On The Royal Society, Britishness, the Jubilee and Bill Bryson

There have been plenty of Jubilee Moans. Here is one from Canada:

jubileemoaner

Well, if you say so. I’m sorry, but this just leaves me cold. Furthermore, just as history by any stretch of the imagination that “60+ years” section is at the very least gross oversimplification and rampant self-righteousness. And, well, nonsense.

I am much more impressed with Brit Muslim Indigo Jo, with whom I don’t always agree but who is always worth a read.

For some people, it wasn’t fun, it was a miserable, cold, dirty, wet long weekend. There was a letter in today’s Guardian that noted that the Royal Box at the Jubilee concert contained several Tories (Cameron and his wife, John Major, John Patten and Seb Coe) but no representative of Labour, and thus the royal family have abandoned any pretence of political neutrality. I also do not buy the myth that the Queen is “above politics”; she is one of the country’s biggest landowners and a member of an extremely wealthy family at a time when we have a government principally composed of rich men who are redistributing wealth in favour of the rich.

Despite that, I’m not radically pro-republic or anti-monarchy; we do not have a particularly nationalist culture in this country (we do not have flags and pledges of allegiance in the classroom, for example), and the four-day jubilee is a rare moment of celebration of nationhood, even if it is focussed on the person of the Queen and a milestone in her reign rather than the nation. Republics often foster national myths, particularly about their foundation, such as whitewashing or otherwise re-writing the personal and political records of their founders (making them more pious or religious than they really were, for example) and altering the facts of why the old regime was overthrown in the first place (making it look like a rebellion against generic ‘tyranny’ rather than disliked taxes, for example). These myths are often used in the suppression of minority rights, as recently seen in the anti-Muslim laws passed in several European countries in the past decade, something the UK has remained free of.

I have become markedly more pro-British, and much more prepared to defend the British way of doing things, in the decade or so since 9/11, as this country is one of the few places in the developed world where racism and xenophobia have not become anything like as socially acceptable as in Europe or America, where they have entered into law and where the far-right has gone mainstream in some places. Perhaps the fact of having a monarchy has little to do with this, but it still makes me cautious about identifying republicanism with progress and demanding radical change for the sake of it, when there are better ways of bringing about progressive political change.

Which brings me to Bill Bryson and The Royal Society.

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Love that book, so I was drawn to – and eventually downloaded —

Royal Society Anniversary Lecture: An Even Shorter History of Nearly Everything

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Great Hall, Guildhall

Yes, a bit late in the day, but well worth catching up on. And the Britishness?

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The real knock-out, however, is in the last nine minutes or so of the speech. If this doesn’t inspire and excite you, and fill you with awe, then nothing much will!

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