Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Friday, 4 March 2016

T-shirt legend

From photos taken at National Secular Society meeting in October 2012:

The delusion of pure Englishness

From Another Angry Voice by Thomas G. Clark:

The rise of hate-fuelled Facebook pages like Britain First and the sheer number of extreme-right ranters who see any online discussion thread as a suitable vessel in which to spew their noxious anti-immigrant bile makes it seem that Britain is becoming a more intolerant place, where people like racists, fascists and xenophobes feel ever more empowered to spread their hateful ideas.

An awful lot of the people who hold these extreme-right views seem completely impervious to stuff like facts, logic or critical analysis, thus simplistic tropes like "close the borders" or "send them back to where they came from" become their easy answers to all of societies' ills.

Stupid policies

Take Britain First's proposal that the word "racism" be completely banned from the English language. Not only is the idea of completely banning a word bizarrely impractical, it also reveals a severe authoritarian streak. These people are so dictatorial that they want to control people's thoughts and ideas by restructuring the English language to proscribe any term that could be used to criticise their own ideology.

Their thinking is that if people accuse them of being racist, they can solve the problem by banning the word racism! Thus, if anyone accuses them of being corrupt, incompetent or fascistic, they will simply ban the words "corruption", "incompetence" and "fascism" too.

The idea of a fascistic political party attempting to ban words from the English language is like some kind of George Orwell inspired satire, except that it's not a satire, it's a real ideology that well over a million people follow on Facebook!

Pure Englishness
It's not just the policies of the extreme-right that are laughably incoherent, a lot of their ideology is nonsensical crackpottery too. This article is about the ludicrous extreme-right concept of "pure Englishness".

In one discussion on the Another Angry Voice Facebook page someone made the point that there is no such thing as "pure Englishness", because if any English person looks far enough back in their ancestry, they're going to find an immigrant in there somewhere. Maybe an Irish migrant worker, a French Hugenot, a Norman lord, a Viking warrior or someone from some part of the Roman empire.

I thought that pointing out the fiction of "pure Englishness" was a good point to make, but a counter-argument was raised by a "Pure English" ultra-nationalist. This was his argument:

"I checked my family tree. I am english. Pure english. My family were here before the nation state of england existed as were many other families."

This might seem like a fair claim on the face of it, since there were indeed many English families living in England in the 10th Century (when the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms unified into the kingdom of England), however the slightest amount of sensible consideration shows this statement up as utterly delusional nonsense.

Any genealogist will tell you that the further back you go, the harder it is to find all of your ancestors, because the number of them doubles with every generation. We have two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, sixteen great great grandparents and onwards in an exponential growth pattern.

If we add the generations together we get this sequence:

1 generation (parents) = 2
2 generations (parents + grandparents) = 6
3 generations (parents + grandparents + great grandparents) = 14

4 generations (parents + grandparents + great grandparents + g. g. grandparents) = 30

The formula for this progression is x = 2n+1 - 2 with n being the number of generations and x being the total number of ancestors to be checked for Englishness.

It's difficult to know how many generations to go back to measure this claim of pure Englishness from "before England existed as a nation state", but since the Kingdom of England came into existence in the 10th Century, 1,000 years seems a fair estimate. Genealogists tend to use 20 years for a familial generation for historical periods, and 25 years for the modern era, so a claim to be "pure English" since the 10th Century suggests that something like 50 generations must have been thoroughly checked.

If we put the number 50 into our genealogy equation it turns out that our right-wing "pure English" fellow is claiming to have checked somewhere in the region of 2,251,799,813,685,246 ancestral connections and found them all to have been English born. The idea that our "Pure English" right-wing nationalist has checked all of two quadrillion ancestral connections and found every single one of them to be English is utterly absurd. If he spent just one second checking each of his two and a quarter quadrillion ancestral connections for Englishness (without any breaks for sleeping or eating), the task would have taken him 71,404,103 years to complete!

What our "pure English" nationalist is expecting us to believe is that he has spent millions of years checking all of his quadrillions of ancestral connections, and that every single one of them was English born!

Even if we let him off with such an obvious exaggeration, and reduce the magnitude of the task from fifty generations to just ten generations, that still leaves a huge number of people to be checked for Englishness (2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32 + 64 + 128 + 256 + 512 + 1,024). So in order to prove that you're "pure English" for ten generations, you'd have to research 2,046 ancestral connections and find conclusive proof that every single one of them was English born.

Extreme xenophobia

One branch of my family tree has been traced back for hundreds of years to a small village in Yorkshire. I was also born in Yorkshire, so I feel like if anywhere is my home region, it is Yorkshire.

On the other hand it doesn't take me many generations at all to find ancestors who were born outside of Yorkshire, and outside of the United Kingdom for that matter.

Does the existence of non-Yorkshire ancestors make me any less of a Yorkshireman? Of course it doesn't.

The only way it could ever make a difference is if I was such a xenophobic nationalist that I loathed myself for the fact that some of my ancestors were born overseas, rather than being fascinated, as I am, by my family heritage.


The idea of ethnic purity is absurd enough in its own right, but the idea of ethnically pure Englishness is staggeringly delusional given that the English people derived from a mix of various pre-Roman cultures, people from all over the vast Roman empire, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings, Normans and countless other waves of migration.

I pity anyone who is xenophobic enough to think that "pure Englishness" is a trait to be proud of, and delusional enough to think that it's even possible to prove "pure Englishness" beyond a few generations.

It's easy to feel sorry for people who suffer this kind of warped xenophobic delusion of their "pure Englishness" on an individual basis, but as George Carlin once said, it's important to "never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups".