"Indeed, a minimum of life, an unchaining from all coarser desires, an independence in the middle of all kinds of outer nuisance; a bit of Cynicism, perhaps a bit of ‘tub’."
Friedrich Nietzsche

16 Jul 2012

The British Citizenship Test and some contemplations on freedom

From Intelligent Training Academy website

Citizenship offers rights and privileges for those who hold it within the state or country in which the citizen lives – in some countries at least. Perhaps the most important of those rights is the freedom to flaunt certain rules or laws; to exercise the right to feel and act as an alien within one’s own country, or even, as did the ancient Cynics, opt out of society altogether and declare oneself a citizen of the world. But to exercise such freedoms one has to live in a relatively open society in the first place, which is why many 'western' countries must appear a desirable destination to those fleeing more repressive regimes elsewhere. In the more open, cosmopolitan society of Athens in 300 B.C., forms of citizenship would have been extended to anyone who drifted into that State. It is much harder today to exercise this privilege with the existence of passports, border controls, CCTV cameras and the equally ubiquitous electronic database. In ancient times, in spite of other harsher aspects of life, at least borders were open and it was possible to move relatively unhindered between the main centres of population around the known world. 

Laws, of course, there were in abundance in ancient Athens. One of which – passed in the fifth century B.C. – prohibited ‘bastards’ from exercising in the City's gymnasia; even though in other respects they were well assimilated into Athenian life. Bastards were defined by a local law as including anyone with an Athenian father but whose mother was a slave, a prostitute, or a foreigner, as well as those whose parents were not legally married citizens. For some reason this law did not extend to the Cynosarges (Park of the Agile Dog), a gymnasium and temple to the worship of the proto-Cynic Heracles (Hercules). The Cynosarges became a regular gathering place, not only for official bastards, but also self-proclaimed bastards: those who felt alien and illegitimate within the established civic community. 

The Cynic Diogenes was the ultimate alien: rejecting notions of statehood to embrace the larger notion of citizenship of the world, his ideal republic was not restricted to a geographical place, nor to a racial or ethnic group, nor to historical or cultural traditions; it was a republic without boundaries or social distinctions. For Diogenes, allegiance to a city or nation was a manifestation of sheer stupidity. But in terms of the discussion that follows, even though not born an Athenian citizen, Diogenes was yet free to offer personal insult to Alexander (the Great) in his now infamous retort while sunning himself in a Corinth park. When asked by the monarch what wish he would like granted, Diogenes is reported to have responded, “Stand out of my light”. Compare this informality with a monarch to the servile “Affirmation of Agreement” currently required from anyone seeking citizenship in the UK:

“I do solemnly, sincerely and truly affirm that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law.”

The juxtaposition between the treatment of two groups of aliens from different cultures over 2,000 years apart, questions just how much civilisation has actually advanced. As part of it's new citizenship test, Britain apes the America's Oath of Allegiance. But America is, at least, a nation of aliens. Having disposessed the original inhabitants of North America, this pioneering country, now saturated with those who fled persecution or sought to find a better life (together with the original inhabitants and decendents of imported slaves who, to some extent, have extricated themselves from persecution within) is now desparate to slam it's doors shut.

But back to Britain's citizenship test. It is an absurdity that this longer established (albeit also bricolage) nation should still be swearing an oath to a Monarch at all – and, "according to law"! What then does that make me and the millions of others born in Britain who have never been asked to swear such an oath, and would laugh at the suggestion that we do?
More bizzare still is the test itself. I recently got hold of some sample test papers to find out just how well I measure up as a British citizen, and failed miserably. So too did a group of Britons who recently took the test as part of a TV documentary  90 per cent failed! Some of the multiple-choice questions defied not only my sense of reasoning but seriously question what sane individual would think this is either interesting or important for would-be citizens to know:
  1. What proportion of people in the UK own their own home  one third, one quarter, two thirds, half?
  2. In which TWO of the following ways can you get tickets to listen to debates in the Houses of Parliament?
  3. Which of these statements is correct? A/ In the UK, women usually have their babies in hospital. B/  In the UK, women usually have their babies at home. 
  4. According to the 2001 census, what proportion of the UK population are Christians?
  5. What percentage of children do not live with both birth parents?
  6. What is the distance from John O' Groats in the north coast of Scotland to Lands End in the south-west corner of England?
  7. Is the statement below TRUE or FALSE? The Queen must not marry anyone who is a protestant.
  8. What percentage of children live with a stepfamily?
  9. What percentage of Christians in the UK are Roman Catholics?
  10. In Scotland, when do most young people take SQA examinations?
  11. Which three countries did Jewish people migrate from (and into the UK)  to escape persecution during 1880 to 1910?
  12. A terrible famine happened in Ireland in the middle of which decade?
  13. Why did Protestant Huguenots from France come to Britain?
  14. What percentage of children in the UK attend independent schools?
  15. What work did migrant Irish labourers do in the UK during the Irish famine?
  16. What proportion of the UK population have used illegal drugs at one time or another?
  17. Is the statement below TRUE or FALSE? Ulster Scots is a dialect spoken in Scotland.
  18. How many children are estimated to be working in the United Kingdom? And so on...
Well, just as with any other multiple-choice test, those with a decent memory will no doubt learn the correct answers off by heart and pass the test. A worthless attribute I discuss in an earlier post. Sadly, it will not ensure that new citizens have any other qualities, such as intelligence, creativity, entrepreneurship, or any particular loyalty to Britain – or the Queen. But then increasingly, many Britons, like Diogenes, regard themselves as cosmopolites, global citizens in an increasingly global world. What mostf people do identify with, and for those who can’t – aspire to, is freedom of speech without fear of retribution and the ability to travel freely to seek work and opportunities for themselves and their families. As Diogenes observed – and this should be truer today than it was 2,000 ago – it is a measure of stupidity and narrow mindedness to define oneself according to the state in which one lives, particularly when those who run the state and control its wealth are corrupt and incompetent as recent events have highlighted.

1 comment:

  1. I don't understand why a true cynic would seek to become a British citizen. For the true cynic, it doesn't matter which country he belongs to, does it ? By the way : you don't have to be a cynic to know why people really want to become British citizens ...