The cultures that is Italy

Responsible for one of the most stupid shipping accidents of all time, not to mention the death of thirty or so passengers, Schettino was nevertheless greeted in his home town of Meta di Sorrento (on the south side of the bay of Naples) by a crowd waving banners in his favor and complaining, priest included, that the man’s bad press was the result of a general prejudice against their community. “Every Italian,” Giacomo Leopardi dryly remarked in 1826 “is more or less equally honored and dishonored.”

Here is more, interesting throughout.


Has there ever been a shipping accident that wasn't stupid?

Maybe a rogue wave. I can't think of anything else.

Hindsight is always so much smarter than ordinary people. The question you should ask is whether there was a shipping accident which was stupid at the time. Well, sure, some, but not as many as you might think. Take something like the Morro Castle. In retrospect it is easy to say that they should have done this or that - although the crew did behave very badly given they had lifeboats for some 500 people but only 50 or so, mainly crew, got in them. However to be caught up in a ship that catches on fire unexpectedly is something else altogether. It is hard to see that anyone would have done anything else. I don't know how I would have reacted, but I doubt I would have done as well.

Although this case - if it is true that the captain was showing off to people on shore - is certainly stupid.

Is it really that hard to help passengers into boats? Maybe we can't expect the vast swath of untrained crew on these pleasure liners to be trained, but how hard is it to survive and not panic if you know what you are doing? How is it we can't expect people to do their job?

Yeah, often times it is. When you consider the low amount of attention most passengers pay to fire and boat drills, it is easy to believe that a good percentage of passengers actually hinder their own rescue and safety.

I've worked with LNG, ammunition and ordinance, self heating bulk cargoes, and many other things. None work against you as hards as people.

I won't blame it merely on passenger incompetence. For one the standards of success while dealing with passengers are stricter: Consider that 99% of the "human load" of the Costa Concordia survived. For anything other than

Fundamentally the problem of getting 4000 souls (even if extremely well trained) off a sinking ship is far harder than getting 20 crew off a LNG tanker.

Unexpected fire? No such thing. Naval vessels expect fire, have fire suppression systems and damage control parties.

Captains and crews are supposed to be trained to respond to problems. It's why they are captains and crews.

Rogue waves, Godzilla rising from the depths, asteroid strikes - these are unexpected. Airplanes seem to have a much better record of responding to unexpected problems despite the fact that every unexpected problem with an aircraft is potentially catastrophic. Maybe the difference is that the pilot and aircrew don't have their own personal escape pods. They literally go down with their ship.

Rocks have been a danger to shipping since the first raft touched water. Maps of rocks, reefs, shoals, and sandbars and avoiding them are basic to seamanship. Any helmsman should be able to do it.

One rough estimate of stupidity is to ask other Captains if this might be a mess they can see themselves get into. In this case probably not.

Being responsible doesn't mean being guilty, as our politicians say in France.

Of everything, I'd like to outsource some of our justice to China, after the guilty verdict of course that is, after the cover-up has failed. Perhaps Italy should consider it too.

Isn't our job to make this captain (and responsible crew) understand there are fates worse than death? Good job Italians.

And another thing...there is always this reaction from layman that "this could never have been predicted!" In most cases it is extremely easily predicted. Shipwrecks happen. And by the way, we are talking about a shipwreck where the boat doesn't even sink?!?

Since the article only speculates about causes I don’t understand why you explain it in terms of culture. Having like you thoroughly enjoyed comparing various cultures from a development perspective for many years (I love the differences) now in middle age I’ve grown cautious about attributing *causality* to culture simply because in the end it seemed the causes of underdevelopment transcend culture and are basically the same wherever you look.
I don’t see this happening at quite this level in Germany or the USA. And I’d say the reason it doesn’t is *checks and balances* which are formal, concrete and structural rather than informal, vague and cultural. Tomfoolery could conceivably result from a difference in intelligence. But explaining decisions on an intelligence-stupidity spectrum is just as bad as consigning countries to the dustbin of history because of their culture. So maybe it’s better to use institutional explanations (structured patterns of economic regulation, legal process, political process), as well as ideological explanations, which could include primitive nationalism and regionalism.
Granted, I can imagine Italians doing this stuff more easily than say Germans or North Americans. It’s natural to intuit something ‘cultural’ in it. Culture is always part of the story, the choice of additive, spice, flavoring, the gaseous scent, or the way people wave their arms and hands to make their point. But isn’t cultural explanation itself a little to much like easy hand waving, and not very scientific?

The article is interessante. Here’s a mildly contra-culturalist bit you left out:
-- Those who have read my recent articles on world literature and translation may think that this piece is entirely unconnected. Not so. In a work of literary criticism, Romanzo mondo (The World Novel), published in 2010, Professor Vittorio Coletti speaks of a homogenization of the novel across Europe in the second half of the twentieth century coming as a consequence of the fact that “the similarities between many nations gradually became greater than their differences”; he goes on to claim that “the moment was approaching when a story told in Berlin wouldn’t be very different from one set in Lisbon.” My own suspicion is that such homogenization as has occurred arises more from the authors’ desire to address an international public than because events and personalities in the Parliament in Rome, for example, are truly similar to those in Paris or London. --

il falco piombò sulla preda….

So one might infer -- Because of a European constitutional change that occurred only one decade ago a story told in Berlin could soon be similar to one set in Lisbon. The author raises that possibility, but finally disagrees. Perhaps he accidentally? implies that the key variable is commerce (or ego or a cosmopolitanism), i.e., the desire of the novelist to write for an international public. Imagine this then… eventually, after some protracted international law or commerce, behaviour in the world becomes more homogenous, and the world becomes safer.

Either way, the conclusion is that commerce and law ultimately trump culture. This is a difficult thing for economists. They feel sad because it spoils their holidays, conferences, and research sojourns. Most of all, the downgrading of the utility of cultural analysis robs economists of a handy way to explain away whatever economics cannot. It’s like a worker who refuses to blame her tools. The plumber says, it’s not the pipes that cause the leaks, but rather the bad soil where I laid the pipes.


Is there an argument in all of this verbiage? That commerce and law trump culture, perhaps... Okay, so you are saying that economists have a hard time accepting that commerce and law matter more than culture? Isn't it the case that economists are usually criticized for ignoring culture and elevating commerce as a central causal factor in social explanation? What commerce motivated Schettino? What law did?

Well, Captain Schettino will perhaps be absolved IF it emerges that the company itself encouraged or ordered him to impress the punters by sailing close to land. But I think he'll be exposed as a flamboyant womanizing scoundrel when the court case is done.

>complaining, priest included, that the man’s bad press was the result of a general prejudice against their community.

You'd think this strategy would be laughable, but it is a common one -- because it works.

And the fact that it works is, in my opinion, one of the primary reasons to believe that this planet is toast. Sooner rather than later.

It's a very common theme in so. Italy, Greece, Louisiana -- the idea that those guys in Rome/Brussels/Baton Rouge are just out to screw us anyway, so we better get what we can while we can. Get one over on them before they get one over on us.

This is actually a pretty common occurrence everywhere. Communities often defend their own. It's how crooked politicians get re-elected.

I think this is true. The sort of behavior described is hardly unique to Italy.

There was a radio program a couple weeks ago, call in, about the shipwreck. A woman called whose grandfather survived the Titanic. He was a seaman and was ordered to go into one of the first lifeboats. For many years he received death threats and insults because as an able bodied man he survived.

Doesn't make sense, but cultural assumptions define 'their own'.

"whose grandfather survived the Titanic. He was a seaman and was ordered to go into one of the first lifeboats. For many years he received death threats and insults because as an able bodied man he survived. "

Today he would quickly become rich from paid interviews, a quick book and the omnipresent made for TV movie. Isn't progress great? ;)

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