Jerry Moore: Facing risk part of living in an advanced society
Americans have added a sixth category to the stages of grief: finger-pointing.
When Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in April, many finger-pointers wanted to know who allowed this tragedy to occur. The person most responsible for it was the killer, of course, but this didn’t deter the search for other scapegoats.
Perhaps the most egregious example of post-tragedy finger-pointing occurred after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. There were obviously some serious issues to address. But in few years since 9/11, blaming either this person or that group for weakening our nation’s security has become a cottage industry.
The Aug. 1 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis has brought on a new round of accusations about missed opportunities and failed policies. Bureaucrats nationwide have demanded updated inspections on bridges in their respective regions, and numerous cries have been made for increased funding of infrastructure projects.
There is nothing wrong with reviewing procedures for keeping roads, bridges, overpasses and tunnels as safe as possible. And I can’t fault those who want to hold community leaders accountable for ensuring public funds are spent wisely.
But all the finger-pointing won’t reverse the course of time and undo this horrible event. There will always be other factors that make activities like traveling on bridges that span rivers unsafe.
This doesn’t mean that there weren’t mistakes made in maintaining this bridge. After a tragedy like this, it’s appropriate to re-examine the methods used in the upkeep of this kind of structure.
But it’s impossible to anticipate every single problem that could occur at all times, and, sadly, this was bound to occur at some point. To transport vehicles across a large body of water defies the laws of physics, and physics gave us a horrible reminder of what happens when we’re outsmarted.
We live in the most technologically and industrially advanced society that has ever existed. We enjoy conveniences that previous societies couldn’t even dream of, and in so doing, we ask a lot of those we put in charge of certain aspects of moving our society forward.
We’ve made choices about where to work, where to live and how to connect the two points. We take great satisfaction in the ability of scientists, engineers and public works agencies to devise ways for us to get what we want and maintain our standard of living.
This often results in our need to commute from one part of a region to another and back again. We take for granted how challenging it was to create a structure that can withstand the weight of so many vehicles for such a long time.
Every choice we make about how we live involves some measure of risk. The best way to eliminate that risk would be to make different choices, but then our options for living comfortably would be drastically limited.
Want to ensure no bridge ever collapses? Don’t build them. But then we’d have to find other ways to get across large bodies of water or forget about traveling to those areas.
The collapse of the I-35W bridge was profoundly sad for far too many people, and governments must learn from whatever mistakes were made in its upkeep. But we all choose to live in a way that makes such events inevitable. Confronting these risks on a daily basis is the price we pay for maintaining the lifestyles we so dearly cherish.
Jerry Moore is a news editor with GateHouse Media Suburban Newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.