I was strolling the sidewalks of downtown Santa Cruz one evening this weekend. To all appearances, life along Pacific Avenue, our “main street”, was as pleasant as ever. Then I noticed something interesting. As is the case in many American towns, quite a few commercial buildings are unoccupied, but rather than leave dark gaping holes behind the plate-glass storefronts, owners or some other business savvy people, had placed attractive objects to mask the depressing emptiness. As I peered behind these little white lies, a sense of foreboding welled up in me. As I thought about it, it was not the unoccupied buildings that disturbed me. It was the lies that were being used to deceive me into complacency.
I was reminded of Dr. Washington Dodge’s account of the Titanic’s sinking just a few short days after the tragedy:
“We had retired to our stateroom, and the noise of the collision was not at all alarming. We had just fallen asleep. My wife awakened me and said that something had happened to the ship. We went on deck and everything seemed quiet and orderly. The orchestra was playing a lively tune.
(The crew explained that) “[A]s a matter of extra precaution the women and children should be placed in the lifeboats.”
“They started to lower the lifeboats after a lapse of some minutes. There was little excitement. As the lifeboats were being launched, many of the first-cabin passengers expressed their preference of staying on the ship. The passengers were constantly being assured that there was no danger…”
I am a sea captain myself, albeit of lesser vessels, so I can understand Captain Edward Smith’s use of white lies. When the Titanic hit the iceberg, there had to be a period of assessment and study. Had Smith sounded the alarm immediately and the ship not been mortally wounded, the ensuing panic might very well have cost lives. So he bided his time. Later, when it become apparent that the situation was dire, he still needed to prevent panic. To keep up appearances, he ordered the orchestra to play some jaunty music while the crew saw passengers to the lifeboats, “…as a matter of extra precaution”.
At the critical moment, events aboard the Titanic proceeded quite rapidly and Captain Smith’s lies were soon overtaken by the evidence of the passenger senses. Mr. Dodge noted that as the ship’s fate became clear…
“’Some of the passengers fought with such desperation to get into the lifeboats that the officers shot them, and their bodies fell into the ocean. It was 10:30 when the collision occurred, and 1:55 o’clock when the ship went down’, he said. ‘Major Archibald Butt stood with John Jacob Astor as the water rolled over the Titanic.’”
The signals we are getting everyday regarding our economic system are as confused as those sent during the early stages of the Titanic’s sinking. The orchestra continues to play. The captains of industry and their political lackeys assure everyone that there is no danger. “Stay the course” is their message. Meanwhile, the First Class passengers are being ushered to the life boats, “…as a matter of precaution.”
Are the orchestra’s jaunty tunes…
The recovery is underway, Wall Street is up, home prices are stabilizing, and we have the best healthcare in the world — and the crews assurances — jobs are being lost at a slower rate, we are winning in Afghanistan and iraq, and nuclear power will rescue us from global warming…
…drowning out the evidence of your senses?
20 million unemployed, underemployed, and marginally employed, 30 to 40 million without health insurance, 45,000 deaths each year due to lack of insurance, almost 50 million American citizens living in poverty, real worker earnings down, $10,500 average unsecured debt of American’s, 20% of U.S. home mortgages “upside down”.
A few additional statistics regarding the Titanic should be of interest. Of the 2,214 aboard, only 705 survived. Among the survivors, 63% were First Class, 43% were Second Class, and 23% were Steerage Class.
Maybe you should check your boarding pass to see which class you are sailing in.