Sunday, June 17, 2012

Olympic community?

This is the first decade in the history of mankind when it is estimated that more people are living in urban rather than rural and village environments. By 2050 it is estimated that 75% of humans will be urbanites. However, our discourse about community – how people can live together well – is hundreds of years behind this development. Notions of community are still completely dominated by rural and often deeply conservative and even feudal narratives that bear no resemblance to the reality that we need to understand and the futures we need to construct if we are to live successfully in highly diverse and increasingly globalised world cities. Nostalgia and outdated religious views usually characterise the traditional notion of community. A pre-Lapsarian idealised era is almost always conjured up so as to conclude that everything was better when we were a homogenous nation, before “they” arrived. This desperation for Merrie England (a time that has not only passed but never actually existed) is now a characteristic of English identity that has infected even relatively sensible people like Danny Boyle. The planned launch of the Olympics looks likely to be a parody of a bucolic pre-industrial country complete with cows, sheep and other farm animals (none of whom will be harmed in the making of this bizarre exhibition) Surely Britain of all places can do better than this? After all we were the first country to undergo the industrial revolution and the first to experience the huge movement of people from the countryside to the town - often forced off the land through enclosures and clearances - that it entailed. Our Empire, despite its dreadful history of rape and plunder, did result in the development of a far more mixed and cosmopolitan society in the UK than in most comparable European countries. If we can't construct viable ways of describing how we can live together in hyper diverse cities like London then noone can. The long struggles of Black and other minority communities in the UK against racism, the development of race relations and equalities legislation (even though it is now being undermined by the Tory-led Government), the increasing numbers of mixed heritage relationships and friendships are just some of the best features of contemporary life in the cities and towns of the UK. This is what we should be celebrating at the start of the Olympics rather than another tired old version of the Archers.