This is what I get for reading the local mainstream paper on a Sunday.
If you don’t read liberal Minnesota bloggers, you may not have had the displeasure of having heard of our local conservative columnist, Katherine Kersten. Yesterday’s column, however, can give you all you really need to know. It contains all the ahistoricality, all the lofty sneering, all the sour distaste for those unlike her, all the appropriation of real tragedies to make her petty points.
Yesterday, Kersten appears to have decided that the sinking of the Costa Concordia is a lesson about the depravity of today just waiting to happen:
The Costa Concordia fiasco inevitably invites comparison with another famous shipwreck — that of the Titanic on April 15, 1912. The contrast in the behavior of those on board couldn’t be starker. In 1912, the Titanic’s crew and most of its male passengers refused to board lifeboats until the women and children were safe. They preferred death in the frigid waters that awaited them to breaching such a point of honor.
This change in the behavior of ordinary people in the face of crisis reveals something about who we have become in the century since the Titanic’s demise.
Since the sinking of the Titanic, we have become a people who insist that human life is important enough for cruise ships to have lifeboats enough for all instead of based on the cargo capacity of the ship. We have become a people who are appalled that second- and third-class passengers would not only die at much higher percentages but have their bodies consigned to the sea rather than recovered for their relatives.
For several generations now, we’ve disparaged the view of life that produced the men who, in 1912, willingly sacrificed their lives in service to others. “Women and children first” sounds patronizing and downright sexist to the modern, enlightened sensibility. At the same time, words like “duty” and “honor” sound antiquated and empty of meaning — and may even bring a cynical smile to the lips of our modern debunkers.
These words sound hollow because we have made them so. The idea of “duty,” for example, begs answers to two questions that few of us can give today: “A duty originating from what?” “A duty directed to what end?” We’re so accustomed to being tongue-tied by such questions that we’ve stopped asking them altogether.
This, of course, is why we are uniform in our condemnation of Captain Francesco Schettino who was derelict in his duty to the people under his care. This is why we are upset that he cast off the duty he took on when he agreed to do his job, originating from that agreement. No one has exactly been tongue-tied in that condemnation either.
Our language has changed in response. We no longer speak of “virtues” — a word that connotes traits of character strongly and universally held. Instead, we prattle on about “values” — a much more neutered term, suggesting nothing higher than “different strokes for different folks.”
Kersten gets this backward, of course. A virtue is the expression of something desirable. A value, on the other hand, is a principle. Values are what underlie virtues. More than that, values are flexible enough to function where simple virtues are not.
Today, we operate on the smorgasbord principle. We select from a vast array of “lifestyles,” based on purely individual tastes. The only overriding principle is that no taste be elevated above others, lest we risk being “judgmental.”
Right. This is relevant to the naval disaster because we consider failure to protect those under your care to be a “lifestyle” that should be protected. She’s totally not reaching for any excuse to denigrate homosexuality here.
Yet every now and then an event occurs to remind us of the price we have paid for abandoning the nobility of soul — or even the idea of a soul — that has inspired men throughout history to move beyond the raw instinct for self-preservation.
Or reaching for an excuse to defend religion as it slips toward obscurity.
The wreck of the Costa Concordia is such an event. We watched, and shuddered for a moment at the “every man for himself” world we have wrought.
This “‘every man for himself’ world” is the one in which Captain Schettino sits under house arrest, facing manslaughter charges. This world is the one we have built large-scale social contracts to allow us to more safely do things like cross seas for fun–so safely that disasters like these are news for days on end. This world is the one in which the captain stands out among the heroes who saved lives when the Costa Concordia sank.
Altogether, that’s not a bad world to live in, despite the presence of ghouls like Kersten.