Thursday, October 8, 2009

A National Identity Crisis

I recently added a comment to Charon QC's blog about the state of the nation following the terrible story of Fiona Pilkington.
In the comment I asserted that the culture of this country is broken and we seem to keep trying to deal with the symptoms of the situation rather than the cause. This of course, doesn’t fit for political posturing during party conference season, prior to the general election.
Additionally I nodded to how Scandinavia seems to have got many things right in terms of culture and attitude and saw this week with interest that once again the UN stipulates that Norway is the number 1 country to live in.
Being a frequent visitor of Norway due to family connection, I have always been struck by the cultural values and national identity there that seems alien in this country and this I believe to be at the core of our systemic problem. We can’t just copy their system tactically; we have to understand it culturally too. Why do they have a system that is so much more open for abuse than we have, yet far less abused by their populace, the reason is it is abhorrent in their nature and there lies a clue, they have a national conscience and a concept of collective responsibility.
We seem to have fallen into a culture where we have decided to abdicate our collective responsibility to authorities and thus blame them entirely when society doesn’t work; we rely upon our government to legislate our behaviour and then protest of a “nanny state” when they apply it. When systems fail because of a lack of regulation we once again blame the state, but where are we taking some of the responsibility? When the world economy collapsed due to the relaxed lending principles of most banks, primarily with mortgages, I still cannot understand how so many were taken by surprise.
So many people were borrowing way and above what were truly affordable for them and they must have known that. I know from personal experience that I was offered much higher value mortgages than I knew I could comfortably afford, and only status anxiety and postcode snobbery could have overridden that fact. Which I think is the root cause of our cultural psyche at the moment; we are still in a post-Thatcherite era of self obsession and identity crisis. This is often evidenced in the extreme narcissism of reality TV, but can be witnessed across the board in our behaviour in multiple arenas. There is a fascinating history to this within the excellent documentary series by Adam Curtis "The Century of the Self" and "The Trap", additionally Alain DeBotton’s book "Status Anxiety", within  these examinations are some fascinating insights into how we became what we are and what we need to evaluate before trying to cure the symptoms.

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