And so the manly virtues (if you’ll forgive a quaint phrase) shrivel away to the so-called “man caves,” those sad little redoubts of beer and premium cable sports networks.
We are beyond social norms these days. A woman can be a soldier. A man can be a woman. A seven-year-old cross-dressing boy can join the Girl Scouts in Colorado because he “identifies” as a girl. It all adds to life’s rich tapestry, no doubt. But I can’t help wondering, when the ship hits the fan, how many of us will still be willing to identify as a man.
A day or two after the cruise wreck, I read the obituary of a man called Ian Bryce, who found himself at Dunkirk in 1940, when an ad hoc flotilla of English fishing boats, pleasure cruisers, and other “little ships” evacuated Allied troops cut off by the advancing Germans. Young Bryce, a 17-year-old midshipman, singlehandedly rescued 109 British soldiers, eight Belgian officers, two Frenchmen, and two Jewish refugees in multiple trips in a motorboat under Luftwaffe fire. Nobody asked Captain Schettino to do anything extraordinary, only his duty.
Abe Greenwald isn’t thinking big enough. The CostaConcordia isn’t merely a metaphor for EU collapse but — here it comes down the slipway — the fragility of civilization. Like every ship, the Concordia had its emergency procedures — the lifeboat drills that all crew and passengers are obliged to go through before sailing. As with the security theater at airports, the rituals give the illusion of security — and then, as the ship tips and the lights fail and the icy black water rushes in, we discover we’re on our own: from dancing and dining, showgirls and saunas, to the inky depths in a matter of moments.
Today the wealthiest nations in human history build cruise ships rather than battleships, vast floating palaces dedicated to the good life — to the proposition that, in the plump and complacent West, life itself is a cruise, sailing (as the Concordia’s name suggests) on a placid lake of peace and harmony. Since the economic downturn of 2008, the Titanic metaphor — of a Western world steaming for the iceberg but unable to correct course — has become a little overworked, the easiest cliché for any politician attempting to project urgency. But let’s assume they’re correct, and we’re heading full steam for the big ’berg. When we hit, what’s the likelihood? That our response will be as ordered and civilized as those on the Titanic? Or that we will descend into the hell of the Concordia?
The contempt for “women and children first” is not a small loss. For soft cultures in good times, dispensing with social norms is easy. In hard times, you may have need of them.