Thursday, August 25, 2005

Modern Brits & Assimilation

To assess if the Brits can successfully assimilate millions of new citizens, we need to understand their current core values. I logged-off them in 1991 & since then the UK has changed extensively. Brits have prospered from the Thatcher legacy but fallen under the nanny-state yokes of the EU and Blair's New Labor. So, I've done some research and here's an anthropological view.

It's from an excellent book called Watching the English by the anthropologist Kate Fox. She's examined the English (not the Welsh, Scots or Irish) exactly as she would an Amazonian tribe.

In spite of being a self-confessed Guardian reader (i.e. lefty), she's methodical, insightful and funny - the section on the English and Sex is uproarious. She's only seriously wrong on cars, where, being a Brit female, she fails to understand the key place of the Volvo in the Brit car Pantheon. And her description of business life doesn't match my experience - but then she works in the state sector. The book was published in 2004, so is up-to-date.

Here's what she concludes about the English.

1. The core of English identity is their chronic social inhibitions and handicaps.

This results in problems including fear of intimacy, insularity and general inability to engage straightforwardly with other human beings.

To me this is the weakest analysis - I don't know any English who are that socially crippled. Possibly this is stronger in Guardian-reading lefties, which would explain a lot.

2. English default modes of behavior are Humor and Moderation

The humor part is spot on - compare the average English and US blogs (ahem, mine is Welsh/American/etc).

Moderation is a very-deep seated English attribute. She says English revolutionaries would chant:

"What do we want? GRADUAL CHANGE! When do we want it? IN DUE COURSE!".

That's why, right now, they don't like police shooting people in London, even if in aggregate it makes the place safer. If the bombings continue and the bodies pile up, they'll change.

3. English outlooks are Empiricism, Gloominess and Class-consciousness

Very acute. On empiricism, a typical English saying is "I'll believe it when I see it". Isaac Newton was an empiricist - all that mattered was that the inverse square law worked, he didn't care why.

And English love being gloomy - if you ask one how he's doing, he's quite likely to say "mustn't grumble" (but then does). Unthinkable in the US. English eating a lousy meal in a restaurant are much more likely to moan about it to each-other than to the waiter. Now they moan about the EU and Blair, but don't do anything about either.

What strikes me as very new (and is not mentioned in the book) is the Blame Game - every problem has to be someone's fault, witness the witch hunt against London's cops. It wasn't like that when I was in the culture - you didn't grumble but kept a stiff upper lip and soldiered on. Now the English are a nation of John Edwardses. Not good.

I can't judge the class thing - I've been out of it too long.

4. Values are Fair Play, Courtesy, Modesty

Fair play includes supporting the underdog and compromising. Courtesy is more a surface than real - if you bump into an English person, they really do say "sorry", just like in National Lampoon's European Vacation. Modesty is all about boasting in code rather than outright, and playing down class/wealth/status differences.

All of which are true, although in my experience is Americans are more genuinely courteous and modest.

Bottom line: other than the Blame Game, the English seem remarkably unchanged by the dictatorships of Blair and the EU. To my (American) eye, they seem tentative, un-pushy, long-winded and negative. But to my (British) eye their moderation, humor and sense of fair play give them a unique basis for assimilating people from other cultures.

And (back to being American) they must be doing something right, they have the freest, least corrupt large economy in the world. They just have to stop playing the Blame Game.