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The Titanic: A Parable of our Times

The Titanic was one of the largest ships ever built; it is also one of the most documented of all naval or maritime wrecks of all times. I have been obsessed with the titanic ever since I watched the movie in 1998 when I was still a teenager. It was a movie that I could watch countless number of times without becoming fed up with it. I knew the plot of the story inside out and could recite some of the lines of the characters such as Leonardo DiCaprio (Jack), Kate Winslet (Ross Dawson), Billy Zane, and Frances Fisher among others verbatim. However, the more I watched this movie, the better my understanding of the plot of the Titanic disaster took a better and clearer shape. I became more informed about the facts surrounding its demise. The purpose of this piece is not to recount history of what happened on the Titanic in 1912 but use it as a comparison or if you like call it a parable or an allegory of what is happening in today’s world.

It is said that the titanic had all classes of people on board the ship. The wealthy, the less wealthy and the peasant class who were all sailing to find a new and better life in New York.  The wealthy and affluent class were assigned on the first class decks and cabins and provided with all the good things that make life much more comfortable on board because they could afford it.  The Second class passengers were those who could afford the good things of life but were not so wealthy or influential in society. The third class passengers consisted of casual labourers and peasants who did not have any influence in society.

The Titanic is a representation or a microcosm of the human system of today. We have the developed economies (first class passengers), the developing (second class passengers) and the under developed (third class passengers) or “Third World” as some will put it. In fact I do not like using the term “Third World”. It’s all one world created by God isn’t it?

Within that human system in the “ship” (in this context, the world) were different drivers or actors that were pushing forward with so much moment. As the plot of this story unfolds, the Titanic hits an Iceberg. Many of the survivors were the First class passengers, followed by the second class passengers. The worst affected in the wreck were the third class passengers who were left to their fate on board the sinking ship.  In a similar way, there are the starving millions in the world (call it the third class passengers). They will be the most affected when we hit the next iceberg, which is going to be climate change. We can see the iceberg in front of us right now. However, we can’t turn because of the hands and momentum of our system today. There is political momentum, economic and business momentum. There are too many people making money out of the system, just the same way that so much money was made out of the Titanic. The way the system works right now, these people have their hands on the levers of the system and will not let go. Until they do, we will not be able to turn the wheels of the system and we are going to hit the “iceberg” hard. The unfortunate aspect being that, when we hit this iceberg, it is the rich (First class passengers) who will still be able to have access to “life boats” such as food, water, arable land among others and the poor (Third class passengers) will be most impacted. This was the same with the Titanic.

This is why I will always be obsessed with the Titanic because it is wrapped with an unfolding sequence of events that we see the Captain of the ship as the protagonists who ends up in tragedy because of the antagonists (iceberg). It is a perfect encapsulation of the world and its entire social spectrum.  But until our lives are really put at risks, the moment of truth that we do know and didn’t act on it fast, will stare us in the face in a similar way that the iceberg was spotted at the very last minute in spite of warnings being sent out to it by other sister ships.

As the world marks the 100th (centenary) anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic on April 15 1912 that resulted in the loss of thousands of lifes, its history still unfolds. But one message remains clear.  This message should be sounded to world leaders not to exhibit a sense of hubris or pride and arrogance the same way that happened on the Titanic that  had to be nicknamed as the “unsinkable”. In spite of our technological advancements, we cannot control the forces of nature when it strikes.


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