The English – Who?

I consider myself to be English. I was born here, lived all my life here, in Sussex and in Manchester. But am I really? And what is it to be English?

Given the past millenium or so of history, one could be forgiven for thinking of England as a homogenous state, with a common language, culture and history. But look a little deeper and is that the case. ‘English’ derives from the Angles, a Germanic people who crossed the North Sea as the Roman Empire collapsed and colonised South-Eastern Britain. Their cousins the Saxons arrived alongside them, as well as the Jutes. All of these tribes had previously inhabited Denmark, Northern Germany and Holland (and to an extent the descendants of those they left behind still do). They supplanted and mixed with the pre-Roman Celts, who were displaced to the northern and western parts of Britain, forming their own kingdoms. However, they weren’t the only ones to colonise ‘England’. The Danes, who are more nordic, took control of much of Central Britain (Northern England), later on Vikings not only raided much of the coasts but settled in scattered parts of the islands. Not to mention that after a few hundred years of Roman rule, many immigrants from across the Empire had settled and mixed into the population.

Then came the Normans. Essentially they became our ruling class, and while there weren’t many of themn, their culture became our ‘high culture’. Anglo-Saxon and Danish culture was for the peasants. English as a language wasn’t spoken much by our monarchs until the Wars of the Roses. Many of our Kings ruled from across the Channel – the nation under Henry Plantagenet was the ‘Angevin Empire’, a reference to its seat of power at Angers. The Hundred Years war confined ‘England’ to the island of Britain.

Meanwhile, England absorbed (or conquered, or partnered with, depending on your point of view) Wales, kept Scotland subdued as much as possible and viewed Ireland as a land of hostile pirates.

That was the last time ‘England’ really existed. With the Tudors winning (or stealing) the throne, Wales was less a colony as it had been under Edward I, and more of a partner. A hundred years later, with the acession of James I (VI of Scotland), the moves toward Anglo-Scottish Union began their 100 year long course. Ireland had an English colony in the Pale of Dublin, soon to be joined by the Scottish Presbyterian plantations into Ulster. Slowly, England ceased to be a separate country and became the senior partner in ‘Britain’.

So what is England then? Britain minus the Celtic Fringe? What images are conjured up of ‘England’ on its own? And do we all share the same culture? After all, anyone can tell you that there is more variation in English dialects in the mother country than in the USA, a far bigger country. Cloth caps and whippets don’t mix with pearly kings, or cream teas, or lager louts. Football, the real national game, doe unite us in its divisions, but then in Scotland, Italy or Argentina, the same could be said.

We look to writers like Orwell, or poets like Larkin, to comforting images (warm beer and cricket, bobbies on the beat, red pillar boxes, a dignified monarchy) to represent the core ‘English values’, but how representative are they now. And how representative were they 200 years ago? Do they only belong to a particular time-frame, when – by no coincidence – Britain (and by extension England) ruled the world, led the Industrial Revolution and sat down for a nice cup of tea at 3pm – when we could be more assured of our place in the world (dominance, naturally of a benign and paternal kind, unlike those horrid French or Spanish imperialists), when we spread the word of God through the CofE and the practice of commerce through trade (in everything from wool and cotton, slaves and sugar through to salt and steel), and before Germany, the USA and everyone else started to catch us up.

In fact these images appear to hark back to an age of complacency. We thought we ruled the world, and so ignored it (although not as much as the USA does today). We didn’t so much have our place at the top taken from us, but lose it through resting on our laurels, and overstretching our colonial conquests.

So when people talk about the English, particularly when its those nationalistic fools on the Right, or the demagogues of the Left, what do they mean? And does their meaning bear any relation to the real England.

England is not homogenous, not really united. There are always going to be distinctions, the North-South divide, Town vs Country debates, not to mention the continually changing class issue.

Lets see how English we are. What do we drink – Beer. Now there’s a nice English drink. Except that of course our most popular beers are lagers, which originate in Central Europe. English style Ale is enjoying a renaissence at the moment, after the dire days of the 70s, but still, most of the English (and particularly the young), steer weel clear of the brown, sometimes cloudy, brew in favour of something with bubbles but less taste (which is why you have to drink it cold).

What do we eat – Curry. Not always of course. We might go for a pizza, or a Chinese, or a burger perhaps. Even when eating in, the ‘English’ foods are the ones we eat because we have to, not because we like them. Of course we have a lot of nostalgia for Sunday Roasts, Hot Pot, Spotted Dick or Tapioca pudding, but these stodgy staples are in decline. Mainly because they are a product of the times when the English seem to have been proudest of our lack of adventure and lack of external influence in our cuisine. If we’d seen the food eaten by the late Tudors, with its spices mixed with fruits and meat, we’d have been looking at something closer to Middle Eastern food than our old favourites.

Here’s where even my polemic starts to show up how hopeless it is to define what is solely ‘English’ (or even British) culture. The most popular beers are indeed lagers. And yet they are anglicised to a certain extent. There is a difference between continental beers (particularly those brewed under purity laws) and our own – even the ones with foreign names. Stella and Heineken in Britain are not the same as they are in Belgium or Holland.

And curry is the same. Yes, it is called ‘Indian’ food, and yes, it is rooted in the cuisine of the sub-continent (after all, a majority of ‘Indian’ restaurants are owned by people of Bangladeshi origin). But the food is not the same as one would find in India or Bangladesh. Two of the most popular forms of curry were invented in England. The Chicken Tikka Masala and the Balti are both developments designed to cater for the English palate, as indeed are many of the ‘traditional’ curry-house meals.

So perhaps this becomes rather circular – English culture borrows heavily from external influences. And those influences are in turn ‘anglicised’. Maybe this is the core of out culture?

Maybe diversity – so disparaged by the neo-liberal literati – is something that every ‘culture’ needs. After all, British political satire has developed out of the political friction which we have been experiencing since the 17th Century. The clash between the values of ‘freedom’ and ‘stability’ has been at the very centre of political discourse. And to an extent both values lose out when they clash. Certainly stability is dependent not only on such staples as church, family, class, but also on economic wellbeing, the influences from outside a society and the extent to which people within it feel free to make their own way. Freedom can, if overly emphasised, cause major differences of opinion. Freedom of speech cannot be absolute if you also have freedom from slander or bigotry.

To a large extent, we look back at English history and (when not simply thinking of it as a list of monarchs, battles and other such dry statistics learnt by rote) see that the culture of England in the 18th Century was very different to that of today. For example, the monarchy was not held in such great regard. I know that there is a growing trend towards republicanism today, and the monarchy as an institution was probably more popular then than now, but the monarchs themselves were often figures of hate or at least fun. Partly this stems from the turmoil of the mid to late 17th Century when Charles I was beheaded, James II was subject to two rebellions of which the second was successful and when the religion of the monarch was to some extent more important than his rule. The other major factor of course was the end of the Stuart dynasty and the accession of the Hanovers, who at first couldn’t speak English, and at the end of the 18th Century appeared to descend into decadency.

England was a much more agrarian society, we were barely moving into the Industrial Revolution, and that factor probably has done as much as anything to change our society and culture.

When I read or hear about English culture, particularly when the source is patriotic or right wing, I always get the same message ‘We must preserve our culture against outside influences’. Firstly this begs the question ‘who is “we”?’ Secondly it begs the question ‘Why preserve a culture which is a snapshot in time, when culture always changes regardless of its influences?’ These two questions are sometimes addressed. The final question that always springs to my mind but is never answered is ‘What IS our culture?’

It seems that Tories, the BNP and various commentators take it for granted that we all know exactly what they mean by ‘English’ or ‘British’. Well I’m sorry, but as a reader will see from what I have written so far, I don’t know what they mean.

So what are the staple influences used?

In literature it would have to be Shakespeare, probably more than Chaucer. But while Shakespeare was writing for an English audience, and many of his plays are English ‘Histories’, many of his plays are set abroad. Here is an Englishman, from the heart of the country, writing about depressed Danes, tragic Italian lovers and comedy Greeks. His themes are essentially human, his plays deal with ambition, revenge, love, betrayal, hope (and its loss), the battle of the sexes, war, and so on. That is why Shakespeare is so valuable, because just like Goethe, he’s not simply addressing his own culture, he’s showing us all of human life.

In art we look at Turner. And yet his influences must have been the Italian masters just as much as the English landscape.

I must say that I love my country. And thats whether you call it England, Britain or the UK. I am proud to be from here, I feel privileged to live here and be able to live as comfortably as I do. But an essential part of that is that I love the people and the place, not the institution. I couldn’t care less if my town were an independant mini-state, or if I was a citizen of a world-state, I don’t see a difference. Would it be so tragic if England or Britain were to cease to exist? What matters really is brass tacks, not esoteric notions of nationality. I identify with my friends, my family, my workmates, people who support the same football team, people who like the same music as I do. Does it matter what the colour of their flag is?

Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: , . 11 Comments »

11 Responses to “The English – Who?”

  1. El Tom Says:

    Hm. I think englishness has a lot to do simply with the influences we consume from everyone else! (particularly those with historical links to british imperialism, like the aussies, jamaica, and india…)

  2. Danivon Says:

    A lot, yes. Everything? I don’t know. We English (and I use that term loosely in terms of my own origin, given that I have Jewish, Welsh and Irish forebears) do have a distinct culture. It’s just that it is very difficult to define, and almost impossible for people like the Tories and the rest of the right to ring-fence.

  3. El Tom Says:

    a good thing, I’ll warrant! there is no consistant theme to it, just singular items. democracy, football, pasties, gin. Nans. youth subcultures. The list goes on…

  4. snowflake5 Says:

    This is a great history and very accurate.

    I think the thing that distinguishes the liberal left from the right is not economics – it’s tolerance. We just see fellow human beings in all their complexity – they see aliens. They also have a tendency to define themselves as what they are not, and also seem to have a need to pick on (and sometimes hate) “others”, whether it is chavs, the french, europeans, muslims, teavellers, gypsies, or public sector workers. During the last election it was eastern europeans – now that they’ve been told by the BoE no less that they are good for the economy, the focus of hate has switched to Scots (who supposedly are also either all public sector workers, or benefit scroungers).

  5. glad thereafter Says:

    Your argument is confused; you cannot make up your mind whether you are writing about a land-mass, a ‘culture’, or a people, but it seems you have the least concern for the people, a curiously inhumane attitude. To take just the last paragraph because it summarises your view:

    “I must say that I love my country. And thats whether you call it England, Britain or the UK.”

    You say you love a ‘something’, but admit not knowing what that something is, or where it becomes ‘something else’.

    “I am proud to be from here.”

    You are claiming pride for an accident of birth.

    “I feel privileged to live here and be able to live as comfortably as I do”.

    To live where, again?

    Our dubious prosperity is largely due to the endeavours of our forefathers, and their rather modest, decent belief that the society and economy they were building was to be passed on to ‘us’, their posterity. Burke’s famous definition of society: a contract between the living, the dead and those who are yet to be born is surely correct; and, to use Frank Field’s term, the ‘global traffic station’ we have become surely makes cohesive, organic, ‘comfortable’ society impossible?

    “But an essential part of that is that I love the people and the place, not the institution”.

    There is no institution, Political England is a vacuum, it is the forgotten rump of other, active institutions; the English people are being replaced by other peoples and politically dispossessed; our land is being degraded by the politics of globalism which sees peoples and cultures as fungible, and our homelands as resources to be exploited.

    “I couldn’t care less if my town were an independant mini-state, or if I was a citizen of a world-state, I don’t see a difference.”

    The best reason for a diversity of sovereign societies is that our survival as a species will ultimately depend on our continuing cultural and biological evolution. Evolution, of course, requires competition. And presumably, you would just as easily reconcile yourself to an English national settlement, so why the post Mr. Magoo? ;)

    “Would it be so tragic if England or Britain were to cease to exist?”

    These are places, not…

    “esoteric notions of nationality.”

    For the English and British people, and for outsiders who observe them, the commonest level of national organisation assumed as workable and natural is at the English or British level; your town- or global-level state is the peculiar notion. And the English nation happen to be one of the most well-defined and historically documented peoples on the planet, there is nothing ‘esoteric’ about us.

    “I identify with my friends, my family, my workmates, people who support the same football team, people who like the same music as I do. Does it matter what the colour of their flag is?”

    The same reason we all of us, including you, naturally identify with our families is ultimately why we identify with our ethnies: shared interests, both genetic and social.

    Concerning genes, on average people are as closely related to co-ethnics vs. the rest of humanity, as they are related to uncles and aunts vs. the rest of their ethnic group. Thus, ‘ethnic nepotism’ is the remarkably accurate term for our tendency to favour our ‘own people’ over others. One’s ethny is one’s extended family.

    As to social reasons why we limit our identifications, you give clues yourself by identifying with those who are related by blood, then by friendship and mutual dependency (work) and socially satisfying proxy-tribalisms like football. If you weren’t like this you would barely be human, you certainly couldn’t be happy.

    It may be tempting to think the singular rejection of identifications at the ethnic and racial level is a product of rational free-will rather than a response to prevailing social pressures, but its limited appeal in just one culture (the west), in just one era (today), makes that suggestion rather doubtful. And its application in domestic politics seems a dangerous unilateral disarmament in a world riven with ethnic strife, and its foreign policy applications in places like Iraq appear just as wrong headed.

  6. Danivon Says:

    > Your argument is confused;

    Not half as confused as you seem to be, pal.

    > you cannot make up your mind whether you are writing about a land-mass, a ‘culture’, or a people, but it seems you have the least concern for the people, a curiously inhumane attitude.

    And you have totally misunderstood the piece. It is about all three, and less of the people as a homogeneous mass than of the people who live in the place and participate in its culture.

    >The best reason for a diversity of sovereign societies is that our survival as a species will ultimately depend on our continuing cultural and biological evolution. Evolution, of course, requires competition.

    You also don’t understand the mechanics of evolution, it seems. Competition between the species, yes. But humanity is a single species, one which appears to be adapted to much of the landmass of the planet. Another useful tool for evolution is, of course, healthy genetic mixing. You seem to be advocating seperatism and competition between the nationalities. Long term, that is a recipe for inbreeding and stagnation, not for evolution.

    > And the English nation happen to be one of the most well-defined and historically documented peoples on the planet,

    Defined as a mongrel breed of Celts, Germanics, Nordics, the odd Roman, Norman, pre-Celt, etc. And that’s 1000 years ago. I would say that the Japanese have a far stronger claim to a defined ethnicity than we do, being far less of a result of waves of varying invaders and migrants.

    > The same reason we all of us, including you, naturally identify with our families is ultimately why we identify with our ethnies: shared interests, both genetic and social.

    Crap. You don’t know my friends, family or colleagues, and they are not ethnically homogeneous. I identify more with some ‘brown’ people than I do with some ‘white’ people because of the nature of our relationships.

    > Concerning genes, on average people are as closely related to co-ethnics vs. the rest of humanity, as they are related to uncles and aunts vs. the rest of their ethnic group. Thus, ‘ethnic nepotism’ is the remarkably accurate term for our tendency to favour our ‘own people’ over others. One’s ethny is one’s extended family.

    Again – Crap. There is more variation within the ‘races’ of man than there is between them. That means that some white people are more closely related (or at least more similar genetically) to blacks or asians than they are to some other whites. I would reckon that this is particularly so in areas where migration has resulted in a mixed heritage.

    > It may be tempting to think the singular rejection of identifications at the ethnic and racial level is a product of rational free-will rather than a response to prevailing social pressures, but its limited appeal in just one culture (the west), in just one era (today),

    Umm, there are a lot of ways in which the West Today is radically different from the vast bulk of human history. We have no institutionalised slavery, we have less death from childbirth, we have no burning of witches at the stake, we have technology that can result in instant communication. Your assertion would suggest that we should abandon the progress that we have made in the West, socially, economically, technologically, because it is not ‘natural’.

    Natural may not actually be desirable. The human race is evolving socially far faster than it is genetically, but ‘Social Darwinists’ like yourself are stuck in the concepts of the latter, and cannot deal with the changing nature of our civilisation.

    An example – we humans are barely different from humans of 10,000 years ago in genetic terms. 400 generations is very little in such terms. Yet 10,000 years ago humanity was barely into living in small permanent villages. In the interim, what has given us the most progress, our genetic evolution, or our collective intelligence?

  7. glad thereafter Says:

    […] you have totally misunderstood the piece. It is about all three, and less of the people as a homogeneous mass than of the people who live in the place and participate in its culture.

    Ah, you were intending to write about ALL contemporary residents of England be they English, Chinese or Somali. Your references throughout to ‘the English’, and lengthy discourse on our ethnic antecedents had me fooled!

    You also don’t understand the mechanics of evolution, it seems. Competition between the species, yes.

    And within. Why should you think not?

    But humanity is a single species, one which appears to be adapted to much of the landmass of the planet.

    Not everywhere equally in all circumstances, and it’s a moot point anyway. We don’t know the environment or threats we might face in the future.

    There’s a growing awareness however of racial differences in susceptibility to specific diseases and responses to medications, and an appreciation of the value of biodiversity generally is now widespread. Human bio-diversity costs us nothing, reducing it may.

    Don’t forget that I posted in defence of a diversity of societies on cultural as well as biological grounds in response to your claim not to care whether you lived in a city-state or a global-state.

    Mounting concern about several potential threats to our civilisation is daily news: peak-oil; extreme climate change; a global pandemic facilitated by mass-transit of people, foodstuff and goods; population growth in societies which cannot support themselves; the likelihood of a major terrorist outrage – nuclear or biological – or targeted at Wall Street which sends the world’s economies and fuel/food supplies haywire…

    The best response to all these dangers is a shift away from globalism and toward sustainable and independent local systems – and I think there’s an abundance of evidence that human-scaled organisations are better not only for the environment, but for our everyday human needs too.

    Another useful tool for evolution is, of course, healthy genetic mixing. You seem to be advocating seperatism and competition between the nationalities. Long term, that is a recipe for inbreeding and stagnation, not for evolution.

    The tendency to ‘separatism,’ and the ‘competition’ for survival brought us all the way from the primeval gloop. Global panmixia and a global state would bring the long march of human evolution and diversity to a shuddering halt.

    The regions with the most racially admixed populations are North Africa, Central Asia, and South America. Are their populations more healthy than those in the more racially distinct regions of western Europe and north Asia?

    The question is pointless anyway: in today’s Asia and Africa there is practically zero interracial mixing, or even inter-ethnic mixing for that matter. The peoples there are fully committed to retaining their ethnic and racial identities. Only Euro-man welcomes the mass immigration of racially distant peoples into his homelands.

    And btw, you’re refuting-before-even-making the ‘more genetic variation within races than between them’ argument that you make later in your post! :)

    And the English nation happen to be one of the most well-defined and historically documented peoples on the planet,

    Defined as a mongrel breed of Celts, Germanics, Nordics, the odd Roman, Norman, pre-Celt, etc. And that’s 1000 years ago. I would say that the Japanese have a far stronger claim to a defined ethnicity than we do, being far less of a result of waves of varying invaders and migrants.

    Why isn’t this canard dead already?

    A ‘breed’ of ‘mongrels’ are we Danivon? Think about what the two terms mean. Think about whether the Angles, Saxons, Danes, &c were themselves breeds formed by the combination of other breeds. Which people anywhere weren’t? How many still-surviving peoples can you name whose history is as long or records such continuity of identity?

    P.S. The Japanese as we think of them are not a single, undivided ethnic group even today: the majority group, the Yamato conquered the minority Ryukyuans only as recently as the 15th C. Then there’s the Ainu, perhaps the proto-Japanese, yet still a distinct people.

    Crap. You don’t know my friends, family or colleagues, and they are not ethnically homogeneous. I identify more with some ‘brown’ people than I do with some ‘white’ people because of the nature of our relationships.

    This says nothing to my point.

    Again – Crap.

    […]

    There is more variation within the ‘races’ of man than there is between them. That means that some white people are more closely related (or at least more similar genetically) to blacks or asians than they are to some other whites.

    Again – this says nothing to my point, but I’ll explain the science behind what you say, because it’s not nearly as meaningful as you seem to think.

    You’re thinking of Richard Lewontin’s 1970s finding that there is more genetic variation within racial groups (he said about 85% of the total) than between them (about 15%). True, most genetic variation is random – it’s not specific to a certain population, so it’s perfectly true that members of different groups are equally likely to have a variant of most genes.

    Where you err, is in making BIG with that fact and claiming that ‘some white people are more closely related [genetically] to blacks or asians than they are to some other whites’. Not likely I’m afraid, and even if it happens, not very important.

    First of all, Lewontin’s numbers were wrong. Genetic anthropologist Henry Harpending noticed that Lewontin was using Sewall Wright’s system for calculating kinship, and to have it tally with W.D. Hamilton’s coefficient of relatedness you have to double it. So between group variation of the sort Lewontin was identifying is actually around 30%.

    Secondly, the 70% of genetic structure common to all groups includes a lot of ‘junk’ DNA, while the 30% that differs between groups includes most of the really functional stuff which occurred due to the selection pressures of the major migrations and the development of civilisation.
    See here: Global landscape of recent inferred Darwinian selection for Homo sapiens

    Thirdly, Lewontin’s argument is wholly out of date and fallacious anyway. He was assaying blood groups, which while important are nowhere near all of what makes us either human or different from one another. Recent research shows that practically every individual can be identified correctly as belonging to one of the major continental populations by examination of their DNA, see here for example.

    And a more recent study goes further:

    Thus the answer to the question “How often is a pair of individuals from one population genetically more dissimilar than two individuals chosen from two different populations?” depends on the number of polymorphisms used to define that dissimilarity and the populations being compared. The answer, ωˆ, can be read from Figure 2.,

    Given ten loci and three distinct populations, the answer is ωˆ ≅ 0.3, or nearly one-third of the time. With 100 loci, the answer is about 20% of the time; and even using 1,000 loci, ωˆ ≅ 10%.

    However, if genetic similarity is measured over many thousands of loci, the answer becomes “never” when individuals are sampled from geographically separated populations.

    A question for you Danivon is why you think more variation within groups than between the groups makes the differences unimportant? Men and women? Men and chimps? Men and mice? Why don’t you put scare quotes ’round those ridiculous terms?

    There are a lot of ways in which the West Today is radically different from the vast bulk of human history. We have no institutionalised slavery, we have less death from childbirth, we have no burning of witches at the stake, we have technology that can result in instant communication.

    Good old cultural evolution, eh? How does it happen?

    Your assertion would suggest that we should abandon the progress that we have made in the West, socially, economically, technologically, because it is not ‘natural’.

    Would it? Or would that follow from having one state, one culture, one people? I’ve said I want a multitude of cultures, peoples, social experiments and sovereign states devoted to them. I think it’s absolutely vital, and since it’s how we have always lived I consider it ‘natural’.

    Natural may not actually be desirable. The human race is evolving socially far faster than it is genetically, but ‘Social Darwinists’ like yourself are stuck in the concepts of the latter, and cannot deal with the changing nature of our civilisation.

    Human nature doesn’t much change. Pervasive social-influences at levels unthinkable a couple of generations ago make our generation highly suggestible to more easily adopted social conventions. But on the crucial issues we remain what we were and what the men of other cultures are.

    Re ‘civilisational change’ – I love technology and the arts, but they’re absolutely unrelated to the demographic transformation of my native land. The Japanese are ferociously creative but they have no need of millions of Pakistanis and Jamaicans.

    Nor, it seems, do Pakistanis or Jamaicans desire the mass-immigration of one another – or the Japanese, or us. We’re the only ones who think throwing a million foreigners at a culture will make it more efficient!

    (And actually, the genes are tracking the cultures pretty well, as the ‘Global Landscape article’ above proves.)

    An example – we humans are barely different from humans of 10,000 years ago in genetic terms. 400 generations is very little in such terms. Yet 10,000 years ago humanity was barely into living in small permanent villages. In the interim, what has given us the most progress, our genetic evolution, or our collective intelligence?

    It was Darwinian struggle between groups which drove most technological change, and those advances themselves – allied with smaller societies so more genetic drift – drove biological evolution.

    I like the results in terms of arts, technology, and development of new political and spiritual forms; but a variety of sovereign genetic-populations and cultures is a noble goal in itself.

    The work for men and women of goodwill is to convince as many groups as possible to adopt a ‘live and let live’ policy.

  8. glad thereafter Says:

    I appreciate your willingness to debate these sometimes difficult issues danivon.

    In response to your self-written article I took the easier option and posted a reference book chapter on the English and their history at my blog.

    I’ll also be posting a few relevant pages of Salter’s On Genetic Interests regarding the similar genetic basis and justification for familial nepotism within an ethny, and ethnic nepotism within wider humanity.

    I hope you’ll check them out…

    Again, thanks for sharing your time and efforts.

  9. Danivon Says:

    Well, at least you can comment on my blog.

    However…

    >Ah, you were intending to write about ALL contemporary residents of England be they English, Chinese or Somali. Your references throughout to ‘the English’, and lengthy discourse on our ethnic antecedents had me fooled!

    No, not necessarily. However, some immigrant groups from the previous 1000 years have indeed integrated and even assimilated into the prevailing English culture. Equally, some have managed to preserve some distinct characteristics of their ancestral creeds. Which of these are not ‘English’? Where they have interbred with us, do the result cease to be ‘English’?

    I’m thinking of the Welsh, Scots, Irish, French Huguenots, Dutch Orangers, Hanoverian hangers-on, Jewish migrants across the centuries etc.

    >The best response to all these dangers is a shift away from globalism and toward sustainable and independent local systems – and I think there’s an abundance of evidence that human-scaled organisations are better not only for the environment, but for our everyday human needs too.

    Perhaps, but perhaps not. Globalism does not necessarily mean moving things large distances, it can also refer to the global transfer of ideas and information. We have been trading on a global basis for a very long time – look at where the key ingredient for that quintessentially English beverage, the cup of tea, comes from.

    >The regions with the most racially admixed populations are North Africa, Central Asia, and South America. Are their populations more healthy than those in the more racially distinct regions of western Europe and north Asia?

    You forget perhaps the most successful nation of our time, the United States of America. While there is a recent movement to oppose illegal immigration, even those involved have often given full support to legal immigration, welcoming people from all over the world to live and work in the ‘melting pot’. Bit of an elephant in the room really – even the USA 200 of years ago was a mixture of European nationalities, with natives and Africans gradually starting to become involved.

    > First of all, Lewontin’s numbers were wrong. Genetic anthropologist Henry Harpending noticed that Lewontin was using Sewall Wright’s system for calculating kinship, and to have it tally with W.D. Hamilton’s coefficient of relatedness you have to double it. So between group variation of the sort Lewontin was identifying is actually around 30%.

    This still provides a difference.

    > Secondly, the 70% of genetic structure common to all groups includes a lot of ‘junk’ DNA, while the 30% that differs between groups includes most of the really functional stuff which occurred due to the selection pressures of the major migrations and the development of civilisation.

    Not convinced on the ‘Junk’ DNA – it is like the common belief that we only use 10% of our brains – we use far more, but at the time science could only work out a small proportion. Likewise, science is finding that the ‘Junk’ is actually not insignificant

    >A question for you Danivon is why you think more variation within groups than between the groups makes the differences unimportant? Men and women? Men and chimps? Men and mice? Why don’t you put scare quotes ’round those ridiculous terms?

    I don’t think it makes it particularly important, no. Not in terms comparable to the main difference between humans and other species. By the definition of species.

    > Good old cultural evolution, eh? How does it happen?

    Well, some is cultural, and some is technological. The latter is generally always progressive (in that we rarely forget as a species). Often the cultural evolution arises as a result of the interface between cultures. That may be competitive, but it could equally be co-operative.

    >Would it? Or would that follow from having one state, one culture, one people? I’ve said I want a multitude of cultures, peoples, social experiments and sovereign states devoted to them. I think it’s absolutely vital, and since it’s how we have always lived I consider it ‘natural’.

    Well, I think that a super/supra-national state does not necessarily lead to a single culture. Given that the UK has been around for some time, and yet the celtic national identities remain as strong as ever, I hope you see the point. Equally, the Roman Empire lasted over 500 years, and yet it did not become a true monoculture.

    I don’t even actually advocate a world state – I just don’t think it would make the difference that you think it would.

    > Re ‘civilisational change’ – I love technology and the arts, but they’re absolutely unrelated to the demographic transformation of my native land.

    So let’s look at that. What is a more significant change to England?

    a) The more than doubling of the population between the 19th C and the mid 20th C

    b) The shift from largely rural to largely urban societies between the 18th C and 19th C

    c) The large growth in the number of people aged over 60 in the past 100 years?

    d) The emigration of large numbers of people to the Americas and other parts of the Empire?

    e) The recent entry of a few million brown people into a nation of 50 millions?

    >Nor, it seems, do Pakistanis or Jamaicans desire the mass-immigration of one another – or the Japanese, or us. We’re the only ones who think throwing a million foreigners at a culture will make it more efficient!

    Well, apart from the Americans, who spent most of their history importing many million people from all over the globe, and have emerged as a major power, and a major cultural influence on the world.

    >I like the results in terms of arts, technology, and development of new political and spiritual forms; but a variety of sovereign genetic-populations and cultures is a noble goal in itself.

    I would differ from this. I would instead say that a variety of genetic populations and cultures is valuable and that each should be respected, while not attempting to preserve any or all in aspic. The ‘sovereign’ bit I am not so sure about (nationalism has had a history of creating a lot of trouble).

    >The work for men and women of goodwill is to convince as many groups as possible to adopt a ‘live and let live’ policy.

    But that does not have to mean separatism or attempts to retain any ‘purity’ . It also implies a healthy respect for other groups – which is why I would hope that you would agree that racism is antithetical to such a policy.

    >In response to your self-written article I took the easier option and posted a reference book chapter on the English and their history at my blog.

    I have read it, and while interesting, the main thing it does not do is to truly define the English culture.

    Among the prime traditions of the English are a fierce pride in their traditional freedoms, a unity against adversity, and an ability to bring opposing factions together in compromise. Pride in being English is another strong trait, even though the English show considerable diversity in traditions, habits, manners, and speech.

    is as close as it gets. And thinking on it briefly, I thought I could name a few other nations / groups who display such traits. The Greeks, for example. Or the Israelis.

  10. glad thereafter Says:

    No, not necessarily. However, some immigrant groups from the previous 1000 years have indeed integrated and even assimilated into the prevailing English culture. Equally, some have managed to preserve some distinct characteristics of their ancestral creeds. Which of these are not ‘English’? Where they have interbred with us, do the result cease to be ‘English’?

    I’m thinking of the Welsh, Scots, Irish, French Huguenots, Dutch Orangers, Hanoverian hangers-on, Jewish migrants across the centuries etc.

    Some individual Welshmen, Scots and Jews assimilated into the English community over the centuries. By which I mean their descendents (most of whose ancestors are probably English except for the most recently assimilated) think of themselves as pretty much English, and are accepted as such by other English people.

    Yet overwhelmingly these three peoples remain distinct from the English. They are each another ethnic community, and their members – unless English be so defined as to disallow nearly 50 million people their own ethnic community – are NOT English. The Scots, the Welsh, and the ethnically Jewish are not English, they say as much when declaring as S, W, or J.

    I think to a man the F.H., D.O., and H-h-o communities assimilated and their descendents were absorbed into the English community. Any rump Orangers striving to retain their unique ethnic and cultural history have my best wishes. But if they also deny my people a distinct identity by saying,

    ‘Oh, but I’m English too – as English as anyone – I was born and bred in England and love a chicken tikka masala’,

    I will explain the racist double-standard and its implications for my people.

    I haven’t met an Oranger but I’ve had similar exchanges with Indians and Jews and – at least to my face – they accepted my argument. I think most individuals value their own people and homeland and bear no ill will to other peoples and their claims to homelands.

    You see, it’s often by way of very impersonal, incremental steps that the dispossession of a people begins to be ‘justified': members of the native group wanting to be ‘nice’ don’t make waves; incomers tell themselves they are doing no harm and possibly even adding to the well-being of the natives.

    Yet there are no recorded examples of one viable ethnic group assimilating into another viable ethnic group voluntarily, or of ethnic groups peaceably and equably sharing a territory for any length of time. And endless examples of the danger inherent in territorial-diversity and ethnic-conflict fill our newspapers and history books.

    Perhaps, but perhaps not. Globalism does not necessarily mean moving things large distances, it can also refer to the global transfer of ideas and information. We have been trading on a global basis for a very long time – look at where the key ingredient for that quintessentially English beverage, the cup of tea, comes from.

    ‘Globalism’ is a neologism, coined (c.1959 according to the OED) to describe the unprecedented acceleration of international trade, western cultural hegemony, and the transnational integration of financial, corporate, legal, and political structures that occurred in the latter half of the 20thC.

    Yes, it has roots in the politics of free-trade (and empire), but it’s not the same thing. It’s innately the most dangerous social-political trend ever, as its intention is to place all the ‘eggs’, of all individuals, in all societies, in all lands, into just one ‘basket’.

    Good ideas and useful information always travelled by their own power even before technology made it easy. Free – and more importantly, relatively risk-free – cultural exchange is perfectly compatible with sovereign peoples and territories. But sovereignty (meaning here a people’s self-determination and control of territory) is incompatible with the inherent tendencies of globalism.

    Incidentally, the OED’s 5th entry for ‘globalism’ from The Economist, 1965 says: “Between globalism and isolationism there is extensive middle ground”. Indeed.

    It’s a quintessentially English pastime to drink tea (as well as being quintessentially [insert various Asian nationalities] too) – but ‘tea’ itself is exotic. The distinction is important, because your comment points to a deep and widespread confusion. Many in the west define not just their cultures and communities by the consumer products of the day – bad enough – but we are actually starting to define ourselves as individuals by the things we consume.

    You forget perhaps the most successful nation of our time, the United States of America. While there is a recent movement to oppose illegal immigration, even those involved have often given full support to legal immigration, welcoming people from all over the world to live and work in the ‘melting pot’. Bit of an elephant in the room really – even the USA 200 of years ago was a mixture of European nationalities, with natives and Africans gradually starting to become involved.

    I don’t see how someone whose primary concern is anti-racism can call the USA successful. Elephants in the room? Try reservations for the Indians (and yes, that’s what many of them like to be called), and near total self-segregation of Blacks and Whites, and increasingly Hispanics and Asians. The Indians and Blacks and European-Americans do not form a nation. The USA has unprecedented longevity as a society divided not just socially, but also politically and legally, by race – continuing to this day.

    I agree that the European peoples assimilated into a fairly cohesive whole – at least to the degree that they can be collectively targeted by a politics of racialised theft.

    This continuance of American state-racism means that millionaire Black celebrities and politicians can claim rewards worth $millions at the expense of immigrant or poor whites whose ancestors never owned a slave.

    It means that the wealth of White Americans can be appropriated by voluntary immigrants who claim membership of a newly created ‘racial category’ existing only in America and only to exploit White Americans.

    So I’m not entirely sure the ‘melting’ was to their advantage. In a world of ethnic-competition, those ethnies which refuse to defend themselves get ‘rolled’.

    And what of the Indian reservations – are they the future for the English who wish to see their people survive as a distinct ethny and enjoy some measure of self-determination?

    This still provides a difference.
    […]
    I don’t think it makes it particularly important, no. Not in terms comparable to the main difference between humans and other species. By the definition of species.

    Terms comparable yes, but not equivalent, obviously – or different races would be different species.

    Of course it provides a difference: a remarkable one. As I said before, even a 12.5% inter-group difference is equivalent to the kinship of a grandparent and grand-child, or uncle and nephew. Yet for Lewontin, and those who endlessly parrot his mantra, this level of relatedness is meaningless – but ONLY when it comes to ethnies and races.

    For ethnies and races what counts is that there is ‘more variation within groups than without’. Yet the same equation doesn’t matter for families at one end of the scale or for species at the other – only for the intermediate groups with most political significance. Can you say politicised pseudo-science?

    You must see why I suspect this singular renunciation of ethnic and racial identifications is a learned-response to a particular society’s taboos. The ‘scientific’ reasons offered in support of it are absurdly non-scientific on their own terms.

    Not convinced on the ‘Junk’ DNA – it is like the common belief that we only use 10% of our brains – we use far more, but at the time science could only work out a small proportion. Likewise, science is finding that the ‘Junk’ is actually not insignificant.

    Clearly not as ‘significant’ as DNA that never attracted the ‘junk’ tag, nor as relevant to racial differentiation.

    Well, some is cultural, and some is technological. The latter is generally always progressive (in that we rarely forget as a species). Often the cultural evolution arises as a result of the interface between cultures. That may be competitive, but it could equally be co-operative.

    Technology is a cultural artefact. A culture is the range of ideas, customs, products, and identifications which a given population can expect or hope to pass on to the next generation.

    Good luck ‘defining’ any specific national culture, but I’ll help you out: the ‘identification’ element is where you must start, and it changes – if it changes – much more slowly than the other elements.

    We rarely forget? I hope so. The record of multi-ethnic states and empires is uniformly bad.

    Re: competition vs. co-operation, the basis for co-operation is mutual recognition of self, other, and the principle of self-determination.

    Well, I think that a super/supra-national state does not necessarily lead to a single culture. Given that the UK has been around for some time, and yet the celtic national identities remain as strong as ever, I hope you see the point. Equally, the Roman Empire lasted over 500 years, and yet it did not become a true monoculture.

    I don’t even actually advocate a world state – I just don’t think it would make the difference that you think it would.

    It’s the variety of political, economic, scientific, and social forms which make ‘cultural diversity’ a value in itself. The UK and the Roman Empire are monocultures in that sense. It’s not about haggis vs. roast beef.

    The continuing attachment of the Scots and Welsh to their historic nation and the renaissance of English self-awareness is an argument against the viability anti-nationalism.

    I might chance my arm and say that in most aspects of most people’s lives those three nations share a broad culture, although I must admit the soap operas and favourite dishes of Britain’s households is of little concern to me.

    The distinction, undimmed after centuries of ‘union’ is in their contrasting ethnic identifications. Nations (meaning peoples) do not go to war over cuisine, literature, or music. They fight for their tribes.

    Your repeated claim not to be concerned whether you are a citizen of a city-state or a world-state, and that it would ‘not make much difference’ is baffling in the context of an argument opposing the nation-state, which is intermediate to both and far closer to the status-quo. Why do oppose ethnic-nationalism?

    So let’s look at that. What is a more significant change to England?
    a) The more than doubling of the population between the 19th C and the mid 20th C
    b) The shift from largely rural to largely urban societies between the 18th C and 19th C
    c) The large growth in the number of people aged over 60 in the past 100 years?
    d) The emigration of large numbers of people to the Americas and other parts of the Empire?
    e) The recent entry of a few million brown people into a nation of 50 millions?

    These questions don’t relate to the point about my experience of arts and technology being unrelated to the mass-immigration of recent decades but I’ll answer – d & e.

    And I’ll ask precisely the same question in different form:

    What would be a more meaningful change to your family – a change of address, or replacement of some of its children? What would be a more significant change to the human race – a doubling in population, or a merging with another species?

    [Nor, it seems, do Pakistanis or Jamaicans desire the mass-immigration of one another – or the Japanese, or us. We’re the only ones who think throwing a million foreigners at a culture will make it more efficient!] Well, apart from the Americans, who spent most of their history importing many million people from all over the globe, and have emerged as a major power, and a major cultural influence on the world.

    Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I meant all European and euro-derived states including the US.

    The ‘American’ economy and culture you speak of is a product of the European-americans who gradually assimilated into the core culture of the British founding fathers in an era when acculturation was demanded, and technology did not encourage the continuity of identification with the traditional community.

    I’m not sure even the European immigrants would have so readily assimilated if today’s technology had been available, but on the plus side the still unassimilated Indians and Africans might more successfully have resisted their subjugation.

    I would differ from this. I would instead say that a variety of genetic populations and cultures is valuable and that each should be respected, while not attempting to preserve any or all in aspic. The ‘sovereign’ bit I am not so sure about (nationalism has had a history of creating a lot of trouble).

    Protect that which is valuable.

    I’m pleased you see the wisdom of ‘respecting’ all ethnies and races and their rights to pursue survival. A determination among men to respect these ideals, widely shared among many ethnies is the best guarantor against genocide and the only guarantor of human rights.

    If people do not have the right of free association and self-determination within a sovereign territory then freedoms of speech, thought and religion, and ideals of justice and equality simply cannot be defended. We can’t do it as individuals – we must do it as communities whose sovereignty is defended and respected.

    Nationalism has a history of uniting the greatest number of people as are willing within a particular sovereign entity. Nationalism also has a uniquely successful record in uniting native peoples against the transgressions of imperialism – no nationalism, … no ‘end of empire.’

    The expressions of nationalism you likely have in mind are those of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and some affiliated regimes. They were an explicit response to the universalism of Marxism.

    I don’t think the USSR or Nazi Germany are representative of either the universalist or nationalist tendencies which human groups eternally balance.

    Not all universalists should suffer by association with genocidal racists like Marx and Engels, neither should all nationalists be dishonestly associated with concentration camps.

  11. Anneli Says:

    Intresting to read!! I’m a swedish student and I have an exam comming up about English history…like why Britain is described as not a single, ethnically homogeneous country and so on =) I went to google to find something about this and you blogg came up, I just wanted to say that! Fun to read how u as an english citizen define your self…our teacher is from England and its intresting to see how much your veiw of being english fits her veiw of it. Ok..thats all for me. Take care.


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