Friday, 22 July 2011

On Monarchy and Immaturity

As a species, we humans have made significant advances. However, there are many aspects of modern life where we remain less evolved than we ought to be; allowing millions to starve, the proliferation of needless wars and the rise and spread of predatory capitalism are three examples. Generally, though, at least in the West, living standards are improving and people are becoming more sophisticated than ever before.

Yet as I have watched the news, and observed the media lately in its various forms, I have been staggered by the sheer volume and breadth of the coverage that a certain recent ‘royal’ wedding has received and all the pomp and hoopla that has surrounded the main players, the event itself and its aftermath (the ‘royal’ tour to Canada for example).

Why do people care about this? I realise that we live in an age of hyper-celebrity but this is unparalleled. Given the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, and the explosion of social networking and entertainment media, these nuptials have surpassed Charles and Diana's wedding 30 years earlier. Isn’t this circus just a little silly?

Australia is a constitutional monarchy, most of us know that. The Governor-General is the representative of the monarch and performs a largely ceremonial function although she retains the power to exercise significant reserve powers under our Constitution (such as dismissing a government) whist serving, in a strict legal sense, as the nation's Commander in Chief of the armed forces.

I have no difficulty with, or objection to, our constitutional framework other than that we have a monarch as our titular Head of State. I strongly believe that Australia is overdue to become a republic.

I advocate a minimal change. I don't suggest we model our constitutional arrangements on the United States of America (as an example); all that's required is that the Australian Governor-General, and the Governors of each of the States, sever their ties to the British monarchy and therefore not act as a Vice Regal representative of a foreign power (yes, I realise that technically QE2 is the 'Queen of Australia' but that is a matter of semantics. She is no more Australian than Genghis Khan was!). I see no difficulty with retaining the titles ‘Governor-General’ or ‘Governor’ although we could call this new Head of State ‘President’ or some other title to differentiate it as a new office. I have no strong feelings either way.

The British monarchy, and any monarchy in a modern developed Western society, is an outdated relic from an earlier time, namely the feudal period of the Dark and Middle Ages. Why do people continue to cower down and fawn over these people? Why are they given so much unearned privilege? I find it really bizarre and quite immature.

I am sure William is quite a nice guy. His father is a little weird, but he seems harmless enough. His paternal grandmother is a little bit stuffy though, but she seems really into her job and it’s commendable that she is continuing to work full time well into her mid-80s. Wills' paternal grandfather though seems like a bit of an old wag and it sounds as if he was pretty wild in his day. I think I would have liked to have gone out on the razzle with him back in his heyday in the 1940s.

Nevertheless, I have never been able understand why our society has this crowd on such a pedestal? What exactly is it about them that puts them over and above the rest of us? Not only do I have this question as regards ‘royalty’, but also with ‘aristocracy’ more generally.

I understand that back in times-gone-by the landed gentry, as it was then, owned vast tracts of land and many of the villagers would work for ‘their lord’ on this land. These Dukes, Earls and the like (invariably male) would in turn pledge a portion of their revenue to the sovereign and provide him (usually) with troops in times of war called up from the among the peasants. I understand how and why this system developed but what I don't understand is why we are continuing in the modern era to tolerate the monarchy, and even strengthen it by showering so much adoration upon its principal actors?

The British ‘royal’ family is nothing more than a soap opera, the Bold and the Beautiful comes to mind. Charles is a lot like Ridge Forrester with a comb-over and Diana and Camilla was/is reminiscent of Brooke and Taylor respectively. Philip definitely has a bit of Eric Forrester's swagger and Elisabeth reminds me of the scheming Stephanie, the family matriarch. Of course, I don't watch this program myself you understand? My, er, um, neighbour always talks about it...

I'm not trying to tear these people down because they are wealthy and famous. I do believe that the world's fascination with the celebrity phenomenon has begun to get out of hand, but I am not criticising them because of their wealth and influence. My principal criticism is that, unlike most celebrities (of the Brad Pitt, Charlie Sheen or Britney Spears variety) the British ‘royal’ family, and indeed the other ‘royal’ families of Europe, are influential not because of their own intrinsic qualities but rather because they have been born into power.

The average-garden-variety entertainment celebrity has (in the overwhelming majority of cases) actively worked to achieve their level of fame. They have put real effort into their career and they have been brought into the forefront of global consciousness, if I can call it that, as a direct result of their skills, talents and abilities (however limited they seem to us the viewing/listening public). One doesn't need to like or respect a particular celebrity or even recognise their talents (or lack thereof) to realise that their fame (or infamy) is the product of their own efforts. This is not the case with ‘royal’ families. Why are people twice or even three times William's age bowing and curtseying before him? Although he seems like a rather impressive young man, I simply don't understand why such deference is paid to him and the other members of his family?

Taking the case of William for the purposes of illustration, other than the genes swimming around in his body, what exactly is it about him that puts him on such a high pedestal? If we are excluding his ‘royal birthright’ then it can't be due to the identity of his parents. To my knowledge, he doesn't produce works of art, nor is he a movie or television star (again, excluding his ‘royal’ character). He doesn't perform life saving brain surgery on infants nor does his alleged charity work set him apart because he would not be patron (or otherwise engaged to the extent he is) of so many charities if it wasn't for his lineage. And his military career is unremarkable.

I'm not suggesting that we abolish all forms of social hierarchy. I'm not an anarchist. Every nation on earth, except perhaps some of the so-called ‘failed states’, have a government and representatives from amongst the citizens are chosen to serve in these governments. In many cases, these representatives are democratically elected, although in some communist states, for example, there are other means of selecting government officials (and it is beyond the scope of this opinion-piece to discuss this in any great depth). My point is that it is impractical to have a truly egalitarian society at this point in human development. We are not yet that highly evolved. But I think that societies, particularly Western societies, can do a lot better than selecting or entrenching members of a particular family as Head of State (with membership of that family serving as the sole selection criteria for office).

The present ‘royal’ family of the United Kingdom are not even of Anglo descent. They are German. Their name was changed to Mountbatten because of the anti-German sentiment in Britain following the First World War. They are also known by the surname Windsor and that name was chosen last century because of its connection with one of their palaces. They appear to have difficulty in settling on a surname because William and Harry have also gone by the surname ‘Wales’ whilst at Military College. And to make matters even more confusing, they belong to the House (dynasty) Saxe-Coburg-Gotha of Germany. I bet they are pleased that fell into disuse prior to the Second World War!

There is no easy way to say this but this family tends to, shall we say, ‘keep to themselves’ insofar as continuing on the family line is concerned. ‘Royalty’ tends to interbreed far more than most other sections of the community. By way of illustration, Philip-the-Greek (born Philip, Prince of Denmark and Greece, although in fact he is 7/8th German) is himself in the line of succession to the British throne in his own right, independent of his marriage to Betty. When you actually sit down and look at their family tree, as I have done, it is a little bit icky to see the extent of familial connection. If one forgot the family's European derivation, one could be forgiven for thinking that you were looking at a hillbilly family tree from the Appalachian Mountains in America (think Deliverance, the 1972 film)

In earlier times, ‘royalty’ claimed a Divine Right to Rule. It was commonly believed that the Divine Right of Kings was ordained by God. That is, Kings ruled by the express will of God. They had God's sanction. In our increasingly secular society, the Divine Right of Kings loses its imprimatur. Why, then, do we continue to support the monarchy? They are flesh and blood like the rest of us - sorry David Icke, I don't believe they are shape shifting reptoids - but they are parasites. They continue to suck shamelessly on the public purse, whilst domiciled in Britain or ‘on tour’ with their travelling road-show.

As I said, Willy seems nice enough but he's no genius. He hasn't cured cancer. He hasn't brought peace to the Middle East and he hasn't won an Oscar or the Eurovision song contest. Neither have I, and that's my point. What's with all the bowing and scraping around him? He's just a man (to quote Rocky in Rocky 4).

Did you know it is still an act of treason in the UK to sleep with the wife of a sovereign? More particularly, it is treason “if a man do violate the King’s companion, or the King’s eldest daughter unmarried, or the wife of the King’s eldest son and heir”. That's ridiculous!

Notice that this act is considered treasonous irrespective of whether the ‘violation’ has occurred with consent. We are not talking of rape or sexual assault, which is abominable irrespective of who the victim is, we are talking about consensual sex. Should James Hewitt be worried? Notice also the sexist slant to this? Presumably, princes can go about getting all the nookie they like. And why not, they are princes!

Speaking of sexism, Betty-Boop is only in the job because she doesn't have a brother. I can think of no other public office that retains such sexist hiring practices (the Catholic Church is not a public institution, in Australia at least!).

When I was admitted as a solicitor in 2000 (and the practice continues), we were forced to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen at the admission ceremony. I kept my fingers crossed throughout, though; my own little act of rebellion. I was amused that we could choose to swear the oath (that is, before God) or affirm it (God-free).  So, invoking the name of the Supreme Lord and Master of the Universe (if he/she exists) is optional, but pledging loyalty to Old Liz is mandatory! Who dreams this stuff up?

It amazes me that there are still plenty of monarchists about in Australia, and many of them are not functionally brain-dead above the brain stem; although you could be forgiven for thinking so.

Again, republicanism does not require radical change. We don't even need a popularly elected President if this is a concern to those who worry about us becoming too "Americanised" (or should I have spelt that "AmericaniZed"?). There could be a body such as a Constitutional Committee made up of diverse segments of our society who could appoint (possibly after confirmation by Parliament - I'm amenable to any reasonable solution) an outstanding Australian, possessive of whatever qualities we as a nation deem appropriate and commensurate with the role, to be our Head of State and represent us on the world stage.

Monarchism is twisted paternalism, although I recognise there may be some societies in the world that may not yet be ready to throw off the yoke of hereditary rule. We in the developed world however are ready for such a change. Monarchy is simply organised, group immaturity. Australia may not have been ready to out-grow it at Federation in 1901, but are ready 110 years later.

Please remember this thought if it makes sense to you; each person is unique and we are all special. I sincerely believe that. Next time you see a person on the TV bow or curtsey to a ‘royal’, I humbly suggest that you think about how degrading that is. It is stupid, infantile and unnecessary. Instead when you see that, how about you give a hug to a loved-one or tell them that you appreciate them? It doesn’t matter what you do, just share a moment with someone near and dear to you.

Our loved ones are the people to be honoured, cherished and respected. They are the people to be revered and celebrated.

Not some fool in a crown.

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