This is going to sound a patronising thing for a late middle-aged white male to say, bearing in mind the relative ease and comfort of my life, bearing in mind the lack of prejudice directed against me. But a few days ago I was made to feel a potential outsider, an alien in the country of my birth. Why? Because I came across the Rural Conservative Movement. Not only did I find that what they believe in to be offensive to my sense of reason, to my philosophical attitude to life, but I felt it to be a potential threat to the very notion of who I feel myself to be.
They advertise themselves as believing in:
• A full, clean Brexit
• Immigration reduced to near zero
• The primacy of British culture and values
• The primacy of our Christian faith
• Protection of our rural heritage
• The traditional family
Whilst I can seriously question the validity of all of these beliefs, it was the “primacy of British culture and values”, and the “primacy of our Christian faith” that made me feel most ill at ease, together with the various graphics that accompany these statements. These graphics, overly romantic drawings of ‘traditional’ rural life, are reminiscent of those used by the Nazis in 1930’s Germany.
I have nothing against British culture and values, except that I have no idea what they are. Accepting the general definition of culture as “the values, ceremonies and ways of life characteristic of a given group”, the immediate problem becomes that of defining a given group of people bound together by an identifiable set of values and practices. When has there ever been such a group of people living in the geographical location of the British Isles? Our history is that of a multitude of different settlers and invaders bringing a diversity of different values and social attitudes with them. The most that can be said is that with time, different groups of people have found a way of living together. A number of generally shared or common beliefs and values, social practices and ceremonies have emerged, have become an identifiable feature of that group. But they will never have been adopted or believed in by everyone in that group. Not only that, but these values and practices will have differed across the country, and changed with time. I accept that a degree of uniformity emerged across the country, but only a degree. I totally reject that there ever has been, or ever can be, a defining set of British cultural values and practices.
But it’s worse than that. The implication is that if you do not ascribe to this defined set of values you are not part of British society, and therefore not welcome; that whatever values you happen to hold dear, they are of secondary importance to those of the mainstream. But who is going to define these mainstream, accepted British values? Who would dare to stand up and declare a definitive set of such values? And more importantly, how many of them do you need to hold? And to what degree? To be regarded as ‘British’, do you need to hold dear all these values, to the highest degree? If not, where do you draw the line? And what happens if you happen to fall on the wrong side of this line?
I have, however, much against the Christian faith. I’m not however prejudiced against Christianity. I regard all faiths with equal distain. My reason? Because they are faiths. People hold them to be true because they want them to be true or because they emotionally feel them to be true, not because there is any verifiable evidence that they are true. I will totally concede that religion has served a purpose during the course of human social evolution. In the absence of scientific knowledge, they have provided a narrative, an explanation and purpose to human life that has allowed for a degree of social cohesion and therefore supplied us with an evolutionary advantage. But as the tenets of the different religions are shown to be false or contradictory to knowledge capable of being scientifically tested, they need to be dropped. We will never be in a position to deal with the challenges humanity faces if we hold onto superstition rather than pursue scientific explanations.
But maybe it was the Nazi overtones that unsettled me most. The implication that there is some pure sense of Britishness to be found in a traditional past, in some mythical period of our history when everything was well with life, before it was contaminated by time, foreign cultures and alien religions. If such a belief can be fostered (a totally false belief for which no evidence can be found) then all manner of violent behaviour becomes ‘justified’ in fighting for its restoration. I didn’t end well the last time it was tried. And it will not end well if tried again.