In a post at Comment is Free Bruce Hood considers the actions of Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia, in abandoning ship while there were still passengers on board needing to be brought to safety. Assuming that this is what Schettino indeed did, Hood anticipates the likelihood of his being vilified, and asks: 'how many of us can say that we would not have done the same thing?' He goes on to discuss the psychological mechanisms that induce panic and could have led to the captain's responding in that way.
I, for one, cannot say with confidence that I would not have done the same thing. I hope I wouldn't have, but a hope is obviously different from a certainty. At the same time, I think that Hood minimizes a circumstance that is at the centre of this story. Schettino was the ship's captain. Hood does note this point and also that a ship's captain is expected to take responsibility for the safety of the crew and passengers. The issue then, however, isn't only how some random individual is likely to behave when suddenly placed in danger. This is hard to know in advance. But a person who takes on the job of captaining a ship needs to have given thought to the possibility of circumstances arising in which he or she will have to be brave enough not to abandon ship ahead of others - and be pretty sure of being able to stay the course. Many people won't know how they will react to danger. But someone who takes on responsibility for the safety of large numbers of people must then bear that responsibility and face some consequence if failing it. They have put themselves forward for a position they weren't fit to hold. Hood's post is too easily exonerating in its tendency.