A while ago I had a debate with SwivCousin (who is in the navy, as a point of interest) about Trident, and whether we needed to renew. The basic position of the conversation was that he sayeth ‘yay’ and I sayeth ‘nay’, but I was curious as to why. ‘Well,’ says the cousin (I paraphrase), ‘Having nuclear weapons means we keep a voice internationally.’ Nuclear weapons, apparently, mean we get to keep playing football with the big boys (America, Russia, China) in the playground.
The Steampunk ethos, according to some, glamourises the sins of the Victorians. Damian Walter, kicking off this post, wrote on Twitter that ‘steampunk looks like people who have lost their colonial privilege playing it out in fantasy’. In doing so, it takes on the guilt for those sins and promulgates an obnoxious stink of unacknowledged but conceptually inescapable racism, classism, and noxious gender politics.
So what’s to like?
Quite a lot.
In the first place, that indictment is not a bad description of the modern age in Britain, rather than of Steampunk in particular. Our attitude to sports, geopolitics, and to English language culture is almost exactly this. We decline to fade away into a dignified Northern European retirement of high tax, high standard of living, high level of happiness and education, low social inequality, low emissions and low crime. Instead we pay huge money for a significant ability to project power into far flung corners of the world – that’s what aircraft carriers and a submarine-based strategic nuclear weapons capability are for – and we somehow can’t afford mass state-funded tertiary education any more. Our infrastructure declines, our roads and our rails are pitted and rusted, our hospitals are being privatised, but we can still bomb Tehran and we still have a vote on the UN Security Council, so that’s fine. We measure greatness against the time when the map of the world belonged to London.
So there you have it.
What I didn’t manage to explain to the cousin during this conversation, but what I probably think is the case is that I would rather the UK decided it was better to be like Denmark or Holland (globally discrete, but generally pretty happy) than like the USA (globally indiscrete, with its citizens shouting at each other quite a lot). A seat at the global table seems pretty overrated. Let’s face it – if North Korea or Iran and the USA are going to throw nukes at each other, the UK isn’t actually going to make the blindest bit of difference. So why can’t we just stop pretending?
I would like to vote for a political future that turned this way – but I fear we have no party that would go for it.