The form of shame

As the latest Brexit crises (it is not just one single crisis, but a series of crises now) unfolded this week, each more worrying, bizarre and removed from rationality than the previous one, I’ve noticed one overriding emotion emerging in myself. From the sludgy mix of anger, depression, puzzlement, hysteria, the one that emerged like a taste of celery overriding everything else was shame. I have never felt so ashamed to be British. I appreciate that nationality is a social, even imaginary construct, and I have never held romantic notions about Britain’s past. But I am, in my way, quite “British” in character – reserved, emotionally crippled, polite, fond of beer and pie. Like most people, I am a product of my culture, and if you’ve met me, you will know that there’s a streak of “British” running through my personality.

Every nation has its characteristics, and they are always a mixture of positive and negative elements. Having worked on many European projects, one sees that although national stereotypes are too simplistic, there is also an element of truth in them. In most European bids the British partner is usually seen as hard working, not necessarily imaginative, collegiate, humorous, but also usually a monoglot and a bit off to one side.

But this week more than any other, all of the counters I might have given to the negative aspects of Britishness and British history, have finally evaporated. All that remains is shame: shame that we inflicted this devastating crisis on ourselves; shame that we gave charlatans, racists and fools such prominence; shame that we have diminished the future for my daughter and her generation; shame that we have been so utterly rude and contemptuous to our European neighbours; shame that our cherished political systems have been so incapable of preventing the fiasco from continuing; shame that we look to the past, Empire and war instead of to the future; shame that the only arguments people have left are based on selfishness and delusion. And finally shame that I am part of that mix. I would like to think “this is not who we are”, but it seems that in fact, this is exactly who we are. It has now been revealed, the UK has taken on its final form, and it’s not attractive. It is cushioned somewhat by being in Wales, as most of the bluster comes from England. But Wales still voted to leave, still commits the sin of thinking there is some rational debate to be had with extremists. And Wales will suffer (more) the same fate, as part of Britain. And when it comes to Britain, I’ve finally come to feel that I no longer have any relationship with this pompous, ridiculous nation.

Anyway, here’s an Irish comedian capturing much of the aspects of Britishness:



  • Gavin Moodie

    Very nice sketch, which I hadn’t seen before.

    I was struck by the difference in the level of education between leavers and remainers, and, incidentally, between Trump supporters and his opponents. Even university towns in the UK voted leave. This led me to wonder whether UK universities are doing enough to educate their local communities. They have been cutting and closing community education programs just when they are most needed.

    I also look to the future. For UK universities to educate their communities and the broader society so that in decades to come the UK may vote to rejoin the European Union by a much bigger margin than it voted to leave.

    • mweller

      Hi Gavin, yes, I’ve argued elsewhere that open education in its many forms is one way that unis can help address this “ivory tower” perception. But the problem is they’re up against powerful media that always portray anyone from a uni as out of touch, and ignorance as a good thing.

  • Alan Levine

    Yes, I could quite easily write this from an American (soon to be Canadian) perspective. Each day reels with actions and words from political leaders that surely (Shirley) in the past have been cause for removal, for reasonable reproach.

    I don’t think the term “post-truth” fits for this times, it seems more like “post-reason”. And I’m left with the impression that there are far more people in America and Britain who actually hold deep seated racist, classist, angry beliefs. I don’t think it’s new, it’s been there latent, nor do I think all we need is better education (would not hurt though).

    So while I agree with shame that in these ways, our current governments in a twisted way are representative. I also am sitting with utter disbelief in what kinds of behaviours, attitudes, actions are looking more normalized than I could imagine.

    When is an awakening going to happen?

    At least you have a perfect video that captures the nations in a sketch.

    • mweller

      Hi Alan, yes, and I accept this revelation of the depth of those racist attitudes is because I am white, I am sure any POC is not at all surprised. But what has shocked me is how important it is to people – they are happy for their own economy to suffer, for friends and family to lose jobs as long as they get to indulge racism.

    • Gavin Moodie

      I am ashamed to respond that I am Australian.
      I am ashamed of my country’s bipartisan inhumane treatment of asylum seekers which breach the human rights treaty Australia signed.
      I am ashamed of the Australian Government’s racism and Islamophobia.
      I am ashamed of the Australian Government’s dreadful treatment of Indigenous Australians.
      I am ashamed of the Australian Government’s mendacious inaction on climate change.
      I am ashamed to note that I am ashamed of so much more of Australia too tedious to catalogue here.

      If you want to be proud of an Australasian country, move to Aotearoa New Zealand.

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