English Nationalism: A Tale of Two Nations

On Twitter today I saw a tweet which went like this:

Scottish Nationalism Good, Welsh Nationalism Good, Irish Nationalism Good, English Nationalism Bad, Why is England the exception?

The answer is that it isn’t. If we re-frame the question:

Scottish Nationalism Good, Welsh Nationalism Good, Irish Nationalism Good, English Nationalism Good, British Nationalism Bad.

There is then a clear difference, in that the first four are not really nationalism whereas the last is, if we define Nationalism as the belief that a nation is superior to other nations and thus is justified in exploited other inferior nations.

The difference is that these first four national movements include everyone in that nation, whether they identify with that nation or not. They seek fairness and a better political arrangement to allow innovation, investment  and economic development of infrastructure and for their nations to not be ignored. Whereas the true nationalism only serves the elite that identify as British Nationalists to the detriment of everyone else in Britain, allowing policies of repression towards those that don’t fit this narrow definition of “British”.

I think that English Nationalism struggles for it’s voice to be heard, because people find it challenging to differentiate itself from British Nationalism, which is racist and often the Nationalists have adopted both the English and British flags and some identify as English Nationalists. I should point out here that this splitting is in itself complicated, as you can identify as British and not be a British Nationalist, it’s this issue which makes the differentiation unclear.

I grew up in rural Powys, in British Wales and whilst most people from there identify as Welsh, they often share the views of British Nationalists, this certainly doesn’t make them bad people, but they are those that divide the people of Britain (the Britons) into them and us. An issue for the Welsh national movement is that we need the support of these people, but their British Nationalism holds them back from embracing the national movement. It is these people who value conformism and that is a very difficult habit to break, which I talked about in my last weblog.

I feel I could have very easily been one of these British Nationalists as it was part of the culture I grew up in. I just didn’t fit in and in being so kind of picked out the bits that made sense and discarded the rest. It was only through being different and an outsider that made me ask lots of questions, rather than accept what was around me as gospel.

What are these specific things you need to be a member of the British Nationalists beyond valuing conformity. You need to be white, you need to be from a Christian background (actual belief in Christianity isn’t important), you need to be a monolingual English speaker, you must have a distrust of intellectuals, you must not value the arts, you must regard those not in the club as inferior, you must not question authority. Essentially it isn’t merely valuing conformity, it’s being sceptical of questioning or exploring of issues.

When I was at school in a history lesson we were looking at the Cuban missile crisis. One of our activities was to have a mock debate, the class was split between pretending to be representatives of the USA and the USSR. I ended up on the USSR side and made that case as part of the activity. I was pretty much the only one who seemed to understand the logic of the USSR position, indeed a friend of mine admitted they they could not have done what I had just done, I think because it was somehow unpatriotic as the British position was to support the USA, even to the point of not trying to at least understand the other side. So, if you are unable to look at both sides of an issue, how on Earth are you supposed to get to the truth?

It’s ridiculous, how some people are now wary of talking about the Welsh language to me, now that I am a speaker of it. I’ve crossed that divide, there is no problem and it’s quite a nice place to be thanks.

I think it is this lack of questioning that is the mark of the British Nationalists, it explains how such awful politicians as Boris Johnson could have “won” the 2019 UK general election. For example, if you point out how awful it is that food bank use has risen so much in the UK, when there had been no need for such things relatively recently as a terrible development, you get the reply along the lines of “These people whilst perhaps deserving our pity are at fault for getting themselves into that position as people like us wouldn’t” When you point out examples of people who got there by bad luck or being made redundant, they can be dismissed as exceptions!

It is frightening, because when I was young I read the history books there were around and they very heavily promote the idea of British history as glorious and entirely ignore the damage that British policy has done to parts of the world. That accepting that interpretation is patriotic and any questioning makes you instantly ‘the enemy’. The idea that you base your belief system on a lie and adopt a position of not questioning anything is very scary indeed.

How can we bring across people from British Nationalism to the national movements of the nations of Britain? The UK has the highest  inequality in Europe, some of the most expensive housing and transport and is an unproductive and innovation averse economy that is falling behind, when there is no need for it to be.

Wales is not a poor country that couldn’t stand on it’s own two feet without the “help” of the “British elite”, we can afford a National Health Service, free education, affordable decent housing and a coordinated transport infrastructure. The UK is just wedded to the Tory party of not questioning why things are not going well and must, as always lay the blame on others, those who are not British Nationalists.

Brexit as framed as a perverse patriotism is causing unnecessary damage. Only yesterday there were anti-Semitic activity in London. In general there seem to be increases in racism, homophobia and even attacks on people for speaking Welsh.

The portents for 2020 in the UK are not good. Brexit seems to have allowed the nasty Nationalists to feel legitimised by the Brexit votes and all these repressed concerns about our society come out not directed at the useless Tories in charge, but at those who do not share this frankly bizarre adherence to not questioning authority, be they Welsh, Scottish, Irish, English, Black, Catholic, LGBTQ+, Jewish, Muslim, from Mainland Europe, Africa, or Outer Space. Why value being in this British Nationalist minority and ignore the great potential of all the people of Britain? It’s just very disturbing and there seems no clear way of getting people to come together as our nations for the greater good, to open minds and get people to think about these things.

Perhaps the question now is what do we want Britain to be? The Britain of national movements to unite everyone together to make things better or the Brexit if British Nationalism that divides us into us and them. Do we want to go down the path of 1930s Germany that my grandfather took up arms against or be nations progressing together to make a better world? Remember that only 36% of Wales voted for Boris Johnson’s Brexit, or 44% of the UK as a whole. We are the 56%, we can do this.

 

 

 

Conformity Rules

Following on from my last post. The other aspect of a socially conservative viewpoint is the value placed on conformity to social rules. Again this is a spectrum, but perhaps the issue with it is that it’s self-perpetuating as it encourages greater and greater conformity to be viewed as a valuable member of a society. This aspect is simply bad.

The ability to follow social rules is important for a society to function, to enable people to come together to do something enriching or useful. For example I went to a Christmas play for young children before Christmas, Llygoden yr Eira (The Snow Mouse) concerning the adventures of a mouse in a snowy wonderland. We probably all know the rule about theatre, musical performances or football matches, that you don’t enter the stage area unless specifically invited by the performers and even then you must do as directed by the performers. However this was a show for very young children who could not be expected to know this rule and it was very tempting to get up and touch the wonders being produced on the stage and so the children did. The company expected this and allowed it up to a point and had a number of crew at hand to herd children off the stage when necessary for safety and coherence of the show. In many ways the show was educational is showing children what was acceptable and what wasn’t. This social rule is there to ensure that everyone can enjoy the performance as intended, it makes sense.

On the other hand the example I gave earlier of homophobia. Repression of homosexuality, because it is seen as a social value of the majority as the majority are almost always heterosexuals. However homophobia is in itself socially damaging and divisive, so there it should not be valued and is unacceptable behaviour.

As I see it, there are some social situations where you need to conform and behave in a certain way and others where such restrictions are much reduced. For example expected behaviour at a Church service and that at a music festival, where social norms are expected to be flouted. Thus society has a good balance, we learn the rules and have space to relax those rules once in a while. However it seems that some  conservatives place a value on conformity above and beyond simply enabling people to enjoy themselves or work together on particular projects.

I grew up in a very conservative part of rural Wales and it was very stifling and there were very few places rules where rules were relaxed. Indeed the popularity of local taverns as the place you could relax those rules perhaps contributed to their popularity. When such a conformity starts to dictate how you dress, how you behave, what jobs are acceptable and which discouraged it becomes painful as the rules no longer make any kind of sense.

When rules don’t make sense and there seems no logic or reason for them to exist you cannot help break the rules, you just keep breaking them as you are unable to internalise their sense. All children break rules as they don’t understand them or why they exist. That is why good parents tell children why a behaviour is wrong, such as playing with electrical wires a sit’s dangerous, but it will be some years until they get taught all about electricity at school, but the rule makes sense, as children do learn what can be played with and what is to be left alone.

As adults we expect to have learnt the rules, that is the mark of being an adult. when some conformity rules get difficult and you have to twist and bend your personality so much to fit those rules, you are no longer in control, you can’t rely on reason or experience to tell you how to behave and it then follows that you cease to be useful, trying to follow the rules takes all your time and energy to the point that you can do little productive work. If you are not naturally inclined in such a way that you are a perfect match for the these conformity rules, you fail socially, you become mentally ill and suffer from anxiety.  The upshot of this is you have a society where a significant percentage of otherwise healthy individuals cannot contribute to that society and this makes no sense. Conformity to rules is there to make social functions easier, not more difficult, that is why I don’t get this obsession with extreme conformity.

Anxiety is a terrible affliction/ Being nervous before going on stage or attending a job interview, is normal anxiety. Seeming to continually break the rules you don’t understand which no-one will take the time and effort to explain to you, makes you constantly anxious and encourage you to withdraw from society and this is not a good thing to do. If you are going to have rules, they need to make sense, and not just be a privilege for those whom through sheer dumb luck are able to naturally conform with arbitrary social rules.

I think it’s going to be one of the biggest challenges of the next years. The world is facing devastating climate change. Every person and organisation will need to make big changes to how we do things. It’s going to effect what we eat, how we shop how we work and how we travel and so many of the conformity rules that exist in Wales and throughout the world are going to have to change. In particular the quantities of unsustainable meat society consumes. I was vegetarian form the age of 15 and so many people didn’t understand  my reasoning or the importance of sustainability. I think this is partly as this social custom was rigidly enforced “If you don’t eat your meat, how can you expect to have pudding!”. Getting young children to eat healthily is hard work, but there is no need to enforce rules, purely because they are the traditional conforming rules to older children who may know a lot more about nutrition than their parents.

To tackle climate change the world needs to become a lot more liberal in it’s worldview. However it’s then even more important to identify and protect the things we genuinely care about as positive values.

Failing the Tebbit Test

In Brexit Britain, one of the things being weakened often seems to be tolerance towards people who have different views on things. The most obvious one is that between Brexit Leavers and Remainers, yet it seems to go much wider than that. The craziest example perhaps being people getting triggered that a chain of shops started to stock vegan sausage rolls. This intolerance can be taken as simply being not liking the fact that other people like or are interested in different things. Or more strongly, an objection to people thinking through issues more than they are prepared to. A little flippantly, there is the view that the British were too tolerant, accepting rubbish coffee. Again I would argue that it doesn’t have to be one or the other, that it isn’t about tolerance levels, but rather a rejection of nonconformism, that there is some unstated worldview that we must all adhere to to be truly a particular kind of ‘British’.

A Victorian view of Britishness that a ‘Briton is any mans equal’, ‘Britons shall never be slaves’ suggests that to be British is to celebrate nonconformity, within the rule of law. Creating social politics of argument for those laws to be changed. However in recent times a rival view of Britishness seems to have emerged, of promoting conformity to the values of the British establishment, coming from the Brexiteer minority. This rival view of Britishness was exemplified by the Tebbit test…

I was never a great fan of Cricket when I was a child. However I became ill for a few days when a test match was on the telly and I ended up watching the whole match, between the West Indies and England. I began to understand the game and got more and more out of it as I learnt more about the game. As the days passed I found myself rooting for the West Indies team. By the end of the match there were my team.

Some time later, cricket came up in conversation. I mentioned that I support the WIndies [West Indies as it appears shortened on television screens] and was told that I also fail the Tebbit test. The Tebbit Test is a test of British nationality. To pass this test you must support the England cricket team. The test was a response to many people in England supporting the teams of family and cultural tradition. For example the grandchildren of immigrants to the UK from India, would support the Indian cricket team, despite being more British than Indian. Tebbit’s view of British nationality was that they should support England as it is the national team of the country where they live. Yet here I was a white person whose family have lived in Britain for as long as it is possible to tell, supporting a team other than England and failing the Tebbit test.

Generally, I do tend to support my own national teams, it’s the obvious first choice. There is no Welsh cricket team, so I felt myself to be a free agent. It was only later that it was pointed out that the England cricket team is actually the England and Wales cricket team, but the Wales bit is rarely mentioned. So technically I’m not supporting the Welsh team. Technically this is true, but support of sports teams is a commitment for me. I had already nailed my colours to the mast, I couldn’t change, even if I wanted to.

Supporting teams isn’t really a choice. You don’t sit down with a list of teams, weigh up the pros and cons of each team and make a rational decision. I feel that teams choose you, that there is some connection made that makes you scream “Yes, I am with you”. It often is the first team you are exposed to, which is why we tend to support our own national teams, the one that shows you what that particular sport is all about.

Yet here in Cricket, perhaps more so than in other sports these two rival views of Britishness clash [over five days of intense competition under a blazing sun]. The ‘Victorian’ view of tolerance within the rules and the ‘Tebbit’ view of intolerance of non conformity. I am very solidly in the ‘Victorian’ view camp. It may simply be being Welsh. Being Welsh we both love the whole of Britain and most of its people and culture yet oppose the British establishment that still treats Wales as a colony of England rather than an integral part of Britain. It may just be not being part of that white English conformist establishment, that the Welsh share with the descendants of migrants from the former British Empire countries, or those who fail to conform by being LGBTQ or Catholic and so on.

The cultural divisions of Brexit seem to have broken along these two rival views of Britishness. Sadly this isn’t a matter to be decided over a civilised game of cricket, with the honours won only until the next test series. It seems instead to be a political divide, quite different to the traditional left right spectra and one with the potential to turn ugly. Britain could be walking towards a disaster based on these two visions of what on earth Britishness is anyway clashing, whilst the Brexit debate seems caught up in the backstop debate over the UK border in Ireland. Worrying times

The Fall and Rise of Respectability

My parents and grandparents went to some lengths to instil in me the importance of respectability. This concept was one I struggled to understand when I was young and then realised wasn’t important as I got older. What I did learn was that it was important to my older family and the older generation and discovered through my friends  that our generation didn’t give respectability any real value. So what I learned was how to play the game of respectability to not upset older people.

I think my main objection to respectability was that it was so complicated and seemed to lack a coherence or a logically related set of premises, it seemed like a fairly random set of rules and thus required commitment to learn. Really respectability had been important for generations, bound up with the issue of class that bound society together for a long time. Respectability is about showing that you have learned this very complex set of rules. Hence it is showing that you have been educated. This was an important badge of respectability during a period when a large chunk of society didn’t receive any formal education. The older generation are very impressed when our generation wave around degrees or have letters after our names, when my generation isn’t at all.

Much of these complex rules were not just about respectability and education but also about our culture and it’s traditions. I think the older generation have been fearful of the way my generation unpicked all the traditions and worked out which ones had sense or useful purpose to them and which were remnants of things that had once been useful but no more. I think they feared we would lose our culture and sense of who we were.

I kind of get that fear, but the rules are so harsh that they hold a culture bound to arbitrary rules that actually inhibit cultural growth. What I mean is that you can spend so much time and energy following the rules that you lack  the time to realise why something is valuable.

To illustrate this idea by example. As a child I was taken to a music concert, great, but this involved such things as dressing in uncomfortable clothes that I wasn’t comfortable wearing, sitting still and receiving instructions on how to appear I was appreciating the music. So, being an anxious child, I felt obliged to follow all these bizarre rules to keep my parents and grandparents happy, so much so that i didn’t get to enjoy the music! It was only later that I was able to relax and open my ears and really start to appreciate what the musicians were doing. So I now look down on anyone who suggests there should be ‘dress codes’ at musical concerts, if you like dressing up, great, if it’s not your thing, that is just as cool. I personally, make a point of not dressing up at all as all music should be accessible to everyone, whatever helps you open your ears is what is of paramount importance.

The other issue my cohort had when growing up was that we realised that we were growing up in rural Wales. We could look back on our families tilling the land for generation after generation and for me that meant I was one whole generation away from the land and that tradition.My cohort have been realising that in European terms our local culture hadn’t undergone the rapid changes experienced by those who went to the large towns and cities, that we also needed to learn the new etiquette of a more globalised world, especially those of us who had lost the farming tradition.

For my generation the world isn’t one of knowing the arcane rules of respectability. Perhaps we are more interested in what things are valuable and useful and disparage those things which aren’t. In a way all this is is just a completely new set of rules of respectability, with the difference in that the rules relate to the world we know rather than old traditions.

We live in rapidly changing times. Rural Wales was late in awakening to industrialisation, so when my parents generation realised that they weren’t to continue the agricultural tradition, Europe was beginning to struggle with post industrialisation, we had missed out perhaps almost entirely on the industrial era, apart from tractors replacing horses. Tractors replacing horses was surely progress, saving so much time and not needing to grow crops to feed the horses. However these very changes meant that fewer people were needed to work the farm. Many farms became one or two man operations and the rest of the family had to go and find work elsewhere, which almost invariably meant moving away.

Until that is, broadband came, and the transport network got so congested that staying at home for administrative jobs started to become the best option. Furthermore the beginnings of the effects of climate change are starting to have real unignorable impacts and the era of cheap oil and indeed it’s tractors is coming to an end. Perhaps I am witnessing the end of that  flight to cities to find work and all in just one generation.

Welsh farmers have largely always looked down their noses at all the city people, sitting in offices not producing very much of any real use. They are largely right of course. Whilst they have been spending all their days proudly producing food for people to eat. After all owning land was the height of respectability. European history has always been about the those at top of society who own the land.

The thing is anyone can farm. Humanity for most of history has been made up of farmers. It was only during the industrial period when modern conveniences enabled rises in living standards that land, farmland, for a time lost it’s value, enabling a generation of farmers to finally own their own land. It can be viewed that they got lucky to have ended up with the the thing that meant respectability to the very last generation that valued respectability.

I grew up with the concept of ‘look smart and wear a collar and tie’. The dual meaning of smart of being educated and dressing well, is perhaps no accident as both meanings are really about respectability. There is some evidence of this word ‘smart’ flipping in meaning as the meaning of respectability changes. We now talk about being ‘street smart’ and making smart decisions. These newer meanings of smart are not about old respectability but more about being a useful individual and contributing to rather than exploiting society.

The great irony for me growing up of wearing of ties is that the people who wore ties all the time were and still are the big business executives and politicians who made decisions for their personal gain and failed to appreciate what the communities they effected needed. It seems to me that the wearing of a tie is a mark of the disrespectful. I grew up during the Miner’s strike, and the baddies were all wearing suits. I only wear them when etiquette and tradition demands though.

Anyone who analysis society realises that the things that respectability valued, such as land or education are largely acquired by luck or an odious obsession with garnering the facets of respectability through acting in a disrespectful way, such as the acquisition of land to be a rentier, rather than actively working the land. Somewhat paradoxically respectability regards those who are respectable by luck of being in the right family  in the right place much more highly, rather than those who have acquired respectability by behaving disrespectfully by the new generations definition. Perhaps because the mistakes of the previous generations of the powerful were more innocent and on a smaller scale than those made by those in power today.

So, whilst my generation watch as the old respectability does, we are witnessing the rise of a new one where what is regarded as respectable has flipped and  is utterly different and instead values being true to yourself and your community, rather than learning the rules to be someone different and of entering a sub-community. Where diversity and difference is at last valued and conformity isn’t. The interesting question now is whether or not respectability will flip again in a new direction with the next generation or whether we stop valuing people’s acquired traits at all. I’m sure if either of these two directions is more worthy than the other.

 

Children’s telly, literature and Brexit

Britain is over a year after the Brexit vote. The rest of Europe appears to be looking on wondering what exactly it is that ‘Britain’ wants. I think that the answer is that we don’t know. The opinion polls over the past year have remained steadfastly around the 50:50 split on the Brexit question, no consensus has been reached, the British media is still awash with uncertainty and many variants of an answer to the Brexit question. The UK seems to have voted for Brexit with no idea about what to do with it. If there was a clear objective, that would be so different to the confused mess we seem to find ourselves in.

Looking back at the arguments for Brexit, they essentially pool around the idea of greater powers for the UK government to enable a reduction of net immigration. I am all for a decentralisation of political power, though I would argue that the UK is the wrong level for this, I argue for bottom-up democracy and more power for local councils and the Welsh government. However the Brexit debate wasn’t really about this dry constitutional stuff. The emotional side of it and much of the rhetoric of the Brexiteers centred around the idea of British sovereignty, to restore a sense of Britishness.

Which is just plain strange. I am British, born and raised, but being British is only a small part of my identity. I just don’t see the point of trying to expand/ restore the prominence of this identity it once had. The identities of the people of Britain are many, varied and complex, so it isn’t clear exactly what this Britishness we are perhaps supposed to support is.

Many associate Britishness with the British Empire period. The period of history where Britain went around trying to control as much of the world as possible, mainly to create markets for British goods and services, to provide ever increasing wealth for the elite. Some good but a lot of harm was produced though this imperialist period. It is now history and is not going to be replicated anytime soon  and it isn’t anything to feel particularly proud of anyway.

Is it the sense of unity, of a united nation of the British people that had suffered together and won after the UK was dragged reluctantly into the two world wars of the last century. Ever since 1945, the forces unifying the country have been in decline. I can quite understand people wishing to restore the sense of a country working together in common cause again. However, it is difficult to see what exactly this common purpose would be. Politically the UK is a very divided society, it is just very hard indeed to imagine unity for common positive purpose.

Or is it just to be British and increase the common bonds between the peoples of these isles? What I have noticed as I have grown up in Britain is that so many of the common cultural ties have been steadily eroded. Partly this was the result of Thatcherite government and the whole concept of ‘there is no such thing as society’; if there is no society that what is being British and supportive of the state? Bizarrely it has seemed as though it has been the Conservatives who most want to restore this sense of Britishness, yet their party has been the one that has allowed this force to decline, through a promotion of market fundamentalism and corporate power running riot over local needs. This is what makes the Brexit debate so very strange to me.

It is only really possible to truly understand your cultural identity when you go away from home, to experience other cultures, where you begin to appreciate some of the peculiarities of your native culture. you discover exactly what are the common bonds between the British.

One of the first things I noticed was that I was more Welsh than British, that I come from a community that cares more about preserving traditions and culture than a typical British person. I am from a genuinely conservative culture. Yet it is meeting other Britons abroad that is the real eye-opener. You realise that you share a hiraeth, a homesickness and start yearning for some quintessentially British things. These British things are quite traditional, but in themselves are mere nostalgia, things such as tackily British brands of sweets and chocolate, ale, proper cider, tea, greasy curries, cake and other foods. Then while seeking these things with a fellow Briton abroad, you end up discussing the children’s television programmes of our youth. Yet apart from childhood comfort food and comfort television, what else is there, that is British?

As an adult, there doesn’t seem to be as much that is shared in common. Delving deeper, I begin a hiraeth for Welsh culture when away from Wales, and I can only share that with Welsh people and it connects me with my roots. I wonder if the millennial generation, who are much more fervently against Brexit than my generation is, perhaps have an even weaker sense of Britishness than my generation of Generation X has.

Arguably children’s television has become more international, less focused on British cultures. Whilst there may be a shared nostalgia, there is little specifically of British culture in it. I grew up with such programmes as the Trumptonshire series and Bagpuss, which took their cultural references from Britain and a culture that was in itself nostalgic, of a culture under attack from government policy, (after all Half Man Half Biscuit wrote a punk song about it, the ‘Trumpton Riots’ !). Yet such programmes gave a snapshot into the essence of the country, albeit a middle class one as if you help children learn about their culture. This seems much less in today’s children’s television, no sense of what Britishness is espoused.

Sweets have changed too, there seem to be fewer uniquely British varieties of sweets available. So, really what common British culture do the millennial generation have? Perhaps it is because everything has to have appeal to international markets, that exposition of the native culture is over-ridden. There just seems s little left of a common British culture.

I have always believed that it is important to understand and support your own culture. In Wales we have this preserving tradition bug with our language, our music. Yet I also feel an urge to experience other cultures, to listen to other musics. I prefer folk music to the more sanitised global music brands. Today, I was listening to the wonderful Canadian folk song ‘Blackfly’ this led to an exploration of other Canadian folk songs, which was wonderful, I get the songs despite not having been lucky enough to visit Canada. I believe that to appreciate other cultures you also need to understand and appreciate your own culture too [I discovered this guy, from my area of my country at the weekend, I just get his songs so much]. I suppose I grew up being taught both the value of preserving traditions whilst being open to other cultures and new ideas.

In appreciating literature something similar happens. You learn to read, usually with stories about your own culture and then open up with experience to the huge breadth of international literature. I really got this with Science Fiction being my favourite genre. In Science Fiction the very basis of the genre is to speculate and imagine living in different cultures and indeed different kinds of society.

So, recently it has been strange to revert to learning to read books again in another language, Welsh. There is a literary tradition in Wales and books continue to be published in Welsh. It’s fascinating to learn to read again, but also interesting because there are so many fewer professional writers in Welsh compared to English! There is no Welsh language Science Fiction for me to read. So I read books in genres I wouldn’t normally read in English, which is exposing me to new ideas on literature, which is fascinating and helps me appreciate literature in English more too.

I seem to be the anti-thesis of the Brexiteer, the person arguing for more of a British identity. I think cherishing native culture is important and being open to understanding and supporting other cultures, other traditions too. The Brexiteers seem to be a group that value a single narrow definition of Britishness, be against any other culture and want people to conform to their narrow view, including native British cultures. I don’t really get it, it just doesn’t seem British to me.

 

Binary School

Some people get the whole being smart and wearing a shirt and a tie thing and some people don’t. I am one of those who don’t. The best answer I was ever given was that on relevant occasions you should wear a collar and tie for the people who do get it and think it’s important and these people were family, so I learnt the times when it was expected, when you had to.

The other night I was listening to a radio discussion about the old chestnut of school uniforms. What was interesting was that instead of an advocate of no school uniform against  an advocate of school uniform, one of the protagonists argued for a balanced position, the other for strict uniform.

There is very much a middle position on this, a sensible compromise, so i was very much on the side of the gentlemen who argued for the  middle way. The most practical argument for school uniform is that it is cheap for parents to kit out their children in a school uniform. However there are educational arguments too. On the one hand it teaches that there are occasions when you represent an organisation other than yourself that you are required to dress in a particular way. On the other hand it helps children develop style, by which the child can make decisions on how to wear the uniform, which usually involves some rakish way of wearing the tie.

The gentlemen arguing for strict school uniform argued for no adornment, no jewelry, which seems overly harsh. When I was at school you were allowed one earring per ear, one neck adornment and one bracelet per wrist. Many children at my school wanted to wear more than this, but that there was a compromise, enabled compromise. It allows experimentation with style without the onus to take things to an extreme position.

I very rarely wear a suit, but I do see men who do wear suits stylishly. These gentlemen have a tendency to be Italian, it is indeed rare for me to see people in this country pull off a suit well, yet people seem to persist. I always imagined that this suit wearing thing was just old-fashioned and by the time my generation had grown up, the practice would have fallen by the wayside, but it hasn’t. Enough people still expect people to dress a certain way. Really it takes some effort to get away from these stereotypes. For example I have a bright yellow high-vis coat. Whenever I wear it, I can almost disappear in a crowd, I become unnoticed, I’m assumed to be working. rather than being myself.

Yet there continues to be a dark side to all of this. Particularly women for whom the rules are so much more complex, especially if they are in a public facing role. There have been cases of women being asked to go out and buy high heels for roles that involve traipsing up and down stairs. I have been in a situation where a female host was escorting me in high heels, which is daft and I just felt really uncomfortable.

I get the idea that when you are working you are not supposed to be stylish or express yourself. You are there to be the organisation you are working with, so you wear the uniform to blend into the background, so your personality doesn’t distract from what you are doing. However does this really have any meaning in most modern organisations, as surely we are usually trying to attract peoples interest, to be novel rather than bland?

The middle way is interesting, as those with a developed sense of style seem to have a lot of fun, like children with school uniform of doing just enough to blend in and just enough to stand out. These are the skills that a moderate school uniform helps develop. I at least get school uniform now. I am coming around to the idea that style in clothing and fashion in general is about this finding a reaction to recent past styles, to conform to where things are whilst expressing a difference in a new direction. After all being able to express yourself is important for your own well-being. The difficulty with style is that there are those few who are naturally really thoughtful about it and have a well developed sense of style , whilst people like me blunder around shops wondering how on earth to replace my tatty old garments. You have to wear clothes, it’s too cold most of the time, so having some sort of style is unavoidable and people will make judgements about how you look. So, it is really important that as a society we do what we can to help young people explore this and school uniform does seem the best way of doing it.

Privileged Ignorance & Harrassment

I am a privileged white male. As such I haven’t ever really suffered from discrimination or harassment. I have never been racially abused or been sexually discriminated against. I have on occasion suffered a little homophobia from men who presumed I was gay.

Yet, in spite of this privilege, I have suffered from anxiety. I have been hyper-sensitive to discrimination that never really came my way, it was all in my own head. Having overcome this anxiety I ran into a new problem, that people were still behaving peculiarly around me, notably women and something seemed to be triggering it. This issue vexed me greatly and had me going around in circles trying to work it out for years, wondering if I had overcome anxiety after all.

I eventually worked out that the reason for the shift in the behaviour by these women, was that they had decided that I was seeking a relationship with them. The thing is, i wasn’t seeking a relationship, well no more than I do with everyone. I mean I wasn’t trying to force a closer or indeed a sexual relationship. Yet once they had ‘decided’ this, their behaviour towards me changed completely. In itself this isn’t a problem, the problem was that it bugged me for not knowing why the behaviour had changed and made me anxious again.

However, most of us are attracted to other people and it is a ego boost, a positive thing when we discover that other people are attracted to us. However the reaction to me seemed something much stronger, much darker and more sinister.

The answer dawned on me one evening in London. I was following a man and a woman down the street, they seemed to be having an argument. This seemed quite a normal occurrence until the man stopped and walked the other way, he seemed almost instantly calm as if he didn’t know the woman. It then dawned on me that perhaps he didn’t know this women, who was striding purposefully on, looking straight ahead, you would at least think about looking around to a friend or partner who had left an argument. I then realised that he may have been simply harassing her, or giving unwanted attention to this woman and quite possibly sexual harrassment.

This may well have been an everyday incident on a city street. However it was new to me and I began wondering how much abuse has been taking place in front of my eyes, yet somehow I had been blissfully ignorant of it.

If you are lucky never to have really been abused, you do not know what it is like, or what it looks like. If you live within a privileged bubble, such events are not on your radar. Being a reasonably educated person, I tend to socialise with other educated people, so this world of discrimination and abuse must happen elsewhere outside this bubble. So safely enconsed in this privileged bubble we don’t even notice such abuses when they may be right in front of us.

The thing is, I’ve been an anxious person and am highly sensitive, why hadn’t I noticed all this going on before. If I hadn’t noticed it, then surely it must be even harder to spot for more conventional white males whom are more central in the white male privilege bubble.

This revelation opened up this horrid tawdry world of abuse that exists everywhere. In particular, it made me realise the shit that women have to put up with, probably on an almost daily basis. If you are regularly harassed you are going to develop strategies to protect yourself.

Hence, I had stumbled upon the reason why these women were behaving strangely towards me. They were detecting cues and clues for potentially abusive behaviour from me and raised their guard. This was such an amazing relief for me to uncover, there wasn’t anything wrong with me, I really didn’t need to be anxious! There was no reason, or anything about me as a person that was being  guarded against, but simply a manifestation of how awfully too many of my ‘fellow’ white males behave.

The great thing about this, is I can now detect it. So, when I start seeing a lady being uncomfortable with me, I am able to recognise it and back off and fortunately this doesn’t mean  I end up in uncomfortable situations anymore or lose friendships because of it anymore. I am aware of my own privilege, though I view it as a curse, it has clouded from me truths about the world. I am always welcoming people who are not members of this odd group of people called ‘white males’ into my circles and am always amazed now by how happy  people are to accept white males into their circles despite the potential increased risk of abuse.

Football, People and Nationalism

Yesterday was a wonderful day to be Welsh. The national rugby team played well against the All Blacks, though lost in the final twenty minutes when the Kiwis turned things up a gear. Then Wales played our first match in the finals of an international football competition since 1958 and won a thrilling game of football, 2-1 against Slovakia. The Welsh fans sang a rendition of Calon Lan (A pure heart), which brought tears to my eyes. Reports came through of the fans singing and socialising with Slovakian and French fans in Bordeaux. Everything seemed so positive.

However, all this was in a context of the bad side of nationalism, the EU referendum debate and violence surrounding the football match between England and Russia. There seems to be a lack of understanding of what a positive nationalism or patriotism is.

A positive nationalism is an understanding of who you are as an individual and of the culture you grew up in, an identity within which to find a place to root yourself, a comradeship with people you share something in common with, people who you can let your hair down with, forget your own troubles and celebrate life together. As human beings we all have so much in common, yet we are all different. so it is good to share what we have in common and respect where we have different ideas. It is always interesting to explore different ideas, to delve into exactly what the fundamental difference is, but respect that difference.

I am a proud Welshman, first and foremost, i have a common feeling with the people and environment of Wales. Nonetheless I am also proud of people everywhere, struggling to make the world a better place to live. I am British, I have friends from England, Scotland and Ireland and appreciate how a wider British culture influences who I am. Furthermore I have particular feelings for the people of countries I have visited, part of their culture has also entered my life. I have nothing against countries I don’t know, they are simply places I have yet to visit, those cultures haven’t entered my life. It is possible to share and celebrate life with people from every culture all over the world, it just means a little bit more when you with people from the same home as you.

I believe that nationalism goes wrong when it is used as a negative force, particularly when it is used to back a political argument.

In the EU referendum there is a valid theoretical argument for leaving the EU. The problem is with the official leave campaign. I went to a panel debate about the EU referendum this week, what frightened me was that it clearly stood out that many advocates of the leave argument harbour a bigotry to immigrants, underneath and underpinning the argument is a bigotry towards people who are not local. It’s crazy as we are all immigrants, the number of people who have families that have lived in the same town for hundreds of years is tiny and so what. Even for those people, some of their ancestors will have come from further afield. I really don’t understand how people can allow hatred to influence their judgement, to appeal to negative perceptions of immigration, effectively to stoke racism to garner support. The UK has it’s problems but the cause isn’t immigration.

I am a football fan, it’s a wonderful game and the camaraderie between fans is a wonderful experience. So what is the difference between supporters of Wales and supporters of England. Perhaps the only real difference is size.

There are some deranged people who like to get drunk and pick fights with people. Football hooliganism is a problem because it allows these people to come together and find another lot of similarly deranged people to fight with. These have always been a minority of people associated with football. However with insularity and a herd mentality encourages people to get drawn into the provocation.

As a Welshman and Manchester City supporter and someone who has travelled around the world, there have been many occasions when I’ve gone to a bar to watch a match and been the only or one of a handful of fellow supporters. So, I have learned to be aware of being a minority and find ways of sharing love of football with people who support the other team. It is always special to be back in Wales, to really let go and be completely passionate about Wales. we even have a word for this ‘hiraeth’ (a kind of longing for home) .I love travelling, but there is no warmer feeling when you cross over the bridge back home to Wales.

However there are people from larger countries, such as England and Russia, where there is always enough fellow supporters to never be a minority, which gives people a wall to hide behind and why build walls, it allows national feeling to be closed, rather than open to other people and cultures. It is not good to always be in a majority or always in a minority, it can distort your thoughts, to separate someone from the self, to take on ideas from the collective without the opportunity to think them through properly.

What I don’t quite get about this misunderstanding of patriotism leading to a negative nationalism is that it seems to equate from an identification with states, rather than people. This leads then leads to a hatred of people in favour of support of a state, it seems so paradoxical. I don’t like the government and don’t feel a real connection with the UK state as such, I feel a connection instead to the people. I also dislike other states which seem to be making the world a worse place. For example, I take issues with the Russian state for invading another country (Ukraine)  it just seems bizarre in the connected twenty first century world for such military action to take place. However I realise that the Russian people are not the Russian state, i bear no ill will towards the Russian people. We all should try to influence our own states to be better, but as individuals we only have a very small influence, removing the current UK regime has long been a problem. No individual can be blamed for the actions of their state (well unless they happen to be it’s leader). Some  politicians will sometimes try to appeal to this perverted nationalism of support for the state, rather than our fellow man, this is wrong and plain weird.

Anyway the UK EU referendum has left everyone confused, myself included. I know many people who have switched from one side to other several times, there is no clear answer. If the polls are accurate, the UK as a whole is split 50:50. I hear a commentator say yesterday that due to the ever shifting sands of public opinion, the result may well be arbitrary. The difficulty with an arbitrary decisions based on peoples feelings on the day, is that the result could well be influenced by peoples national feeling as a result of what happens in the European football championship. Wales will play our friends and neighbours, England on Thursday, one week before the vote it will be a passionate affair, though hopefully will not influence the European Union question.

 

 

Curing Masculinism

You do occasional here about so called ‘masculinism’ these days as a ‘response’ to feminism, from people who don’t appear to understand feminism in the slightest. As a male myself, collectively men seem so far behind women in getting over trying to be something expected of us by our birth gender role. Both men and women are swamped by images of how what our gender should dress like, behave, enjoy etc. and if you don’t quite fit within this definition or at least play along with it, tough, you’re an outcast. Not only is this limiting and destructive, it is so boring and limiting. For example the idea that I grew up with that ‘Boys don’t cry’, beautifully parodied by my favourite band ‘The Cure’. It took me years before I regained the ability to cry when I was upset. How is it great and ‘manly’ to not feel sad about sad things because we are ‘tough’ that we are don’t want to be affected by anything or have to actually deal with it. So many men, never get over this restriction.

Children very quickly pick up these gender stereotypes and very quickly conform to them. There is evidence to suggest that this conformity is the child demonstrating that they have understood. Society does indeed seem to encourage the development of ‘masculine’ traits for boys and ‘feminine’ ones for girls. However in Western culture particularly we have started to question these gender roles. Really, back in ‘cavemen’ times [or should it be cavepeople? oh wait they didn’t actually live in caves (sic)] it helped society together than the generally larger stronger sex went out hunting. However in an increasingly urban world, there is no need to encourage hunting skills, so why does society have this tendency to stick with these traditions?

Then there is a form of sexism that some men have of expecting women to behave in a ‘feminine’ way, which I don’t get at all. The logic seems to be well I have chosen to conform to a definition of masculinity, so I expect everyone else to conform this way too, even the other gender.Or is it more than this, there is this idea to teach people to conform as the idea as doing this will make your life easier, you will fit in and not stand out. However, it seems that these days success is achieved by the people who do stand out, who do take a different direction.

Often other men ask me “But don’t you like women wearing pretty dresses?” because what I find attractive in women, doesn’t fit the algorithm for how it seems most mean assess or a woman’s attractiveness.

Well I do like women wearing pretty dresses, wearing make up and having done something with their hair, but, only if I have seen them wearing normal clothes first. I like to see the change, the difference. Because most of the time the most attractive thing to me a lady can wear is jeans and a woolly jumper.

As a biologist I have spent some time working in jungles. Working in a jungle is hot and damp and in order to protect the ecosystem we don’t wash clothes in ‘modern’ detergents and th eonly way of gettign them dry is for them to get very smoky drying by a fire. So our clothes are always stained, and holey (from brushing past spiky plants regularly). This did not prevent me from finding some of my female companions attractive. When the project was over and everyone returns to a city, there is often a final social get together in a restaurant before everyone goes home. There is an opportunity to wash properly, wear clean clothes and often the women put on make-up. For me these are special times, to be able to see women I’ve been working for for several weeks in a completely new light. They are not more attractive than they were before, it’s just nice to see them having done something with their appearance. However I gather from other men that they suddenly notice how attractive these women are, I don’t get this at all.

I visited Germany last year. In a sense it was wonderful as the women in Germany dress normally (dress down?) most of the time and usually only have a few dresses for dressing up once in a while. I did indeed think that this was a place I would like to live, a society where my preferences were less different. Having said that a guy shoulder charged me for wearing a floral shirt, anyway German men dress appallingly, stripes everywhere) However some people complain that such Northern European women are somehow ‘less feminine’. They are just as feminine as women anywhere else, what perhaps they mean is that such women do not conform to some traditional view of femininity as in other places.

There are some obvious avenues to explore to explain this. Firstly Northern Europe is densely populated and industrialised a long time ago, so there is a bigger gap to a world where hunting was possible, the culture has had time to develop in new post-industrial ways. Secondly there is language. I’m been learning Welsh recently. Welsh like many other Indo-European languages assigns nouns a gender, masculine and feminine. So the language itself encourages speakers to view things in a gendered way. It is interesting that each language assigns these slightly differently, but there is a broadish conformity with traditional ideas of gender. However, in the Germanic languages of English and I believe the Scandinavian languages, this focus on gender has been lost or is rapidly disappearing. For example we now use ‘they’ for a person of unknown gender, or when the gender is not important (even in Welsh nowadays), whereas in Spanish, such a ‘they’ is masculine, unless the group only consists of females (‘ninos’ (male or mixed group of children) and ‘ninas’ (female only group of children).

How gender is dealt with is hugely complicated. We still live in a world where there are gender expectations. If for whatever reason you don’t fit the traditional roles, you have to find a way to deal with the stereotyping. Personally I have got myself into difficulties with women  who have misinterpreted my attention as seeking a relationship with them. I don’t know whether it is always a mistake to let women know that you find them attractive and then quickly ascertain that they are not interested in exploring a relationship with myself or not. However I often find that some women continue to believe I am seeking a relationship when continuing a non-sexual relationship. It is difficult, because I now see how much negative attention women get from men that is pursuing a relationship. It’s kind of like I had to come to terms with being different and to not be concerned that I was being treated in a seemingly strange way.

I think my conclusion that a traditional model of what masculinity and femininity is not wrong, or something that needs to be cured or got over, however not thinking about it at all can have negative consequences. If you happen to fit in, that is a wonderful gift, yet it is still worth understanding how much of that is really you, how much you are happy to conform and find out where you are different. What I would suggest though is that we do all need to discover who we are for ourselves and not blindly adopt roles. Even if you are an outsider, to function socially you require an understanding of the way the majority behave; which is perhaps why children learn gender roles at a young age. Essentially what I am saying that understanding is good and that we need to understand ourselves better and also find what grounds us, what roots us to ourselves and our communities, to realise that everyone else may be on such a journey too.  We should not criticise others for their choices in how they ground themselves, but we should be wary when others try and pressure people to behave to conform.

 

 

Coming Out

One of the main problems with being anxious is a fear of being misunderstood. This fear can be so pervasive that it prevents the anxious person from being themselves expressing how they really feel. so, the anxious person will hide their true feelings, act in a way removed from their real lives. The anxious person has created a wall between the world and themselves. The anxious are sensitive people who don’t like to cause upset to others.

Progress in overcoming anxiety is often hampered by genuine misunderstanding. Often the anxious person is different, is unconventional, so people may not understand them. This is often why being a social outsider is challenging because socially there isn’t often the time or opportunity to make it clear where you are coming from, what the back story behind how you are acting or what you are expressing stems from. Really, convention does hold everyone back, it stops people listening and humans often seem to be hard-wired to leap to a quick conclusion. Thus outsiders are generally at a social disadvantage, unless communicating with fellow outsiders, leading them into sub cultures of fellow outsiders.

Regardless of whether someone is an outsider or not, anxiety itself causes exactly the same problems,  the fear of being misunderstood holds the person back and they send out unclear unconventional signals.

When I was an anxious person, all I wanted to do was be myself, do what I wanted to do and express how I really felt. Essentially, the anxious person wants to ‘come out’ to make a statement to the world:

“I am going to be myself, express how I really feel, do what I want to do. I know that sometimes some of you will misunderstand me, I’m happy to explain, but the fact that you misunderstand me is actually your problem, it’s not mine anymore.”

Having taken this step, it is a very liberating step and there is a sense of release and for a while, you can be too open, seem over-excited by little things, because of this it seems that there is a greater misunderstanding of you. So, there is a temptation to ‘crawl back into your shell’. however it is important to push on, such a person is new at being themselves publicly, they are new to a whole different way of socialising, it takes practice to re-develop social skills in a new way, to learn when it is appropriate to talk about themselves and to learn when it isn’t necessary or important.