I don’t buy into this ‘My country is better than yours’ crap.
Are we talking about the political systems? I suppose we are, because that’s what seems to be grabbing all the headlines.
Yet the countries that seem to be the subjects of this particular debate are all, on the surface, at least, democracies. So, no difference then?
It might be ‘Our country’s values’, of course, because that’s another hot one at the mo.
Hang on, though, what does that mean? People were banging on about that yesterday, but I’m more than a little uncertain whether such a basket of goodies actually exists. ‘We are against racism and misogyny!’ Sounds good to me, only that’s not true. Some of us are, certainly, but you only need to spend a reasonable amount of time in any pub on a Saturday night, to hear plenty of racist and misogynist talk. And not just pubs. In every walk of life, you can hear this talk: doctors’ waiting rooms, shops, offices, bus stops…
We’re hardly perfect.
If a country is the sum total of its citizens, then you will struggle to identify that country’s ‘values’.
Culture? Culture cuts across borders, it is not constrained by them. We read books and see films and plays that have been written and produced by artists worldwide. Frequently, we have no idea where they actually hail from in the first place.
‘But,’ I hear an angry shout, ‘it is our indigenous culture that makes us great!
Uh-huh? I am often bemused when a famous painting in a British collection is under threat of sale to a foreign buyer and there is a collective wail of ‘Our cultural inheritance is in danger!’ Bemused, because nine times out of ten the painting in question is by an Italian or French or German or artist of some other nationality.
If we only had British paintings in our gallery things would look rather different.
And the Elgin marbles? Ours, dammit! Our inheritance!
The treasures filling our museums from all the countries we colonised and asset-stripped…
Maybe it’s our religious inheritance. Christian, according to a lot of the stuff I hear.
In 2015, 42% of the British population identified themselves as Christian. (British Social Attitudes survey) Those who actually attend church regularly, however, number only 5-6% of the population.
The vast majority of the British population do not go to church, so how can we be a Christian country?
What about our history, then?
Well, good and bad, like most countries. We abolished slavery in the 1800’s – all well and good, but we had profited hugely from it in the years before. The lot of a slave in the British West Indies, for example was horrendously barbaric.
Votes for women? Eventually, and only after a concerted attempt to trample the movement underfoot, using a fair degree of violence in the process.
Everyone will have their own ideas of what we do well, of course. I am proud of the fact that we give our share of aid to projects designed to eradicate poverty and disease around the world, and disaster relief. I am grateful that despite the failings of the system (and they are many) we live in a country where our representatives can be thrown out and re-elected on a regular basis. We cannot, in theory, be held without trial, and we are not in constant danger of being mown down by gunfire in our streets and schools.
But, before we get too cocky about that, remember how things can change over time.
Vigilance, my friends, vigilance…