Going Around Once

Opinions - June 17th, 2005

Are we getting a handle on things, asks Robert j. Collins

I am disappointed to learn that the 23 year-old JR driver who killed 109 commuters and seriously injured another 500 was by all reports “a regular guy.” Racing back into his employer’s good graces is what regular guys do, and that was apparently what he was attempt­ing as he slammed his train at 100 kph into the side of an apartment building.

SCREEEEEECH… KERBOOM… tinkling glass… si­lence… SCREAMS.

“He was always into things at school,” reported a classmate. “And he was a member of the baseball club.”

Here is a reportedly regular guy
behaving with reckless and criminal
abandon. Do we have a new group to fear?
Regular guys in over their heads?

Another friend from those days said the guy was “…thrilled to be hired by JR West. He even made a speech about it.” He could have been a candidate for his school’s Regular Guy Of The Year award, for all I know.

But I am disappointed in this knowledge. It has distorted the pattern of behavior I thought I had seen emerging. (And we humans need patterns to keep from spinning over the edge.) I had reported in the past that it’s easy to spot the nutballs who do foolhardy or outright criminal things. There’s a pat­tern. They are the ones who, even if they bother to go to class, spend the entire time staring at their thumbnails. When they go home, they hit their fa­thers with sticks and throw food at their mothers. They can live a year without speaking and yet they impress neighbors as being “very polite.” Those are the people you worry about. Mass murderers, or at least murderers in the making. They’re in a slot in my mind, and that’s comforting to have them there where I can keep an eye on him.

Yet here is a reportedly regular guy behav­ing with reckless and criminal abandon. Do we have a new group to fear? Regular guys in over their heads? (At the same time the train wreck was filling the news, there was a report about an air traffic con­troller at Haneda who “forgot” one runway was closed for repairs and directed a plane to land on it. I’ll bet he was a regular guy too.)

Some are hoping the blame for the train wreck will descend upon JR West for its draconian labor practices. “The driver didn’t have enough sleep and he had been severely punished for lapses in the past.” That thinking places the blame on an evil old corporation and not on a hapless individual who drove too fast.

Comforting? Well yes, except corporations are made up of regular guys who rarely beat their fathers with sticks and never throw food at their mothers. Everybody’s regular, and that’s the problem. Who to trust? Well there’s you, and maybe me. That’s about it.