We won World War I!
We won World War II!
We won the World Cup!
We transported and sold over 3 million African people into slavery!
Oh, hang on, no. That’s not… No…
We engineered the death of 4 million Indians in the man-made Bengal Famine!
Oh, no, hang on…
Ah, the old collective “we”, eh! It’s strange how we can take collective responsibility for positive historic outcomes but not for events that had very much a negative association.
As many of my regular readers will know, I don’t believe in the ontic maintenance of personal identity over time. That is to say, I am a different person from one moment to the next and it is only pragmatic considerations that mean that we label ourselves something and this continues over the length of “our” existence, even though, in some sense, we exist as discrete entities from one moment to the next.
But, that said, most people believe in a continuity of identity over time.
So, England won the World Cup in 1966 – well done us – and the UK won the Second World War – well done us again (okay, with a little help here and there). We wear a single star on our replica football jerseys because we celebrate and somehow take responsibility as a nation or football federation for the 1966 World Cup victory. Fair enough. But, using the same logic that allows this “us” to include us in the “well done us”, we should also take into collective responsibility those more nefarious events and activities.
If we congratulate ourselves for and oftentimes gloat over the good times, should we not then apologise for the bad ones? I don’t know the value of apologies in these contexts, but the logic appears to be sound.
Don’t be too proud about winning some football matches and artfully forget enslaving millions of dehumanised humans. Unless, of course, time bleaches exponentially. A hundred years is okay, but three hundred? Meh.
The Bengal Famine took place from 1943-44 though.
And the Mau Mau Uprising.
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