A Question Of Nationality
Much has been said recently about national and regional identity. This issue is topical in the UK and elsewhere. So concerned have many people become that experts decided to solicit an independent opinion. Few will be surprised that they chose that intellectual giant Sir Bertram Utterside to offer it. Never one to pull his punches, the one-man think-tank tackled this matter in his familiar forthright way. His views are given below. Editor matter issue
When this task was handed to me, I was told that it was widely thought of as a Herculean one. Perhaps most people would have found it so but I have not. Indeed, I hardly needed to move from my study to reach an irrefutable conclusion. Still, I picked up a nice little earner here and we all have to eat.
A short while ago some fellow said to me that he was a Londoner, born and bred, and proud of it. I asked him why the pride and he seemed to be puzzled. I pointed out that he is a resident of our capital city as a result of his birth and I saw no reason why he should give himself airs on that ground.
I am a Yorkshireman but am neither proud nor ashamed of this. It is simply a fact. I am also an Englishman, to which the same comment applies, as it does to my being a European. Above all, I am citizen of the world, and I fail to see why I should have any particular emotion about that.
There is no contradiction concerned with being, say, a Glaswegian, who is a Scot, a Briton, a European and a dweller on the Earth, nor is there any reason for pride or shame in that identity. It simply happens to some people. Why should we take upon ourselves any aura attributable to where our forebears lived or what they did or did not do?
It is as well for us to remember that great minds have cropped up at random all over the world for many millennia. Why should I be proud because Isaac Newton was an Englishman? I had nothing to do with his achievements. And why should a friend of mine who is a native of Leipzig be proud because Newton’s contemporary Leibnitz came from that city, or another acquaintance in France rejoice in the fact that, say, Voltaire shared his nationality? Nonsense.
If there had been any human beings on the Earth many millions of years ago, they would at a certain point have been either Laurasians or Gondwanalanders, since there were only two continents and no countries. At another time, had humans been around, they would all have been Pangaeans, as there was just one great land mass.
Further tectonic shifts and continental drifting will make nonsense of the national borders we recognise at present. This comment leads me to an amusing thought. I have a Canadian colleague and am having a vision of him starting to read ‘War and Peace’ in Vancouver and finishing it in Vladivostok, without having moved from his chair. No doubt one could regard that as the ultimate in armchair travel. Just my little joke.
It is increasingly obvious that many people are reaching across the boundaries of nation states because they have more in common with those of like mind in other countries than they have with most of their own compatriots. In that respect, the English language has been as much a blessing to contemporary communicators as Latin once was to the most highly educated people in Europe and some other parts of the world. I am not suggesting that English is superior to other advanced languages. As a polyglot, I believe I may assert confidently that it isn’t. Despite its numerous absurdities, it has prevailed because of a mixture of geographical, economic and general cultural factors. Any other major modern tongue would serve us well enough.
If we are ever to have any peace in human society, nationalism is one of the three things we shall need to discard. Another is organised religion, which I would say has not much to do with genuine faith or belief and never did have, except perhaps in a tangential way at times. I am aware that this remark will upset some people. My response to anyone who finds it offensive is that I am not in the habit of offering anodyne comments when addressing potentially controversial subjects. I do not advocate banning religion because I am no great friend of proscription in general. In saying this, I am mindful of Ronald Reagan’s remark that one cannot roll tanks over an idea. However, I predict that religious indoctrination will wither away as people increasingly take responsibility for conducting their lives, instead of allowing preachers of whatever ilk to tell them how to behave.
The third thing we must abandon is too obvious to need much comment from me. It is the aggressive and confrontational mindset that has dominated virtually all of our recorded history. I will note merely that it is bad enough that we have to contend with what nature throws at us. We surely do not need to augment our troubles by slaughtering each other. I realise that it will take quite a while for the less evolved among us to grasp this point, so my advice is that they should start trying to do so now.
Returning to the main point of this report, national identity, I say do not be either happy or sad that you appeared in a particular part of the world at the time you did. After all, you might have been here in an earlier incarnation and may come again in another. If so, who knows what or where you were, or could be? Take me for example. It is quite possible that in contrast to my current eminence, I was in some previous existence a humble hod-carrier on life’s great building site.
This supposedly problematical issue is in fact very simple and I have no further observations to make about it.
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