Saturday, February 23, 2008

Britishness

Like most young people I'm used to being told that "things aren't as good as they used to be" or that the world's been going to Hell in a hajib since 1968.

Usually I dismiss this as fairly run-of-the-mill middle-aged-ness but occasionally I come across a genuinely thoughtful observation of how Britain has changed. This article at The Times by Minette Marrin doesn't actually contain any but it does discuss the effect of the belief that things ain't what they used to be has on people, specifically middle class (ugh) people.

I seem to have lost my thread....

OK: here it is again.

Britishness.

The state or the government, civil service, and public bodies in general are there to do their damn job and provide services effectively using tax appropriated from workers, companies, and tariffs.

The state is certainly not there to define moral values. The legislature obviously has to bear in mind commonly held moral beliefs and ethics but it has no place in defining them.

Judicial bodies have some say in the nature of morality and what constitutes legal behaviour but judges again have to bow to commonly held beliefs about what is right and wrong when they make their decisions.

The people who define what is right and wrong are the people. Individuals have to make choices in how they behave, and as it doesn't make any sense to discuss individuals without discussing society (the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was quoted out of context on that one) then larger groups, tribes, and communities have to be brought in to chew the fat and make relative judgments on morality.

The state, in the form of the executive government, bureaucracy, legislature and judiciary have a small role to play in this process but in a democratic state should bow to the will of the majority.

So any discussion of "Britishness" is useless (i.e. this blog is useless, but I mean any serious discussion of Britishness --- actually now I come to think of it taking the piss out of the debate is probably the only thing everyone has in common when it comes to discussing Britishness, so in a way I suppose taking the piss is British...).

Forcing an ethical structure on groups of people from outside or from the higher power of the state or church is counterproductive and generates resentment and conflict.

"Shared values" are exactly that. If everyone in Britain suddenly took a liking for wanking-cherub-style water-features then we would say that Britishness was about liking wanking-cherub-style water-features.

In other words, "Britishness" and the "shared values" of the British people are defined by the British people as they are now, not by Gordon Brown or Minette Marrin or Paul Dacre or any other politician or commentator.

Of course these people are fully entitled to express their opinion as to what Britishness ought to be, and I'm fully entitled to complain about their pomposity and presumption.

'Cos it's freedom of speech, innit?

1 comment:

lelly said...

The state is certainly not there to define moral values....Forcing an ethical structure on groups of people from outside or from the higher power of the state or church is counterproductive and generates resentment and conflict

Hear hear!:D Well said TJ!
Innfact I pretty much agree with this whole post. You have summarised what has been floating vaguely round my head for some time.
Especially the stuff about generating resenment, it doesnt just happen with britishness but with racsim and sexism...

'Cos it's freedom of speech, innit?

*beams at you*