Sunday 3 June 2007

We are Pretty Shabby Now

There has been a fair bit of tongue-in-cheek nation bashing going on in the bloggosphere of late.
And it's all well meant.

I think as a global community, we don't put as much store by our national identitiies as we once did. We're less eager to die for King and Country, or the Star Spangled banner, than once we were.

Of course. We all know eachother a lot better.

At one time that sea crossing from Dover to Calais could well be fatal.
And that was the only connection we Brits had with our nearest neighbours.

But stereotypes only become stereotypes because there is something there to latch on to, something we know is true.

And, yes, we Brits do live in the past. A past where we still own the world.
And that's something I'd like to explain.

My mother is not British- she only got her British passport recently.

She said to me recently; The saddest thing about the way Britain is today, is looking at what the British once were.


Americans come here expecting land of thatched cottages, stately homes and polite conversation.
They find a land of tower blocks, motorways and chavs.

And deep down, it must scare them.
It is barely a hundred years since this country was the ONLY superpower, towering above the rest of the world in a way that America doesn't even today.
And yet look how we have fallen.

The legacy of any empire is a mixed bag.
But only two Empires in history have shaped the world that followed to such a huge extent.

At the turn of the twentieth century, it was Admiralty policy that the British Navy exceed the second and third largest Navies in the world. And that was considered realistic.
Eight of the Ten richest men in the world, were British.
Three quarters of the world's iron goods were made here.
Two thirds of the world's firearms were made here.

London was the world's largest city.

Life Expectancy was the highest in the world.

Most of the greatest scientific discoveries over the previous hundred years had been made by Brits.

And the way Victorians felt about their country was arrogant, but true.

The statue of Boudicca on the Embankment carries the inscription 'Regions Caesar never knew thy posterity shall sway.'

Cecil Rhodes- a controversial figure, but certainly a man of vision, even if now we see some of that vision as warped stated 'To be born an Englishman is to win first prize in the lottery of life.'
And that was true, then, in terms of simply being born in England in those days gave you opportunities others did not have.

In the early nineteenth century, a schoolboy was asked by his teacher in exasperation; 'Do you not want to learn how countries are made?'
He replied. 'No. I'd rather make one of my own.'

In 1842, he carved a stretch of the North Borneo coast out for himself and became Rajah of Sarawak. His descendants reigned till the second world war, as the 'Great White Rajahs'

Of course, we can look back on all of this with unease. As we do. Often rightly.

But so much once came from these islands.
At one time this actually was a country which actually created enterprise, independence of thought and the courage to go out into the great wide world and do great things.

John Locke. William Shakespeare. John Stuart Mill. Adam Smith. James Cook. Ernest Shackleton. David Livingston...
Could go on for ever, couldn't I?

It isn't now.
And that's sad.

Moving on from those values and maturing as a society shouldn't have made us throw the baby out with the bath water.
But we have.
And now we are just a pretty shabby little country.


Anonymous said...

I think England still has a lot to has just changed, Wow! Talk of role reversal.
England, I think has the most beautiful gardens, architecture( look at St Paul's) beautifully laid out countryside, sweeping old lanes.bluebell woods- these are soem of the things you won't see anywhere else.
It is sad to come home and see the modern changes in places such as my area that have not changed in 100 years and then suddenly in 5 they look unrecognizable. It used to always comfort me that my lil' spot in England never changed.
England does have a lot to offer still but more on a part time basis.

Anonymous said...

Now I'm curious; where are YOU from? :-) And yes, you got it right. I study in Kelantan (I don't dare answer on my blog because it'd then make all the pieces of my identity puzzle fit together)..

Anonymous said...

I don't know that it would scare Americans...they have far worse poverty than we do in places. In 1989 New York was the scariest place I had ever been to. Its not at all scary now but that's only because they have given all the homeless a one way ticket to New Orleans. I thought Americans all lived in wide streets in detatched houses and drove huge cars until I went there!

I like England, but then I live in an area of rolling countryside, thatched cottages and herbaceous borders, where the principal industry is agriculture, so I am fortunate! Not sure about the secular architecture here though...many towns could be many other towns at first glance.

Anonymous said...

There's lots in what you say; but it doesn't mean it always has to be like that...does it?

Anonymous said...

Miss Uber- I agree, but I feel St Augustine in Rome. A hundred or so years ago, England genuinely was the best place in the world to live. Now it's one of the worst places.

Eve- Your answer intrigues further...
I'm a midlander.

Lilith- What should scare them is how the mighty have fallen. It's only a matter of time for them...

Interstingly, what reinforces to me the downhill path we are taking, is when I see the cities in Eve's country, and compare them to ours. The future isn't here in the west any more...

Anonymous said...

Change is much more rapid and exponential now. That is the nature of 'progress' unfortunately. I doubt anything is designed with longevity in mind anymore. I will write what I think on my own blog sometime soon.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot in what you say, Crushed. For all that we denigrate the empire-builders now, they did what they thought was right in the age they lived in. A lot of bad was done but also a lot of good. Actually, I think Britain's a pretty amazing society. Ok, we have thrown away much that we should value about our past. But I also think we are very good at reinventing ourselves.