English watching:
I have just read a delightful book, Watching the English (Kate Fox, Nicholas Brealey, London 2008).  The author is daughter of Robin Fox, the most renowned anthropologist of our time, or of any time for that matter, and it is an anthropological study of the English as if they were a tribe living in a jungle.  She identifies a national character that includes restraint, humor, courtesy (usually), expectation of fair play and dislike of pomposity, and the book reflects such things.

At the heart of it all is what she calls social dis-ease, a sort of lack of comfortable routines for dealing with routine social interactions.  Toward the end, she considers possible causes but reaches no firm conclusion.  For instance it isn’t the weather. 

The book is fun to read.  You’ll like it better than you’ll like this review, but I cannot resist taking the perspective of this web site and trying to solve the riddle; why are they like that? 

The perspective of course is the recognition of the fact that humans, like any animals, cannot long survive unless they limit their mating pool size.  Any sizeable population must be structured into sufficiently tight communities within which the vast majority of marriages occur.  It matters not how distantly related an intruder might be.  What is critical is the number of intruders. 

So harking back to a previous review of Saxons, Vikings and Celts it appears to be the case that when the English Channel opened between the North Sea and the Atlantic, a few people were left isolated in what is now the British Archipelago.  Either that is the case, or they entered so soon thereafter that it makes no difference.  These were, if I interpret correctly, Paleolithic people.  It was the Old Stone Age. 

That was a time so far back that we don’t have any modern population that remotely resembles it.  That leaves the imagination unhampered by fact.  So I submit that the first guess is that stone age social rules were a bit on the primitive side.  They did not have sophisticated ways of interacting.  When such ways became available, they should – I would suppose – have had a sort of a selective advantage, just as the more efficient tools of the Neolithic age would have conferred an advantage.

 So we all got culture. 

But then comes the other fact.  The population of the British Isles today in enormous proportion dates back genetically to those Paleolithic days.  That is not to say that there is anything at all different about Paleolithic genes.  There was a time when absolutely all of us were Paleolithic.  So we all date back to those days (and of course to long before, very long before).  But what is does mean is that the population was never replaced.  People were added to the brew, but very slowly over a long time. 

The first new arrivals were Neolithic.  Perhaps I shall call them the Master Builders.  It appears that they had Rh negative blood, and they left their distinctive grand stone architecture and slight traces of their blood type from the Sudan, probably Egypt, Malta, Basque Country at least so far as the blood type, Brittany at least so far as the megaliths, western and northern Britain, the Faro Islands for megaliths and Bergen for blood type.  They came to Britain in peace, bringing women and building energetically in the west and north. 

Later arrivals came after war had been invented and invaded from the south and west, pretty much bringing only men. 

All the while, the ongoing population was produced by the array of tiny hamlets and villages of unthinkable antiquity and stability. 

Ignoring the Master builders, then, there has been a Paleolithic society frequently invaded and partly conquered by male armies.  The superficialities of music, technology, livestock, language and so forth were easily imposed by conquerors.  But the basic attitude toward life comes from the cottage.  And there the women brought up the babies.  Sooo – not to press this idea too hard – we are looking at what is basically an ancient base culture with only superficial layers of modernity. 

No other place on earth do I know of where the ancient culture has not been swept away by the new.  India has a very old culture by modern standards, but there is no question that it is highly complex and sophisticated.  The blunt Old Stone Age lives on nowhere else. 

At least that’s what I’m thinking at the moment.  Maybe somebody can enlighten me with respect to evidence to the contrary.

So no wonder the English are a bit different.  With the hearts of cave folk they have to deal with the socially sophisticated continent at their elbow.  No wonder it all seems like a joke to them.  No wonder their manners imply that we all might start bashing each other with stone axes at a moments notice.  No wonder they get drunk and obnoxious.  Anyplace else on earth, except here in the United States, you would no more get drunk and start a fight than you would get drunk and start a chess game.  Performance suffers. 

Anyway, that’s my idea and I’m sticking with it until another comes along.

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