My word is my bond

Are teenagers really just lab rats to be exposed to whatever crackpot experiments politicians want to try? Last week, we learned that they were the intended guinea pigs for the “benefits” of ID. Now, there’s yet another dubious initiative targetting youth – maybe because it
would get laughed out of existence by the adult population. There’s a plan for UK schoolchildren to swear an oath of allegiance.

This strikes a particular chord with me, as I remember being a rebellious uprooted-Brit 7 year-old who hissed “Oh Canada, our home and hated land” under her breath when we had to do the incomprehensible “singing the Canadian national anthem and saluting-the-flag” stuff.

So from my own experience, I know that – despite what religious leaders and heads of state seem to assume – making people mouth adherence doesn’t actually make them believe what they have to say. It may just give them another reason for disliking and distrusting you. It certainly makes a mockery of the concept of sincerity.

The BBC says:
School-leavers should be encouraged to swear an oath of allegiance to Queen and country, says a report commissioned by Gordon Brown on British citizenship.
Report author, ex-attorney general Lord Goldsmith, says it would give teenagers a sense of belonging.
Council tax and student fee rebates are suggested for people who volunteer – as well as a “Britishness” public holiday.

Point by point, in a pointless refutation:

  • So, Lord Goldsmith, who is hardly on the breadline, has been paid public money to spout garbage. (“…report commissioned…”)
  • An oath to Queen and country? So (small r) republicans are by definition unpatriotic?
  • Give teenagers a sense of belonging? Of belonging to the country? Surely, they just do by living here. How can mouthing a pre-written formula give a “sense” of belonging? They might actually feel more connected to the rest of society if they weren’t pressured at school, ignored, demonised, given no space to play……
  • The idea of bribing young people to swear to this stuff makes me gag. One of the rules for life that you expect people to pass to their children is that they can’t buy real friends. Loyalty that has to be paid for is, almost by definition, not loyalty.
  • Rewarding children for mouthing feelings that they don’t honestly feel is the worst kind of lesson in ethics. You might think that encouraging forthrightness and honesty were the sort of ethical values we would want the next generations to hold. (Yes, I know, I keep forgetting that we’re in the 21st century/1984 and honest and open dissent is a definite non-starter.)
  • What a ludicrous set of suggested bribes, anyway. Money off their council tax. How many schoolkids pay property tax? Money off their student fees. Well, the Scots have done a much more effective job of ensuring real national loyalty by not charging the fees in the first place.
  • Loyalty oaths are fine when they mean something, when they represent a real and free commitment. For instance, a military oath of allegiance or the Hippocratic Oath are a public affirmation that a person has chosen to accept certain responsibilities and standards of conduct. They can be held accountable if they fail in their duties. Someone who affirms that they will tell the truth in court can be tried for perjury, if they turn out to be lying. Will a child who makes a national citizenship oath be held accountable if they decide to emigrate?

A loyalty oath is already being made by new British citizens. At least, these people have volunteered for UK citizenship, so it’s reasonable to expect them not to choose to engage in treason. But, imagine you are hellbent on the violent destruction of British society. If you are the sort of person who thinks human life is less important than whatever your religious/political goals are, are you going to balk at mouthing a few words that you don’t mean?

There is an incredible naivety in assuming that people cannot mouth words expressing loyalty and still be disloyal. Most of us know from our own lives that the people who speak the most flatteringly are the most likely to stab you in the back. Are politicians and Lord Goldsmith actually that much stupider than the average person on the bus? Don’t bother to answer that.

5 thoughts on “My word is my bond

  1. As an American, allow me to say…. WTF, this is actually a matter of controversial debate for you guys? OMG. Yer lucky.

    I mean, you don’t have to Pledge Allegiance To The Flag And To The Republic For Which It Stands One Nation Under (coughcough) Indivisible With Liberty And Justice For All?

    Sorry, it just sort of all came out as reflex.

  2. Well said bron and goldsmiths are simply a brown suspect lot. Just like blair before. I also wrote about teh citizenship rubbish at length. will give you a cross link as extra reads on this topic!

  3. Pingback: In search of an identity « La Vie Quotidienne

  4. This is something which really annoys me.

    The idea that forcing someone to take an oath has any value is stunning. Forcing children to take an oath strikes me (and always has) as pointless – it doesn’t create unity where there is none and does not instil civic pride where there is none. This is one of many examples of people in the UK looking to other countries and trying to cherry pick their cultural values without realising the impact other cultural values have on them.

    For example, in the US the pledge may indeed instil civic pride and a sense of national identity but that is surely down to the rest of the cultural system that surrounds it.

    IMHO people should take an oath of allegiance because they understand what it entails and are willing to be held to it. Forcing children to take it demeans the concept – children do not choose to be born British, so how can the oath be binding. If it is not binding, why do it?

    (slippery slope alert) Take this in the context of ID cards, uniformed soldiers on the streets and massive amounts of government surveillance and it really makes you wonder what happened to Great Britain…

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