A interesting comment from John McTernan on his Twitter account. Interesting but in my opinion indicative not only of the power of words but also either the lack of understanding or perhaps acute understanding of the social change that is behind the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn.
Our nations values is the key term I will look at here. I will not dissect the term traitor because the use of that word warrants a complete blog of its own.
Let’s start with a concept. The concept that everything around us is not as real as we think it is. That all of the rules and roles structures and belief systems we follow are created by society. So we follow rules created by society which is in turn created by us. Therefore if you look in this way at society it is not the all constricting , set in stone reality we deem it to be. And whilst we may have a understanding of a word or concept it does not mean that everyone else has the same understanding as you. Words carry more than simple meaning . They carry cultural weight which we may not even be aware we are expressing.
With this view you can see how we can change society. Looking at history we can see how society has changed. I do not think the world is flat, that blood is an unimportant liquid which need to be let or that by feeling the bumps on my head you can decipher my character. In more recent times we have seen other areas of social change , brought about by the individuals affected by and oppressed by society. From votes to women to gay rights, from abolishing apartheid to civil rights. Things can change.
Change however brings with it uncertainty and fear. It brings with it passionate arguments for and against. It brings into question if the fabric of society can change what about me, what about my identity, what about what I believe in?
So let’s go back to the statement we are discussing, our national values. For me this is such a problematic phrase. Firstly what exactly are these unifying national values? Is there any such thing? Is there a agreement on what this nation stands for and what it’s values truly are. It would of course depend on who you spoke to, from which perspective they were viewing them and also if you believed in such a concept in the first place.
Let’s look at how they are being used in this tweet. The use of traitor prior to the phrase implies that British values are intrinsic to being a true citizen of this country with citizenship reliant on adherence to them. So are these national values in some way a collective of ideas about the safety and the well being of the nation if being a traitor to them means you cannot be prime minister? The tweet is in response to an anti war stance by Jeremy Corbyn so with this knowledge we can see that he is being labelled a traitor because he refuses to stand by the national values which can be deducted as being in favour of leaping into warfare which is seen as how to protecting the nation.
This interpretation will be implicit without any added information through our internalised understanding of the words but also from a sense of what another socially constructed concept , the British identity, is. Bulldog spirit, we fear no foe, we stand for what is right in the world , we ruled an Empire. We don’t want any namby pamby let’s talk about things to negotiate we want action kind of leaders.
With a simple sentence it portrays Jeremy Corbyn as the antithesis of all that is good and proud of this nation. He is a danger to all we stand for and more importantly is a danger to our safety and wellbeing. It relies on our common sense understanding built from our experiences of teaching , shared understandings and the enforcement of a collection of ideas by the media about what was right in society and what was not. In this case if you are not going to bomb a country or leap to the defence of another without first exhausting every over avenue then you do not stand for national values and cannot lead us.
So our national values are clear. The constant aggression and warfare against those who do not stand for what we see as right. Because obviously we are right all the time and everyone else who is not with us is an enemy. In using national values in this tweet the writer is saying they know what these values implicitly are and that the nation agrees with him and this is his reason to attack Jeremy Corbyn. Those who read this tweet and agree with it believe these national values are central to our society and are indicative of your right to belong here and of your right to govern.
And the understanding of all these nuisances and meanings come from those few words, an understanding of the concept they are in and our internalised common sense view of society. We did not even have to decipher it to understand all of this. This is how powerful words are and how powerful social constructions are in our world. When you start to think about things in this way it can be very unnerving but it also can me liberating.
Because for some of us hiding behind these words , these so called national values of ensuring democracy and fighting oppression through aggression are the methods by which this is done. By bombing countries into oblivion having sold arms to those we are apparently freeing people from and those with appalling human rights record. Of using the label terrorist as a short hand for our enemies instead of using it correctly and labelling the behaviours of the Israeli government. In perpetuating the myth of danger terror and enemies in order to spend on a deterrent and remove our rights to privacy. However because we see these we ourselves become part of the problem, part of a cult , traitors Trostsky and even Nazis.
I don’t really think any of the recent acts of aggression undertaken by different UK governments have been justified, have solved anything, and in fact been illegal in some cases. I don’t think I am the only one who thinks this. I seem to recall some of the biggest demonstrations in recent history have been against war and the bombing of other countries or regime changes. I think an awful lot of people would see having such national values are contrary how they see our national values. A large number of people see the term national values itself as decisive alienating and totally foolhardy. They would also say that if we are to have a set of national values are the ones being portrayed here really the ones we want?
I personally believe that this nation is actually in need of a complete rethink of its national values because the country itself is in the midst of an identity crisis. Events have occurred which have caused people to question such concepts as national values and question the make up of other social institutions such as government. After the referendum we have seen many ugly aspects of this nation arise and we have seen the magnificence of this nation also rally. Because the magnificence of this nation is to be found in those who take the concept of politics take the ideas of what we want for everyone in this country and they are fighting to speak with that magnificent unified voice that enough is enough. We have through the centuries made, constructed , destroyed, upheld various constructions of this nations values. And it is the people of this country who have upheld the decent and true values of justice freedom and equality. We just forgot for a while that society does not need to be one way or the other. We forgot that we don’t have to bow down to such concepts as national values which represent the few and not the many. But like riding a bike it is coming back to us now and we will not allow the undemocratic and oppressive control that these concepts have held over us for so long to remain unchanged.
We are on the path to creating a new set of values which represent more people and more voices and that is why the use of such concepts to vilify one person and those who support him are coming out in force. We need to express to others that society is not just the way it is but rather an ever changing ever progressing entity we have full control of despite being told otherwise by the media by those in power and by those who have most to loose should we actually change ow these constructs benefit them.
So this tweet is either from a person who believes strongly in a socially constructed concept or is frightened because they are realising that many are waking up to the possibility of changing such ideals. I feel it is the latter and the people he represents are fighting because they are scared. They are fighting because they know we are on a winner and they are fighting because we are going to take the power out of the words they use to oppress us and change them to reflect a fairer society.
So national values to me are standing up for the underdog, determination in the face of difficulty, community when faced with hatred and everyone having an opportunity to make the most of their talents and contribute to society and to feel they are truly part of this nation.
It is about admitting past mistakes and rectifying them, about standing against aggression through refusal to continue to perpetuate it. It’s about allowing free speech , giving all the same access to justice and ensuring that wealth and influence do not allow some to escape it.
And it is realising that what we look like is not the issue, but rather what we stand for and people of principal and honesty are placed in positions of power and we encourage more of the same. That we no longer stand for the self serving in public office and remove the ability for a person elected to stand for the people betray those people through service of the ones who pay them money.
These are the national values I believe in and what’s more they are the ones I know this country can achieve. We just need to ensure that those who are adverse to this change are not vilified or abused but rather are engaged and supported and helped to understand that change is not something to be afraid of but rather the nature of the world and society. It a tricky one as it is going to be an uphill struggle but it is what we need to do if we are to achieve a nation that leads the way in social justice and freedom.
And as for Jeremy Corbyn , if I am right in my interpretation of the meaning of national values in that tweet then yes he is a traitor to those. However he is the creator of national values that mean much much more to many more people than those afraid of him. That makes him in my eyes possibly one of the greatest prime ministers that this country could ever have. And it is our job to be the constructors of a society where that will happen and where all will benefit.