Worldviews and Airline Crashes

During the 1990’s Korean Airlines had more plane crashes than almost any other airline in the world. For example in 1997 a Korean Air jet carrying 254 people crashed and burned during bad weather and rescuers, who trudged through the jungle with torches, found about 35 survivors. Flight 801, a Boeing 747 making a 2,000-mile trip from Seoul, South Korea, was carrying mainly Korean tourists, including several couples on their honeymoon, when it went down in the lush green hills as it was coming in for a landing in the middle of the night. Tragically the pilot had made an error of judgment but it is said that the co-pilot was too deferential and submissive to correct him! In Europe or North America a co-pilot might have had no problem challenging the blunders of the pilot but in that culture people sometimes struggled to do this.

Worldview Awareness

Korean culture is deeply influenced by the Confucian worldview. Throughout traditional Korean society, from the royal palace and central government offices in Seoul to the humblest household in the provinces, the themes of hierarchy and inequality are pervasive. Individuals are still expected to show respect and obedience to their social betters. The ideal person is one who controls his or her emotions in order to fulfill to the letter a host of demanding social obligations. We could compare Korean culture to the Hindu caste system. In both cultures people are not equal; your value as a person is determined by your place in the hierarchy. Some people are very important and some are not.


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This interpretation of the story raises the tricky issue of when I should challenge someone who has more experience than me. Raising false alarms (especially in tense, critical situations) is a problem too, isn't it? So I have to factor in the possibility that I may be mistaken, and think about the likely consequences of both courses of action.

Maybe it comes down to the wisdom of the pilot as much as the co-pilot. I'm thinking of the proverb "Rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Prov 9:8-9, NKJV).

I think the erosion of respect for 'betters' in Western cultures is not entirely a good thing, sometimes leading to disdain for wisdom. Codes of conduct in aviation may enshrine strict ties between experience and authority, but I wonder how many metaphorical juggernauts have crashed, how many (economic?) trains come off the rails, because of power being seized by the impertinent and inexperienced.

Richard (maybe one of the Richards I know? G? W? D? R?),

Maybe it's worth distinguishing between respect for a person's position and respect for a person's experience? There's an interesting paragraph or two in Chesterton's Orthodoxy about the way the aristocracy have been regarded in Europe since it has been shaped by Christianity. He says we've never really taken the aristocracy seriously, because we know that the aristocracy are on the same spiritual level as the rest of us. See, 4th paragraph from the end.

It's difficult to say, but I think you are right that there has been an erosion of respect for 'betters' in recent decades – maybe not erosion of respect for 'betters' in terms of their position (aristocracy), but erosion of respect for 'betters' in terms of actual experience and wisdom. It doesn't come up so much in my area (astronomy), where we've only really got one idea, and we're all struggling to make it work, but in other fields I get the impression that the idea is to look at what an "expert" has written, and then demolish it. The idea is not to learn from the wise and aspire to their level, but to become wise by making everyone else into even more of a fool than oneself. What do you think?

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