Recently there’s been a lot of talk about English culture and how it needs to be defended. There are many things I love about the country of my birth – and just as many that I’d like to change. That’s part of the deal! Culture doesn’t stand still – unless it is dead, mummified and entombed like the Ancient Egyptians. Culture grows and evolves with us. We can all – should all – play a part in shaping it. But there is no “English culture” to defend. Nor is there for any other country. Still less so for religions, which have always assimilated aspects of indigenous cultures as part of their proselytisation process.
Nations are political constructs that seek to legitimise themselves by calling on some unifying national identity. But such a culture doesn’t exist. Culture is multi-faceted and multi-centred. It thrives on interaction. Our so-called “English culture” is a perfect example of that. When you look into it a great many things we would identify as quintessentially English have their roots overseas and were imported by earlier settlers, invaders – or just because we liked the idea. And then, having discovered we liked the idea we fiddled about with it, made our own changes and adapted it to our own tastes. Acknowledging this doesn’t demean our culture. Indeed it is worth celebrating – and yes, defending too if the occasion arises.
But what exactly are we defending? And against whom? We must defend living culture against all attempts to smother it with the dead hand of nationalism, religion or just the creeping death of misty-eyed nostalgia. We should have no truck with dead cultures, frozen in time with their regalia, books and icons. Our history should be a launching pad for new achievements not a dead weight that pulls us back. We all have histories. We are all surrounded by spirits – but we honour them by directly interacting with them rather than allowing them to be broken and mis-shappen by intermediaries with agendas of their own. So let us share those histories. Let us mix those spirits into a new and heady cocktail. Let us get drunk on sharing, friendship, love and creation.