MONDAY, APR 15, 1912
Eric Lee, A-SOCIATED PRESS
TOPICS: TITANIC, FULL SPEED AHEAD, FROM THE WIRES, REALITY-BASED, SURVIVAL ISSUES
TUCSON (A-P) — It's been a titanic undertaking, the creation of our modern civilization. Those of us in first-class are sometimes reminded of the teaming multitudes in steerage, but for now the party goes on while those in second-class strive to crash it. We're not sure who, if anyone, is at the helm or where our ship is going. Few notice that the Designers, whoever they were, seem to have forgotten to include enough lifeboats. But why should they provide any? Surely our modern complex society will cruise on forever, unlike all prior ones.
It is the vast ocean of time that we cruise; it's foggy, no one can see far ahead, but some stand on the bow and wonder. Will the future always resemble the progress of the past? They think of Easter Island—of what it might have been like to take dominion over a new world, to be fruitful, to multiply, to build great monuments, and then to eat each other.
Cutting down all the palms, they didn't have lifeboats either.....
The ship's hold is still nearly half full of coal; lights glow, the music plays, engines hum—it's a wonderful life. But what happens when the last tree is cut down, the last of the coal shoveled? Did the Designers have a plan? Will we stop and refuel somewhere? Will someone harness zero-point energy? Will the party never end?
The Titanic as metaphor is versatile. One possibility is to see it in terms of our full-speed-ahead-into-futurity story. Imagine the Titanic was the first long-range ship and people believed in a flat Earth without limits. They planned to launch the Titanic to power into the infinitude of the ocean expanse which is analogous to time having no end. Would you get onboard if you had a first-class ticket? Or would you wonder what would happen when the coal ran out. Everyone (in first-class) seems confident that by the time the vast hold of coal (stand in for all fossil fuels) was half empty, perhaps after centuries of cruising, that one of the many alternative energy possibilities would power the ship. "No!" they would confidently declair, "Emergy Yield Ratios don't matter." If nothing else, as the neo-classical economists aboard note, those in steerage would have to paddle and with the right incentives speed would be maintained. This may seem a bizarre imagining, but it is a near perfect analogy.
If a world in which people have such a fragile grasp of reality that they could believe in an unlimited expanse of ocean on a flat Earth or that 700 people in steerage could man the oars and keep things going seems unbelievable, well, it is. If you point out that those in steerage are good for maybe 15 hp working in three shifts, that not enough food can be scraped off the bottom to feed them, and that 15 hp is less than the coal fired engine's 55,000 hp, well, expect eyes to glaze over and that those who do connect the dots do nothing decisive, such as mutiny. Perfect analogy; but I repeat myself.
What if you begged to differ, thinking Earth might be an oblate spheroid and that ahead there be continents? A policy of full-speed-ahead-for-its-own-sake (growth) would clearly mean hitting one, but you wouldn't know when. Unfortunately you did not come to have this concern until the ship was underway. Still, you knew of the crazy claims of Eratosthenes that everyone scoffed at concerning the alleged diameter of Earth. You could estimate the speed of the ship and knowing the width of the one known continent you calculated how long it would take to hit the other side of it assuming there were no other continents. You begin to mention your concerns to others who show bemused tolerance. You mention the possibility of unknown continents and that the ship could hit one in the near future. This meme is spread and the near future comes and goes. Your concerns are dismissed and the idea that the cruise might end due to limits is rejected because unthinkable.
What to do? How the deck chairs should be arranged, who should get to sit in them and for how long (politics-as-usual) seems of little interest.