Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel.

Patriotism, John Bull, Uncle Sam, all those figures we've created to shout about how great our nations are. They cling to our imaginations at a time when to all intents and purposes their reason for being, the nation state, seems to be losing it's grip on reality and becoming unnecessary. If anything, we seem to be undergoing a resurgence of patriotism, and nationalism, in the really real world.

Recently, I've been forced to reassess my belief that I'm not a patriot. Let me be clear, I don't think of myself in that way, patriotism in the UK often seems to either come in violent racism or '2 wars and one world cup' flavours. That, or lots of clinging to the Proms and the Royal Family because apparently that's all the nation is good for.

The problem is, I'm damn awkward at the best time. The things that everyone else gets excited about really don't do anything for me. I'm  more energised by the fact Punk and Goth were British creations than I am about the Beatles. The fact we have the Mother of all Parliaments impresses me more than the Queen. I don't care about street parties, royal weddings and all the rest of it. But I do care deeply about certain things that I consider to be uniquely British. I've started to value them more because they're 'home grown' so to speak. Recently, I've started to look and cherish British culture more, not just the obvious stuff but the things from our past, old songs and poems, our history and landscape. The things that shaped us before the Victorian age, which might be better said to reflect our character as an island people. Which is ironic, I guess, as what's happening with Brexit is very much part and parcel of that island story (but then, my reasons for wanting to Remain in the EU were more to do with the fear, yes fear, that nobody knew how to make things work in leaving and that in departing the EU we would see a bonfire of regulations across the board of the type that would screw up our environment. 

I'm probably just being silly there, aren't I? It's not like anyone in Parliament would lie about something this important, or as if the three silly boys we have conducting the negotiations aren't more interested in point scoring and feathering their own nests than in doing their actual jobs...  (Seriously I'm sure there used to be a thing called a 'Stateman', now I'm wondering if there ever actually were, or if it's a posthumous thing - nobody living is a statesman, only the people who have pegged out and who's memories have been cleansed of their mistakes and more hideous opinions).

This brings me back to my first point. I am not a patriot, not in any conventional sense. So why am I aggravated when Mr Trump says horrible things about my country? Why do I look at him and wonder if he even knows what he's talking about? If I'm not a patriot why should it matter what he says? Why should it matter to me when American people I know say 'the sun never sets on the British Empire? Of course, I'm not proud of the legacy of Empire, in many respects Britain cut a bloody swathe around the world and the globe, practiced a system that wasn't a million miles away from slavery and vastly enriched Britain by stealing the wealth and resources of other places. That's what empire does, whether we're talking about political, economic, or cultural empire. Denying such a thing is only sophistry and foolishness.

The problem with that, is that to the average Brit, it all seems a long time ago and not to matter very much anymore. We have two World Wars and, yes, a World Cup as well as a myriad of other things in between us and our Imperial past. I wouldn't have thought most people even give it a thought, to be honest. Part of that is how busy everyday life is, with jobs, children, commuting and so on. The past is only important to us, as animals, when it has to be. Otherwise, history is strictly a nerd's game and a tool of those forces that seek to shape countries by taking advantage of most people's disinterest. Hence, the rise of populist leaders, promising a disgruntled population a return to better times (while making sure nobody thinks about how much better life is now because that would undo their message).

Besides which, we've been lucky enough to cast ourselves as the 'goodies', in the same way that the Americans have. The fact that in part we can claim that we're on the right side of history because for most of the 20th Century there was another bloc that kept us in check seems to be beside the point.  Unfettered capitalism seems to be as much a way to destroy the things I hold dear as it does to devalue everything it touches. While Communism wasn't a good thing, I'm not sure that capitalism isn't as much an enemy to the values of Britain. It's only familiarity that makes us think that it's our bosom friend. But I don't see how anyone can call themselves a patriot and back the foreign ownership of rail franchises, power and water companies and so on. Doesn't the fact that we're virtually in hock to Russia and the Saudis for oil and gas cause anyone pause?

Perhaps I'm more of a patriot than I thought?  I don't know. There's plenty I hate about the UK, the way it's run, the crassness of a lot of our culture, the way it feels like we just roll over like a puppy everytime the USA offers us a tummy tickle. I wish we were driving forward new policies, aiming to legitimately make our economy the cleanest in the world, or becoming a world leader in tidal power. Instead, it feels as if both the main political parties want to take us back to the past, and as if our culture is diving back that way. I don't think that's healthy, even if I do love the Romantic Poets and Gothic novels. Perhaps that's the strongest evidence yet that I'm a secret patriot?

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