The Book!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Perfidious Albion



Heading to the UK in a few days. Thinking about it, reading about it, I am aware of an overall sense of darkness. Why? Why does the UK, why has the UK always, frankly, given me the creeps?


It is the sense that there is no religion there, no spirit. The UK is the exaltation of the material and social above the spiritual. It is a nation without a soul.

I grew up strongly under the influence of British culture—in a Canada still conscious of Commonwealth, if not Empire. When I studied English Literature in college, they took the “English” part seriously. There were no Canadian authors on the curriculum, much less American.

Granted, I was also conscious myself of being Irish, not English; I was raised as a Catholic. And I was in some contact with an alternative culture in French Canada. That may have caused me troubles with the wider culture I would not otherwise have had—I doubt it—or it may have been my salvation.

It all begins with the separation from Rome under Henry VIII. This established the basic, blasphemous principle that the civil authority was supreme over the spiritual, and spiritual matters were under the state. This continues to this day: the Queen is still head of the English church, and its bishops sit in the House of Lords.

The situation in Catholic countries, even with an established church, is different: here instead the civil is at least nominally subservient to the spiritual--the reverse situation--because the supreme religious authority is beyond the mountains, in Rome, beyond the reach or control of the civil government.

In the mess of English literature, I could see for myself that Shakespeare was sound. Shakespeare, after all, was still culturally Catholic. But after him, if you strip English literature of all the Catholic and the Celtic (i.e., non-English) writers, there is practically nothing left. And English music and visual arts? There was practically nothing in the first place, until quite recently, and that recently thanks to Irish immigration. Art is not religion, but it is another expression of the spirit. The two are normally, and should be, working together. Both seek the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

There are many other consequences here, beyond the alienation of the arts from the rest of society. One is the resistance to intermarriage. The Portuguese, Spanish, or French, when they sailed about the world and built their empires, always intermarried with the inhabitants, tried to convert them, and, if converted, accepted them as equals. The English saw intermarriage as a sin and a crime—misogyny. Why? Because their religion was largely based on nationality; non-English were, essentially, profane, by their nature. Hence there was also no similar attempt by the English to convert. They either killed the inhabitants, or ruled and remained separate from them. The good news was, this made it easy for them to pull out of their empire when the time came.

Because they made the material and social world the foundation of their religious faith, the English rather naturally became very good at social and material things. They became the world authorities on how to organize governments, how to organize voluntary associations, how to organize corporations, markets, shops, economies; how to make money; how to borrow and lend, how to insure; how to engineer, for either military or civil purposes. The whole science and technology thing, on top of the whole government and economics thing. The rest of us have benefitted from their expertise in these areas, and ought to continue to respectfully learn from them. But their expertise here is based on the simple principle that one devotes the best of one’s efforts to whatever one holds to be most important. In the English case, the physical and the social world, not God or the spirit.

This is still all a reversal of values, so that it ultimately leads us in the wrong direction.

The peculiar English love for social ritual and convention also comes from their veneration of the social—ritual of this kind is normally a part of one’s religion.

The unwarranted emphasis on the material and social has been inherited by the Americans. I recently finished listening to Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street as an audio book. I think the reversal of the spiritual and the profane is the heart of the conflict in that book, between typical American social values, on the one hand, and a young woman who is naturally spiritual without, sadly, being able to associate this spirituality with religion. In Sinclair Lewis’s book, she finds no way out.

Her Lost Generation, when they could, found their escape in Paris. The nearest port beyond the Anglo-Protestant cultural sphere.

I think exactly the same problem, and the same spiritual conflict, produced all the tumult of the Sixties. Young people were aware there was something missing, that the world around them had things upside down, lacked spirit, without being able to see any solution. Instead, born and bred materialists and communitarians that they were, they mistook drugs for imagination, sex for emotion, and politics for religion. They never got past the bars of the cage, saving perhaps the Jesus freaks and the Hare Krishnas.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Silly Brits

Unfortunately, my current landlord has supplied me with a cable TV service that features only one English-language channel: BBC News. And it’s beginning to get annoying.


I don’t mean the BBC’s celebrated left-wing bias, or the odd fact that one rarely sees an Englishman on the BBC. I mean an overall lack of standards. Maybe I’m a na├»ve colonial, but I had always associated the BBC with a certain rigour—fact-checking, precision of pronunciation, and so forth.

And I’d especially expect them to get it right when the story is about Canada. After all, they used to run the place.

But no, BBC, “God Save the Queen,” when played in Canada in the presence of the Queen or her heirs, is not “the British national anthem.” It is the Canadian royal anthem. No, the Vancouver hockey team that so recently and so slenderly lost the Stanly Cup playoffs is not the CANucks; this is the standard nickname for Canadians, fercrissakes. The capital of Manitoba, once the third-largest city in the Dominion, and featuring frequently in your weather reports as the target of an impending cold front, is not “Winny-peg.” And the stress in “Newfoundland” is not on the second syllable.

Makes you wonder what else they get wrong, elsewhere. And these guys recently ran a quarter of the world?

Okay, the veneer of sophistication is now off. So while I’m, at it, let me also advise you pommies right here and now that “Fiona” is not an appropriate name for a human. Neither is “Penelope” or “Rebecca.” Anything more than two syllables is putting on airs, and nobody will like you for it. Proper people names are “Gordon,” Howie,” “Donna,” or “Anne.”

There’s more, while I’m at it. Ditch that pommy accent. Everyone thinks it’s gay.

Words end or don’t end in “r” for a reason.

Everyone knows you won the Second World War. Time to move on.

Those James Bond films aren’t fooling anyone. We know you’re not still secretly running the world.

And you had to hire Scots and Irish to play the part. The English are not suave. Two words: Mr. Bean.

And must you always say "thank you very much indeed"? When you always say it, it only comes across as insincere. A simple "thank you" will do.

Where are we? Your women are ugly, your food is inedible, and your weather is awful. No wonder you left to conquer the world. What choice did you have? I would have left too.

Winny-peg indeed.
 
Seriously, though, just kidding, guys. I really want to give all you Brits a big hug.
 
Only trouble is, if I did, you'd probably have a heart attack from the unfamiliar human contact.