I’m am continually flummoxed by the general reactions of “teh internet” when it comes to “sensitivity”.
The latest moral outrage comes by way of a design blogger, Steven Heller, who decided to compare the design schematics of old slave ships with those of modern airliners. Of course, just like the guy who decided to break with the masses and suggest that not everything about the internet is sunshine and ponies, Mr. Heller has received a response that seems heavy on the accusation and light on any actual brain activity.
Perhaps it’s simply easier to be angry and upset, pointing toward socially-agreed upon scapegoats in order to avoid making an argument or engaging in actual thought.
I’m confused, mainly, because from a design standpoint there is absolutely a visual similarity. Heller points out the absurdity of this, and is greeted by charges of racism. I’m still uncertain why racism would be the charge. In breezing through the comments for substance, I was able to find a few references which partially explain the outrage. It was the usual “demeaning the suffering of African slaves” and the insensitivity of daring to compare a modern airline with something as despised and hated as the slave trade.
And yet, my initial thoughts in reading the short, picture-laden post were not the immediate, visceral charge of seeing it through the eyes of “us vs. them”, they were observations on the consistency of humanity throughout the ages. Unless I missed the point completely, Heller was getting across that the economic factor of packing as many human slaves into a slave ship is visually and spatially similar to the means by which airlines pack as many individuals into an airliner as possible. Again, the internet forgets that this isn’t a zero-sum game.
Business hasn’t changed, and only a moron would insist that any comparison, whatsoever, of slavery with anything other than slavery is somehow a racist, horrid action. The effect of this internet-led censorship isn’t to better conditions of the oppressed or to demonstrate the way in which systemic bias is still a huge problem in our society. No, the effect was to punish an individual for the gall to use his brain to identify a rather fascinating visual similarity. Heller wrote few words in the original post, but his line of reasoning was
Ever notice how similar the seating plans of airplanes resemble the more horrific layout (yet efficient design of those slave ships)? Could airplane designers be unconsciously influenced by them?
And that’s the point: that economics and the organizational necessity of fitting the most number of people in a finite space is still alive and well; that airlines follow an updated design philosophy which one can see the fine push and pull between maximizing persons as profit vs providing the least amount of personal space and comfort.
Again, I found the comparison fascinating, and I dearly hope that we’ll continue to talk more and more about the atrocities we, as humans, have committed since the beginning of time. In fact, it’s the act of squashing speech by which we repeat the mistakes of history.