Sunday, March 7, 2010

Women and children first

One struck an iceberg in 1912. The other was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915. Both were ocean liners carrying civilian passengers, large numbers of whom drowned as the ships sank. Albert Mohler:
The Titanic took hours to sink, leaving time for a remarkable human drama on board the sinking ship. The Lusitania sank in just eighteen minutes....

As it turns out, there was another crucial difference. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looks at the difference in the behavior of the men aboard the two sinking ships. The difference was remarkable. Aboard the Titanic, the men generally behaved with great concern for women and children, doing their best to get the women and children into the precious and insufficient seats in the lifeboats. Hundreds of men died with the Titanic, demonstrating a commitment to put the welfare and lives of women and children above their own.

Aboard the sinking Lusitania, the scene was very different. Women and children were less likely than men to survive that disaster, because the men used their natural strength and speed to take the spaces on the lifeboats, with women and children forced out of their way. ....
Women and children had a significantly greater chance of survival on the Titanic than on the Lusitania. The difference was male behavior. Why did men behave so differently in such similar situations only three years apart?
The researchers looked at several factors, but settled on one that appeared more obvious as they considered the question — the length of time it took the ship to sink. As the report explains, on the Lusitania "the short-run flight impulse dominated behavior. On the slowly sinking Titanic, there was time for socially determined behavioral patterns to reemerge."

Put plainly, on the Lusitania the male passengers demonstrated "selfish rationality." As TIME explains, this is "a behavior that's every bit as me-centered as it sounds and that provides an edge to strong, younger males in particular. On the Titanic, the rules concerning gender, class and the gentle treatment of children — in other words, good manners — had a chance to assert themselves." ....

Aboard the Lusitania, young males acted out of a selfish survival instinct, and women and children were cast aside, left to the waves. Aboard the Titanic, there was time for men to consider what was at stake and to call themselves to a higher morality. There was time for conscience to raise its voice and authority, and for men, young and old, to know and to do their duty.

The Christian worldview based in Scripture explains this in terms of God's revelation of moral order within the structures of creation, and especially in what we call conscience. Even in our fallen state, this moral knowledge speaks to us, and there is a moral knowledge within us that calls us to do what we otherwise would never do — even what is plainly not in our direct self-interest. .... [more]
At least if we are given enough time "for conscience to raise its voice."

Women and Children First? A Tale of Two Ships -

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