The United Kingdom of the Big Island of Tattooed People and the Top Bit of the Fat Land – Cartoon Logic
Nationalism is so in right now. The major parties with nationalist or nation-specific policies (UKIP, SNP, DUP, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Féin, UUP and SDLP) got about 20% of the entire vote at the last general election. The intolerant fools of Britain First have a million likes on Facebook. Every product under the sun, from porridge to crisps, has little ‘made in the UK’ badges on it. But nationalism, good or bad, British or otherwise, is a funny beast, because it’s a set of beliefs that, logically, is based on pretty much nothing.
Now, obviously, over the years, people have fought and died for national borders and for a national identity. It’s an issue that the human race takes very seriously, and in that sense, there’s something in a national identity and a national border. Having said that, if you take any part of the UK and trace its history backward, the people who lived there have had allegiances to any number of countries over the years.
Take London. If my history serves me right, and in terms of major ‘countries’, London has been a part of the Roman Empire, then the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Essex, then Mercia, then the Viking Danelaw, then Wessex, then the Kingdom of England, then the Kingdom of Great Britain, and then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The UK’s current iteration isn’t even a hundred years old. There are people older than the UK.
‘Well, actually, columnist, the name goes back a really long time’, you say to me. But names like England, France and Germany didn’t exist, at some point. We didn’t find them carved into the very soil. No one ‘discovered’ these names. And they’re not even that old. Before about 1500, no one had ever heard of America. When names finally do kick in, what do they end up meaning? Take the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Britain probably comes from the Ancient Greek ‘prittanoi’ meaning ‘tattooed people’, while Ireland likely comes from the Proto-Indo European for ‘fat land’ (as in abundant, fertile). Follow the etymologies back, and you end up with the ‘United Kingdom of the Big Island of Tattooed People and the Top Bit of the Fat Land’. Surprisingly appropriate. But what is that? Is that the battle cry people have lived and died under? Up the Tattooed people?
It’s not just the UK. The Online Etymology Dictionary’s proposed derivations for most European countries are pretty daft. The word ‘Belgium’ apparently comes from ‘Angry Land’. France is ‘Javelin Land’, Hungary is ‘Land of the People of the Ten Arrows’ and Spain is apparently ‘Land of Rabbits’. Switzerland is ‘Burnt Land’, because the first thing that springs to mind when you think of the icy Alps or the clear waters of Lake Geneva is the word ‘burnt’.
I rant on. Go back two thousand years and virtually 100% of the 251,060 kilometres of current international borders don’t exist. Sometimes they formed around geographic features, making them all stupidly squiggly, and sometimes they just follow an arbitrary line of latitude or longitude. They got trigger-happy with the rulers and protractors when the nations of Africa were invented. But the worst culprit has got to be Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau, a Belgian/Dutch town in the Antwerp/North Brabant province, right on the border with the Netherlands/Belgium. The following is, legitimately, part of the international border between two sovereign states:
Look at that border! I hate it. I hate it! In that map, Belgium is yellow, and the Netherlands is cream. It doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense. Look at the image on the right. It goes right through someone’s front door! How do you get post to that place? Who delivers it? ‘Le facteur’ (thank you Year 7 French) or ‘de postbode’? What is that street even called? It seems to me that people like attaching huge importance to a bit of space that’s defined arbitrarily, or otherwise by mountains or rivers that we had nothing to do with either. It’s a bit of space that they didn’t pick, and that was largely organised by long-dead tribal leaders or monarchs that they don’t know and never met. We’ve been making it up as we go along.
Basically, what I’m saying is: it’s honestly not worth getting excited about your country, especially when it’s called Angry Land or Land of the Rabbits. It’s not worth getting excited about your country when your allegiance is decided by something as arbitrary as which side of a straight line you were born on. It’s not worth getting excited about your country when your nationality depends entirely on what side of the living room you’re currently sitting in.
Your nationalism isn’t as important as you think it is. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some ‘planetism’ for once, especially in light of the Paris COP21 climate conference and the impending fiery, carbon dioxide doom we all face? Maybe we could start being proud of the Earth? Maybe someone could start a ‘Planet First’ Facebook page. Maybe that page could get a million likes?
Ah, forget it. Up the Tattooed People!