This week the world marks 100 years of its Titanic obsession. Belfast
, New York
and the rest of the world will pause for a moment to honour the lives that were lost when the unsinkable ship met its fate. More than 1,500 people disappeared with the Titanic, many floating in the arms of death in the icy ocean, others drowning way below in second and third class cabins and corridors.
Rich and poor alike
shared their faith in death. But it is undeniable that the poor died in much greater number than the aristocrats of the time, and many will agree that their deaths were the consequence of their status on the ship
, where society’s social standings were replicated and severely applied with, among other things, locked gates.
Thirty-three percent of first class male passengers were saved, compared to 16% in third class and 8% in second class; every children in first and second class survived, but only 34% in third class; 97% of first class female passengers were saved, but less than 50% of them in third class. A bigger proportion of men in first class survived than that of children in third class.
It has been said that when third class passengers were finally allowed on the boat deck, or after they had forced their way there, many, if not all, the lifeboats
were already gone, half filled mostly with terrified opulence and the occasional lucky steerage fellow.
Obviously, certain things never change. What happened in the middle of the ocean 100 years ago brings to mind what’s going on in today’s societies. The boat, this time, is called Unfettered Capitalism
; the captains are politicians, and they are seconded by corporate bosses, bankers and financiers. As in Titanic’s time, they were so confident the system they had built would never sink that they arrogantly ignored many warnings
and pushed the ship, with all of us on it, through dangerous obstacles at incredible speed. They kept at it until, in 2008, the ship collided with a very big iceberg and it started to take water. But it was too late, and people, especially those in third class, would have the pay the price.
Once again, the poor are left behind, while the rich get a place in the lifeboats. It is social Darwinism at its best: the rich are “job creators
”, and the poor, why, they already take too much space in the “expense” columns. Expense means expendable, while revenue is to be cherished and protected.
In 1912, upon learning of the tragedy, officials of the White Star Line are said to have immediately stopped all wages
for Titanic employees. After the tragedy, some families of employees who had died received a bill from White Star
for “money owed for lost uniforms”.
In 2012 we wouldn’t do that. Nevertheless, when the capitalist boat started sinking in 2008
, employees lost their jobs, families lost their houses, while employers and bankers
received billions of dollars from governments to save their neck. Then the crisis served as a justification for governments to demolish
the very social structures that would have helped those who lost everything to fall back on their feet. In other words, they sent away the lifeboats filled with contended opulence even before the third class passengers could get on the boat deck.
Then and now, we’ve heard mostly of the rich who have succumbed to their own greed
. They're all over the news, documentaries are made and we’re glued to our TV to watch the opulence in which they lived before going to prison. But second and third class
passengers are still paying the price of that arrogance.