Western Civilization and the Titanic

Some thirty years ago a commentator used the analogy of the course of Western Civilization hitting an iceberg, suffering thereby the same fate as the Titanic at the beginning of the 20th century. In other words, in its immense pride and folly, believing itself to be impervious to any danger from without, it pursues a reckless course. Life determined by reason alone is “unsinkable”, an inheritance from the Enlightenment era taken to an extreme.  The last survivor of the Titanic died just a few days ago. She survived the sinking of the Titanic because her father, sensing that something was wrong, went on deck to investigate the situation. Thanks to his accurate assessment of the danger at hand, the lives of this lady, who was only two months old at the time, and her mother were saved.  It is reasonable to assume that there was an inclination on the part of the father not to trust the overconfidence of the crew and fellow passengers.

So just when did the collision of Western Civilization with the iceberg take place? This is not as easy as easy to answer as it is to ask but I will point to 1968 as possibly one of the most pertinent and defining moments. It was the point in time at which the over-indulged baby boomers were coming of age.  That this youth was so pampered arose partly from the fact that their parents had witnessed the depression and wanted their children not to suffer any such deprivations.  It seems in retrospect that they may have gone to the other extreme.

It is quite natural that young people revolt against something and in this case, propelled unconsciously or otherwise by the Frankfurter School of thought, at that time very much the dominant Zeitgeist, found themselves revolting against the so called traditional values of all the generations which had preceded them.  That is, they revolted against Western Civilization per se. Many of us recall only too well the slogan of the era “Fee fi fo, Western Civ has to go”, a slogan which could be heard accompanying demonstrations on the streets etc, thus enabling an era of moral relativity to be ushered in. Faint protests from disenfranchised traditionalists were brushed off summarily and abandoned to their drowning fate accompanied mostly by ridicule in addition.

Now that we have an international economic crisis, it may well be relevant to look at history in this respect. Moral decline has always been followed by economic decline.  In this case, moral relativity has crept into the financial markets, thus rendering their demise inevitable. Capitalism doesn’t function without very strict adherence to a code of ethics which is based on those much derided traditional values.

But there is a certain irony which may arise from the possibility of the sinking of the ship of Western Civilization. It is perhaps not impossible to compare the actions of that very astute father on the Titanic, with those members of Western Civilization who have indeed noticed that   the ship may have struck an iceberg and have acted accordingly to at least salvage something by so doing. As the father of the last, recently deceased passenger on the Titanic nearly one hundred years ago, they have become aware of the collision and have tried to take appropriate counter steps. One such step could be the abandonment of fiat paper money in favor of tangible assets and finances in the form of gold and silver or other such measures.

The ultimate irony may well be though that those who were completely submerged in the mores of the sixties and so proud of the ability of man’s reason alone to control his political and economic destiny could well be doomed to go under with the sinking ship and those who were ridiculed may just have a chance of survival (be it financial, physical or psychological)

Finally, the last irony of all may well be that were any of the thinkers of the Frankfurter School able to see how Western Civilization has become engulfed in a deluge of decadence, hubris, pride and a tsunami of DEBT and thus probably on its way under. Although they were all ardent Marxists, one wonders whether they, well known lovers of Western Culture in general and music in particular (Theodor Adorno), would also not feel a tinge of sadness, chiming in thereby with many of us who do not otherwise share their Weltanschauung.

Elizabeth Brinsden

June 8, 2009