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A Titanic Departure to Disaster and Human Presumption: a Prelude to the Great Trumpian Disaster yet to Come…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In 1912 the Bishop of Winchester said these words in a sermon marking the end of the R.M.S. Titanic: “Titanic, name and thing, will stand as a monument and warning to human presumption,” as well it should. Sadly, it seems that that Trump administration is doing its best to strip away vital safety, health, and environmental regulations that protect people from even worse disasters than that which befell the great ship 109 years ago, making it a a very contemporary story. But only a historian would understand that. I happen to be a historian.

The story of the Titanic has been told many times, and it should be a cautionary tale for those who in the name of profit and glory seek to dismantle safety and environmental standards. I remember reading Walter Lord’s classic treatment of the story, A Night to Remember back in 7th Grade. It made a tremendous impact on me, and every so often I will go back and read it again.

Captain Edward Smith

The Titanic’s Captain, Edward Smith, her was blinded by his faith in shipbuilding technology and had said about the Adriatic which he commanded previously, “I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern ship building has gone beyond that.” A Senator Said during the hearings about the sinking of her captain, “Overconfidence seems to have dulled the faculties usually so alert.” 

The story of what happened to the great ship is as hard to believe now as it was then, but then incredible tragedies be they the loss of ships, aircraft, buildings or bridges, and even spacecraft always invoke such feelings. When I was told about the Space Shuttle Challenger blowing up in 1986 I remarked to the young soldier who brought me the news “don’t be silly Space Shuttles don’t blow up.”  Walter Lord, who was probably the most prolific historian and author of the Titanic disaster used to talk of the “if onlys” that haunted him about the sinking of Titanic: If only, so many if onlys. If only she had enough lifeboats. If only the watertight compartments had been higher. If only she had paid attention to the ice that night. If only the Californian did come…” 

Bruce Ismay

The word “if” probably the biggest two letter word that plagues human history, looms large in the tragedy of Titanic. The great ship, which was the largest ship and one of the fastest ocean liners of her time was the victim of her owner and operators hubris as much as she was that of the iceberg which sank her. The ship was heralded by Bruce Ismay, the Chairman and Managing Director of the White Star Line as unsinkable, a claim that was echoed in the press.

Her builders had no such illusions and protested the claims. Thomas Andrews the Managing Director of Harland and Wolff Shipyards where she was built commented “The press is calling these ships unsinkable and Ismay’s leadin’ the chorus. It’s just not true.” 

Titanic was designed with the latest shipbuilding innovations, watertight compartments, a double bottom and equipped with wireless. She was billed as “unsinkable” by her owners but those innovations as advanced as they were for her day were insufficient to save her when her Captain and owners chose to charge through a known ice field at full speed.  Her watertight compartments did not extent far enough up the hull to prevent water from going over them.  Likewise it was never imagined that so many watertight compartments could be compromised.

Thomas Andrews

As far as lifeboats, the great ship carried far too few. Thomas Andrews, her builder wanted 64 had his arm twisted to bring the number to 32 and Titanic sailed with only 20 of which 4 were collapsible boats smaller than smaller lifeboats. Justifying himself under antiquated regulations (which were written for ships of 10,000 tons) which allowed just 16 boats J. Bruce Ismay the Director of White Star Line told Andrews:

“Control your Irish passions, Thomas. Your uncle here tells me you proposed 64 lifeboats and he had to pull your arm to get you down to 32. Now, I will remind you just as I reminded him these are my ships. And, according to our contract, I have final say on the design. I’ll not have so many little boats, as you call them, cluttering up my decks and putting fear into my passengers.” 

If only the Californian had come. Californian was the nearest vessel to Titanic and in easy wireless range. However her wireless was unmanned, she did not have enough operators to man it 24 hours a day.  Her lookouts saw Titanic but despite flares being fired from Titanic she never assumed Titanic to be in extremis. The next nearest ship, Carpathia heard the call and made a valiant attempt to reach Titanic but was too late.

If only…so many “if onlys” and so many traceable to one man, the Director of White Star Line J. Bruce Ismay.  Thomas Andrews would go down with the ship but Ismay ensured his own survival. Ismay is symbolic of men who allow their own hubris, vanity and power to destroy the lives of many.  He is so much like those that helped bring about the various economic crises that have wracked the United States and Western Europe and so many other tragedies.

After the disaster the tragedy was investigated by the United States Senate, as well as the British Board of Trade. However, the inquiry of the latter was condemned by the White Star Line’s Archivist, Paul Louden-Brown. He noted: “I think the enquiry is a complete whitewash. You have the [British] Board of Trade in effect enquiring into a disaster that’s largely of its own making.”

Ismay and Titanic are symbols of men guided only by their quest for riches and glory who revel in their power and scorn wise counsel or regulation, government or otherwise. They often believe that rules don’t apply to them. It is a cautionary tale for us today as corporations, lobbyists, and politicians seek to dismantle sensible and reasonable safety and environmental regulations for the sake of their unmitigated profit. Today we are seeing the Trump administration doing all that it can to strip away important safety, workplace, and environmental regulations in order to maximize profits.

But the warning goes far beyond that, it applies to any of us who adopt the mindset, “this cannot happen to us.” After all, there are times when we all end up as victims of our own hubris, such is the human condition. That is especially the case now where an American President defies all precedent, ignores laws, demeans the Constitution, stands against the very proposition of the Declaration, “that all men are created equal…” and who represents the unregulated hubris of men like Bruce Ismay. Had he been a passenger on board the ill-fated ship the President would have likely saved himself like Ismay, absconding into a boat while being the President of the Line to which Titanic belonged. Walter Lord wrote about Ismay:

“This Sunday he was enough a member of the crew to see the ice message that arrived from another ship. In the bright, sunny Palm Court—just as the bugler sounded lunch—Captain Smith gave him a warning from the Baltic. During the afternoon Ismay (who liked to remind people who he was) fished it out of his pocket and waved it at Mrs. Ryerson and Mrs. Thayer. In the smoking room before dinner, while the twilight still glowed through the amber-stained windows, Captain Smith sought and got the message back. Then Ismay walked down to the restaurant, immaculate in his dinner jacket, very much a First Class passenger. After the crash he went back to being in the crew—up with the Captain on the bridge … consulting with Chief Engineer Bell … and now, despite the tongue-lashing from Fifth Officer Lowe, shouting orders about the boats. Then came another switch. At the very last moment, he suddenly climbed into Boat C. Down it dropped, with 42 people including Bruce Ismay—just another passenger.”

That would be President Trump. He loves playing President, and playing the role of the Commander in Chief but he would abandon the ship of state, the citizens of the United States, and even the cult of people who believed every word he said. He does that every day, so it is not unlikely that when the ultimate disaster occurs that he will abandon the country and even his Cult members who he called “the most loyal people” who he will sell out on. Sinking ship to preserve himself.

This is a hard lesson to learn, but believe me when I say it. It is the history of Donald J. Trump, and all he has done as a businessman and as President. Ask all of the loyal men and women who volunteered to serve in his administration whose lives and reputations are in tatters.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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To Stand Up Against Zealots

 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am not a fan of ideologues or the “fundamentalists” of any point in the political, ideological or religious spectrum. Their lack of courage, stunted intellectualism, and inability to see things from outside their limited field of view does not allow them to face really difficult questions that confront us today.  They claim to hold the keys to the universe but sadly are hold nothing more than the key to their high school gym locker.

The Iranian novelist Salman Rushdie who has been on the run from Iranian fundamentalist ideologues since he wrote the supposedly heretical Satanic Verses once noted:

“The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.”

I believe that we are at yet another crossroads in Western civilization. This time a crossroads where the classic liberalism that was the basis for democratic societies is being stampeded by zealots of various persuasions who guided by the supposed infallibility of their ideological belief systems, deliberately and without remorse seek to destroy the institutions that are the guardians of liberty.

In my honest opinion I think that the worst of these are the conservative Christian theocrats and their seemingly ideological enemies the Ayn Rand following Social Darwinist “conservative libertarians.” They have no shame, their respective ideologies blind them to truth and turn them into sociopaths that only give a damn about their power and profits and they latched on to President Trump, prostrating themselves and the Republican Party to him in order that they might triumph.

Of course I will be the first to admit that there are some leftists who would be the first to put a bullet in the head of Lady Liberty to further their own cause.  But they are not the danger. They control nothing that would allow them to succeed and most cannot even agree among themselves to work together, they have nothing on Lenin, Stalin, Mao, the Iranian Mullahs, or even Hugo Chavez; may God give rest to his chubby cheeks.

Say what you want about him but President Trump is not an ideologue, he can’t be, he’s too much of a self-absorbed narcissist to be an ideologue. All he wants is the adulation of his audience and the power and wealth that come with it. He may be a sociopath but it is not for the sake of any ideology. If the issue was the President alone we could survive him; but his supporters of the Christian Right and the Ayn Rand Social Darwinists of the GOP are much more dangerous, because they are true believers who actually control many of the apparatuses of government at the local, state, and federal level.

We have seen the results of such movements in history before and each time they succeed in gaining power they have brought disaster to nations, and sometimes the world.

Proponents of ideological purity assume that their ideological bias is equivalent to sacred truth, be it a religious or secular truth. The promoters of such systems promote something more than their opinion, as Hannah Arendt noted: “For an ideology differs from a simple opinion in that it claims to possess either the key to history, or the solution for all the “riddles of the universe,” or the intimate knowledge of the hidden universal laws which are supposed to rule nature and man.”  

As such, ideology is not based on knowledge, but is distinct from it and the enemy of knowledge for it binds the mind in a straitjacket in which all thought must be submitted to the truth of the ideology. As Arendt noted such ideologies must be handled with caution as they “pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.”  

An ideology protects the true believer from having to think for himself, it allows the insecure to grasp at the protection that it allegedly provides, and allows the believer to deny reality, and to by definition declare everything that contradicts the ideology to be heretical, and opponents to be aligned with the devil himself, allowing the believer to hate the opponent. As Eric Hoffer noted, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

As I have mentioned the past couple of days my favorite television character, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader in The Blacklist once said “I know so many zealots, men and women, who chose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and to do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” The fact is, no matter how stridently they espouse their beliefs, ideologues are by definition not courageous, because courage takes critical thinking, something that ideologues of any persuasion are incapable of doing.

That is why knowledge and critical thought even when they are uncomfortable and take us out of our comfort zone are so much more powerful and important than ideologies that are followed blindly. My words to the ideologues of the Christian Right and the Ayn Rand followers of so many in the Republican Party is that of Samuel Adams who said:

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.” 

It takes no courage to be an ideologue, and once a person surrenders to an ideology as his or her reason for existence, they sacrifice the ability to reason, the ability to think critically, and the capacity to acquire knowledge and in doing so they surrender to tyranny and servitude though they think they will end up on top.

That is the danger of the blind ideologies that are consuming our world today and why as long as anyone who cares about freedom has a breath in them they must be opposed.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, faith, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

“In the Kingdom of the Blind, the One Eyed Man is the King” Musings of a Flawed Man

 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past year or so this site has picked up a good number of new subscribers and sadly most of us will never get a chance to sit back and enjoy good intellectual conversation over a good craft or German beer or a nice bottle of wine. So if you would sit back and over whatever your favorite beverage may be take the time to let me wax eloquently about how the writer that you follow here got to be what he is.

I think my favorite character on television is Raymond “Red” Reddington, played by James Spader on the shoe The Blacklist. He is a very complex and troubling character, and the thing is I can understand him. His is a world of gray where he sometimes does the right thing for wrong reasons as well as the wrong thing for right reasons. His loyalties are personal and not ideological, he is a man of contradictions, as am I. Raymond Reddington one said, “Cultural peculiarities notwithstanding, I find cock fighting to be abominable. However, truth be told, I do love fried chicken.” I totally agree with that, sorry Vegan friends.

My regular readers know that I am a complex person as well. I am a Christian, a priest at that, who often doubts. I am also a career military officer who has been to war, come back from war different and hates it. But I also realize that as much of an evil as war is, that there are sometimes worse evils than war itself.  That being said I find the thought of someone, perhaps like President Trump launching the world into a nuclear war with North Korea to be opposed at all costs by anyone with at least half of a functioning brain. My loyalty to the Constitution and the American people far outweigh any need that I might have to ingratiate myself to any would be tyrant.

Likewise I am very liberal and progressive in my political and social beliefs, but I serve in a profoundly conservative institution that is not always welcoming to my beliefs. I wasn’t always this way but it was my experience in Iraq that turned the tide and turned me into a progressive. Usually people get more conservative as they get older, that’s not me. I got liberal, started caring about civil rights for everyone, the growing economic inequity between the richest and everyone else, and rejected the theocratic leanings of some leaders of my former church. At a point in my life where I should by all means have become even more conservative based on my social status, education, and income, I went the opposite direction. I am not alone, I read an article that Tom Ricks wrote in 2014 in which he said very similar things to me. I personally know others who have made the same journey.

But that being said, even though I am a liberal and progressive at heart, my education as a historian and my life experience mitigates against me becoming an ideologue or zealot, and I am certainly not a revolutionary. Thus unlike zealots who I might agree with I tend take the time to wrestle with the issue and not react out of emotion or illogic. Even if I agree with someone I hate it when they through emotion or illogic make stupid arguments that are all to easy to dissect or discredit; not because they are wrong on the issue but because they don’t argue their point well. Let me explain.

I tend to be able to see and appreciate arguments of multiple points of view on almost every issue, and I wrestle with them, doing the best I can to do the right thing. Whether it is for the right reason or not, I don’t pretend to know because I make no pretense of being a saint. Maybe that is one reason I have friends on all sides of the political, religious, and ideological debates that rage about this country and in the world. I live in a world of shades of gray.

I love trying to understand all sides of a position which of course makes me a terrible ideologue, and even worse I love the thrill when I embarrass an ideologue of any kind using reason, logic, and throwing in the appropriate emotional twist to make it sweet. I discovered this as a short, introverted, history nerd in high school and college. I found that in debate classes I could take the opposite side of what I really believed and shred the person advocating for the exact position that I really believed due to my then rather fundamentalist Christian worldview; like my support of pro-life position of being against abortion and for the death penalty at the same time. It was in arguing the opposite side that I discovered how intellectually incoherent those positions were. When I got to seminary after my first active duty tour in the Army I continued my antics in arguing against positions that I actually at the time believed in, with similar results. In fact a number of my fellow students asked me why I wasn’t in law school and it wasn’t a compliment; nonetheless I relished it.

But as always I digress…

In the last episode of season three of The Blacklist, Reddington tells an assistant FBI director who he has been helping solve crimes, “I know so many zealots, men and women, who choose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” From my experience I believe that to be the truth, and truthfully, I would rather deal with people that wrestle with this difficult world than rather than those whose beliefs are shaped by their ideology first, regardless of facts, divergence of opinions, history, science, reality, and experience.

But what bothers me in what I see going on in this country and around the world is that mass movements of ideologues and zealots of every persuasion, political and religious, those that have seized or are trying to seize power in many nations, and foment revolution. Captivated by ideological purity, they are unwilling to compromise and frequently label anyone that disagrees with them or the leader of their movement, even in the slightest manner as traitors or evil. Many times the zealots take no time to evaluate the quality of the merits of their movement or those that oppose them, their cause is right, their opponents are evil and need to be destroyed. I think the most distressing case is where the Nazis and German Communists worked together to destroy the Weimar Republic in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Eric Hoffer wrote,  “The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.” Likewise, Hoffer noted something that I observe almost every day, that the zealots and ideologues of mass movements use anger and hatred to unify their followers. Hoffer noted, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” Believe, me, ask any ideologue of any type, and he or she will tell you who their devil is. But sadly history demonstrates that a mass movements of any type, political, ideological, or religious has achieved power, all opponents, especially those closest to them ideologically or religiously are the enemy, or to use Hoffer’s words “a devil.” The opponents closest to the ideologues ideology have to be destroyed or discredited first, before they can move on to battle their real opposites. Just look at history.

The ideologue cannot lose because he already knows his answer, the classic fundamentalist Christian quote, God said it, I believe it, that settles it”  is very much descriptive of other ideologically driven mass movements be they conservative or liberal. The ideologue’s attitudes are derived from their ideology and are often not subject to facts. I see it every day, especially on social media where partisans of evil persuasion fire broadside after broadside at all opponents, regardless of the facts, or even the fact that there may be more than one equally valid viewpoint on a subject. But then I tend to see everything in various shades of gray and not in black and white absolutes, and ideologues of all types frighten me, even those whose unbending beliefs are sugarcoated with millennial or utopian sentiments of the perfect world that will follow their victory. I know from history that such is not the case, in far too many instances first thing that radical, or self-proclaimed revolutionaries do after achieving absolute power is to kill.

Now as far as the President is concerned he is not a populist, nor an ideologue, and certainly not a revolutionary in the traditional understanding of the term.  The only thing that he believes in is himself; he is certainly a narcissist and he demonstrates daily that he is a paranoid sociopath. His bottom line is himself, everything and everyone else is fungible. He is intellectually lazy and the only time he tells the truth is when he inadvertently reveals who he really is in his Twitter meltdowns.

His most prominent supporters tend to be people who know the truth about the man but through a combination of a lust for temporal power, his conservative Christian base; or greed, the Ayn Rand type libertarian-conservatives whose social-Darwinian greed makes them use him to enrich themselves. The former believe that Trump will help them usher in a theocracy; the latter believe that he will give the government over to them in order to help their profit margin. None of them have any principles and are committed to their respective ideologies as contradictory as they may be. None of them have any courage, and none of them will ever stand for anything.

Maybe that is why I like Raymond Reddington. He’s flawed and so am I. He does bad things. He is a manipulator; but he recognizes his moral and ethical shortcomings and wrestles with his  own shortcomings. He is not always successful but he does make the attempt. I look at his character and I realize that in a different world or maybe an alternate universe I could be him.

All that being said, I really do think that real courage is to wrestle with reality every day and do the hard work of deciding what to believe; and today that may be different then tomorrow, but it will be based on reality and tempered by my often contradictory beliefs. Of course a true political ideologue or religious fundamentalist will condemn me to their version of hell for being that honest, but it is true. That is my uncomfortable reality, it may not be right, and my vision may be skewed and distorted, but it is what it is; and as Reddington said, “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

As for you my readers I do thank you and hope that one day we may sit back and enjoy a drink together, possibly even toasting the “Immortal Lord Nelson.” But until that time thank you for taking time out of your day to read what I write and for your comments.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary, pro-life anti-abortion