This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic’s sinking. This year, it also coincides with Earth Day and the annual tax preparation deadline in a pivotal presidential election year. What would the people living in 1912 think if they could see us today?
Improvements in Technology Limited by Business Constraints
Ship design had improved greatly since the Wasa sunk on her maiden voyage in Stockholm harbor in 1628 because it was top-heavy and did not have enough ballast. But the Titanic was not built as safe as some ships built more than 50 years before because of competitive pressures, and had lifeboats for only a third of its passengers. While it appears that the oft-quoted “God himself could not sink this ship,” was probably just someone reassuring a nervous passenger and not mocking God, the sea is still a dangerous place with powerful forces that remind us we are not in control.
Visitors can go to Greenfield Village in Dearborn to see what life was like in that era, take a ride in a Model T, and visit the Wright brothers’ home and Edison’s laboratory. The Henry Ford Museum will host the largest touring exhibition of Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, through September 30, 2012.
Summer vacation trips to Mackinac Island or Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore might include a stop at Whitefish Point to visit the lighthouse and Shipwreck Museum (see photos). Lighthouses and lifesaving stations greatly reduced loss of life on the Great Lakes, but pilot error caused many collisions. The freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, largest on the Great Lakes when launched in 1958, succumbed to a severe Lake Superior storm as recently as November, 1975, with the loss of the entire crew of 29.
Today’s ships, planes and cars are safer than ever. Safety features help sell cars now, yet people don’t take advantage of all the available technology, with some only fastening their seat belts because it’s the law. This week Michigan’s governor signed the repeal of Michigan’s mandatory motorcycle helmet law, despite the lack of good arguments for repeal. 31 U.S. states now allow bikers to decide to risk their lives at everyone else’s expense.
Women and Children First - Chivalry’s Epitaph
A little known memorial in Washington D.C. designed by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney to the men on the Titanic has this inscription: “TO THE BRAVE MEN WHO PERISHED IN THE WRECK OF THE TITANIC APRIL 15, 1912. THEY GAVE THEIR LIVES THAT WOMEN AND CHILDREN MIGHT BE SAVED. ERECTED BY THE WOMEN OF AMERICA” You can watch Jerry Griffith’s 2.5 minute video about it. 80% of the men died, while 74% of women survived. It’s been said that if chilvary is dead, this is its epitaph.
Life has changed a lot in the last century for women. They gained the right to vote in 1920; they worked as “Rosie the Riveter” during WW2 making trucks and tanks for the war effort; nowadays they come perilously close to serving in combat. Is this really wise, however, when we think that the main objective of the military is break things and kill people? Certainly we want them involved in strategy and support roles, but the objective in combat is to win, and there’s a reason why men are usually better at basketball, football and other physical sports. Don’t we want our best team on the field, never mind women’s vulnerability if they are captured as a POW? I’m absolutely in favor of equal opportunity, but we shouldn’t be enforcing equal outcomes as social engineering.
Women are still sensitive about their roles, with stay at home moms subtly disrespected by their peers and openly by some this past week for political reasons. Sure, there’s backpedaling and clarification, but the insult is felt.
Personal Pleasure and the Earth – the gods of this Age
The people of 1912 might be impressed by our technology, but they’d probably not completely approve of how we use it. Personal fulfillment has been raised to a ridiculous level, where we argue about whether to wear helmets on motorcycles and end lives of babies at the same gestational age where we do surgery to save the lives of others, depending on the desire of the mother.
Some worship the earth instead of its Creator, thinking that it’s immoral to slap a mosquito. Not many are that extreme, but we have many environmental laws that protect animals and plants at the expense of people’s livelihoods. This is OK if everyone agrees we can afford it, but tough luck for those who lose their jobs as a result.
Conservation is a good thing, and we need to have some old growth forests and plenty of quiet places to enjoy, but in general trees are a crop and should be viewed that way. DDT is still banned worldwide even though it could be used selectively in Africa to save millions of people from dying from malaria. The solution isn’t to love the earth less, but to value people more.
Thumbgens: Trivia Trumps Face-to-Face Interaction
Today’s communication technology is probably the biggest change, especially in recent years with the advent of the internet and mobile devices. But new ways aren’t always better: texting is slower than Morse Code. Watch this video if you don’t believe it. We shouldn’t be too critical of young people (dubbed Thumbgens by some because of their texting proficiency) and their overuse of technology, with the stereotypical family going out to dinner and everyone is busy playing with their toys instead of talking to each other.
Young people may handle Facebook better than others, although people of all ages waste time commenting on blogs or news articles (me included), but telling the world that you’re going shopping seems a bit silly. We all need to learn etiquette with cell phones; no, it’s not OK to talk to one friend on the phone when you’re out for lunch with another. That’s what voice mail is for.
Acquiring Stuff: How Much is Enough?
The ratrace controls us, as we struggle to keep up with the Joneses. We work harder and faster to fill our houses with toys and our lives with pleasure. Some make a career out of avoiding work, with the government encouraging them. He who dies with the most toys, still dies. I’m reminded of the story of the wealthy man who died; someone asked, “How much did he leave?” “All of it,” was the reply.
Changes since 1912 have been a mixed bag. The percentage of the U.S. population involved directly or indirectly in agriculture has declined from over 70% to less than 3% as farming methods have improved. We’re living longer, but are we living better? For sure we are living faster. Maybe if we slowed down and talked to each other more, we’d live happier lives.