Friday, June 20, 2014

Englishness - an identity acknowledgment

Picture of Chinese premier taken at Mansion House

I am invited to China's youthful Premier Li Keqiang keynote speech in Mansion House.

At a point in his talk, in the coded language of diplomacy, the premier is piqued, gently mocking a very British, even English trait.  

He says, I know you Think Tanks like to deal in abstracts. We (Chinese) deal with facts. Previous sentiment from the premier's office have been less guarded.

A day later, there's a need to reflect on Englishness further.

One of my Master's student Li Yang had completed her online assignment in the nick of time to be awarded a merit, but it was the last few passages of her essay that stood out like white peaks of the Andes.
"I always admired the English, but now I know you are shallow minded, are not interested in learning about anything, are lazy and have no interest in anyone else".

For that brief moment, I carried the weight of Englishness in determining whether I should address this off-piste topic, or ignore it.  I did the former.

She's not been alone. Almost every year, Chinese students, buoyed by tales of England before they arrive are somewhat crestfallen by the year's end. 

The first steps towards correcting alcoholism is to acknowledge you are an alcoholic, according to Alcoholics Anonymous. Yes, the English get drunk on their own sense of superiority, but they have ever reason to: the Magna Carta- the crucible of democracy. Never mind that it was foisted upon the populace. 

Its success in wars and meeting aggressors head-on. The English creators or co-creators (according to different narratives) of the beautiful game, gentlemen's game and summer post-coital game (Brideshead) ; Football, Rugby, and Cricket in that order.

The English are wont to feel full of themselves. But is that not what other nations radiate in their national identities? The Italians, Milan and cuisne; the French for their language of rhetoric and comprehending beauty; the Chinese for their work ethic and nay say can't and America for all things "Transformer" size and that psyche that the lines between a porter and president is within reach.

The English, though possess a dissonantly unique trait. Acknowledging their problems, discussing at length its remedies, but painfully not seeing them through.

Its borne out in recommendations in education policy. In the row over schools in Birmingham becoming Trojan horses for Islamic extremism, Ofsted's Sir Michael Wilshaw says he told the education secretary that if you want to conduct a fair assessment of a school it's better not to inform the institution when you intend to visit. Michael Gove MP, apparently ignored this sensible advice. 

The Metropolitan Police force have been informed by several bodies and a major enquiry  they are institutionally racist. But their current commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe's television interview rejects this.  "I hope not. I don't think it's for me to judge", he told ITV News.

The media can see no wrong, even when hacking a missing girl's phone that provided the impression she was still alive, and was seen as repulsive. Leveson's recommendations for change to protect the privacy of individuals has seemingly neither been helpful to press and media barons in the wake of such actions.

In all the last three cases, education, law and order,  and media, symptoms of the alcoholic disease is evident, denial of a real problem. For the period these events become newsworthy, they are discussed with the intensity of a grandmaster Chess player's crunch match.

Discuss, deject, damaged (DDD) could be an appropriate slogan. In spite of the realms of discourse, an inevitable dispiriting mist descends on the debate when no action is taken, and in time the damage becomes inevitable.

However, no where is the trenchant genre behaviour observed at a national event, more so, than in the united theme of sport, and in particular the game of football.

And if there is one arena where a drunken man wanders into his first AA to declare he is unfit, listened to, told what to do, but returns drunk again 4 years later to go through the same cycle, as if collective amnesia has gripped the AA meeting, it is the World Cup.

No matter what happens at consecutive World Cups, the formula stays in tact; the result is the same, the cycle of behaviour is unswerving. Cynically you could blame it on the media; they have to, after all, sell newspapers and television spots for advertisers and share holders. 

\lim_{x\to 0^+} \frac{1}{x} = \infin .

But truthfully, it is that singularity identified by Li Yang.  If x = feelings of superiority, then no matter how much it is diminished towards reaching zero, it forever is portrayed as infinity - an infinity of self-belief.  This by the way is the formula for resolving infinity.

Today, like previous years the over inebriated soul is spoken to: we have too many internationals in our domestic game, we can't cohere as a team; the rot starts from the playgrounds of 8 years olds hoofing and a roughing the game as Dad Terry stands on the sideline screaming "C'mon ma son ge stuck in there".

Football pundit Garth Crooks on Newsnight said this is not a night for hysteria, rather calm reflection. Whilst the other inteviewee the gorgeous ( er not my phraseology) David Ginola clearly had stronger issues to vent, but restrained himself on live TV. 

Notwithstanding the clever selection of pundits for Newsnight, the dichotomous views rather sums up why the English fail to address being 'drunk' on the pitch.

Both pundits agreed England lacks a national identity buttressed against the 3-million population of Uruguay who clearly know there's or the Vorsprung Durch Technik of the Germans.  But an equally fallable Achilles is reaching a consensus how to address this malaise running several generations.

My own two bit: groom a selection of strikers to reduce their odds at not fluffing the ball when the goal scoring chance is inevitable and find something which enables English footballers to handle pressure. 

Never mind I tweeted after the match.

With shades of the Oracle's advice to Neo in mind... You don't believe in all this crap. Have a cookie and when you walk away from this you'll feel bright at ray.

So back to the drawing board. Perhaps in reading the Times with its headline featured piece: 'Reforms are crushing creativity and turning children into robots', this is at centre of England's woes.

Based on fact,  the Brits and Englanders are good at creativity e.g. Olympics. Maybe then its management stifling advances. Move over the FA. Or maybe, as an outsider looking in suggests, we're just not good enough anymore.

All grist to my mill. I'm about to present a paper from my doctorate thesis on how to reform television news. It's not as if no one knows the media is broken and others have tended ideas year after year. But broadcasting for the last 50 years has more or less remained the same. 

England. We like our traditions. And we like a real pint of beer as well and getting hammered on the weekends.