If Keith Vaz had asked me if I loved my country, I wonder what I would reply?
What is “my country”?
Is it the geography?
Is it the people? If so, which group of people? I mean, if I said, “I loved the English people”, I would be lying. There are some I really like, but others infuriate me. I do not look wistfully at each British person as my train rattles along, I would get punched far more often if I did. We are not all Stanley Holloway in The Lavender Hill Mob or Robert Donat in Goodbye Mr Chips.
I rarely experience butterflies in my stomach, even when witnessing decorated goths looking with awe at Whitby Abbey or a party of elderly charity shopworkers having a day out at Lulworth Cove, and those are two of my favourite things.
Is it the history? If so, which history, the official story or the messier one with the concentration camps and disregard for the lives of underlings and foundlings?
Is it the art and culture? I like Eliot and Greene, but I am not a one nation reader. Am I seeing other countries behind my country’s back by having novels written by Russians and Chileans and the French? Is it an act of treachery to prefer Münch to Constable, a reminder that I will be a turncoat when the Norwegians invade.
Should you love your country more than your principles? Must it be an unquestioning love, a marriage of obedience? So when your country comes home with blood on its shoes and hand, and you have been reading of a killer on the loose, you know its best to say nothing, pop the kettle on, and make some Yorkshire Tea. It is one thing to be anti your country, another to be anti the things a government does. With their rash egotism and abrasive self-confidence, politicians are confident that they are the country.
Am I anti English because I am against the NHS “reforms”, legal aid changes, privatising of the Royal Mail?
It is typical of the louses that make up most governments that they dress themselves up in the garb of guardian and coddler of the goodness and principles of your nation, the preservers of mythical traditions and apocryphal traits, while under their ceremonial robes they stash what they can. Their real traditionalism is in keeping the hierarchy and its alibis.
I am not proud to be English, being proud to be whatever nationality you may be seems to be taking credit for others’ actions, riding the coattails of those in tombs who may have actually done something and share some geographical locations with you.
“I’ve been to Little Missenden and so has Benjamin Disraeli, we are so similar.”
If I was born in France or Peru or Malaysia, would I ogle England with envious eyes? As it is, I am from here, and there is much I like. The landscape, the weather, I am keen on a Kentish castle, an afternoon is well-spent if it is in the company of the films of Margaret Rutherford and Alastair Sim, The Smiths play regularly on my record player, and I will happily pace slowly through an exhibition of LS Lowry. Is that enough to swear that I will never see another country?
Many of the strongest patriots are those that have left the island, and can redraw an image in their mind that is perfection, unsullied by reality. So perfect, and yet not so perfect they can live here. I am happy to stay on, there seems to be work to be done.
Nationalism can become dogmatism. A fundamental religion of patriotism that demands unquestioning devotion. If your country (and again, read government voted in without majority) decides it must do what it does, then it must be right. Why would we go to war except out of kindness and care for others. Best to limit the history we read to live comfortably with the image of nobility.
Nationality is like star signs, we sometimes forge a link between behaviour and territory where not as much as we wish exists. I am pleased to exist in a nation that is not ruled by extremist dogma, but this does not mean that we should all keep quite because, “well, it could be worse, we could live in Saudi Arabia”. “It’s not as bad as…” is not a good enough argument for inertia. “Well if you don’t let us do what we want to do, then we’ll become real proper bastards, we’ll stop throwing you the lamb scraps if you are not obedient dogs, then you’ll have to survive off the nutrients from licking your own wounds”.
Values, hopes and ambitions are rarely hemmed in precisely at the national boundary.
Nationalism can lead to isolationism, and on planet this small, that doesn’t seem to be a good piece of forward planning in the long term.
There doesn’t seem much point in loving your country, but not caring about the people who are in it. I am going to remain an agnostic patriot, I am not ready to view my country with idolatry. Maybe I love it, but I am not “in love” with it, oh dear, I don’t know how it will take the news. I hope it doesn’t find out about those letters I’ve been sending to Norway.
My new tour starts in 2014 – including Shambles shows with Josie Long and Grace Petrie (Salford already sold out, but I’m back at Lowry in April), my new solo show about the mind, starting in Sheffield, Nottingham, Norwich and Bristol, plus also a mini Skeptics in the Pub tour. Details of all, plus Christmas shows and more HERE
For the imperfect Christmas gift, why not try my Happiness Through Science DVD with Brian cox commentary HERE