Attitudes and Class Distinction

Erik Wood

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Good Morning All,

Just a few thoughts I would like to share and get some feedback on. In my book I write that Titanic was also an era. An era where man thought had beaten mother nature and could travel the seas unquestioned. This is pointed out mostly in the American and somewhat the British Culture of the time. An era almost reminsent of the old south. The wealthy land owners or factory owners and steam tycoons then you hade the poor. Like the ones that built Titanic. One could reasonably argue that Aristocracy showed it's ugly face when Titanic began to die. Mainly because of the lack of the Third Class Passengers on deck in the beginning of the disaster. In most ways if not indirectly the wealthy were controlling the economic fate of those three decks below and unfortunatly would also somewhat indirectly there life.

Third Class passengers were the ones that were working in all of the factories and they were treated badly even though they were the backbone of what made the wealthy wealthy. To me this screams aristocracy.

Arrogance comes in when we think that we have learned all that we can learn and that in this case our ships are Unsinkable. No such thing as Unsinkable or Fireproof or any of that. All desires to be dare I say "...Masters of the Universe..."

Erik
 
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Nathan Heddle

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I must completly agree Erik, Titanic seemed to be almost a small society in herself, with an almost equal range of rich and poor on board as to real life. ie many more poor than rich.

The way society was headed and how she ultimately flounered is perfectly illustrated in Titanic. Many of the rich survived to the detriment of the poor. A lot of first class men survived to the detriment of third class women.

Titanic is a perfect example of the rich or nothing. Better living conditions, better food, better entertainment, better rate of survival.

nathan
 

Erik Wood

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I think the main point that I want to get across in my book is that the combination of Arrogance in technology and Aristocracy in the way we treated people added to and created the Titanic and disaster not to mention all of the stuff history around it.

It is a hope that we have some how over come all of this but it is hard to say.

Erik
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Hi Erik, sad to say, human arrogance is an evergreen commodity which never goes away. Look at some of the attitudes of peoplewho hold to some New Age beleifs in metaphysics (If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a noise?) The implication being suggested that if a human does not observe it, then it just ain't so.

The militant environmentalist movement is yet another. Global Cooling some 25 years ago has been replaced by Global warming theories, with humans being the culprits whether there's any evidence to substantiate the assertions or not. The base assumption (Note the first three letters in the word "assume"
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) being that humans are in control of everthing.

No-o-o-o-o, I can't say that much has changed at all. A rather scary thought.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Erik Wood

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Michael,

Very true but the base I think of what I mean is that it was once thought that we could build something that would be indestructable and because of that Titanic is at the bottom. Not soley because of that but because in general of that. Smith, Ismay and even some extent all of White Star and definitly the public let there arrogance turn into ignorance. But with Arrogance comes Aristocracy.

Erik
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Hmmmmm...I suspect you'll find aristocracy of one kind or another developing everywhere. Look at the American fascination with movie stars and how their opinions on everything are regarded. No matter how stupid and ignorant they prove themselves to be everytime they speak, they're treated like gods. Check out political hierarchies in any number of nations where some people seem to be more equal then others.

In regards to overconfidence in technology, I don't think much has changed there either. How often has it been a common thread in any number of disasters where unsinkable ships sink, fireproof ships burn like dry kindling and earthquake proof buildings come down like a house of cards at the first tremor?

When will we ever learn?

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Erik Wood

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Very true.

However you would be surprised about the difference between Captain and how they operate. I operate under the understanding the mother nature can and might at anytime decide to tell me and show me how nasty she can be. I should not rely on my ship to get me home. But the combination of my judgement and knowledge as well as the knowledge and dedication of my crewmembers.

Erik
 
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Carl Warner

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I'd hardly call Bishop Berkeley and Bertrand Russell "New Age", Michael! :)

The arrogance here is the initial blithe assumption, based only on man's perception, that the forest and tree exist at all. The tree falling argument is meant to test the validity of the so called "facts" that we all operate with - the true arrogance is the suggestion that such "facts" can exist outside our humbly meagre collection of senses.

I would say that the points you raise about the social and cultural dimensions of the sinking are precisely what makes the Titanic such a popular subject. Look, for example, at the way we remember the Great War, and the enormous popularity of works (scholarly and otherwise) that centre on this tumultuous period. The issues that make the history of the 14-18 conflict so compelling are precisely mirrored in the Titanic disaster. Apocalypse caused by the absence of any sense of perspective, by the whim of an arrogant few all too eager to stamp their mark of masculinity on the world. In fact, the parallels go further. Steerage passengers are viewed with the same blanket "gawd bless 'em" attitude that the victims of Flanders receive. The officers of Titanic are lionised like Owen and Brooke. Ismay is vilified in a very "Haig" like manner.

Of course, I wouldn't for one moment attack the memory of the victims of both the Titanic or the Great War. But it is, I feel, a little dangerous to try to broadly explain something such as the Titanic with what one might call a somewhat lazy historical cliche. After all, such simplistic arguments have been effectively challenged in the sphere of First World War scholarship. They can often lead to a black/white interpretation of events which, certainly within a moral/social framework, can be inherently misleading. As Primo Levi once argued (if you'll excuse the paraphrasing) in matters of morality, there are only varying shades of grey.

Just a few random thoughts,

Cheers,

Carl
 
Dec 2, 2000
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=Sigh= with all due respect Carl, you've actually proven my point on humans saying it just ain't so if they don't see it. Reality is what it is and is not, nor will it EVER be dependant on our willingness to accept it. We have exactly two choices;deal with it, or it will deal with us...harshly. A lesson that the Titanic learned through bitter experience.

Over 1500 people paid for that lesson with their lives.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Erik Wood

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I wasn't trying to generalize well I guess i was. I was attempting to show that the reason for so much death was the arrogance and the aristocracy of the time.

Erik
 
Dec 2, 2000
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I would have to say that the reason for so much death was that a transatlantic liner with too few lifeboats was sufficiently mismanaged so as to cause it to take a nosedive to the bottom of the North Atlantic.

However, the reasons the numbers of saved as opposed to those lost as well as WHO was saved and lost could be chalked up to the attitudes of the time, ipso facto, aristocracy and arrogance. I have a hunch you may find that to be rather more complicated then that, and a fascinating avenue of enquiry. What you may find disheartening is that some of the attitudes haven't changed as much as we might hope. Even the most egalitarian(Supposedly) nations/cultures/societies soon evolve elites, and recent history is filled with examples of arrogance bolstered by overconfidence in technology.

In the aviation world, I recall a brand new Airbus (I think it was an A-320) which was fly-by-wire and had the latest computer technology which was supposed to make it crashproof....or at least immune to pilot error. Shortly thereafter, one of these planes crashed in the woods by an airport due to...you guessed it...pilot error. Even more embarrassing, it happened in front of thousands of witnesses at an airshow. (oops)

Perhaps a good title for your book would be;"Titanic; The Lessons We Keep Forgetting"

Just a thought.
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Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Erik Wood

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Kind Mr. Standart,

My point I think I am not describing all that well. So here I go. The reason that Titanic left with to few lifeboats and the reason that she speed threw a reported icefield is that Arrogance. That arrogance was in the fact that Titanic was "unsinkable" and the fact that she had the best crew and was built by the best company. What Smith didn't count on was a mill pound like ocean and a temprature drop that was staggering. He also assumed that his lookouts would be able to spot danger in time and that his officers were able to manuver his massive ship out of it.

As Titanic began to sink the officer attempted to avert disaster as did Murdoch with his orders and Bells attempts to move water around and keep power on.

Aristocracy comes in as the above was occuring. As Mr. Standhart showed. I think that might very well be a good title. I will have to think on it. Do you want a copyright fee. HA HA HA

Erik
 
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Carl Warner

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Michael:

I don't think you quite follow my reasoning; the statement "reality is what it is" doesn't really detract from the central premise. YOU have no experience of anyone's reality but your own; likewise myself, and everyone else. Everything we "know" comes from our senses, nowhere else. The tree argument is a frivolous way of introducing this complex philosophical issue in the most entertaining way. Perhaps another way to look at it would be to ask: "How do you know that you're not a brain in a jar?" It's theoretically impossible to state that you know you're not, because all available evidence is simply sense data; in the final analysis, neural responses and electronic or chemical signals; the brain in action.

I understand what you mean in that this could be construed as arrogance, but only if you believe in any true objectivity, which I find it difficult to do. I would maintain that the true arrogance is to be found in any tenet of thought that doesn't accept the possibility that the fundamentally subjective nature of what could, tentatively, be called reality should not be happily and wholeheartedly embraced as "fact" or "truth". It's the assumptions that I find arrogant; that reality can ever be described in absolute terms.

In a way, to return to the thread somewhat, Edwardian attitudes towards philosophy (certainly those that would have been held by the vast majority of those aboard Titanic) take very much the robustly obstinate "commonsensical" view. Hangover Victorian principles and a profoundly God fearing society ensured that arguments like "tree" or "vat" were given short shrift indeed. Man was sure of his place in society, his gender role, and ultimately his place in the cosmos. Certain members of the aristocracy KNEW that they had an innate, God given superiority over the lower classes, in as much as they KNEW that the Titanic could not sink.

CERTAINTIES were stripped away by the sinking; I believe Kenneth More's Lightoller sums it up rather prosaically at the end of "A Night to Remember" - "We were so sure! I don't think I'll ever be sure of anything again". It is the idea of "certainty" within an open system that this branch of philosophy seeks to challenge. In a way, Michael, with the greatest respect, this is what the "tree" issue does, attacks this ingrained culture of arrogance that we KNOW how the world works. And it is what a statement so crushing in its surety and finality ("Reality is what it is and is not, nor will it EVER be dependant on our willingness to accept it.") emphatically does not.

I just felt the need to leap to philosophy's defence - I'm sorry if certain elements of the subject appear arrogant. They're certainly not meant to. Quite the reverse in fact.

Yours, with regards

Carl
 

Erik Wood

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Holly Molly Cal,

That was a lot to digest. I do not intend to speak for Mr. Standart however I believe that he was trying to show me that arrogance and aristocracy were not as I put in the reason for the ship to sink. Instead I am hanging to using the facts that we all know and putting them in a social context. Mainly because most of the modern generations have never been faced with the "edwardian" atmosphere. I think that the reality of what happened that night in something none of us will or can truly understand. Instead we are left with what the historians of all subjects are left with. That is to use the facts and put them in a way that will not only intrigue the current culture but show what we have learned since the incident.

Most of the things that happened on Titanic would not happen on a modern ship. Women and Children first is a thing of the past. Crew loyalty amoung none officers to a company if also very rare. If Titanic sank today and used what we know about todays society . Order would have been harder to keep. The aristocracy that killed 1500 is the same aristocracy that saved over 700. In those days men saw to there families first and then to themselves. They let women into boats before attempting to get in one. If told to leave a lifeboat they did so. Examples of this are shown that night. Lightoller began to allow men into the last collapsible (the one that he had the crew form a ring around) until Gracie and Smith (Clinch not the Captain) appeared with more women. Lightoller and Wilde told them to get out of the boat and they did. Now days you would have to drag them out of the boat. In a way Aristocracy provides a calmsness to that situation. One that doesn't exist today.

Arrogance is much harder to pin point. It is human or I should say mans tendency to think that he is better and bigger then everything. Smith and the builders of Titanic thought that. They thought that they had built a unsinkable ship. That is part of the reason there were only enough lifeboats the BOT was the other reason. That arrogance or one could argue ignorance is one that I write about in my book. It is a arrogance in technology. Not general arrogance. Aristocracy covers a more vast and less general subject matter.

Aristocracy by it's core says that someone is better then someone esle based on something. Usually wealth and power. It says that you deserve better treatment based soley on your possession and not your princeaples or abilities. I am part of a aristocracy. As a Captain I am treated differently then any other person crew or not on the ship. Probably the best treated. That is soley because of my position and has nothing to do with my ability or princeables. My main point in creating this thread was that the arrogance in technology and the aristocracy of the time is what gives Titanic such an intersting spin. These, maybe aristocracy more then arrogance in technology is not really as obvious in ocean travel as it was. But you will notice that ships are publized as "unsinkable" and all have enough lifeboats for all. That is something that the arrogance of technology of Titanics time showed us.

I am really enjoying this thread though. Cal you have made me think twice now.

Erik
 
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Carl Warner

Guest
Thanks Erik. I'm intrigued by the idea that "the aristocracy that killed 1500 saved 700". A very important point. Of course, as you know, there were those who sought to look after themselves to the detriment of others, but I think it is true that the concepts of, dare I say it, honour and duty were perhaps more prevalent in this period. Although perhaps in our era of equal opportunities, rather than "women first", both sexes sense of honour and duty would be channeled in other directions. Walter Lord paints a charmingly endearing picture of, for example, Col. Gracie puffing and panting his way around the deck, attempting to locate and make safe those single women who he felt it his duty to protect. The flip side is, of course, that it was only those in first and second class who really had that opportunity - again, the profoundly class-conscious culture damned many steerage men and women. So one might argue both ways - the aristocratic sense of honour and duty maintained order and created an atmosphere in which many could calmly escape, while at the same time the aristocratic sense of relative worth condemned many out of hand.

As a Captain, surely your position comes from your experience and skills. The trappings of office etc wouldn't be yours if you had not demonstrated your abilities in more junior posts would they? I think you're putting yourself down there!

It's interesting to look at the structure of command. Even the most egalitarian cultures find the need, not only for a recognised hierarchy, but for rewarding success within that hierarchy. Look at the Soviet armed forces for example. Until tested in the Second World War, the Soviet military tried to shy away from such rigid distinctions, simply because they are bound up so fundamentally with ideas of class. "Gentleman" and "Officer", so regularly interchanged in other cultures, were unacceptable in the post-Tsarist state. But in reality, a separate system was deemed not only to be necessary but essential. So in the 1940s we have the reinstatement of some of the trappings of office. Obviously I'm not as well placed to comment on the issue as you Erik, or you Michael, but it does strike me that the fact you are treated differently is because that has been proven to be the most efficient system of command. By emphasising the difference, are you not making command easier? I found it quite interesting that the men aboard the overturned collapsible submitted totally to Lightoller's authority, even given the trying and seemingly doomed circumstances. I think Lord implicitly acknowledges the significance when he writes that "The sound (of Lightoller's whistle) not only carried but told the crew that an officer was calling".

The true nature of aristocracy these days is substantially more meritocratic. Your position, to the layman, does hark back to an older era. I had some experience of this at university - being at Oxbridge tends to carry with it certain aristocratic perks based on tradition that seem at times eccentrically outmoded. But the option to attend is open to all - providing one proves oneself capable. Similarly, anyone could theoretically reach your position and perks - if they're good enough. Ironically, this is perhaps the one area where things have scarcely changed at all since 1912; (I presume) the Captain and officers of Titanic achieved their positions by being good at their jobs.

The book sounds like an interesting project Erik; how's it going?

Yours, with regards,

Carl
 

Erik Wood

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Cal,

Again you offer very much to digest. I think that command is a needed thing almost all forms of military or sea or air travel. Command lets you know how is in charge and who isn't. It holds (or is desighned to hold) people accountable and to only put people who have proven there worth in positions of power. I think that we have to realize that whether we like it or not what killed 1500 is pure bad luck. Duty and Honor are only part of the triangle that played out that night. The other is survival. In times of disaster people of all races creed and classes look for someone to take command. To be a leader and to lead them out of danger. It is presumed that the person that they are following knows what they are doing so that is why so many follow. This fundamental thing is part of the arsitocracy. They did what everybody else did. Waited.

Most of the third class (in my mind) really knew when they found locked gates or were unable to go up to the boat deck in short order knew that they had been trapped in that game. They knew that the rich that were three decks above them were going to be put to safety first. Then if there was enough time they would be seen to. I agree that Col. Gracie was doing what he thought was dutiful. As did all of the officers of Titanic, but it would seem that they did not see the entire picture or didn't have the time to notice it. The officers couldn't tell that there wasn't any third class on the boat deck but rather they were attending to the orders they swore to follow. The orders to abandon ship. But the very heart of aristocracy was why there were only third class passengers around. That would be because all or most of the people that Titanics officers had contact with were the wealthy. The ones that had the easiest access to the boat deck were the first and second class. The third class lost the game of Aristocracy. They were in a lifestyle that at the time seemed unworthy. What I can not understand is how they could be treated this way when the that exact class of people were working in the steel plants the sweat shops on the docks. They were what was keeping the ever growing and mighty heart of early 20th Century America pumping.

As you stated the Captain is a very aristocratic position. He has his own dinner table is called sir or Captain by EVERYONE. He has the largest crew cabin aboard. Has his own steward. Somone that does just about everything from him. But he has to be charming polite, a good dancer, a good joke teller and remeber new names and faces. He always has to have a smile whether he wants to or not.

The main point here is that I agree with some of what you stated above. I am really enjoying these posts.

Erik
 

Paul Rogers

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Hello Eric, Cal, Michael, et al. I hope it's okay if I join in with a thought.
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Quote:

Most of the things that happened on Titanic would not happen on a modern ship. Women and Children first is a thing of the past. Crew loyalty amoung none officers to a company if also very rare. If Titanic sank today and used what we know about todays society . Order would have been harder to keep. The aristocracy that killed 1500 is the same aristocracy that saved over 700.
[hr]​
Eric, I see your point. I wonder, however, if you're underestimating the Human Race. I know in day-to-day activity we seem a selfish bunch but, when the chips are down, we are still capable of immense courage and dignity.

An example was when the ferry "Herald of Free Enterprise" sank in the English Channel (in 1987 I think). I seem to recall stories of unbelievable heroism and rescue when that ship capsized.

Maybe we're not as bad as we think...or maybe it takes a critical situation to bring the best out of us!

Sorry for interrupting...this is a fascinating thread, and I'm enjoying it immensely!

Regards,
Paul.
 

Erik Wood

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Paul,

Having served some 24 years in the passenger busniess I have seen alot and you are right. In every disaster there are heros. But in Titanics case we are or I am in my book especially pointing out that aristocracy at that time was a fact of life. A way of life almost. It in a way served it's purpose but it was also the reason for 1500 people dying and 700 hundred living.

Erik
 
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Carl Warner

Guest
Paul: Good point. To state without qualification that such qualities are dead is foolhardy. What I was attempting to say is that commonly accepted Edwardian values provided a value system within which the people concerned, to a large extent, acted. The belief, for example, that women should be placed in the boats before men; this is by no means an idea which western societies have culturally abandoned, but it would certainly not be as emotive an issue as it is today. Human beings have always, and will continue to be, creatures capable of enormous acts of courage and selflessness. There are innumerable examples of such behaviour, when we (I use the term with some reservation - my own meagre resources in this area have, thankfully, never been tapped) are tested to the limits.

Part of the enduring attraction, I feel, of the Titanic story is that it slots neatly into this pantheon of human sacrifice. Culturally, I think that the UK certainly draws upon this idea. As a nation, hopeless heroism has always been a powerful idea. Scott failed to reach the south pole before Amundsen, but the manner of his failure seemed to reinforce so many of these themes. Isandhlwana, the charge of the Light Brigade (the lack of a capital "c" seems almost sacrilegious, so deeply are we aware of the mythical status of this ridiculous blunder), Titanic, Scott, Shackleton, Mallory and Irvine; the list goes on. Though I am on less familiar territory with the USA, I'm sure that there are comparisons - Custer, for example. We seem to have a bizarre predilection for stories that involve this element of "noble sacrifice".

Erik, I agree that "The third class lost the game of Aristocracy. They were in a lifestyle that at the time seemed unworthy." As a dyed-in-the-wool socialist, I find it an enormous injustice. But I suppose that's part of the system of "certainty" that I mentioned earlier. Rigidly defined roles were (and to a certain extent still are) the norm. Society acknowledges the need for those of different abilities to perform different tasks. It is when this necessary idea is hideously distorted to include value judgements on an individual's relative "worth" that we see how the poorer classes were so carelessly sacrificed.

Bloody hell, I seem to be prattling on today don't I?

Yours,

Carl
 

Tracy Smith

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The older values have not completely disappeared, but they have adapted to change and progress. It would no longer be "women and children" first, but I think everyone would still agree that the children would come first. That will never change.

Women, no longer grouped with children as supposedly being helpless and not capable of being fully responsible for themselves, now increasingly take their place alongside men in being protectors, not just as the protected. Even in 1912, there was the bravery and self sacrifice of Ida Straus and Edith Evans, to name two.

I believe Erik mentioned a female officer he worked with in a post not too long ago. I wonder how many women serve as officers and how many female captains there currently are?