Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hypocrisy 2 - naval disasters and feminism

The entertaining thing about the tragedy of the misguided Mediterranean cruise liner, is watching or listening to commentators turn themselves in knots trying to justify their perspectives on right and wrong.

So the crew abandoned before helping the passengers. Almost certainly wrong.

Did they do so because: a) they are bastards; b) they are slimy wogs who can't face things with a proper stiff upper lip; c) they are products of a modern world where no one is expected to know what a stiff upper lip is (yes the Titanic comparison was playing big on the whole issue of women and children first and men, particularly the captain, going down with the ship); or d) underpaid and under-appreciated workers who know full well their value and pecking order in relation to both the no doubt corrupt company and the average insufferable passenger, and therefore were fully justified in not considering their duties went to the point of sacrificing themselves for people who only treated them with contempt? Or was it just so fast that everyone panicked?

I would suspect all of those had a certain effect, but I wouldn't be willing to argue which individuals (passengers as well as crew) were effected by which.

But the fascinating thing is that the more it was discussed, the more the outraged commentators found themselves cast as ridiculous old fogies. And wasn't it a shock to the self righteous commenteriat that anyone could see the self contradictions in their perspectives?

My favourite bit was the 'women and children first' part. As countless bloggers pointed out, why in a world of supposed equality should women go first? Children, yes. Perhaps mothers escorting the children as some sort of preference (though in this day of stay at home fathers that is possibly a bit sexist),. But certainly not young healthy women before elderly and infirm of either sex?

One of the young men who phoned in rightly commented that if he was ever sitting on public transport, and a middle aged woman and an elderly man approached, he would offer the elderly man a seat first. Then a pregnant woman, then an older person of any description... amazing to hear such a young sounding living fossil.

The radio commentators were simply stuck on 'women first'. They acknowledged that although they had campaigned for equality for years, their own ingrained upbringing would insist they offer a woman a place first. It was quite sweet listening to them try and explain their reversion to ingrained prejudice, and the confusion they felt as they admitted it was politically incorrect, but nonetheless felt as though it should still be the right thing to do.

Hypocrisy is as often for good motives as for bad. In fact the worst and most dangerous hypocrisy is the self righteously 'but I am doing it for other people's best interests' kind. But the issue is self contradiction. (And I will give these two the credit of acknowledging they were being self contradictory...).

As I listened to two male baby boomer's – who have spent a large part of their careers castigating other baby boomers for hypocrisy – struggle to explain themselves even to each other, I reflected again on the inadequacy of logical thinking that most modern people apply to matters of morality. They talk of doing the right thing, and all they really mean is applying the prejudice that was ingrained with as a child, or that is currently fashionable (or in this case trying to balance the two).

They missed completely the sensible comment from the younger man, and from several women who rang up. They believe in equality, and will fight for it, but they accept disadvantage, and are willing to work to overcome that. They just don't know how to say that that is what they mean.

In practical terms what they seemed to mean was that in a modern age of equality, the hierarchy should be disadvantage. Buggar the idea of all women before all men. That is just prejudice. How about the physically disadvantaged like children and elderly - of either sex - before fit adults - of either sex. Then, if you want to be finicky, how about the mid 20's male with severe asthma ahead of the mid 50's female who swims 100 laps a day?

Interestingly this approach is far closer to the Titanic example than most commentators seemed to realise. The rich, powerful, important, and often elderly and infirm, men, who stayed aboard the Titanic, had an ingrained sense of not only disadvantage, but also of noblisse oblige. Noblity, real nobility (which already meant very little by that time) existed for centuries on the idea that priviledge involved sacrifice... in battle, or on a sinking ship.

[Nobility, on the English model, is quite separate to Arisotocracy, which, on the French model which the Americans seem to have adopted, has devolved into priviledge without responsibility. The insistence of the old French aristocracy on maintaining their rights regardless of not having many responsibilities anymore, is what led to the French Revolution. The Americans adopted this perspective to help explain their betrayal of oaths of loyalty during their revolutionary war, but then seemed to ingrain into their culture the concept that all priviledge was without responsibility. Which actually fights with their equally recognisable tendency towards charity by the wealthy in America... Or at least by the old fashioned wealthy. fortunately Bill Gates and others are old fashioned. But Americans as a rule seem have a hard time understanding nobility except in Holywood features about dog's.]

A medieval knight's deal with his peasants was that he would be priviledged, as long as he was willing to die to protect them. A king or nobles justification for priviledge was that they served. (Modern politicians make the same promises, but don't seem to suffer or take many risks for their vast returns. Given the choice between Prince Andrew coming from a family that expected him to use his helicopter to distract guided missiles from his aircraft carrier during the Falklands War, and expected Prince Harry to serve in the front line in Afghanistan: and President Clinton coming from a family who rigged things to keep him safe in the National Guard during the Vietnam war, you have to think seriously about which tradition might be valuable...)

Civilisation is built on morality. Many people can behave in a morale way without being able to explain it, and many people who drone on endlessly about rights couldn't recognise moral behavior if they were hit in the face with it. The two media commentators in this post fit the former, and the so called Feminists (who aren't really) in the previous post fit the latter.

Unfortunately modern children are being harangued with the misunderstood and misapplied crap of the latter all through school.

Fortunately, most generations want to rebel against the previous.

Any rebellion against the impossible hodge podge of misconception and self deception that makes up what is 'politically correct' at the moment can only be for the good.


  1. I think I want to shed some light on the 'politically correct' term for you for a moment. Remember back to the late 1960's and early 1970's, when an emerging cohort of people were discovering that history was not as they had been taught, and struggled to figure out, in essence, what was really going on.

    Part of that struggle was a reworking and redefinition of language. The doctrinaire communists, at least in the US, thought, because of their historical materialism, that there were correct and incorrect 'lines' or approaches to current political problems. (Yes, I know, you already probably know this in spades). With all seriousness the groups would debate whether this or that approach was 'politically correct'.

    At the same time slightly overlapping, but generally far larger and mostly distinct groups were struggling, along the lines of the weak Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, to reshape language and terminology to provide a friendly home for the new realizations about human history and the nature of reality and possibility.

    This second effort was fairly spectacularly successful in a short time. Hard to know why ... some of Doris Lessing's speculations on ideas and the time for them come to mind. But the upshot was that by introducing different terminology ... terms that lived, like 'african-americans' instead of negroes or even blacks;'native-americans' instead of 'indians' 'feminists' instead of suffragists, 'gays' instead of other epithets, to name a few identity related, and others that died, such as 'wimmin', 'chicanos', etc.

    But the upshot was that language was changing and mirroring some of the new prides of identity on one hand, and ways of looking at social organization on the other.

    Beginning in the late 1970's, but particularly with the ascendency of Reagan, Thatcher and their supporters, there was a determined effort to conflate the two senses of 'politically correct'. Specifically, the attempt was to influence the media discourse to depict and associate any effort to rename, rebrand or think differently in language with the stilted, overly doctrinaire and rigid exaggeration of 'political correctness' practiced in communist criticism/self-criticism.

    This was done without any effort, and in fact with a careful disregard for whether the new concepts were true or false; it was enough that they were new and challenging. In true Orwellian fashion, the new was mainly successfully branded with the staleness and 'out-of-date'ness of the old by using the term 'politically correct' whenever a new term or semantic possibility emerged.

    Most of this was done on the unconscious level, and received and processed below the level of consciousness. It's an odious practice, and continues to this day.

  2. it was Bush's family that set him up with a cushy job piloting an airframe in the National Guard which they knew was obsolete and would therefore protect him from deploying and facing danger... it was NOT Clinton, who did not come from a wealthy, privileged background. Otherwise, barring punctuation errors (e.g. dog's vice dogs), nice article.

    Morality should dictate a preference/priority given to those who have a better chance at survival/reproduction/contribution to society being saved. Children, yes. Women and men, only if warranted. What purpose is served by saving a 70 yr old of either sex whose productive years are past vs. saving a younger person of either sex who could still contribute?

  3. I won't quibble on Clinton, Obama etc not being what is traditional 'ruling class' (British meaning is roughly 'aristocracy' whereas US meaning is very foughly 'wealth'), but will mischeviously comment on them being very much modern 'political class' (which is the real ruling class these days).

    As to the whose survival is 'warranted' bit. that is back to first year philosophy.. The 70 year old on the verge of discovering a cure for cancer VS the 11 year old hemophiliac with only a few years to live etc. good luck with that one.

    (And yes, I don't bother spell checking nearly enough... constantly amazed what predictive text does too.)