usually at the expense of others whom they exploit, I invariably wonder whether the realization of their own mortality ever hits them. Or maybe it is precisely because they fear death that they live their lives at this frantic, gluttonous pace, not allowing themselves to pause even for a moment, lest they have to sit still and wrestle with their own conscience and the consequences of their avarice.

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