Not Proud To Be British

Not Proud To Be British

Again a senior politician is calling for a national debate on “What it means to be British.” This is an obvious attempt to capitalise on fears about immigration that have been stirred up by increasingly hysterical media reports that Britain is being swamped by a tide of migration from the former Soviet bloc countries of Eastern Europe.
Any attempt to define Britishness is doomed to fail of course, it will only accentuate the differences in wealth, living standards and culture within this small but heavily populated nation. We should be holding a debate on the negative effect of outmoded values like patriotism on a modern, cosmopolitan society.
Never having been slow to step forward I will kick it off by saying I am NOT nor have I ever been proud to be British. In fact I think the whole idea of being proud to be whatever nationality we happen to be is a nonsense. I am happy to be British, I like our landscape, food, grubby cities, surly waiters, our culture and heritage, but to be proud of being British would be to suggest to anybody non – British that the accident of being born in these islands makes be somehow better than they.
It would be foolish to expect people from France, Germany, Jordan or India to agree with my views on the superiority of most things British, in fact when an American friend recently wrote of being quite shocked by the low opinion most non – Americans have of her homeland I had to explain that too many Americans abroad have an unfortunate way of telling natives of the place they are visiting that “the good ol’ US of A is the best country in the world and expecting agreement in response. Why would the Dutch not think Holland is wonderful, or the Germans point to their nation’s many achievements in the arts, science and technology and make the case for their land being as fine as any? All nation states, large or small, have things to recommend them and many, often the most powerful and prosperous have shameful episodes in their history. I have to be honest and say my own nation is one of the foremost in this category. The number of deaths the British were responsible for in India makes Hitler’s holocaust look small beer.
Logically then, to proclaim that I am proud to be British would imply I expect other nationalities to acknowledge the superiority of Britain. Once we set out on that road, it is only a short journey to the drum beating, flag waving, my-country-right-or-wrong patriotism that has caused as many wars and as much waste of life as religion. So why are politicians and conservatively minded people so easily seduced by it?
Most people who have been at the sharp end of a real, blood and guts war soon change their mind about the value of patriotism as a virtue. The poets of World War 1 are an example. Poems glorifying acts of patriotism and lauding sacrifice were in the main written by elderly former soldiers who had only seen action against untrained, ill-equipped tribesmen (and ought to have been chastened by those experiences, particularly in Zululand and Afghanistan.) The front line poets, those like Wilfred Owen who joined the millions of young men taken in by what Owen called The Old Lie marched off to the battlefields of France and Belgium. They were prod to be British and prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, only to find that Britain did not give a damn about them as they were mown down in their thousands. Their leaders, unable to devise a strategy to advance their cause, simply ordered whole regiments to march, bayonets fixed, against the enemy machine guns.
In his best known poem Wilfred Owen wrote of that Charnel House war: “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest / to children ardent for some desperate glory / the old lie, dulce et decorum est / pro patria mori. (it is sweet and seemly to die for one’s country)
Thus was the pressure put on, patriotism was the greatest virtue, pragmatism the greatest sin. Early in the twentieth century it took real bravery to say, “I do not wish to die for my country,” such a selfish attitude was viewed with the same kind of suspicion as showing an unhealthy level of interest in children is today. It would however have been more noble to say, “I choose to live for my country, to speak out against the warmongering rulers, my fight will be a fight for equality among my countrymen and justice for everybody, I choose to contribute to the life of my country, not the deaths of many people who are not its true enemies.
I have never understood why we should be made proud by an accident of geography. England and Scotland were deadly enemies until about three hundred and fifty years ago. Go to the borders now, as ever, walk away from the roads into open country and who would know when we cross from one land to another. The same applies to Canada and U.S.A. China and India anywhere and its neighbour. So what we are asked to believe is that an imaginary demarcation, a line drawn on a map, should be the thing we are most proud of? Ought we not to derive most of our personal pride and self esteem from the things we do, from our work, roles as partner, parent, brother or sister, friend; from sporting or intellectual accomplishments, artistic talent or simply from being a wholehearted member of our community, from doing our best? These things are the sum of all that makes us what we are. Would Shakespeare have been a lesser writer had he been born in Spain and moved from there, rather than from Stratford to London? Cultural reference points and life experience might have made him a different writer, but mere location would not have changed the essence of the man.
Nationality is nothing but an accident of Geography and patriotism a facile ploy beloved of shoddy politicians to exploit primitive fears of that which is different. It is time to dispense forever with the politics of fear and embrace the politics of hope. We have nothing to fear from migration be it from Eastern Europe, Asia or South America. There must be controls of course to ensure the infrastructure can cope, but migrants do not threaten our lifestyle or culture any more than terrorists. Migrants wish to share our lifestyle not destroy it and terrorists do not want to kill every last one of us as the more hysterical advocates of patriotism claim. Terror is about disrupting not killing.
What does threaten our lifestyle in the west and what we must resist if we are to preserve what is best of our civilisation is the relentless corporate – led push to increase consumption.
The real patriots today are not supporters of the patriot – game playing politicians whose phoney wars only distract attention from the real danger but those who are strong enough to ignore the drum beating, anthem singing and flag waving , to rise above the politics of fear and the ranting of religionists and to take up the struggle against the dark forces of conservatism and the suicidal lunacies of free market economics.

Read the poem Songs of War

7 thoughts on “Not Proud To Be British

    1. Thanks Steph. I meant to get that Johnson quote in but it escaped.

      I’ll be getting my Luddite blog at WordPress in gear again in a few days, so I’ll see you there.

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  1. Yes I agee wholeheartedly with Stef. This is an excellent post, and I am a strong believer in Monotheism.

    I love this statment: “I am NOT nor have I ever been proud to be British…. I am happy to be British” That beautiful and beautifully honest statement is, I am sure, what so many people would have wanted to articulate but never quite got round to ‘get there’ in the hundred or so “Britishness” debates over last few years or so. There is nothing more to debate anymore. The ‘deep thought’ question has been successfuly answered.

    May I be cheeky and ask your opinion as to whether you’d be sympathetic to the alternative wording from “as much waste of life as religion.” to “as much waste of life as mans manipulation of religion.”?

    As for the proceeding question: “So why are politicians and conservatively minded people so easily seduced by it?” Because they can get power from it. Power sex and money are what these slime balls feed un. Mark Oaten, Bliar, Jonathan Aitkin.

    “I have never understood why we should be made proud by an accident of geography.” Well said. I’d guess the reason you’ve never understood it is becasue it is a false construct therefore illogical. But most minds are paper thin and follow the herd.

    Lovely point about borders: “walk away from the roads into open country and who would know when we cross from one land to another”. Borders are another lie to create the economic seggregation needed to have one set of people better off than the other and to minimize the ‘haves’ from being asked for a quid by the ‘have nots’ coming out of the train station. The borders are a lie and is sustained by the ‘partiot’ (a guise the use for “Nationalist”) concept, hyped up and make to be respected to con people into maintianing the status quo. And most crucial of all borders stops the loss of power by the governers of that land – it’s a control thing!

    It seems to me a patriot is a figher of oppression and tyranny. Patriot – champion of humanity and justice. But sadly there are precious few champions out there. A lot of buds but very few flowers. Who knows though? Perphas the potency of many buds is greater than that of a few flowers? I sure hope so!

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  2. On your point about substituting “man’s manipulation of religion,” that is a phrase I would avoid in this context because it lacks punch.
    I draw a firm line between religion (based on dogma, creed and hierarchy) and belief system, the latter being based on rational thought. I class Hindism and Buddhism as belief systems and the Abrahamic faiths as religions for the reasons stated and that they place too much emphasis on the literal interpretation of ancient writngs that were written to be read allegorically.

    Not all Jewish, Christian and Muslim sects are guilty of this however.

    Thanks for the long and thoughtful comment.

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  3. I am curious as to how Hinduism and Buddhism (especially Hinduism) are rational and not based on dogma. It is sad that ‘religionists’ have done much to harm that which they spent so much time procaliming, but It is also a fact that the godless have put much effort into destroying religion, demonizing and spinning, altering and deliberately misinterpreting aspects of religion and bruitalizing people of great piety simply becasue they reject hirearchy other than to their Lord.

    The Islamic faith has been very much the target of this spin, from Directors of Islamic Charities in the US to Australian Clerics.

    I would also say in isolation, rationality is a detachment from God as it is the realm of the very human ‘tinking within the box’ that characterizes the human brain, as western science shows well. I believe it’s when irrationality (i.e. that which cannot be explained – such as faith) and rationality (predictability) mix, then inner peace results and provides nourishment for the soul.

    The unsatisfying thing of course, for those of a purely rational disposition, is the consequential difficulty in breaking through into irrationality. Sorry for the divergence.

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    1. Divergence is good.

      Hinduism is a very misunderstood belief system, it is thought to be plytheistic but is in fact monotheistic (Brahma is The Oneness of which everything in the universe is a part. Though certain Hindu sects can be very dogmatic, the core philosophy has neither doma nor creed. Like the Gods of the pagans, Hindu gods are actually energies (in a metaphorical rather than scientific sense)
      and the concept of Maya (oneness) can be related to many theories of quantum physics.

      Religion is demonised by other religions. The last pagan Emperor of Rome, Justinian, said “there are no wild animals so dangerous to man as Chistians are to each other.” He was rightof course after all he had come to the throne when the previous Emperor a CVhristian of the Arian chuch had been dethroned and killed by supporters of the Catholic Church.

      I guess from what you say you are a Muslim. We hear of Sunni, Wahabi and Shia of courese and equate all muslims with that kind of fanatical belief, little is known in the west of the very fascinating sufists or the Ba’hai sect. That is a pity, but we also hear little of Unitarian Chistians and of Quakerism, both of which reject dogma and creed and believe in tracing an individual path within certain shared principles.

      To place obedience to one’s God before obedience to the laws of a secular society that nominally tolerates all faiths is not acceptable. It is uforrtunate that believers must face up to the fact that “the will of God” is only ever expressed through the words of self – apponted agents. This is particularly so for Christians whose God is actually not a God at all but a misinterpretation of several pagan mythologies.

      As you know I am fond of goading the Bad Science cult led by Ben Goldacre (must get back on his case in fact) In his column this week he was ranting about acupincture and placebo effects. He dug himself into a hole so deep that though he argued there is no scientific reason why acupuncture works, it does. So there we see the obsessively rational mind completely uncomprehending of the irrational – the power of belief but being forced to accept it is a more powerful healing force than drugs in many cases.

      Thus we get to the problem with God. If we believe in a God that is a thinking being, active in the world and playing a part in our daily lives then the followers of that God pose a threat. If however, we think of God as something within us, part of our essential being that somehow binds us to all other physical things that God can only be a force for good and is entirely rational.

      You will have to wait for Greenteeth to go online if you want to draw me deeply into this stuff, its too big a subject for a blog.

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