The thought receptacle

Stephen's mental dustbin

Sun, 12 Sep 2010

Alien nation

My last post is a bit irksome. On reflection it's gapingly flawed in at least two ways. Firstly, it's needlessly comparative. All of my points would have stood without introducing flimsy anecdotal claims that women are perhaps on average more conservative than men (which may or may not be true, but is irrelevant), as opposed to being simply sufficiently conservative to make the publishers' actions rational (which is the real point). Men are conservative too, but I'm being swayed too much by the anecdotal fact that I consider myself less conservative than average (in the relevant respects) and am also a man. Secondly, there is a hypocrisy in demanding data while being happy itself to advance arguments from a distinct absence thereof. These are rhetorical failures rather than logical or factual flaws, and the written sentiments reflect my honest beliefs fairly accurately. So, although this admission contradicts a position I hold with near-religious conviction, sometimes honesty is not the best policy.

The real problem is that my mood recently has been sufficiently grouchy that any sector of humanity is liable to get it in the neck from me given half an opportunity. Last night it was the Last Night crowd's turn. I'm talking about the Proms of course. It still puzzles me how so many people can give themselves so unselfconsciously to a sentiment that is not only gigantically cliché but so clearly meaningless. What is nationalism anyway? What should I feel about my home country? I might have a slight fondness for it, in the same pseudo-nostalgic way that I'm fond of the town I grew up in, or the film that turned me on to cinema (Stand By Me), or the destination en route to which I discovered my love of cycling (yes, Bedford), or the place I first ate really good pizza (okay, no, I can't remember). But beyond that, pageantry just seems so transparently unjustified. It's not as though I can claim any kinship to any significant proportion of my fellow countrymen, when most of them are nothing but a vaguely well-meaning source of annoyance competing for our isle's scarce resources, and many of them are somewhere between annoying and loathsome. If you need confirmation of that, just check the Mail's circulation figures. Every nation has its pompous anthem, claiming its citizens to be the most decent and brave and upstanding and whatever. Clearly, they can't all be right, and it's likely that none of them is.

So, with pomp and circumstance as with so many things, somehow my brain just says no; it's not okay to go along with what these other people are doing, because it would mean feigning subscription to ideas that are disagreeable or even, in the case of nationalist pomp, just nonsensical. Honesty is the best policy, after all. Just as I sometimes wonder if I'm the only person who compulsively practises extreme honesty---paying the full fare (bus, train, cinema, you name it) even if you can get away without it, not claiming expenses for the grey-area things (never mind black-area), refusing to sing hymns (in the rare occasions when called upon) because he can't subscribe to their sentiments, disliking most kinds of ceremony just for the sheer pretence of it, and generally being an honesty obsessive---so also I feel like the only person who craves not just honesty but authenticity. There's just so much bullshit that it's so easy to take lying down, to say “yes, isn't that nice” in complete betrayal of brain. Most people are happy to wave flags, to smile blandly at Hollywood films, to nod along to whatever music is on the radio (where nodding is whatever other people seem to do), to justify their actions on the grounds that they're “what people do”. I can't “just do” these things; I have to question them, to the point where I can say I've understood and can subscribe to what I've understood. It seems I am this way predisposed to a unique extreme. I'm not sure why... how can you endorse anything before you've considered it for yourself, unless you've decided honestly to nail your very personal colours to it? Nationality in particular is just too vague a label to be worth that honour. In general I find it quite easy to feel alien from my fellow humans for one thing or another that they apparently subscribe to, whether or not they would think to remark at all on that thing it themselves.

It's quite inconvenient to be such an authenticity obsessive. Basic tasks like clothes-shopping are difficult because of the alienation I feel from the pictures of models all around... who are these sneery, implausible people staring at the camera with contempt? Can I really endorse their exhibitors by giving them my money? Even buying washing powder is an alienating experience... I don't have a family, and why does this box have a picture of a baby on it? Eateries, coffee-eries and drinking establishments are also subject to a filter... if the ambiance speaks to someone other than me, or if the clientele seem too alien, I am easily made uncomfortable.

Some people like to reflect on their non-uniqueness as human beings, to note all the ways in which they tick the boxes of some stereotype and are superficially similar to large portions of the population. But I have the opposite problem: I feel like an alien, citizen of a nation of one. I feel like Sting would if he was the only tea-drinker in the universe. Snowflake, cornflake or nutflake? You decide.

[/all] permanent link


Powered by blosxom

validate this page