August 15, 2019

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8. Britain

Britain is a concept - it isn’t really there. You can feel its sand slip through your palms, or tread its cobbled streets. You might walks its woods or read its tomes, meet its people, drink its ale. Learn its stories and its myths, play Beatles, Kinks or Stones. Eat tea and scones, touch ancient ground, go on then - meet the Queen. But if you feel you grasp it whole, then you’ve been had, I think.

An island’s boundaries are convincing - nature’s hand is more precise than that of a cartographer. The jagged edges speak to a certain kind of oneness. But I don’t know if millions of multitudes of intertwining experience can form one unified whole.

Nations are notions that help us to bond - make us feel we’re one of the same. We speak the same tongue, share the same past - it means we are kin, you and I. These concepts lead to loud and quiet wonders like bunting and It’s Coming Home’, the Proms and Auld Lang Syne. I am something bigger than myself.

A human need - from tribes to clans to countries. But there is danger here. We assign a rigid set of values to a fluid entity of questionable status, it’s susceptible to break. We start to define ourselves in opposition rather than in solidarity - in British or English exceptionalism, rather than inclusiveness. A closed shop, not street party.

A single Britain is the fiction. There are many - some are spiteful, some extinct, others splendid softly glint. Little recognition today of those multiple truths - the pity, the joy, the horror, the pride. Fascists or traitors, leave or remain - I go to my camp, you go to yours, I’ll see you on the battleground.

What claim can we make for success of the past, what blame can we bear for its crimes? Hypocrisy to only pick one. The past is a dangerous drug. It dilates the pupils and softens the mind and becomes something quite unlike truth. Our memory is selective - we remember what we want.

I think better to focus on the future. Consider broadly what we share, what we have and what we need. Accept those subtler contrasts as symptoms of good health. Recognise true diversity as a means of evolution - to take lessons from others and offer your own in return.

Wave your flag in celebration, not anger or contempt. Be proud of all the Britains - more for what they could be, than what they were or are. Because we are the ones who can go and shape them - we don’t need to sit back and be told.

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Photo by Ethan Kent on Unsplash

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