The last night of the proms

Yesterday evening I watched the last night of the proms.

Yes, I know it’s the end of November, and the last night of the proms takes place in August, but here in Sweden we get to see the recording around the first of advent. We watched the first hour, then had to switch channels to see another program, and came back just in time for the last – and most traditional – half hour.

I sang “Land of Hope and Glory” at full volume, grimacing only mildly over the lines

“God who made thee mighty
Make thee mightier yet.”

For it was not god but an effective armaments industry and the poverty which made so many young men seek a career in the army, coupled with a psychopathic indifference at the national level for the aborigines in the lands they conquered, which made Great Britain mighty.

I listened as the audience sang “Rule Britannia”, and saw no-one choke on the line

“Britains never, never, never will be slaves.”

And so through “Jerusalem” with its

“I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green and pleasant Land”

And the national anthem, in which even the third verse was sung, with the line

“May she defend our laws.”

I wondered which laws she now defends.

And in the middle of watching this British orgy of self-adulation, with mini Albert Halls throughout the length and breadth of the land, each with its thousands waving British flags and English flags and Brazilian flags and the flags of many other nations, I wondered: what happened to the spirits of the men and women who wrote and sang those songs?

According to Wikipedia, “Rule Britannia” is the oldest, dating from 1740, predating even the national anthem, which, in its present form, first saw the light of day in 1744. “And did those feet in ancient times” was written in 1804 and set to music in 1916, and “Land of Hope and Glory” dates from 1902. So these four pieces span the entire period of the industrial revolution, the source of British power, and ending with the first world war.

It was a time when mankind multiplied the power of human muscle many times over, catapulting most men from a precarious, agrarian existence on the borderline of starvation to a somewhat more secure life of relative well-being. It was a time when men generated enough of a surplus for the creation of such luxuries as general schooling, organised research, and a thriving cultural life. It was a time when men could create or lose great fortunes on new inventions and discoveries, and the aristocracy had to put up with a larger percentage of parvenues in their ranks than their predecessors.

Men could justifiably be proud of what they created, each to his own capacity, if less proud of how the new-found wealth was put to use, and they sang songs to their own glorification, and believed in a golden future. And for one night in the year, the British are apparently still able to do that. For that one night, they can sing the same songs, and believe themselves to be the equal of the men who lived when the songs were first sung. How sorely they are mistaken.

When the songs were first sung, men and women were breaking down technical, commercial and cultural barriers, breaking themselves free from centuries, if not millenia, of feudalism, exploring our world, whether as scientist, convict in exile, or soldier, bringing home new knowledge, and new words with which to enrich the English language. The convicts to be sure did not return.

I look at the people now singing these songs, at the world that our generation has created, and I wonder how any man or woman could have allowed this to happen and not reacted with anger and revolt. I wonder how such vapid, characterless people as we have in power, with not a charismatic figure amongst them, could so have made a mockery of the line

“Britains never, never, never will be slaves”.

For Britains are now slaves. Who but slaves would have allowed such abominations as the Terrorist Act of 2000 and not protest? Who but slaves would have allowed their government to take them to war on a lie? Who but slaves would accept the right of private companies to close down a person’s internet access, the lifeblood of our modern society, without the right to a trial? Who but slaves would agree to the extension of copyright by a further twenty years for no other reason than that the already excessive period of copyright was about to run out, and people were still singing the songs for which copyright had originally been granted? Who but slaves would put up with a justice system which is no longer concerned with public safety, but with putting down in the least sign of protest in the most brutal manner and punishing the protesters with punitive prison sentences?

Now, at last, it seems that there may be a glimmer of hope for these slaves, for despite the betrayal of the justice system, people are at last beginning to protest. Even the riots in august, when some people were singing anachronistic, jingoistic songs, others were rejecting their own rejection in the most pointed way, and taking for themselves, as they saw others take for themselves. Not that I defend the looting, but I can at least understand it, and I cannot justify the draconian crack-down which it has elicited from those who feel the vibrations in their once safe world.

(I do not refer to the so-called Arab spring, since there is reason to believe that there is more behind some instances of this than mere public anger at dictatorial regimes.)

Of course it is not just the British who, somewhat belatedly, may be coming out of their stupified dream. First in Iceland, then in Ireland, then in Greece, Spain, Italy, the protests have grown larger and larger, and not always more violent, at least from the protesters’ side, although the brutality with which they have been met has escalated until one can say that in each country there is a civil war raging. Even in the US, which has always held itself up as the protector of the moral high ground, we have seen the worst excesses of right-restricting legislation, the worst excesses of government selling out the people who elect them to the commercial interests from whom they are supposed to protect their electors, and the worst excesses of brutality towards the public from the forces intended to protect the public. Who has not seen with disgust the films of one Lt Pike pepper-spraying peaceful demonstrators the way you and I spray insects, and casually asking a colleague for the loan of his pepper spray, when Pike’s own was empty?

There is reason to hope that the brutality itself may in fact contain the seeds of destruction of the present degraded system, for when the people to whom one looks for ones protection, whether at the political level or the level of law and order, react as they have done, one has no other alternative than to reject in the most violent way the so-called protectors, and, however well-equipped they are, and however well-trained, they are in a significant minority.

Let us hope that the reaction we are beginning to see, and others like it, will continue, and grow, and spread, until we come to a time when people will sing the songs of the last night of the proms, and others like them, not just one night in August, but every day.

© James Wilde 2015