Let virtue distinguish the brave
Place riches in lowest degree
Think them poorest who can be a slave
Them richest who dare to be free
Some discussions in today’s ‘free press’ started me thinking again about identity and survival. As the recession bites harder, I am hearing more and more what used to be called the ‘politics of envy’, but translated into increasingly personal terms. People are being criticised for having a ‘nice’ car, or a ‘nice’ house ( housing costs in the UK are now so ludicrous that an ordinary family house is out of the reach of most working people in some areas). At the same time as people are being forced out of their homes by the ‘bedroom tax’, at the same time as people who are disabled from birth are being declared ‘fit for work’, our culture of conspicuous consumption – the important word here, I think, being conspicuous – is hard to shake off, whilst at the same time being deeply ‘un-British’. As the political and cultural landscape fragments, no-one can do right for doing wrong. The Left is as bad as the Right.
My response to the comments I hear about ‘so-and-so has got this’ and ‘so-and-so has got that’ is both understanding and bewilderment. If someone has a home, you have no idea what they have given up in order to get it. If someone has a ‘nice’ car they may or may not ‘deserve’ it. Who knows? How do you know? A recent interaction I saw on social media was a young White feminist sharply telling an older White man to ‘check his privilege’ in a discussion on whether a jury had arrived at the ‘correct’ verdict in a highly-publicised rape trial. She did not know that her interlocutor is also a priest who has suffered trauma and personal tragedy in the service of his Church and his country. I thought it was funny as well as sad, because I used to be that stupid too.
In essence, you do not know where someone is going and you do not know where someone has been.
Why all this meandering? Because we are in what is at least nearly the (at least) thousandth year of the discussion of ‘What it means to be British‘. I blame the Normans. Or someone. The cartoon versions of history and culture currently circulating might speak to the political imperatives of the moment but they are not ‘the truth’.
I live in a country of many, many peoples. The collective ‘we’, or our ancestors, have many times survived invasion, war, civil war, flight, pogroms, imprisonment, invasion, torture,The Holocaust, famine, slavery, fascism, communism, sectarianism, partition, colonialism, enclosure, massacre, the deadliness of the Industrial Revolution, terrorism, political and religious persecution, vicious economic change. And so on. And we, the survivors and the children of survivors, and our friends and neighbours, are still here.
That means that we cannot have a competition over victimhood – whether individual or collective – or teach sectarianism of any kind to our children. And that we do not know where someone is going or where someone has been. I would hate to conclude, as so many seem to have done, that all that matters is self-interest, conquest and tribalism, be it in football, religion or economic survival. Because it is pointless and dangerous.
That is why we need timeless truths. As in the Pope’s homily today: people who gossip and criticise others are cowards and hypocrites, says the Pope. Motes and beams again.
Oh, and Heaney. Was he being sentimental? Who knows. Is he correct? Who knows.
History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.
*this is a song written in 1979 promoting Scottish independence. I’m not too sure about that these days – but it’s none of my business. Whatever you think, the lyrics and the tune are beautiful. Sentimentality again. Give it a listen. but, I’m wondering about the jasmine and rose motif. Catholic symbolism gets everywhere.
St Margaret’s Well rights here.