Mid-cruise to the Bahamas last February, my husband and I endured a dark and stormy night. I emailed my son back home: “The waves are really high tonight—we're in a storm. I hope we're shipwrecked, I've always wanted to be in a shipwreck. Good chance these days of the Coast Guard getting to us before the sharks do!”
I'm not quite so sanguine today at the thought of being shipwrecked, and I'm sure you know why. But it's not because the grounding of the Costa Concordia sobered me up about shipwreck reality: that passengers, lots of them, can drown even if they're cruising in a well-designed ship that runs aground close to the shores of a modern country.
No, it's because the wreck of the Costa Concordia reveals the ugly, barnacled underbelly of modern cultural mores. Over the last half century, compassion for the weak and vulnerable has been cast overboard like so much civilizational jetsam.
First, we have a captain, Francesco Schettino, crashing his ship into rocks and then (by his own account) tripping and falling into a lifeboat, and later attempting to escape in a taxi (after stopping to purchase dry socks) in a comedy of errors that served to make Gilligan and the Skipper look highly competent. The second and third officers also abandoned the passengers and saved themselves. Hundreds of male crew members and passengers followed their example, putting their own safety above that of women and children.
Listen to what female passengers had to say about their “rescue”:
Tracey Gunn, who was traveling with her husband and young daughter, said she was shoved aside by “grown men and women” in the mad dash for lifeboats.
Michelle Barraclough and her twelve-year-old daughter were “pushed aside by screaming people as they tried to board a lifeboat,” records the Australian. “We couldn't believe it—especially the men, they were worse than the women,” Barraclough said. “It was every man for himself.”
Sixty-two-year-old Sandra Rogers recalls, “There was no 'women and children first' policy. I was standing by the lifeboats and men, big men, were banging into me and knocking the girls [7-year-old twins Emma and Chloe]. . . . It was disgusting.”
There are even reports that wealthy Russians “stuffed wads of cash into the pockets of Costa Concordia crew members to bribe them for coveted places on the lifeboats” ahead of “wounded women and children.”
Given this brutish behavior, it is perhaps not surprising that some two thirds of those who died or went missing were among the most vulnerable: women, a little girl (five-year-old Dayana Arlotti), and elderly passengers. By contrast, as Rich Lowry writes in National Review Online, when the Titanic foundered 100 years ago, “More women from third class—deep in the bowels of the ship, where it was hard to escape and instructions were vague or nonexistent—survived than men from first class. Almost all of the women from first class (97 percent) and second class (84 percent) made it,” while “men from first class who were lost stayed behind voluntarily, true to their Edwardian ideals.”
As for the men of the Costa Concordia, shoving aside the weaker passengers to save themselves “appears to have been the natural order of things,” Lowry observes.
In a sense, it was natural—natural, that is, if you've been brought up, not with Edwardian ideals bolstered by Judeo-Christian beliefs, but in the Culture of Death, as John Paul II described it: a culture that long ago declared war on the weak, the vulnerable, and the sick.
In the Culture of Death, it's part of the “natural order” to kill inconvenient unborn babies by the millions, allow imperfect babies to starve, and pull the plug on sick, elderly parents who are using up too many of the family's resources.
The sexual revolution of the sixties, legalized abortion of the seventies, and the violent pornography of today have gone a long way in destroying respect for women, turning them into re-usable sex objects and victims of savage assaults.
As for the “survival of the fittest” teachings of evolutionary theorists—well, what happened on the Costa Concordia is what survival of the fittest looks like. It may be “natural” these days, but it isn't pretty.
The funny thing is, no matter what people think they believe about how we should treat one another, in a crisis, they grab onto those tossed-aside Judeo-Christian beliefs as though they were life preservers. All those outraged comments—both from survivors and from members of the press—about men shoving women and children out of their way in a mad dash to the Costa Concordia's lifeboats reveal that deep down, we all know know perfectly well that the strong really should protect the weak and vulnerable, not abandon them to their fate.
C.S. Lewis commented on this phenomenon in Mere Christianity. In a chapter titled “The Law of Human Nature,” Lewis writes that we all behave as though we believe in some standard of decent human behavior. Even when someone claims not to believe in a standard of right and wrong, Lewis writes, “you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining 'It's not fair' before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties do not matter; but then, the next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. . . . Have they not let the cat out of the bag and shown that, whatever they say, they really know the Law of nature just like anyone else?”
While different cultures might have some differences in their moralities, these differences did not amount to anything like a total difference, Lewis notes: “Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all of the people who had been kindest to him. Men have differed as regard what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired.”
The last survivor of the Titanicdied in 2009, leaving us with no eyewitnesses to the selflessness of those brave Edwardian men of all classes who sacrificed their lives to save women and children. And we will lose even the memory of this kind of self-sacrifice unless we fire some cultural distress rockets—and begin teaching our young once again what it is to live lives of honor, decency, and bravery.
Anne Morse is a writer for BreakPoint.
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