Category: Britishness

Things I don’t like about Britain

By , 19 June 2009 5:25 pm

In last week’s blog I accentuated the positive and praised our noble isle; it is now time for me to be negative. However I find myself with a real problem. This morning in Iran, the supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused Britain of being particularly ‘evil’. (For some reason the United States of America escaped his wrath: perhaps under Obama you are no longer the Great Satan.) After a great deal of soul-searching I have decided to take the risk of providing the Ayatollah further proof of his case. (Actually your Grace/Highness/Ayatollahness, I really don’t mind you quoting me in your next rhetorical blast before ten thousand students: it wouldn’t half do wonders for the book sales.)

Anyway here goes:

  • The way that, although the British do political correctness as well as anybody else we still, deep down, believe that we are number one nation. The result is a degree of smugness and barely suppressed superiority. This leads to many other problems:
    • Our astonishing reluctance to learn any other language.
    • The general assumption that the only way to do things is our way and the sooner that the French, Chinese or Indians actually catch up with us the better they will be.
    • A quietly patronising view towards such people as Americans and frankly everybody else. We don’t like to publicly call them inferior but well……
  • A viewpoint that tends to think that cutting and hurtful sarcasm is the ultimate pinnacle of humour.
  • An attitude which greets any and every occurrence of patriotism, morality or self-sacrifice with a sneer.
  • The way we take our landscape and culture for granted and are only slightly and momentarily upset when they get trashed.
  • The appalling and overpriced British railway system.
  • The increasing prevalence of drunken behaviour. I suspect we always did have a considerable number of drunks but what seems to be abnormal is the astonishingly early hour of the day in which drunkenness can now occur and the fact that people now seem to be proud to be paralytic. By the way, a drunk in a British train is a horror squared.
  • The increasingly prevalent view that anyone who is in any way religious must be slightly damaged in the area of intelligence.
  • A ridiculous mawkish tendency to burst into tears when it comes to fluffy animals and dead princesses. It is not actually the emotion here that is to be blamed but the inconsistency. We don’t bat an eyelid about creating a shopping complex that wipes out an entire family of badgers because we have destroyed their habitat, but we get terribly upset when someone runs one over. And as for the dead princesses, well we probably hounded them to their grave.
  • The weather. I object to a continuous nine months of cold grey cloud and rain interspersed with brief moments of sunlight.
  • The utterly inconsistent British view of sex. The powers that be lament our appalling rates of teenage pregnancy and abortion while our popular media insist that the only way to have fun is to be horizontal with someone else.
  • The prevalence of the belief that someone who sits in an office doing nothing more than moving bits of paper around enriching one part of the world at the expense of another is somehow vastly superior to a man or woman who actually makes things for sale.
  • The ridiculous and frankly catastrophic view that you buy a house (or preferably several houses) as an investment. On this basis house prices going up is a good thing because it increases your investment; the fact that it harms society by creating a vast body of people who cannot ever afford to buy houses is conveniently overlooked.
  • The dreadful price of things in this country. This is largely due to the previous two ills. Because we have legitimised greed as honourable and because house prices are so expensive we all need to make as much money as we can. The only way of doing that is by such things as charging three pounds/ five dollars for a cup of coffee that tastes like mud.
  • I have a personal aversion to various products from United Kingdom that I think the world would be much better without: these include Benny Hill, Big Brother, most football stars and Jeremy Clarkson. The only saving grace of all of them is that they have contributed to the gross national product.
  • A view of history which attempts to explain many of the fine things about British culture (see last week for examples) as being somehow due to ‘Britishness’ (err, isn’t this racism?), rather than our nation’s long traditions of Christian ethics.

Well if you live somewhere other than in Britain in Britain and a stranger with a suitcase knocks on your door this week don’t be surprised. It’s me seeking political asylum. But as a concluding aside: why is it so much easier to say negative things about your country than positive ones?

On why this small island is so very odd

By , 21 November 2008 9:22 pm

It would seem self-evident that Americans (and here I mean inhabitants of the United States; Canadians are somewhat different creatures) and Brits are very close to each other. We share a common heritage, seem to have similar aspirations and (for the most part) possess a common language. It would seem equally self-evident that such links ought to be even closer between evangelicals. After all, we are all children of a heavenly kingdom and have a shared unity in Christ. Yet in my 30-odd years as a Christian I have come across frequent occasions where there has been substantial confusion and disappointment as both sides trip up over very real differences. One reason for these confrontations is something I touched on last week; each side misreads the other as being its mirror image when the reality is otherwise.

Now I promised that I would tackle the troubled issue of why British evangelicals are extremely uneasy with American Republicanism/conservatism. I cannot here explore all of this. Indeed today I want to simply point out some of the things that make Britain what it is. Now I am no social scientist and this is a fairly hastily constructed blog so please forgive me if I make some major oversimplifications. Equally can I make it absolutely plain that I’m not in the business of saying we Brits are better than Americans? All I am saying is that there are some very deep differences and it probably is a good idea for all sides to appreciate them.

Anyway let me suggest there are at least four major factors that make us different from Americans.

1) The British are fundamentally wary of radical politics, whether of the left or the right
One part of this is ecclesiastical and reflects the fact that the Church of England ended up occupying the uneasy middle ground between the Reformed and the Catholic churches. Another part is no doubt due to the fact that the fairly regular upheavals over on the continent (with the resultant dismal trickle of refugees arriving on our shores) have constantly reminded us that most political revolutions come with a very high price tag. We have been badly scared by (on the left) the notorious French Revolutionary experiment of the 18th century and (on the on the right) by Hitler’s rise and demise. The result is a deep cultural caution which generates the irony that in some ways we are actually more conservative than most US Republicans.

2) In the UK evangelicals do not possess any large-scale idealism
It is widely noted that when American Christians start becoming lyrical about their great schemes for the improvement of the world, bringing progress to all and ensuring global godliness, any Brits can generally be seen quietly tiptoeing out of the room. There are many reasons for this. One is that in the 17th century what we might class as biblical Christians did indeed have large-scale political aspirations and in a revolution undergirded by theology seized power in the English Civil War. Yet the Puritan Republic that was the Commonwealth was not a success and within 20 years Britain’s experiment with radical nonconformism was at an end. We have long memories and no one since has really wanted to repeat Cromwell’s great adventure. It is probably also true that at this point anyone with what we might today call a politically directed evangelicalism faith headed over to America. We lost our visionaries. The result is that in Britain evangelicals do not fantasise of building a city on a hill shedding light on a dark world. If we dream of anything, it is sitting round a warm fire with the curtains drawn while outside the storm rages. Indeed sometimes, far from dreaming, we are merely content not to have nightmares.

3) Our lack of space forces social survival strategies.
I think there are important issues to do with Britain’s small and rather overcrowded nature. In the States there has been until recently enough space that if you don’t get along with someone you could simply harness up the wagon and head west. We have no such luxury here. We have to coexist. I am convinced that this not just encourages us to seek toleration rather than confrontation but also to see things in terms of shades of grey rather than black and white. It may even be that the famous British humour is in fact a defence mechanism to handle the fact that we must live with those whom we dislike.

4) We are both somewhat weary and wary of Empire.
We have had our time as a global superpower; it was good while it lasted but we are still counting the cost in every sense. As with my comment on idealism, we hold no large-scale aspirations other than a) to survive and b) pay the bills.

These are generalities that I throw out as debating points. Next week I want to talk about some family news and then I will do my best to discuss more specifically some of the problems that we have with American republicanism. But I hope this has helped you understand a little bit where we come from.

Have a good week

Chris

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