When setting the theme for this month I had been struck by the constant stream of bad news from pundits, forecasters and economists. My intention had been to write a piece about how the language we use in times of crisis actually causes the problems rather than explaining them. However a quick look at the newspapers at the weekend alerted me to the fact that this year will not only be one of economic decline but one of rampant jingoism.
To explain I’ll start with a question. Why am I expected to shout for Andy Murray simply because he is Scottish?
Last week I found myself listening to Andy Murray playing tennis against Novak Djokovic. I don’t know either of these men personally and I’m not especially fond of tennis but was alerted to this particular game by the twitter frenzy that accompanied the match. I don’t think that many of my fellow twitterers knew either protagonist and I don’t see them tweeting about tennis at any other time than when Andy Murray is on the court.
The cause of the hysteria is that he is Scottish. Since I live in Scotland I was expected to join in. Truth be told, from what I have seen of Andy Murray on the television, he seems like a thoroughly objectionable young man; always screaming and grimacing on court and having apparently been subjected to a complete personality bi-pass off it. On the other hand Novak Djokovic is always charming and entertaining when interviewed. On balance, therefore, if I were inclined to cheer on either of these two strangers, I would lend my support to Mr. Djokovic.
This reasoned argument counts for nothing in the face of patriotism: defined as love of one’s country, identification with it, and special concern for its well-being and that of its people.
My dislike of patriotism is likely to be challenged repeatedly this year. Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne. The year will be full of invitations to glory at this relic of empire. I wish this 85 year old woman no harm, but neither do I wish her to reign over me or celebrate her privilege.
The Olympics will offer the greatest challenge. The media are already using 2012 as shorthand for the Olympic Games of 2012, implying that this festival of hopping, skipping and jumping is the preeminent event happening this year, and the thought of Boris draped in the Union Flag sends my blood cold. I do enjoy many of the sports that make up the Olympics so I will be watching for long stretches of time but I find the flag waving distasteful. Pierre de Coubertin didn’t intend for the Olympics to be about nationalism. Before the 1908 games, coincidentally also held in London, competitors took part as individuals and not as representatives of their countries. How much better to be able to cheer on splendid individuals from across the world rather than feeling obliged to cheer on whoever is wearing a British vest.
And my dislike of patriotism isn’t frivolous. The frequent exhortation to ‘support our troops’ serves only to mask the illegal wars that have been waged by the British Government. The individual men and women who are fighting overseas may behave well or badly, possibly both. It must be possible to question their individual or collective actions without being considered as somehow disloyal. Raising these matters is unpatriotic but the alternative, condoning illegal action simply because it was done under the flag of the country I happen to be born in is much worse.
As I sit here in the sunshine on a glorious Scottish winter sunshine I feel lucky to have been born here in Britain at this time. But that is all it is, luck. I could have been born anywhere and at anytime. There are good things and bad things happening in Britain and we should be free to expose both without prejudice. Some British people have done some wonderful things, some have done truly dreadful things and many have done terrible things in the name of Britain, its empire and it’s advancement. The glory or opprobrium should lie with the individual not with the collective.
So in the face of all of the challenges facing me this year I remain determinedly unpatriotic.