by | Dr Azhari Karim
On 8 March 2014 flight MH370 belonging to Malaysia Airlines disappeared from radar tracking. A multinational search and rescue effort led Malaysia to locate the missing plane and its crew and passengers has been drawing blanks.
Making sense of this saga is only possible by recourse to the method of causal-layered analysis from Futures Thinking and constructing alternative scenarios for the future from this experience for the benefit of future generations. Following international practice Malaysia, who owns the plane – flight MH 370 – that went missing on 8 March 2014 with 239 crew and passengers from different countries on board, was given the lead in manning the whole operation assisted by the relevant countries in the respective ‘quadrant zones’ declared in the exercise to locate the MH 370. It was amazing how, within a short time span, so many different airborne and maritime assets could be deployed by more than twenty-six countries and equipped with sophisticated search and rescue technology never before seen, ready to assist Malaysia.
Unique in this operation, which has lasted longer than ever expected, the first ever mounted to search for a missing plane, is the fact that more than half of the passengers on board MH 370 were citizens of the People’s Republic of China but still Malaysia managed, throughout this unfortunate period, to put its ‘heart and soul’ for the benefits of all the passengers. Throughout this ordeal the members of their next of kin were regarded as the members of one ‘family’. The country also took the decision to place the matter of finding the plane and its passengers even beyond ‘its national security’ by sharing sensitive information and data with the assisting countries who had volunteered all that they have got in the name of friendship and humanity.
Making sense of the future
Those who studied the future like Sohail Inayatullah (2004), Richard Slaughter (1996), Marie Conway (2012) and Tom Graves (2012) included, would have narrated the story of MH370 in terms of four different levels: (1) the litany, the story as narrated in the reporting style of the newspapers in a language that is easily understood by everyone; (2) the systemic or the social-causal, all the facts related to the story presented in their chronological order; (3) the worldview, the facts that are relevant and assembled into the main story; and (4) the myth or metaphor, placing the whole meaning of the narrative in its proper context by reference to cultural and emotional factors embedded within the story.
In the Future Studies jargon, this whole process is known as the causal-layered analysis (CLA). Through the CLA the right questions of the future in regard to a situation can be asked and new alternatives and possibilities of understanding that future can be made for the benefit of future generations.
CLA could be defined as a ‘futures studies’ methodology to enable one to look for deeper meanings in an issue (Conway, 2012). It was developed by Inayatullah (2004) from a base founded by Richard Slaughter in the 1990s and who also drew attention to the fact of a transformative dimension in the whole exercise (Inayatullah, 2009). In this context the CLA has relevance to one studying the advent of policy changes on an issue of concern. This was also observed by Brian Bishop in his study on the relationship between the CLA and the multi-layered analysis approach favoured by psychologist (Bishop 2013). Finally as stated by Barber (2010), in the process of a causal-layered analysis, the issue was deconstructed and in the outcome, the reconstruction, the alternative futures were created. Application of CLA Methodology CLA explored the various levels of understanding on the issue. Using the four levels of analysis provided for in the CLA, the following aspects of the situation were presented and discussed:
1 The Litany level
Looking at the news first, we were informed that flight MH 370 had gone missing without a trace in the area of the South China Sea. International efforts to search and rescue, led by Malaysia, were soon underway. Later, from radar sightings, it was informed that the plane had made an ‘air turn-back’ in the direction of the West coast of Malaysia. Meanwhile it was also confirmed that two of the passengers were travelling on ‘stolen passports’. There were several leads that were taken up by the ‘Investigation Team’ to corroborate and confirm all the information and other leads obtained from friendly countries helping out in the operation. The Ocean where some items believed to have come from the missing plane were sighted. More ‘live’ sightings have been reported off the coast of Perth, Australia where the whole search has been zeroed in. The Investigation team has decided to deploy more submersible vehicles to try and locate the plane’s ‘black-box’.
2 The Systemic or Social-Causal Level
Let us now look at the facts next. On the basis of what were presented at the many and regular Press Conferences held on the matter of MH 370, the following were the pertinent and relevant facts: a plane belonging to Malaysia Airlines had gone missing on its flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing; essential communication links on board the plane had been disabled; it was believed that the plane had made a ‘turnback’ and was en route to an unknown destination piloted by someone who seemed to know where the plane would be destined. Not discounting all other possibilities, it was widely informed that after more than fourteen days of the ‘Operation Search and Rescue’, debris of what was thought to be the pieces from MH 370 were sighted off the coast of Western Australia, about 2500 kilometres from Perth.
3 The Worldview Level
As to the relevancy of the facts mentioned above, it could safely be determined that whoever has been directing the activities in the cockpit of the fateful flight MH 370 knew what was needed to be done and reckoned it could be achieved. The plane has been declared fit before take-off and, manufacture-wise, it was one of the best flying-machine ever built in the class of a Boeing 777. But fate had intervened. At the time of writing more than thirty days had lapsed since day one of the disappearance of the plane on 8 March. This is, in essence, the fact that made up the big picture or the worldview.
4 The Myth or Metaphor Level
In trying to conclude this analysis by way of stating a deeper meaning to the story of the missing flight MH 370, we can say that one aspect that requires attention is that of the relationship between humans and machines. First, as humans we have to be fully aware of our limitations in understanding that the machines we have perfected to serve our needs can also fail us in the hour of our needs. It is to be expected therefore, that Flight MH 370 while it has been built to last a lifetime, our human weakness here is that we have chosen to assume that everything is all right with the plane. Whoever has taken it over had miscalculated the chances.
Second, we have on our part overlooked the signs that something like this could happen in Malaysia. There were indications that preceding the event of the disappearance of the plane there were things that have not looked right. The national air carrier, Malaysia Airlines, has been going through a bad patch both financially and performance-wise. Taking on from this experience Malaysia should start thinking about responding to the related aspect of entry of migrants into the country which could very well end up in a similar ‘tragedy’. Malaysia has been in the news lately as the country in South East Asia that continues to be a hub for human trafficking and a haven for illegal migrants. Besides looking at the security angle concerning these two issues, we have to bear in mind that these could well become significant problems for the country as well in the future.
Connect Scenario to CLA Levels
The next exercise would involve connecting possible scenario/scenarios to the different levels of the CLA. This is done to isolate the causes that have contributed to the situation and to discover alternative ways of looking at the situation. It must be noted that, in the absence of verifiable facts on the whole situation, it is also possible to begin by looking at the root cause of the situation the specific problem of values that divide this ability to accept grief on the part of Chinese and Malaysian citizens. In the first scenario we are visualizing the process of coming to terms with the grief. The second scenario suggests an alternative way to look at the issue, how to begin to learn to be human again.
Scenario One Acceptance of grief and sharing friendship together
From day one of the search efforts for the missing flight MH 370 Malaysia, who is the owner of the plane and China, who has the most number of passengers on board have established a close and productive working relationship between them, joined by other countries from different parts of the globe with their experts, expertise and machinery to help locate the missing plane.
As confirmation of the fate of their loved ones is eagerly awaited, the Chinese citizens must not allow their negative feelings and emotions to take hold. Instead as Confucius, the ‘Great Teacher’ would have it, they need to come to terms with their grief and accept the basic reality of the possible loss of our loved ones. Only in this sense can they ever hope to endure the anxiety, pain and sorrow that follow.
On the part of the Malaysian citizens, it must be recognized that the display of grief has never been the same everywhere. Cultural differences will always emerge to in the showing of people’s bereavement. Understanding these differences will certainly assist the situation. concerning the grief of the affected ones and In the same instance, it is equally important to underline the need to continue to live for the future with all that we have been able to achieve in building the friendship and trust, particularly between the two countries – Malaysia and China.
The close rapport and sharing together extended by the officials and people in the need of the hour in the following weeks have always been to try and focus on the pertinent issues and to sift all the pieces of information to seek for the truth.
Finally, it must be remembered that in grief only the words of encouragement and confidence can move us further in our joint endeavour for peace and reconciliation in our future relations together.
Scenario Two Learning to be human again
What is MH 370 to us?
Now that the search for MAS flight MH 370 together with its crew and passengers has gone for months and still there are no traces of either yet to be found, many are asking how much longer it will take before the whole operation is called off. It is important for the authorities to remember that there is a divinity which shapes our ends (Hamlet, Act 5 Scene 2), as quoted from Shakespeare. This is sufficient to inform us at one level that Man proposes and God disposes.
In real life, however, this distinction if it is so understood will negate all aspects of the ‘thinking’ person and therefore makes Man void of knowledge and creative impulse. In this situation where can we consequently put Man in the hierarchy of God’s creation? What function does he fulfil in this world and the Hereafter? Are Man equip with the necessary faculties and skills to survive on Earth? Does education play a role in the progress of Man?
Reflecting upon these questions and relating them to the whole incident reveal to us the magnitude of the problems facing humanity today, especially in drawing lines of limitations as sanctioned by ethics and religions as to what Humanity is capable of achieving either for good or evil and how acquiring knowledge, especially science, can make us wiser and makes one a believer of God.
For the last several weeks, the whole world has been on stage as the drama of the SAR of MH 370 was enacted in front of our very eyes.
For the authorities in charge of the SAR operation, it is fine for them to put on show all the latest creation in technology that science could muster. Here is what we can expect in peacetime for the world to see: the splendid machines that can do anything at will. At war, however, these will turn to become vicious instruments that can pit humanity against one another. How can all these serve to illuminate the problem in hand? Still MH 370 remained undetected.
Information is the essence in such a complex exercise. Many have access to very sophisticated technology that was never revealed before, even to allies. But alas, it was perceived that the efficacy of such high-tech instruments has never been tested before. The incident afforded the tech-owners to obtain a real-life result from the ability to use them in the SAR operation which had its areas extended in scope and distance. From the South China Sea the SAR was expanded to include areas of the Andaman Sea and also parts of the Indian Ocean. It seemed the expansion of the search areas was ordered in response to newer information received from reliable data sources. But no MH 370 was found.
But MH 370 is none of all these to us, especially the people who are around. What they had wanted was a swift exercise to find out the remains of the plane and for the authorities to decide, in the event this will not be possible under the circumstances that have been made clear to them, to categorically call off the SAR and turn to the more human aspects of needs, mental and spiritual support, compensations and claims, and offering a decent burial for all the victims.
As fellow human beings, these are the very minimum that we can extend by way of assistance to the families and friends of the victims. They wished they had been allowed to take part in some of the scenes stated above.
For us herein lies the significance of the purpose of this life and the rationale for us to learn how to be human again. It is by trying to come to terms with Nature and put our lives in the hands of God the Almighty and his creation in science, technology and innovation.
Deciding on Range of Solutions
Finally in a CLA exercise it is possible to come up with a range of solutions from quick-fixes to take care of the Litany problems, to policy-oriented solutions in the social-causal level, and to changing the mind-sets for the worldview level and, finally for the myth and metaphor level to finish with a set of imagery-based solutions.
The possibilities and versatilities of using the CLA methodology in trying to make some sense of the incident involving the missing plane MH 370 and its crew and passengers has been highlighted. While the deconstruction of the salient points of the issue has proven valuable in clarifying the causes and problems related to the issue, the work of reconstruction leaves much to be desired in that the facts of the issue have still not been made public knowledge to everyone. This renders the analysis incomplete and calling for needs to fill up the gaps in information. Hence, the scenarios offered have not been deep enough in scope and focus.
In all probability, a full CLA exercise for the issue at hand is nevertheless an intellectually satisfying one. A full and finished product is therefore in the pipeline.