Titanic Syndrome: the fear that everything will fall apart

Titanic Syndrome: the fear that everything will fall apart

We have many fears. Maybe too many. Fortunately, when life flows normally we are able to control them. From time to time they just appear as pangs of anxiety which then subside. But when things go wrong, fears surface, and they don't leave us. They become persistent.

One of our biggest fears is the fear of loss. In capital letters. The loss of the people we love. The loss of stability, even if precarious. The loss of everything we have built over years of work. The loss, in short, of what we know and gives us security.

Now, without warning, the tragedy has confronted us with the possibility that this loss could be enormous. It plunged us into the liquid world described by Zygmunt Bauman. A world where everything spins and there is nothing to hold on to. A world in which we are forced to live for the day, forgetting the security that comforted us yesterday, without being able to make plans because we don't know what tomorrow will be like.

In this world, the unthinkable has become routine. The pillars on which we had built our daily lives have proved vulnerable and we realize that they are much more fragile than we thought. The discovery terrifies us because it confirms that there are no certainties or security that will last a lifetime.

In fact, beyond the individual collapse, it terrifies us to guess the implosion of the system that we took for granted and that, despite its defects, we considered solid. That fear that staggers us is actually an old acquaintance and takes us back to the Titanic tragedy.

The message of the Titanic engraved in the collective unconscious

The history of the Titanic has remained etched in the collective memory. And not just for the loss of human life but for everything it represented and all the shadows it cast towards our future.

The iceberg represents the dangers that remain hidden but which, at any moment, can come to the surface to strike us. However, while these dangers are hidden, “they are never farther apart than a surface layer of separation,” as Bauman observed.

What terrifies us most in the history of the Titanic is not the iceberg and the dangers it represents, but "the chaos that occurred inside, on the decks and in the holds of that luxurious ocean liner, such as: the absence of a plan for the evacuation and rescue of passengers that was reasonable and feasible in the event of a sinking, or the surprising shortage of lifeboats and floats, ”according to Bauman.

Since the White Star Line was "certain" that the ship was "unsinkable," they only equipped it with 20 lifeboats, which barely served to evacuate a third of the passengers. The Titanic, however, had room for 74 boats. Furthermore, the crew was not prepared to carry out an emergency evacuation. The sad ending is history.

The Titanic was a litmus test that revealed our unpredictability and vulnerability. It showed us that no matter how technologically advanced and confident in what we have built, the unthinkable chases us to hit us when we least expect it by exploiting the vulnerabilities that have always existed.

That tragedy also caused the immediate failure of social norms that everyone took for granted, but which at the moment of truth proved extremely fragile.

So, “Titanic is us, it is our triumphalist, self-indulgent, blind and self-righteous society, merciless to its poor; a society in which everything is foreseen except the means of prediction themselves ”, as Jacques Attali wrote.

Titanic Syndrome: the fear of losing everything unexpectedly

Remembering the Titanic tragedy highlights some of our deepest fears. Bauman brings them together in the concept of "Titanic syndrome", which "consists in the horror of falling through the cracks in the crust of civilization and falling into that nothingness, devoid of the 'fundamental ingredients of organized and civilized life'" as we know it.

That organized life encompasses our perfectly predictable and structured daily routine. The social norms that govern our relationships and allow us to know what is expected of us. The order of society. The hierarchy of values. Things that, when they disappear, leave us without cardinal points. Disoriented and not knowing how to react.

In these cases, “the unspoken implications are suddenly challenged. The usual sequences of 'cause and effect' break off. What we call 'normality' on weekdays or 'civilization' on festive occasions is literally as fragile as paper “, wrote Bauman. And this terrifies us because it leaves us with no holds. Erase what we knew with a swipe of the sponge to draw a different reality in which we don't know how to move.

“The fears emanating from the Titanic syndrome are the fear of a collapse or a catastrophe that will strike us all blindly and indiscriminately, randomly and without reason, and which will find the whole world unprepared and defenseless. There are, however, other fears no less horrendous, or even more terrible if possible: the fear of being individually separated from the mass and condemned to suffer alone equally, ”Bauman said.

It is the fear that everything, as we know it, will collapse. And there is no individual or collective force that can avoid it. It is the fear that the concepts of right and wrong will lose their meaning, as usually happens in the midst of catastrophes. And all of this increases our insecurity.

The personal struggle in the post-coronavirus era

Right now we are going through a survival phase. Philosophy, sociology and psychology don't seem to help much when the goal is to save lives. But we can already guess the psychological changes that will come.

Such a big break leaves traces. It is naive to think that this will not be the case and that we will be able to close that chapter of our history without suffering its side effects. This kind of breakdown erodes our confidence in the system and in ourselves. It takes away any feeling of control. Then our worst fears emerge, and make us clearly understand that we are vulnerable, much more than we would like to acknowledge.

Therefore, when it all ends, we will have to struggle to regain a certain level of confidence and security that will allow us to live without the feeling of constant apprehension that triggers the fear that the breakup will turn our life upside down.

The icebergs that await us outside are many and of different nature. It's not about closing your eyes and living pretending they don't exist, as we did before, but learning to live with them. Accept its existence. Accept that tragedy can strike us, and prepare us psychologically. Recognize our vulnerability, to realize that every day is a gift.

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