Monday, 14 January 2013

Scenes from the decline of western civilisation

Ian Wishart posts an extensive review cut and paste exercise on Mark Steyn's book After America: Get Ready for Armageddon(!). The book is the usual Mark Steyn fair of misused statistics and ridiculous assertions, wrapped in his own brand of angry paleo-conservativism. To be fair to Steyn, he is a good and witty writer. But that's where his skills end.

There are so many things I could write about how ridiculous this book is, but numerous others have already done so. Something that stood out to me was Steyn's continual attempts to make comparisons between the glorious past and the horrid present. One such example is his attempt to show the decline in chivalry in disaster situations - citing the number of women and children who survived the sinking of the RMS Titantic and then stating:
“Eight decades after the Titanic, a German-built ferry en route from Estonia to Sweden sank in the Baltic Sea. Of the 1051 passengers, only 139 lived to tell the tale. But the distribution of the survivors was very different from that of the Titanic. Women and children first? No female under fifteen or over sixty-five made it. Only five percent of all women passengers lived. The bulk of the survivors were young men. Forty-three percent of men aged 20 to 24 made it.” 
It's curious that Steyn doesn't mention the name of the "German-built ferry" that sank in the Baltic Sea. I've actually seen a documentary about it some years ago and the mention on Wishart's site twigged my memory, and after a few minutes Googling I discovered the ferry was in fact the MS Estonia, which sank in the Baltic Sea on 28 September 1994.

This disaster fits the bill for what Steyn is on about. Read through the details of the sinking of the Estonia though,  and you'll quickly see why Steyn neglected to mention the name of the ship: the two disasters are incomparable because of the amount of time it took each ship to sink. The Titanic took over two and a half hours to sink. The Estonia took less than half an hour. Perhaps more importantly, the Titanic was in calm but icy conditions when it ran into the iceberg. The Estonia was in the middle of a storm.

It's clear that this comparison is simply wrong. While there are probably many other instances of the decline in chivalry that could be cited, Steyn decided to choose the worst possible. You really have to wonder about the standard of his other comparisons are. I'd guess pretty low.