"Don't Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows"
A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.
Hail the Titanic October 16, 2007
We have just finished a small volunteer assignment with the Royal BC Museum’s “Titanic The Artifact Exhibit.” Our job was to discuss a few of the conservation techniques used to preserve objects recovered from the debris field near the Titanic’s final resting place. While this proved a valuable lesson in marine archeological science and we are grateful to have learned from it - a far more interesting issue arose during our tenure. The exhibit points out the different classes of passenger that were aboard the Titanic’s fateful voyage. The White Star Line, the ship’s builder and owner sold tickets in three distinct classes: First, Second and Third or “Steerage” as it is sometime known. The Titanic’s distinction at the time was the significantly improved conditions of it’s Second and Third class service compared to Cunard Line, the other major trans-Atlantic carrier. The exhibit points out from the beginning (with a somewhat ghoulish-type relish) how one’s passenger class relates to the chances of survival aboard Titanic.
Each visitor to the Titanic exhibit is given a “ticket” aboard the ship as means of entrance. The ticket has a name written on it, one of the 1,500 plus actual Titanic passengers. At the very end of the exhibit visitors look upon a wall of names to determine if “they” survived the sinking. What this points quite brilliantly to is the lopsided survival rates of those passengers ticketed in First Class, as opposed to those in Second or Third Class. Presumably one’s relative financial worth had a significant effect on one’s chances of survival. But then of course with very few exceptions nearly all the men aboard Titanic drowned. This because the unwritten laws of chivalry demanded that women and children were first into the lifeboats. No man in this unenlightened age of class segregation, would be caught dead putting themselves ahead of the weaker sex or an innocent child. Thus, for men, one’s bank account made absolutely no difference as to the chances of surviving Titanic’s fate. Chivalry erased all differences between the male gender - something we hesitate to believe would operate in today’s helter skelter, competitive world.
For the women and children it was a different story. Those who survived were those closest to the means of survival - the lifeboats. When viewed on balance, far more women and children from the moneyed First Class sections of the ship made it into lifeboats and were later rescued. It is a dark statistic with undertones of classism, morbid hierarchy and ethical imbalance. But those are the facts. The facts are, the higher and more elevated one’s position aboard Titanic - the greater the chances of survival. Because First Class passengers are the most elevated passengers. They reside in the First Class cabins which are on the top decks of the ship - closest to the uppermost deck where the lifeboats were stored. It was not so much the money or social position that determined your chances of surviving - it was how lofty your place in the pecking order of elevation. Literally those higher up were those who survived in greater numbers. The higher up you were - the more likely you would find an escape route when the great ship went down.
The Titanic’s builders claimed her to be “nearly unsinkable.” Some of our visitors took grim delight in speculating it was “human arrogance” that caused the great ship to go down. The hubris that technology would save them from the power of Mother Nature was the sad unraveling of Titanic’s voyage. And we do not disagree. Technology alone cannot overcome the forces of nature or universe. Technology is after all the work of people. But what is often overlooked in the lessons of Titanic are the extraordinary acts of selflessness by all manner of men. From the eight members of the orchestra who played on, to the stokers in the hold who never stopped shoveling coal, to the Captain, crew and high society men who lifted women and children into lifeboats. All these men, all these humans, stood in place, without hesitation or fear or despair - and gave their lives to others. In the very end there were no classes or distinctions for the men of Titanic - they were all the same. And they each gave of themselves as selflessly as another.
The lessons we take from the tragedy of Titanic are simple ones. That despite the hierarchies, the classes, the perceived differences in the matters of men - there is little difference in their souls. As the great ship went down into the cold Atlantic sea, her passengers gathered together, setting hands to the hearth, lifting children to safety, putting others ahead of themselves. Before the Great Court of Judgment, if there should ever be one - we will cite this event. As one of hundreds of thousands of events, where the primitive arrogance of men is revealed to be only the skin which covers their souls. And those souls, when asked to show themselves, do so with compassion and courage that place even the very lowly at the highest order of being.