Thursday, July 15, 2010

Twists of Fate 2

"A mother drowned in a freak car crash as she drove home to tell her husband she had beaten breast cancer. Jean Allen, 66, had been forced to take a detour after arsonists set fire to a church and caused massive traffic disruption." [Cambs Times 15 July 2010, Daily Mail 15 July 2010]

The tabloid newspapers make far too much use of the word "tragedy", but maybe this is one of those examples where the cruel humour of fate does justify the word.

The bereaved husband is calling for the arsonists to be tried for manslaughter. “I don’t want vengeance, I just want justice." But this seems an odd idea of justice: I think the arsonists (if caught) should be tried for arson; and I doubt that threatening them with a more serious offence is helpful in getting someone to turn them in.

The arsonists may have been partially responsible for her driving along that particular stretch of road at that particular time, but in that case the oncologists are also partially responsible. Meanwhile, the local authority failed to drain the ditch in which she drowned.
Surely the point about twists of fate is that they are beyond human agency? We can imagine some cruel purpose behind any series of events, especially when we are able to construct some kind of meaningful narrative, but that doesn't mean that such a purpose really exists.


Roy said...

I think this is about contributory factors compared with causes.

"Tragedy" is well used here, I agree, and the traffic disruption is a contributory factor, not a cause.

"What caused the crash" and, as you say, "what caused the drowning"? Not "What caused her to be on that section of the road?"


Chris Bird said...

Ahhh yes. Proximal cause and liability. In an incident in Saudi Arabia many years ago, a traffic accident was my fault because I had hired the cab and was a passenger in it when the accident occurred. I attempted to blame the immediately previous passenger, because if he (I assume he)had not hired that cab and got out where he did, then I would not have.... Y'all get the picture.
When casting about for someone to blame, we appear to want to make things, "Someone else's fault." The notion that if something bad happens there is always someone to blame. And then of course there is the complete lack of distinction between vengeance ("I want the SOB punished.") and justice, ("I want to find out which SOB was responsible and apply societal normal remedies"). It's the difference between a trial and a witch hunt.
Never let the facts get in the way of a good hanging or other spectacle.
Some emotional and intellectual honesty would go a long way to getting to cause/effect, and the proper administration of justice.