Beware World's 'unsinkable' attitudes still the same today


Ann Vernier

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Jan 14, 2005
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Wow, it's nice to know I'm not alone. I just joined. Since the age of 13 when my grandmother (who was only 6 years old at the time of the sinking) informed me of Titanic, I've always been an anything Titanic fan. Especially when it sank on the anniversary of my birthday! I'm fascinated by all the survivor stories, have the A&E series, have "A Night To Remember" (book and video), have the newer movie, and have been to the exhibit. I am also a huge fan of the Find-A-Grave web-site, where I've entered some of the people who perished. I have a contributor's bio listed there if you care to check it out below. What intrigues me most about Titanic, is that the philosophy of the world's "even God can't sink her" attitude was so accepted by the passengers and crew, that they were all in blissful denial of their fate until their very last moments. Not unlike the world's attitudes today toward many things of God which are scoffed at. They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and I'm sure the same was true of Titanic's lifeboats. Do you think those same attitudes could be our own undoing?

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=mr&GRid=10308834&MRid=46539192
 
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Laura Melinda Varjo

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Most definitely, Ann. (Uuh, if Michael Standardt sees all this, boy is HE going to get pissed.)
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Well anyways, I think that was one reason the sinking occurred, to show mankind that we are not all that, there is a superior power. But they were not atheists, it is logical to say in the beginning of the 20th Century, technology was booming so fast. So as economics... it was the Era of Enlightenment, almost, that our ancestors thought all the good things will just happen right after each other, without any fallbacks. I might not make good sense, cause a friend's about to come over, so I've gotta hurry. It's so cool you have the A&E series, I used to steal the tapes from the library to watch it over and over, cause I didn't want the librarians think I'm obsessed with the ship, but i always brought them back. Now I can't do it anymore, because they have beepers, and I'd be caught.
 
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>>(Uuh, if Michael Standardt sees all this, boy is HE going to get pissed.)<<

Over what? Ann is speaking to some of the attitudes of the day.

>>I think that was one reason the sinking occurred, to show mankind that we are not all that, there is a superior power.<<

Then one has to wonder why not the Olympic, the Lusitania, the Mauritania or any other liner for which similar claims and beliefs were held? In any event, one is on very risky ground trying to give whatever diety or pantheon of dieties you happen to believe in the "credit" or the "blame" for something like this. Aside from the fact that it ignors our own responsibility for our own mistakes...and let this be clearly understood, the Titanic's story is a classic study in the consequences of human fallibilty...it's utterly impossible to prove or disprove the existance of diety.

It is however very easy to step on a lot of people's toes when dealing with matters of faith. (Read that to mean "Provoke a flamewar" ) That's why it's wise to tread lightly in such discussions if not avoid them entirely. It's a "no-win" debate no matter what side you choose.
 

Ann Vernier

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>>and let this be clearly understood, the Titanic's story is a classic study in the consequences of human fallibilty...it's utterly impossible to prove or disprove the existence of deity.<<

Yes, I was speaking to some of the attitudes of the day, and how they are classic in the sense that those same attitudes still prevail. It is only when there is a 'Titanic' or 'Tsunami' that people are reminded of their mortality and fallibility. That is what is so classic - we have 'little god' arrogance. And don't be running around telling these 'little gods' that it is impossible to prove or disprove THEIR existence, that attitude is reserved only toward "Big God's' existence - CLASSIC!!
 
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>>we have 'little god' arrogance. And don't be running around telling these 'little gods' that it is impossible to prove or disprove THEIR existence, that attitude is reserved only toward "Big God's' existence - CLASSIC!!<<

Uhhhhhh...what "Big God?" I don't know that he/she/it/them/they exists or not as a quantifiable fact and I see no reason to get into it. There's no need. Every scrap of evidence that does exist points to human error plain and simple. It's a common denominator in just about all accidents large or small regardless of the attitudes of a given age. And while there may have been a certain overconfidence to the Edwardian era, I don't think you're going to find that this attitide was all *that* common among sailors, who as a group, were all to aware of our mortality and failings. There were few enough of them who hadn't either lost shipmates in any number of assorted shipwrecks or who hadn't been in some sort of accident themselves, and these were the people who were running the Titanic.
 

Ann Vernier

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>>Uhhhhhh...what "Big God?" I don't know that he/she/it/them/they exists or not as a quantifiable fact...<<

Michael, YOU are the CLASSIC! LOL!

>>Every scrap of evidence that does exist points to human error plain and simple. It's a common denominator in just about all accidents large or small regardless of the attitudes of a given age.<<

You are speaking here of Titanic specifically. I am speaking of the prevalent classic human attitudes of the world, of which Titanic is only one small example throughout history.

>>I don't think you're going to find that this attitide was all *that* common among sailors, who as a group, were all to aware of our mortality and failings.<<

Again, you're being specific to attitudes among individuals apart from, or which are an exception to, the whole. My point is that whether you agree or disagree with those general prevailing attitudes, you are sucked in to the false sense of security they offer, which can lead to your destruction. This is the classic attitude of the world's system, of which you seem to be a part.

This would be a Titanic-related analogy of that belief system: Don't waste time arguing about whether or not to get into the lifeboat, if it is even necessary, or if the lifeboat exists. Yes, it's the middle of the night. Yes, it's cold. Yes, you're on the best ship ever made, so they say. Yes, you're sleepy. But fact is, soon the lifeboat will be gone, and there will be no other survivors!
 
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Ann, I'm not "sucked into" anything. Being a sailor myself (U.S. Navy...20 years, six ships, and more sea time then I care to think about) I understand some of the failings you're talking about. I do, however, question broadly generalistic statements and their relevance to a given event. The "Arrogance of the Age" is not something that can be shown to be relevant to the accident itself, though in my opinion, a large degree of self deception can be shown to have caused some of the casualties which followed.

The problem with generalities is that they are decidedly non-specific and fail to take into account the often complicated and detailed nuances of individual human actions and motivations. And make no mistake about it, the details matter! They always have.
 

Jim Hathaway

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I doubt that there was a lot of God arrogance among the people who sailed and designed Titanic.
Captain Smith had a career at sea and no doubt had witnessed death and accidents at sea personally. Lightoller had been shipwrecked. I doubt you could be a professional sailor without some notion of your own mortality.
Thomas Andrews, as an engineer knew specifically the circumstances under which she would sink or float.
The myth of unsinkability was one concocted for and by the public, and one the shipping line would be hesitant to try to correct, since they were selling passage on the ships. We see today, that most of the time, PR is not reality, and reality is not PR.
 

Ann Vernier

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My point exactly. The problem is not with individuals, but with the SYSTEM which tends to influence thought, as well as actions. That 'system' is alive and well. That is what is classic about Titanic. That, and the fact that it was a more modern-day event which was reported world-wide with pictures and modern methods of gathering testimonies, etc. We are able to relate better, vs. an obscure event such as the volcano which destroyed Pompei. It had no world 'system' in place (only local religion and lore) to influence thoughts about living near volcanoes, who died, their life stories, etc. We think we are so much more sophisticated than that now. But it's still that same 'system' today with it's own agenda, which puts us all in the same boat.
 

Inger Sheil

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Hallo Ann, and welcome to the board!

quote:

What intrigues me most about Titanic, is that the philosophy of the world's "even God can't sink her" attitude was so accepted by the passengers and crew, that they were all in blissful denial of their fate until their very last moments.
I think that's a bit of an oversimplification of attitudes regarding the ship, and particularly among the crew, as Michael and Jim have pointed out. Even in instances where there was a firm faith in the safety devices, it wasn't out of a hubristic "even God can't sink her" over-confidence, but rather in a belief that the technology was sufficiently advanced to minimise the dangers posed by natural and man-made threats. This doesn't equate to a belief that the ship, or those who created and sailed in her, were challenging God Himself. A comment along the 'God himself can't sink this ship' lines was attributed to an anonymous WSL employee, but there is no evidence that it represented the general attitude among the crew.

Certainly there was considerable faith in her safety features, particularly among passengers who had been exposed to WSL PR (perpetuated even by the Captain, evidence suggests), but I don't think that translates into a blasphemous 'little god' arrogance that you describe.

Ignorance, rather than arrogance or 'blissful denial', was the reason so many passengers and even crew kept their faith in the ship's 'unsinkability' until the event was far advanced. This was largely the result of a deliberate, if unsystematic, strategy adopted by the senior crew to restrict information and reassure the passengers as a means of crowd control. The deceptively 'gentle' nature of the collision itself, coupled by reassurances from the crew, meant that most were unaware of the full extent of the damage and the very real danger they faced.

James Moody wrote mockingly many years before the disaster of the concept of floating palaces that 'don't roll' and 'can't possibly sink'. When assigned to the Titanic, he very correctly saw her in her proper context as merely one more ship in a progression of ever-bigger liners. She was a piece of technology to him, not a symbol of any desire to fly in the face of God, or assert man's supremacy over a divine being and/or nature.

Many of the crew had their own profound religious beliefs - the sometimes profane Harold Lowe, for example, was staunch CofE, and was involved in his parish churches both before and after his career at sea. For him, the Titanic wasn't an abstract concept, a representation of a philosophical or theological issue - it was a job. He would have seen no conflict between the respect he had for her safety features and his belief in both a supreme deity and the power of the natural world he believed was created by that deity.

Interpretations of the Titanic's sinking have tended to harden over the years into a simple morality tale of man, propelled by hubris, running full-tilt into a manifestation of God's and/or nature's power, and inevitably coming off the worse in the clash. It concerns me that this view doesn't really reflect the attitudes of the the merchant service of the time, or the dynamics of the disaster and the evacuation.

I do agree that nothing has changed in human nature - those with faith still try to read divine will in catastrophic accidents and natural disasters, just as we always have.​
 
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>>My point exactly. The problem is not with individuals, but with the SYSTEM which tends to influence thought, as well as actions. That 'system' is alive and well.<<

Mmmmmmmmm....sorry, but that's not what you said. What you said was "What intrigues me most about Titanic, is that the philosophy of the world's "even God can't sink her" attitude was so accepted by the passengers and crew, that they were all in blissful denial of their fate until their very last moments. Not unlike the world's attitudes today toward many things of God which are scoffed at" which essentially a sociological/theological statement and a commentary on prevailing attitudes, not any particular system. On close inspection, it's also a very misleading as this was far from a universal sentiment. Some public attitudes and media hype notwithstanding, I don't think you'll find that a lot of mariners had any real illusions about the invincibility of technology. They knew better from bitter and often recent experience. Barring that, there were still recent fiascos such as the RMS Atlantic and the RMS Republic to drive the point home.

The "God Himsef could not sink this ship" is attributed to a *single* employee of the line in Southampton on the day Titanic sailed. It was a single spontaneous statement which didn't even reflect the publicity of the line or the builder which used the qualifyer practically unsinkable. Nowhere did they say anything was proof against the actions of diety. Given the all pervasive religious sentiments of the time, I think you'd have a hard time finding anyone who was willing to go quite that far.

Not an impossible task but a difficult one.

For all that technology was giving them a sense of optimism, these were a people who were profoundly aware of their own mortality. They saw it every day through disease and accidents in their homes and factories, and often on a much more up close and personal basis then we do today. That's not to say that these people were without fault, or that hubris was nonexistant. It was there, but it wasn't anywhere near as commonplace as some might think.
 

Ann Vernier

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>>I do agree that nothing has changed in human nature - those with faith still try to read divine will in catastrophic accidents and natural disasters, just as we always have.<<

Hi Inger! Nice to meet you. I agree with your statement above. But we must finish the statement by acknowledging the other side of the coin, too. That those without faith still claim that those with faith 'read' into catastrophic events as they continue trying to find ways to attain immortality on their own apart from God. They buy into that 'system' of philosophy and attitudes perpetuating the denial of God's existence and/or His plan. That is, until we are faced with lifeboat situations. It is the basic struggle of the universe. This is what is classic. This is what intrigues me. We all fit into one or the other of these philosophies. The actual facts of any particular catastrophe notwithstanding.
 
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Laura Melinda Varjo

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Yeah, nice essay, Inger ! Took me a while to read, understand, and to think about it. Wow, was this all in your head, or researched some stuff as well ? Either way, good job.
 
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Laura Melinda Varjo

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Not to hurt anyone's feelings, good job Michael too. I couldn't argue like this strong at all.

About a quarter of what you guys say barely makes sense to me(some sentences)but it all sounds very intelligent. I'm too young for this I guess.
 

Ann Vernier

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That Titanic so clearly illustrates this classic human dilema is why it is so intriguing. Was Titanic, perhaps, God's instrument as an example to us? Why has it's story remained a focus to all walks of life? Is it just to have something to talk about? Is Titanic a micro-chosm of the world sailing merrily on it's way to...? Will it take a 'World Trade Center' jolt, or a gentle nudge to get us into the lifeboat? Or will we be so lulled into the acceptance of a false notion, that we miss the boat altogether? Is it merely by chance we get in? Is it because of "crowd controlled" philosophies that we don't? Or is it a choice given because we can see through the "crowd controllers" quest for power over our lives to their betterment? This is intriguing! This is classic.
 

Jim Kalafus

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>Was Titanic, perhaps, God's instrument as an example to us?

Could a Superior Being kill 1503 innocent people to disprove the "Practically Insinkable" line in The Shipbuilder without losing His claim to superiority? Would He who gave us His son resort to something that petty, not to mention vicious? I fail to see how any Christian could view this affair as being the work of God, or an "example."
 
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>>Was Titanic, perhaps, God's instrument as an example to us?<<

I don't think so. Again, why not the Olympic, or the Maurtiania, Lusitania, Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse? Why not any number of ships for which similar claims of "practically Unsinkable" had been advanced? And also, why assume that there is a diety with any sort of Supreme Plan at all? There's no evidence to support of refute that premise so one can go around in circles forever without resolution. Either "side" may have some compelling arguements both for and against, but arguements don't prove anything.

What is demonsterable by the evidence is that what happened to the Titanic was the end result of bad navigation practices and human error. No diety involved and none needed. This was a pooch that got screwed without any outside help, divine or otherwise.
 
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Ann, since this particular thread has gone about as far away from an introduction as can be, and covers an area of much broader interest, I've moved it to the General Folder. If you still wish to have something in the Introductions Folder, simply start a thread using your own name as the topic/subject, and tell us a bit about yourself.
 

Inger Sheil

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quote:

But we must finish the statement by acknowledging the other side of the coin, too. That those without faith still claim that those with faith 'read' into catastrophic events as they continue trying to find ways to attain immortality on their own apart from God. They buy into that 'system' of philosophy and attitudes perpetuating the denial of God's existence and/or His plan. That is, until we are faced with lifeboat situations. It is the basic struggle of the universe.
It's only really such an elemental struggle if you adopt this model of interpretation, of course. We can extend the shadings of interpretation still further for those who have faith into the perpetual free-will vs. predestination debate. Those who see a deity behind the event have different views on what degree of interaction with mortal affairs this represents. Does God micromanage events? In which case, how culpable can humans be if He in His omnipotence is responsible for our fallibility? Or did God simply set creation in motion, allowing humans free will? Some shading in between the two, perhaps? A semi-interventionist deity?

One of the most interesting discussions on the subject I ever observed on this aspect of interpretations of the disaster took place between several people of faith. One one side, there were people who envisioned a simplistic cause and effect motivation for God to sink the ship - i.e., God was affronted by human arrogance, so God put an iceberg in its path and had the crew navigate in such a way that they would collide with it. They took the description of one survivor who said the collision sounded like a finger scraping along the side to a startling new degree of literalism! Another individual proposed a different interpretation. For her, God was in evidence in the disaster, but not in causing the accident. She believed He was there comforting those lost souls, and grieving for what had occured.

While such discussions are intriguing in the range of issues they represent, I must admit that I do have some concerns. One problem with these discussion, I feel, is that they tend to turn a very tragic, very real event into abstract analogy. This distances us from the people involved, and their complex, human responses and emotions.

When I described the factors leading to people not getting into lifeboats, Ann responded with these comments:
quote:

Is it merely by chance we get in? Is it because of "crowd controlled" philosophies that we don't? Or is it a choice given because we can see through the "crowd controllers" quest for power over our lives to their betterment?
This is extending an anology drawn from the sinking to the point that real lives and real circumstances are abstracted beyond recognition. '"Crowd Controlled" philosophies'? The decisions taken on crowd control by the crew had nothing to do with theology - they were concerned with finding a practical means of saving lives. Likewise, there is no correlation between the concern with preventing panic that motivated the actions of the officers and any desire to have 'power' over 'our' lives 'to their betterment'. To suggest that the officers acted out of such a motivation is to not only do them a disservice, it is also a misrepresentation of historical facts.

It is indeed often said that there are no atheists in foxholes (another variation is 'there are no atheists in landing parties'). But a catastrophic event can cause other fundamental changes in personal beliefs - to quote a line from 'SOS Titanic' "No God. God went down with the Titanic". The Titanic disaster caused some believers to loose their faith entirely. This is often the case with loss, be it personal or on a vast scale. Some survivors and aid workers in the wake of the Tsunami have had their faith renewed, as they see God working through the hands of individuals and nations to respond to this great disaster. Wonderful people like Father Chris Riley are working over there with their belief, if anything, strengthened. Other survivors and aid workers are reporting a loss of faith once confronted with the scope of the disaster. Where some see divine will, others see the face of a vast, indifferent universe. This is nothing new - Dr. Wilson met his slow, drawn out death on the Scott Antarctic expedition reaffirming his belief in God, and wrote this to his wife, who shared his faith. But when Oriana Wilson died many years later, she had lost her faith, and did not believe she would be with her beloved husband ever again. Our Australian religious leaders could not agree on what the Tsunami indicated, and I gather that response was reflected elsewhere.

All this is not to decry those who seek to interpret meaning in tragic events, whether that meaning is the great plan of a deity or a rationalist view that there is no external guiding influence. But I do hope that, in seeking to understand the event and its relevance for our own lives and philosophy, that we don't reduce those who lived and died to figures and actions so abstract they're not recognisable.​
 

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