If we are ever going to grow up as a society, we (and by ‘we’, I mean not just Britain but the wealthy West generally) need to stop assuming we are always the good guys. Until we do that, we have no chance of actually becoming the good guys I know in my heart we can be. Our hypocrisy will strangle at birth all our better impulses because, in our hearts, we believe we are special. And we are most likely wrong.
No, no, no, don’t cry! Of course you’re special. Here, have a sweet. What I mean is that we are no more special than everybody else. You know. Like that saying: ‘Jesus loves you. But he loves everybody.’ Doesn’t take away from the love. Just means you probably shouldn’t be crowning yourself Evangelical Pope just because God finds it in his heart to tolerate your imperfection.
But enough about you. Let’s talk about us. We really do think we’re special, and I think it’s making us into the bad guys. Here. Watch this:
What Mitchell and Webb might be trying to tell us is that when you assume you’re the good guys all the time, it gets difficult to notice the skull on your hat.
A case in point from recent news. Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia and head of state that has done more for the poor in his country than any I can think of in recent memory, was forced to land his plane in Austria after France and Italy denied him permission to land. The reason? Washington thought that Edward Snowden, the source of leaked information about American spying operations, was on board. Once in Austria, Morales’ plane was not allowed to leave until it had been searched by Austrian security officers.
If you just thought: what’s the big deal? Ask yourself this: if Saudi Arabia thought that a woman on the run from a Sharia court was on board David Cameron’s plane, how would we react to his being grounded in the Gulf and his plane being searched? What if anyone, anywhere tried to force President Obama’s plane to land without, say, getting shot in the face for their troubles?
But! comes our automatic subconscious reply, We’re Britain! We’re America!
We are Britain and we are special. We are America and we are so special.
The very reason they are looking for Snowden is that he leaked documents that revealed more of that ‘I’m special and the rules don’t apply to me’ attitude in the upper echelons (see what I did there) of American power. Remember a while back when we were all encouraged to feel outraged that Chinese and Russian hackers were attacking websites in the West, spying on our citizens? Well the thing about that is that it is not okay when they are doing it. It is perfectly okay when we do.
It’s the same logic that allows us to condemn other regimes for war crimes while steadfastly refusing to allow our own soldiers to be tried by international courts and to condemn the likes of Iran for wanting to build a nuclear bomb while we and our allies have repeatedly broken the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by building new nukes ourselves. It’s why we feel we can assassinate people in their homes with drones and get upset when they stab us in the streets. Why we hate Afghan insurgents but would be less than keen to submit to an army invading our country to ‘save’ us even from a regime we despised.
We think we’re special. We act as if we’re special. And when people around the world hate us, we are genuinely perplexed as to why they can’t see how lovely we are.
Don’t get me wrong: we don’t have skulls on our hats. But until we stop thinking we’re special, we’re going to continue, however inadvertently, to act like rat-bums.