Saturday, January 8, 2011

'The narcissism of minor differences'

I mentioned a certain Cornish sex memoirist in my previous post, and it just so happens that Mr Sean Thomas randomly namechecked me earlier this evening in a comment that rehearsed a very familiar Brit Nat delusion...

"...more importantly, the phrase “narcissism of minor differences” is entirely Freud’s, not mine.
He used it, IIRC, to describe the piffling disagreements and differences between small, middle European statelets which got blown up into massive nationalistic struggles, and led to World War 1 etc.

It is brilliantly descriptive, I feel, of the attitudes of Scot Nats to England. 

Note how Nits always go on about how Scotland (genetically, linguistically and culturally almost identical to England) is always so much better because of some tiny alleged superiority in the Scottish legal system, or the special way they teach maths in Fife as compared to Surrey, or the uniquely humane size of shepherds crooks in the Highlands, or whatever.

The narcissism of minor differences. James Kelly and Stuart Dickson are living examples. Another reason to reinstate Stuart: comedy value."

I'm not sure this is hugely relevant to my nationalist views, but I can recall as a teenager travelling to the south of England for only the second or third time in my life, and being struck by just how startlingly alien it all felt.  Not in any sense in a bad way - I walked around the town centre of High Wycombe and suddenly became aware that I felt ten times more relaxed than I normally would at home, or indeed anywhere in the northernmost two-thirds of the UK.  There wasn't the familiar sense of people keeping a semi-suspicious eye on everyone around them - young men were strutting about like peacocks, and shoppers were shouting their personal affairs at the top of their voices as if no-one else existed.  The sense of humour was utterly unrecognisable as well.

Perhaps the reason it came as such a shock was the fiction of British cultural homogeneity that the 'national' media constantly peddle - the expectation must have crept into my subconscious at some stage.  I now tend to think that the logic for Britain as a 'natural country' crumbles if you simply visit London, then visit Dublin, and subsequently ask yourself a few quick questions.  Which felt culturally closer to home?  And yet which is supposedly 'our' capital, and which is the 'foreign' city?

For the avoidance of doubt, though, I think it may just about be possible for us to be aware of these differences from other countries without it actually triggering World War Three.  Tricky, but Sweden, Peru and New Zealand all seem to manage it somehow...


  1. It may be nit-pickingly tedious to say so, but Sean's wrong about the phrase. Its not 'entirely' Freud's because he lifted the basic notion from someone else and renamed it. More importantly, Sean's description of Freud's meaning is well off the mark - Freud saw it as relatively benign phenomenon, and with a more or less positive social function. Freud did indeed mention the difference between the English and the 'Scotch' in this respect but it had nothing whatsoever to do with WW1, or massive nationalistic struggles, which is another fiction of Sean's imagination.

    Sociologically, the differences between Scotland and England in 1930 were not at all as insignificant as Freud assumed when he wrote it. The relationship of church and politics in Scottish society was scarcely less byzantine than it had been for the previous 50 years, with nothing comparable in English society. While Scottish universities still (just) produced about half of all the graduates in the UK, social conditions, such as the highest infant mortality rate in Europe, were causing 20% of the entire population to emigrate. Etc.

    On the other hand, it's been said that globalisation (say, since the 1980's) has indeed created created cultural convergence in the UK, but the problem is that its not specific to within the UK - its the well-known homogenisation effect of the turbocapitalist global market (and the accompanying technological revolution associated with satellites, mobile phones, and the internet).

  2. Thanks, Ratzo - I managed to direct Sean to your comment earlier this evening. I must have caught him in a good mood, because he actually conceded he'd been half-wrong!

  3. A quick comment on Sean Thomas' statement:

    "Scotland [is] genetically, linguistically and culturally almost identical to England"

    I am confused by this. Is Mr Thomas being serious?

    Genetically (almost) identical?
    Yes, of course, any genetic differences between Scotland and England will be totally negligible, in the same way that my genes are not the same as my other family members. Just as Scots are 99.99999999999999999999 % identical to English, so are we 99.99999999999999999999 % identical to the Irish, Welsh, French, Norwegians, Polish and to every single human being on the planet Earth. We should also note that humans are 98 - 99 % genetically identical to chimpanzees (some humans' behaviour suggests this more than others).

    What exactly is the point Sean Thomas is trying to make by this statement? Must "genetically identical" countries all be in political and economic union together?

    Did Mr Thomas mean to say "ethnically identical" ? Could Scotland and England be described as ethnically identical? How do you define "ethnic group"? Is it more cultural than genetic (genetic differences already dismissed as ridiculously negligible and, in any case, irrelevant)?

    I would say Scots are a different ethnic group to the English, but the extent of my disagreement would depend on the definition of "ethnically identical". If we accept that Scotland is ethnically identical to England, then we must also say that in 2011 the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales are also ethnically identical to England because the dominant language in all those countries is English and they have a culture which is (generally speaking) as similar to English culture as Scottish culture is.

    Linguistically (almost) identical?
    Yes English is the dominant language in Scotland but the English spoken in Scotland is frequently diluted with varying degrees of the Scots language (in some circumstances it would be accurate to say that the Scots spoken in Scotland is diluted with English). And Gaelic is patently not identical to English. However, I accept that the dominant language for most purposes is an English very similar to that spoken in England and could be described as "identical" - but the same could be said of Ireland (Republic and NI) and, to a lesser extent, Wales.

    Culturally (almost) identical?
    What can one say to this?

    Perhaps to peoples from outwith (and to some form within) the 'North-West European Archipelago' it does seem as if our differences are "minor" but both the history and present state of these islands suggests otherwise.

  4. I am confused by this. Is Mr Thomas being serious?

    I'm afraid so. For instance, I've had a number of discussions with him in the past on the "genetic" point - he's fixated with the idea that "the British" are ethnically homogenous, while of course being conveniently totally distinct from continental Europeans. He claims that the various waves of invaders to these shores (Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, etc) have made very little contribution to the gene pool.