Deus Ex Machina

"This is the generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently of that mortal god, to which we own under the immortal God, our peace and defense." -Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan

Being an American Citizen Versus Being a British Subject

…government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

Archbishop: Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, …and of your Possessions and other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?

Queen: I solemnly promise so to do.

Coronation Oath of the Queen Elizabeth II

When I told an American friend of mine that Singapore only became independent in 1965, he was quite surprised at how young Singapore is as a nation. While we might think American nostalgia for the monarchy to be odd, as they have been a republic for more than two centuries, but in defense of my Anglophilia and monarchist fetish, there are many Singaporeans who still have living memories of being a British colonial subject; most of our parents were born and raised under the British until their teenage years, my mother in particular still occasionally refers to coins as “shillings”.

I was just pondering the very distant and hypothetical possibility of becoming an American citizen, and I simply cannot imagine myself as an American or part of the American people. The reason is not far to seek, culturally and racially, I cannot ever be an American, to be an American is to be either white or black, to be part of a shared history and culture, but no amount of political correctness could ever turn an Asian into an American.

I could however think of myself as a British colonial subject. To be sure, I will never be part of the English people (or the Scots, Irish or Welsh for the matter), but I can enjoy the protection and privileges of Her Majesty’s laws and governance. I may not be part of the English people, but yet the Queen, though herself is English, is fundamentally a ruler, impartially administering her laws and governance over a diverse set of peoples, without necessarily needing to fuse them all into one gooey common people.

This I think explains why, paradoxically, there was a greater sense of our local racial cultures under the British than under our national government. The British did not bother to culturally organise the different racial communities, dialects flourished, interesting interracial distinctiveness lived along side one another. (Consider for example this fascinating Chinese tombstone from the Bukit Brown Cemetery guarded by Sikhs. Stereotypes to be sure, but yet a interesting mixture of diverse cultures without melting into a gooey amorphous commonality.)

But once we were nationalised, dialects became suppressed in public, Mandarin enforced as the “official” language of the Chinese and the various racial communities were aggressively organised and streamlined. I do not wish to comment on whether this is a good or bad thing, I do enjoy many benefits of an efficient streamlined management and organisation of racial relations. I like draconian orderly states.

My main point rather is that the process of “nationalisation” inevitably requires the fusion of various contradictory and conflicting cultures into “one people, one nation”, and in that process, the suppression of distinct “peoples”. The British were our colonial administrators and rulers, they did not need us to be “English” or to be part of the English people to enjoy her laws, governance and protections. The Queen’s coronation oath promises to govern the peoples of the various parts of her Empire.

On the other hand, for the Americans, there is an organic and intrinsic unity between their people and their government, it is a government of the people and by the people. Can I be subject to this governance without being an American myself?

Perhaps I can say if I ever take on American citizenship, I enjoy the patronage and protection of the American people. But somehow that feels weird to me compared to saying that I enjoy the patronage and protection of Her Majesty’s rule and laws.

Somehow, perhaps truly multicultural nation is only possible under a monarchy, because a democracy inevitably unites people and governance, thereby requiring destruction of distinctiveness to become “one people”.

Oh well.

God save the Queen!

Advertisements

6 comments on “Being an American Citizen Versus Being a British Subject

  1. Pingback: The Complete Singaporean Guide to Honouring the work of our British Colonial Masters | Creakings of a Cog in God's Machine

  2. rockingwithhawking
    June 2, 2017

    “The reason is not far to seek, culturally and racially, I cannot ever be an American, to be an American is to be either white or black, to be part of a shared history and culture, but no amount of political correctness could ever turn an Asian into an American.”

    What about Asian-Americans? There’s a rich shared Asian-American history and culture in the United States as well.

    Like

    • Rubati
      June 3, 2017

      My experience with Asian-Americans have not been very positive. In order to fit into being “Americans” they tend to overcompensate, either by shilling for American values contra their Asians one or adopting an exaggerated “authentic Asian identity” affectation in reaction to their American environment.

      To be “natural” one needs to be able to adopt an ironic posture towards one’s race, culture or ethnicity. The problem with America is that it has no sense of irony in the way the British had. Everything must necessarily be centralised and subsumed to being American, in the process an abomination is created.

      Like

      • rockingwithhawking
        June 3, 2017

        Thanks for the comment. An interesting perspective. I’d say my experience with Asian-Americans has been positive overall, although that’s not to say there aren’t significant perceivable negatives. That is to say I think it’s a great strength as well as weakness to come from two different worlds. A strength is Asian-Americans can see the world from both an Asian as well as an American perspective, but a weakness is it may make Asian-Americans of two minds to inhabit two worlds, which at times may be manifested in overcompensatory mechanisms as you have seen among some Asian-Americans. In a sense it’s like walking a tightrope to stand in between two worlds. It’s a precarious balance to walk the tightrope, perhaps only achieved after a lot of trial and error, after a lot of walking but falling off, and so on. However, once achieved, being able to walk a tightrope well opens up new vistas and vantage points. It opens a whole new world to see, a new third world as it were, which one might not necessarily be able to see otherwise.

        I think in many respects the Asian-American experience is similar to the experience of other races or ethnicities in the United States. Such as, say, Mexican-Americans, who may struggle to fit into American society and culture at first (e.g. perhaps seen as adopting an exaggerated “authentic Mexican identity” affectation in reaction to their American environment), as well as struggle to fit into Mexican society and culture at the same time (e.g. perhaps seen as shilling for American values contra their Hispanic ones), but if they can overcome their challenges, then they may have achieved something greater than either alone could achieve. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Granted, if they fail, then the kind of tension you’ve described may persist, and empirically there are a lot of examples of racial tension in the United States (but again I hasten to add there are a lot of examples of successes too). In any case, I think such challenges (among Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and others) play into the privileges as well as responsibilities of being or becoming an American.

        Certainly many Americans lack a sense of irony, but I’ve likewise met many Brits who lack a sense of irony. That said, my hunch is these are largely crude stereotypes, and as such may have a grain of truth in them, but I wouldn’t imagine much more. Also, I suspect a keen sense of irony is more closely aligned to other variables such as literacy and education than primarily to one’s national affiliation. High-brow and low-brow cultures and subcultures co-exist in both the United States and the United Kingdom. As far as irony in terms of race and ethnicity, again perhaps it’s true to a degree that Americans lack a sense of irony in public discussions about race and ethnicity, since race and ethnicity tend to be considered deadly serious matters in American public discourse in a way they’re not in British public discourse, but I’d argue this parallels the Brits’ lack a sense of irony in public discussions about social class, if we’re generalizing. Of course, popular culture is different in both nations, and I’d argue there’s a strong sense of irony among both Americans and Brits when it comes to popular culture skewing either race and ethnicity or social class. Finally I’d make a distinction between central aspects of irony and peripheral aspects of irony, wherein Brits may sound more literary in their presentation of irony, and Americans may sound more plain-spoken or pragmatic in their presentation of irony, but qualities like style and tone are largely dressing to the cake, not the real substance of irony.

        Just my two cents’! Thanks for the discussion.

        Like

  3. rockingwithhawking
    June 3, 2017

    “The reason is not far to seek, culturally and racially, I cannot ever be an American, to be an American is to be either white or black, to be part of a shared history and culture, but no amount of political correctness could ever turn an Asian into an American.”

    I’d just add a few more brief points:

    1. There have been several other racial and ethnic groups in the USA besides black and white. For example, I mentioned Hispanics, many of whom settled parts of the United States before white or black Americans arrived.

    2. Chinese-Americans have been in the US since at least the Gold Rush (1849) and transcontinental railroad (1860s), while Japanese-Americans have been in the US since around the same time and certainly in World War 2 when they were placed in internment camps. Southeast Asian-Americans arrived later in the 1960s-1970s during and following the Vietnam War.

    3. There are significant differences among white Americans. For example, the Irish, Italians, and other southern Europeans, as well as eastern Europeans, arrived in droves in the late 1800s, but many white Americans tracing their origins back to England and other parts of northern Europe did not get along very well with southern and eastern Europeans. Some even considered southern and eastern Europeans who were largely Catholic and Orthodox inferior to them as white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and the feeling was often mutual.

    Like

    • rockingwithhawking
      June 3, 2017

      “The reason is not far to seek, culturally and racially, I cannot ever be an American, to be an American is to be either white or black, to be part of a shared history and culture, but no amount of political correctness could ever turn an Asian into an American.”

      In fact, many Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans arrived in the United States (c. mid-1800s) prior to many Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, and Polish-Americans (c. late 1800s). In this respect, many Asian-Americans have had a longer shared history and culture in the United States than many white Americans.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on January 9, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
%d bloggers like this: