Monday, 4 March 2019

Picture Post 44: The Lifeboats



'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Martin Cohen

      
‘Life Is a Shipwreck, But We Must Not Forget To Sing in the Lifeboats’.

It’s a great thought, and can be found on the internet attributed to Voltaire, but it doesn’t sound quite like the great French philosopher, and indeed Garson O’Toole is probably right to point at a later book editor commenting on the world view behind Voltaire’s bitterly witty story, Candide.

Here in these images surely, the passengers do not sing, but seem instead curiously withdrawn, as if trying to shut their eyes to an awful sight. And indeed that might be just what they were doing, as these plucky little lifeboats were chugging away from a Titanic, sinking and still packed with thousands of desperate passengers. Second and Third Class ones, that is. For the real scandal of the Titanic was not that it sank, not even that its Captain was so dilatory in asking for assistance (or the boats around in offering any) but that the social conventions of the era implied that most of the lifeboats were for First Class passengers only, with no mixing. Though to be sure, the small number of officers and  richer passengers left on the boat did mix with the other passangers later... in the cold grey waters of the Atlantic.

Facts-wise, then, the fact is that the first six lifeboats were at less than one third loaded capacity, and the passengers were only First Class passengers or… Ship’s Officers. Six underloaded boats like the ones in the picture, which had a capacity for 40 persons meant 150 passangers drowned to defend the niceties  of wealth.

That said, Captain Edward Smith was on the bridge at 2.13am, seven minutes before the Titanic disappeared beneath the waves, and went down with the ship.



Read more…

http://www.icyousee.org/titanic.html#life

11 comments:

Thomas Scarborough said...

Perhaps an issue of wealth, perhaps not. Because we reward people according to what we think to be of worth.

I wondered what they did with the priest. They showed him to the lifeboats, but twice he refused to get in.

Keith said...

Classism may have waned somewhat since the assignment of passengers to the Titanic’s too-few lifeboats; but classism’s partner in social crime, inequality, has unabashedly waxed. Case in point socioeconomically: A year ago Oxfam reported that 42 people held as much wealth as the 3.7 billion of the world’s poorest people. Moral impoverishment, one might argue, by any other name.

Nietzsche rationalised the classism part of this dynamic this way: ‘The order of castes is merely the ratification of an order of nature’. How inconvenient for ‘nature’ to ‘ratify’ that order, if you happen to find yourself lumped into the wrong caste.

The Oxfam observation looked at the big picture, on a global scale. But if we drill down even a little into the rapidly widening economic inequality, we find nations’ professional athletes being rewarded with megabucks. All the while, say, teachers — to whom we entrust our children’s education, as bearers of the world’s future — not uncommonly being ‘rewarded’ with barely enough to keep their families afloat. Inequality run amok, which, I would argue, speaks volumes about many nations’ priorities and values.

Passengers on the equivalent of a sinking Titanic today would likely be afforded equal access to available lifeboats — the waning part of history’s more-egregious classism. But waiting ashore would still be the strong headwinds of structural socioeconomic inequality.

Martin Cohen said...

Thanks for the thoughts! I hadn't heard that about the priest, actually. Let's try to find out more.. For me, there is a shift in public morals: it would be impossible now for an evacuation to be conducted on the basis of 'rich people first'. In deed, the idea that evacuations at sea should be conducted 'woman and children first' dates (according to Wikipedia anyway) to 1852, so the ship seems to be out by the standards of the day too.

Keith said...

Here, Martin, is how I see today’s analog of this scenario: The Titanic is failed and failing states; the iceberg is the civil war, violence, lawlessness, and hunger ubiquitous in those states; the lifeboats are the rickety, unseaworthy, makeshift boats adrift at sea, markers of the immoral behaviour of pirates and traffickers; the second- and third-class citizens are the migrants desperately trying to get to safety, many cruelly left to drown in the effort.

Tessa den Uyl said...

Interesting symbolism Keith, and we do underestimate how we weave symbols, that influences us daily. Have we only replaced them?

Martin Cohen said...

Um, I don't quite go with Keith's new analogue. You see, for me. the boat is a symbol of a shared space, so a nation might be a kind of large boat. Then when the country is in trouble, we expect all citizens to be protected and considered. Okay so Keith makes the whole world into the lifeboat, but clearly no one can strive to protect all the people of the world. There are no mechanisms for such, and with out a means surely the ends are meaningless. "Discuss"

Keith said...

Not sure if this helps, Martin, but let me try to be clearer…
The Titanic (sinking) = a failed or failing state
The iceberg = some combination of civil war, violence, and lawlessness that renders a failing state unsurvivable
Lifeboats = too few boats assigned to people yearning to escape the failing state for a safe haven
Second- and third-class citizens = desperate refugees seeking to flee the failing state, often unscrupulously left to drown for lack of adequate boats

Tessa den Uyl said...

I believe the core, with or without boats, is that people have an inner inclination to move, though that movement comes along with a symbolism that betrays its proper roots.

Keith said...

Analog aside, Martin, let me attempt to address this point: ‘[C]learly no one can strive to protect all the people of the world. There are no mechanisms for such, and without a means surely the ends are meaningless’. If, in defeatism, we were to throw up our hands at every challenge that could not be resolved in its entirety — there are surely many — we would not make much headway in improving the conditions in which people around the world live. Progress would be nil. From fighting diseases to overcoming hunger to safeguarding young children — and much, much else — our sense of humanity demands that governments, NGOs, supranational institutions, and communities fight the fight, to make as much of a dent into the problems as resources make possible. The same applies to protecting people whose states are failing (unrelenting civil war, violence, lawlessness) and thus find themselves in desperate straits, brutalised by the maelstrom. I would argue that, in the name of humanity, we have an unremitting moral imperative to aid as many people as resources allow; defeatism, because there are ‘no mechanisms’ to (unrealistically) make the entire world whole, consigns hope to ashes. We’re better than that; such efforts are far from meaningless, but rather meaningful.

Thomas Scarborough said...

Gandhi suggested that when in doubt as to what action to take, you recall the face of the poorest and weakest person that you may have seen, and ask if this action would benefit them. That is my idea of the purpose of the state.

Martin Cohen said...

Well, we've got some 'thought=provoking' ethical challenges here, thank you everyone! But just going back to the image, I sort of sense a shut-minded, introverted spirit hovering over the pasengers in the boats.. a sort of turning away from other people, maybe yes, a bit like turning away from the plight of refugees or their own sense of right and wrong. As to symbolism, though, Tessa, perhaps the Titanic is not about movement so much as about power: the boat itself was supposed to represent humanity's triumph over nature, and incorporated, as we see with the lifeboats, assumptions about social values that are extracted from the norms of the land the boat sailed from and made universal by the roaming nature of the mighty steamship's ability to voyage far and wide. The Titanic, is in this sense, a kind of Trojan Horse,

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