Saturday, 2 June 2012

Why I don't want my children to celebrate the Jubilee

So the Jubilee weekend has arrived, and I find myself suffering a little from self doubt.  While this is not remotely unusual even at the best of times, the source of this particular doubt is based on whether I should be allowing my children to be waving Union flags and celebrating the seemingly interminable length of this nations monarchy.  I have some dim and hazy memories of the last Jubilee celebrations.  I remember photos of street parties, and the little plastic Union flag that I had in my bedroom for so many years, and which seemed to me to be a symbol of innocent celebration, of communities coming together, of watery squash and sugary cakes.

What kind of heartless wretch would deny his own children such memories?

Well, let me explain.

As the years have gone by, I have become increasingly opposed to the British monarchy.  This is not because I have have something against any of the members of the monarchy - I have no reason to think that they are anything other than decent ordinary people.  But this is really the problem.  I have no basis on which to think anything about them at all.  They simply exist, and cost a lot of money to exist.  Proponents of the monarchy argue that they stand for something - but then I have something of a problem with this as well.  What, exactly, do they stand for?  Centuries of ruthless colonialism and empire-building?  Systematic oppression of the poor in order to support the egotistical in-fighting of the aristocracy?

Of course, it is possible to make a case that during the World War's in the first half of the twentieth century, the British monarchy became a rallying point for a nation that had it's very freedoms and values threatened, and that from this point the monarchy came to stand for those values.

I can understand (even if I do not necessarily go along with) this point.  The trouble is that the values of that time, which were associated with the idea of 'Britain', and which seemed to be so good and worthy, were born into that specific moment.  They were values essentially defensive in nature, and easy to find essentially 'good' because Hitler was doing such a very good job of being the 'bad' guy.  But surely we cannot simply ignore that for centuries before this moment the British monarchy has stood for values which were nothing like as noble?  And surely we cannot simply ignore the fact that the defensiveness of a WW2 mentality born out of direct physical threats, has been so effectively appropriated by fascist bigotry and right-wing nationalism?

The Jubilee celebrations bother me because they seem to assume an attitude as though we have just won another WW2, and as though we can ignore all of the history that came before and after that one moment.  As though we can all forget for a moment how much more complex the world is than it appeared then.  That we can forget the complicity of Britain in the current crises that plague countries around the world, through both past military colonialism and present economic colonialism.  That we can pretend that everything is ok, and that the 'values' of Britain remain good and noble and worth celebrating.

So what are the values which 'Britain' stands for today?  Well, we now stand for the values of defending the rights of the oppressed in countries oil-rich enough to make a profit for us afterwards.  We stand for creating wars that decimate nations in order that our leaders might make some political points out of it.  We stand behind the World's school-yard bully, cheering while it pummels the living daylights out of nations that 'looked at it funny'.  We stand for imposing economic penalties on poor countries that try to help their own farmers, while we happily subsidise our own to create a surplus that is then sold back to those poor countries and which keeps them in economic dependence.  We stand for a political structure in which the nations elite make decisions solely in their own interests, while they sips whisky in the rooms of media moguls who effectively anaesthetise the masses against action with page 3 models and the X-Factor.

This history of this nation and of its monarchy, both before and after WW2, is one riddled with injustice, corruption, vanity and suffering, and surely the seemingly unambiguous morality of post WW2 celebrations should never be used to make us think otherwise?  Surely that would be to go against those very same values?

The Queen herself may not be personally complicit in all of this, but she does nothing actively to stop them.  Once a year, at Christmas, she might make an appeal to more noble values but in all other respects she is silent.  A moral vacuum.   And this is what we are all taking time off from work to celebrate?  This is what we are spending so much money on?  This is what we are effectively telling our children is something worth standing up for, even dying for?

Why can't we celebrate, instead, people in history who have stood for values that are actually relevant today?  Why can't we celebrate people who fought with every fibre of their being for something that made the world a better place, and who could inspire others to make the world a better place today?  Why are we making so much fuss about the Queen's Jubilee when in 2007 the bi-centenary of the abolition of the slave trade passed as a mere historical footnote?  Now there's a 'value' worth fighting for, and if we were to spend as much time celebrating that, then perhaps people like Equiano and Wilberforce would inspire a new generation to tackle the problems of slavery in the world today.

Ok, so here's the point.  I have nothing at all against celebration, against communities coming together, or watery squash and sugary cakes.  Yes, there is a degree to which I would agree that the simple fact of bringing communities together can be an inherent good.  But why-oh-why can't we find something more valuable, something more constructive, something more positive to celebrate?  And why must I suffer my own children to hear people talking about 'what makes Britain so great', or 'the values of this great nation' - as though an uncritical blindness to everything else is somehow a good thing, and as though my own children's very lives would be worth giving up to defend it.