It has struck me lately that this referendum bollocks is actually a very English question, and this is something that has been exercising minds for a while. And, like it is for so many, much of our apparent ‘understanding’ is built upon myth, distortion and delusion. We English love to extol our ‘Englishness’ and included in our ‘Englishness’ is something called tolerance. And yet, unleash the racist dogs like the grinning gargoyle and the brexiters do and so many people run with it and suddenly our already benighted isle is an ugly place. Suddenly it’s been made OK to express our incipient racism; too often when I talk to others they bring up ‘immigration’ or ‘immigrants’ in one form or another. This makes me and others like Hector feel deeply unsettled.
Many years ago when I was a young teacher, teaching at Forest Hill Boys School I was duped by older, more knowing and lazier staff to do the main weekly assembly. I asked whether there was any theme, format or whatever and was told to do whatever I wanted, potentially dangerous with someone like me. So, struck by a song then in the charts by Fun Boy Three called ‘Going Home’ https://youtu.be/wPTT31z2vNc I created an assembly around the song and called it ‘Tolerance, Understanding and Respect’. I played it at the beginning and some listened but many carried on their conversations, well, I was a new young teacher and of little power and consequence. I then unfurled the title and spoke about the song and how we are easily indoctrinated to ways of thinking and behaving when within various cultures. As an example I told them I was going to do a bit of magic and get them to say a certain word I’d already written down without telling them the word. I asked all the Tottenham Hotspurs soccer team supporters to raise their hands. I then asked them what they thought of the Arsenal soccer team, as one they shouted “rubbish”. Somewhat relieved I showed the word I’d written earlier. I finished by playing the song again and this time it was listened to in silence.
Over the ensuing years it seemed that as a culture we have progressed, and although racists and racism still existed it appeared that more people were becoming aware and changing their ways. This progress has been shattered in recent weeks and my illusion of progress has been shattered too.
Much was clarified for me in an essay by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in yesterday’s Grauniad: ‘Europhobia: a very British problem’. He writes that behind much of the current ‘debate’ is the turmoil around what is our national identity. That much of our national history is based on myth and that we’ve had regular identity changing migrations, after all the name England comes the invading Angles from Germany. I particularly loved the quote from a Czech-born American scholar (see, we’re all ultimately mongrels) called Karl Deutsch with his definition of a nation:
“a group of people united by a mistaken view of the past and a hatred of their neighbours”.
He also writes of referenda playing into the hands of demagogues, hitler used 4 of them to gain power; Attlee and Thatcher knew this. Sadly so many of us are deluded by the nationalistic illusion. And bunter calls for independence day, he truly is a deluded illusion that is deluding so many.
The lunatics have taken over the asylum.