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Wednesday, 21 January 2009

'After you dear boy...'

I read with interest the story on the BBC News site. It refers to the behaviour between two major western cultures whilst the Titanic was going down after hitting that huge iceberg. I think this is very instructive of cultures in general as it shows how people really are when 'the chips are down'.

On the one hand you had the Americans: always known to be confident, loud, individualistic, not frightened to do what's best for themselves; and then you had the Brits, more known for their respect for gentlemanly values, the 'old school', and 'do your duty', genteel, 'women and children must come first' type of living.

As it says in the article, it now appears to be that - '... Britons in that era were more inclined to be "gentlemanly" while Americans were more "individualist", and because of this, according to the article, many more of the Brits perished in the Titanic disaster - 'More British passengers died on the Titanic because they queued politely for lifeboats, researchers believe.' Whilst this isn't very Darwinian, ('Natural Selection' and only 'the strongest survive') it does shed considerable light on the times and on the two cultures.

According to the article, many of the British men, whether rich or poor, put their wives into the lifeboats and then went to the back of the boat to have a cigar - this is shorthand for went back to await their deaths. 'They then "went to the back of the boat to have a cigar, to stand around and be chummy, while basically the boat went down.'

Many of you may remember the Cameron Macintosh movie version where Rose's fiance, an American cad, who tried several times to get into a boat when it had been expressly stated that only women and children were allowed. At one point, he even grabs a new born baby in order to pretend that he's looking after it so he can gain access to a lifeboat. This behaviour exemplifies American's need to put themselves first and for me shows clearly how Americans have always seen themselves in the world e.g. as special and that the rules don't apply to them.

The world doesn't have to look to far back to see what has been done in the name of America - eight years of a leader like Bush, who refused to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol while his country was the major polluter in the industrialized world. It would be all too easy to see the greed and selfishness inherent in the Wall Street brokers who indulged in extremely ungentlemanly conduct and routinely gave themselves huge payouts irrespective of whether the company was doing well in the long term or not. When money and power are the currency of a nation, it's not long before its ignorance of problems around the world shows itself, and when the only thing it had to export was 'war', you could have been forgive for thinking the 'real' America has gone about as low as a nation can go - not only financially bankrupt, but more importantly, morally bankrupt, which is far worse.

As Will Durant said,

“A great nation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

Whilst it has lost its place as the world's policeman, I doubt it will be long before America raises again like a serpent from the ashes - like a Phoenix, rejuvenated but unbowed - ready again to lead the world. With Obama, anything is possible because he has given everyone some magic like a genie - hope. We will now all have to see if we can 'dare to hope.'


cos67 aka costick67 aka cosine67 said...

Tommy, calm down.
Almost all the men on the Titanic died. You're talking about one man in a boat were almost a thousand men died. Not very scientific.
Bush, as always, is a special case of someone who knew he could do anything, and yet was a complete idiot. However, too much politeness in an emergency is akin to folly. The rest of the deaths are due to the hubris of the captain and crew, the fact that there weren't enough life boats and mainly the fact that the ship was held together with sub-standard bolts.
I can comment on the behaviour of today's British. The vast majority now 'put on' politeness in such a way that it usually makes me sick. I am usually polite because that's the best way for a workplace to hum along, I find that Brits don't believe me. They think it's an act and so they prod me in various ways. Of course, this is not 1912, innit?

cos67 aka costick67 aka cosine67 said...

Let me explain a point from my previous comment. I think that the poor British expected to get their turn and enter a lifeboat, but like I said, they were cruelly cheated by the shortage of spots.
As you've from your other blog, class also played a role. Would the British middle-classes or 'poor' have been so polite if they had been allowed to get near a lifeboat?
Cheers cos67