• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Out of my way, Honey!

Not much about the Costa Concordia story is inspiring, is it? You remember the Titanic, women and children first and all that. If you think that fairy tale stuff is true, you probably still believe the captain should go down with his ship:

Her story backs up other survivor claims that it was a case of every man, woman and child for themselves of the £390m vessel after it ran aground.

Fights broke out to get into the lifeboats, men refused to prioritise women, expectant mothers and children as they pushed themselves forward to escape. Crew ignored their passengers – leaving ‘chefs and waiters’ to help out.

Which means that  chivalry is dead:

Guys aboard the Costa Concordia apparently made sure the age of chivalry was good and dead by pushing it over and trampling on it in their heedless rush for the exits. The grounded cruise ship has its heroes, of course, just as the Titanic had its cowards. But the discipline of the Titanic’s crew and the self-enforced chivalric ethic that prevailed among its men largely trumped the natural urge toward panicked self-preservation.

So let's blame the women:

This was not so much predictable as predicted. Women have methodically attacked the concept of male duty and honor through every possible means for the past ninety years, and now they are whining that they don't get special treatment simply because a ship happens to be sinking. Why, exactly, should any man "prioritise women, expectant mothers and children"? On what grounds can they be reasonably expected to do so, those outdated traditional grounds that the schools teach is hateful, sexist, and bigoted?

I bring this up just to impress you with how ahead of the curve I can be. I wrote a column in general exploring that same theme way back in 1997. Our technology doesn't accommodate linking to the article, so I'll just cut and paste the whole thing here:

A friend of mine is enthralled by the story of the Titanic and has accumulated a lot of books about the disaster. I borrowed a couple of them last week to do some research for a speech, so the subject has been on my mind.
    The basic story is well-known. The White Star Line, with much fanfare, sends the largest and most expensive luxury liner ever built on its maiden voyage. Four days out, the ship hits an iceberg. Because the Titanic has been touted as ``unsinkable,'' not enough lifeboats are on board. Of the 1,200 people, passengers and crew, only about 700 survive.
    What I have been thinking about is: Why did even 700 survive? Why wasn't there such a mad scramble to get on those precious few boats that hardly anyone survived?
    It was because they had a rule back then that was clearly understood and commonly accepted: Women and children first. What seats were left, if any, could be claimed by the men on a first-come, first-served basis.
    That was a code everybody - or at least most people - was willing to live by. And it was a principle some were willing literally to die for.
    Wouldn't happen that way now, I bet. If there were a Titanic-like incident today, there wouldn't be any of that blindly-accepting, let's-not-even-take-a-vote ``women and children first'' nonsense.
    We'd have to have a lot of discussion.
    Those women, for one thing. We are in the era of equality - a citizen is a citizen regardless of gender, due equal rights and owing equal responsibilities (a libertarian philosophy I adhere to, by the way). Why is the life of any particular woman worth more than the life of any particular man? Put another way: If a woman is willing to go into combat, why should I give up my seat on the lifeboat for her?
    And the children? Should they automatically be saved, just because they would have longer lives and presumably could contribute more to society? Is it better to save the 13-year-old crack addict and let the brilliant 24-year-old concert pianist drown?
    And saving only the women and children would be, well, just a tad non-representational, wouldn't it? Shouldn't we make sure that each lifeboat, in the makeup of its passengers, reflects, with mathematical precision, the percentages of people on the ship? That means the same percentages of blacks and whites and other racial groups, the same percentages of men and women, the same percentages of the handicapped, the gay, the religiously diverse.
    Of course, once we've made that decision, then we have to have affirmative action for all the groups that have been underrepresented in the lifeboats during past disasters. If you qualified for this treatment, you'd be told four or five times that the ship was sinking, instead of receiving the one warning everybody else was getting, and a contingent of crew members would be detailed to clear a special path to the lifeboats for you. And if you were so unfortunate that, say, you'd had an uncle rescued from a previous disaster and a cousin who made it onto the lifeboat on still a different one, then they'd probably just slip a note under your door. If you saw it, fine; if not, too bad.
    This would be utter chaos, of course, and lead to exactly the same disastrous results as any mad, selfish scrambling.
    If you're running a cruise ship, you have to have a couple of sets of rules. One set is for normal, everyday routine: Please dress formally for dinner; behave, and you might get to sit at the captain's table; don't let your kids run screaming through the corridors; don't pick your nose on the ballroom floor. The other set is for emergencies. If the boiler blows up or you hit an iceberg, there isn't time to call a meeting of the Subcommittee on Passenger Disembarking, Involuntary, Mrs. Fitz-Hughes presiding. You have to have a plan, and it has to be followed, and right now.
    Now, maybe ``women and children first'' is a little too Edwardian for us today, too much of the era of civility and grace and refined sensibilities. But if you don't like the rule, you have to replace it with a better rule. You don't set sail with no commonly accepted plan to deal with disaster.
    But that's what we're doing today. Consider the Titanic a microcosm of the larger society. (Come on, you knew there was going to be a metaphor in here somewhere.) Once, we had commonly understood and accepted rules that made us a cohesive community with shared values. You can find some of them in documents such as the Bill of Rights and the Ten Commandments. Others were understood: Work hard, and you will prosper. The nuclear family is the first and best source of nurturing. Don't try to get something for nothing. Lend a helping hand.
    It doesn't even matter much what the rules were - just that they were understood and accepted. They provided us with a framework within which to operate, a prism through which to see order among the chaos. Because of that acknowledged framework, we knew we could count on each other to do what it would take should there come a big war or a Great Depression.
    We've been throwing out the old rules, of course; in every age there is the urge to move on, to change. But we've been replacing the old rules with - nothing.
    As long as we're sailing along, that doesn't always seem to matter. Oh, there might be some discomfort, a vague uneasiness, a sense that something is missing in our lives. But, hey, strike up the band and get the deck chairs out of the way so we can dance the night away.
    Pay no attention to that iceberg ahead. And don't go counting lifeboats.

And here is a Robert Heinlein quote I saw somewhere in all the coverage:

All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplusage, excrescence, adornment, luxury, or folly, which can — and must — be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible. Attempts to formulate a “perfect society” on any foundation other than “Women and children first!” is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal. Nevertheless, starry-eyed idealists (all of them male) have tried endlessly — and no doubt will keep on trying.


Thu, 01/19/2012 - 10:23pm

The Cliff Notes version of your Costa Concordia epistle boils down to "SHIP HAPPENS!"

Harl Delos
Fri, 01/20/2012 - 6:33am

You're a pessimist, Leo. When you wrote that fifteen years ago, you violated at least three precepts of Heinlein's philosopy.

1. Don't ever become a pessimist... a pessimist is correct oftener than an optimist, but an optimist has more fun, and neither can stop the march of events.

2. Being right too soon is socially unacceptable.

3. There is no way that writers can be tamed and rendered civilized or even cured. The only solution known to science is to provide the patient with an isolation room, where he can endure the acute stages in private and where food can be poked in to him with a stick.