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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Thursday May 05 2011

Yesterday I visited Englefield Green, where my home was for my first twenty years of my life.  Whenever I go back there, I still think of myself as going “home”.  But our house there will soon - possible very soon - be sold and demolished.  When I now return to Englefield Green, I am starting to see it with the eyes of the outsider that I will soon definitely be.

It was with my outsider’s eyes that I first looked, really looked, at one of the pubs in Englefield Green:

image

What a very unfashionable name that is.

I’m guessing the flags are there because of the wedding.  The Holly Tree, just up the road, also has flags out, presumably for the same reason.  Is there any significance to the fact that the flags outside the Holly Tree are Union Jacks, i.e a celebration of Britishness, while those outside the Armstrong Gun are specifically English?

Recently I filled in the Census, after I had been politely but firmly reminded of my legal obligation to do this by a man who rang my buzzer.  (I had been intending to ignore it, but an actual fight with a real life public official is not something I relish.) And I realised, after I had posted it, that I had described myself as English, rather than British.

A road I grew up on was called “Shoot-Up-Hill” which has always fascinated me. I assume it has nothing to do with injecting heroin, and probably as not the scene of a Wild West-type gunfight between the inhabitants of Kilburn and Cricklewood.

I’m a little surprised there haven’t been calls to ban it. Luckily, the road is on the boundary of two local councils, so the job of changing the name is twice as hard. Good.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 06 May 2011

I struggled with that question. The exact question was, “how would you describe your national identity?”

The honest answer is, given a choice, I wouldn’t. Nationality is a concept invented by other people and foisted upon me. National identity? What does that even mean? I know about Alfred Korzybski’s general semantics. Things are not their names. The map is not the territory. And Objectivism. A is A.

I think of myself as a particular blob of sub-atomic particles that by chance and physics responds to external stimuli and a particular way that happens to be me. Everything else is abstraction.

Sure, if someone asks, depending on context I might say English, because I grew up in England, or British because that’s what it says on my passport. But in the context of a survey from the government I sensed the question was intended to get at some affection for a particular term that just isn’t there.

I think I ended up answering “other”, and putting something like “human” or “Earthling”.

Posted by Rob Fisher on 06 May 2011

Libertarians tend to reject collective labels that are determined by other factors than choice. For example, there are plenty of libertarians who take tribal positions on soccer teams, but baulk at national anthems.

A test I would suggest to challenge the notion that we can divorce ourselves from national identity is the following: do I feel a closer identification with, say, a missing British backpacker in the Andes, or a missing Dutch youth in Manchester?

There is a matter of scale. To be told that a handful of British people were caught up in the recent tsunami was not really significant: the scale of the disaster was simply enormous and to focus on a few British victims was almost offensive to the other victims. But hearing that a British backpacker has gone missing in the Andes does attract disproportionate attention.

Some of my relatives were almost caught up in the tsunami: the father was stranded in Japan (at the end of a contract where they’d been living there) after his wife and children happened to leave the country only hours before the disaster. That hit home a lot more than many of the stories, because it was people I know.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 06 May 2011

"people I know” - yes, and I think your tests is finding this sort of identification.

If I am shown a photo of a missing backpacker and told he is British, I can build up a whole mental model of that person based on a lifetime of experience of interacting with lots of different kinds British people.

If I am told he is Dutch, less so. I’ve met a few Dutch people, and they are a lot like British people, but also different, and I can’t judge the social status, level of education or whatever of a Ducth person as well as I can a British one, and I can’t imagine joking with him about the same kids TV shows we both used to watch.

But that’s not national identity, it’s identifying with people I have a lot of knowlege of and shared experiences with.

I don’t think it’s *just* that nationality is a collective label not determined by choice. It’s also that my nationality mainly seems to determine where I can go, and what I can do when I get there, without being beaten up by thugs (I mean apprehended by the authorities).

Posted by Rob Fisher on 06 May 2011

and I can’t imagine joking with him about the same kids TV shows we both used to watch.

Occasionally, I have conversations with British people in which they attempt to joke with me about the same kids TV shows we both used to watch.

Except that I didn’t watch them, me not being British. Or more correctly, I watched some of them but not others, and neither of us really have any idea which we have in common. British people sometimes assume that are Australians are culturally closer than we actually are.

This can be annoying.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 07 May 2011

Before today, I had received three reminder letters from the census. Today, someone rang my doorbell, and I answered the intercom. He stated he was from the census, and I immediately hung up. He presumably went away after that, as I heard nothing more from him. I will be in Australia for most of the next month, so hopefully they will have stopped by the time I get back.

I would describe my national identity as “Australian”, but that is roughly the same question as “What cricket team do you support?” It doesn’t mean much more than that.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 07 May 2011

Michael,
You’re not an Islington luvvie but you think AV is OK. You’re an Australian all right!

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 07 May 2011
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