Normally, when I have written in this format, I have avoided taking extreme points of view, (although perhaps some of my readers might have thought otherwise!) Very seldom do I come across opinions that I feel I should automatically dismiss. Most times I can see some vestige of an argument from practically any viewpoint. Today, however, I must confess to you, that I am a rabid republican! I can’t see any cogent reason for continuing the monarchy in the context of a modern democratic Australia. You might possibly believe that my Scottish heritage has made me bitter and that I pine for a Stuart on the throne. Well, not so. I don’t care who sits on the throne so long as they have no authority whatsoever in a free, democratic Australia.
There are many reasons why I deplore the notion of the monarchy, and if I went into them all I would have to write a book rather than post a blog. Because I am already engaged in the task of writing another book, finding the time to write one denigrating all the faults of the monarchy is currently beyond my capacity. Thus, in this short offering I will deal with just one of the ludicrous features of the monarchy, and in particular the only monarchy of any relevance to Australia, (and the concern is that it should have any relevance at all), the British monarchy. (I have deliberately avoided the temptation of using a capital letter!) This particularly annoying feature is the fact that if you are a senior member of this deplorable institution it seems to give you some perception of credibility such that your utterances are seriously reported on in the popular press however inane they are.
Well, I’m sure you knew I would have to give you an example. While it pains me to do so, I will refer you to some recent press articles reporting the words of the vacuous Prince Charles speaking at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies to mark its 25th anniversary. The Times on June 9 2010 ran an article titled “Prince Charles blames world’s ills on ‘soulless consumerism’ and Galileo.” In his speech he criticised the profit imperative behind much scientific research and was quoted as saying,
“This imbalance, where mechanistic thinking is so predominant, goes back at least to Galileo’s assertion that there is nothing in nature but quantity and motion. This is the view that continues to frame the general perception of the way the world works, and how we fit into the scheme of things. As a result Nature has been completely objectified – ‘She’ has become an ‘it’ – and we are persuaded to concentrate on the material aspect of reality that fits within Galileo’s scheme.”
He went on to say, green technology alone could not solve the world’s environmental problems. Instead the West must do something about its “deep inner crisis of the soul”.
It is difficult to reconcile his complaint about “soulless consumerism” with the profligate lifestyle of one of the royals. You could hardly say they are models of frugality. His official residence is listed as Clarence House, the previous abode of the late Queen Mother. However he also owns a private estate on Gloucestershire and one in Scotland. He and his family possess immense wealth, all due to an accident of birth, and have often been great exemplars of conspicuous consumption.
But let us get back to the main tenor of his argument. Galileo with great courage, and in contradiction with the unmindful belief of the church, showed us that the earth was not the centre of the universe. This caused great consternation amongst his contemporaries who had always believed that the sun revolved around the earth and consequently put the earth at the centre of the solar system. Galileo’s observations showed that the earth was but a small planet in a huge universe and of no great consequence in the scheme of things. What we need now is his political equivalent to modify our government in such a way that we recognise politically, just as we do intellectually, that the monarchy is not the centre of our political system, and the principal figures that inhabit that institution are but ordinary people and of no great consequence either in the scheme of things.
I have no strong feelings about Prince Charles as a person, but I can see no evidence that his words bear any authority other than that his title bestows upon him. Lest you accuse me of singling out the monarchy for this criticism, I am also appalled how the world seems to fawn over the inconsequential, ill-informed utterances of pop stars, film stars, TV personalities and sporting heroes.
Charles seems to be a romanticist and an idealist. I would probably describe myself similarly. But the music of life is necessarily contrapuntal where romanticism and idealism need to be balanced by science and reason. Morality is inherent in human beings, not in science which is essentially neutral. Therefore to blame Galileo’s discoveries for the perceived shortcomings in human behaviour is ludicrous.
Let us contemplate a moment on nature. What do we mean by nature? Nature is the collection of physical and organic systems that drive the universe. Whilst the human phenomenon is part of nature, it is often seen to be in competition with or inimical to the other natural phenomena. We for example make such distinctions as the natural environment as opposed to the built environment. We often talk about naturally occurring phenomena as opposed to man-made or man-induced phenomena. Despite this, however you might want to interpret it, nature is a collection of organic and physical systems. Metaphorically we often describe nature (as Charles alludes) as “She” just as we once referred to ships and cyclones. If we use such personification as a metaphor it helps to elicit some of the characteristics of such things. But if we come to believe that nature (then possibly Nature) is some coherent being (Being) then we are falling for that old trick that the Zen Buddhists highlighted for us. They said, “When the sage points to the moon the fool merely sees the finger.” This is the trap that all fundamentalists fall for. So, sorry Charlie, nature is actually an “it” rather than a “she” even if it helps us sometimes to so personify it. As an aside, it is surprising that the likely future head of the Anglican Church could hold such a pseudo-pantheistic belief!
I am sorry if you find the above a little churlish and inconsequential compared to my usual subject matter. It probably resulted from my having to endure another Queen’s Birthday holiday. (Why couldn’t we have a holiday in celebration of Einstein, Ghandi, “Weary” Dunlop, Fred Hollows or somebody actually significant?)
In doing a little research in support of my stance I found that Christopher Hitchens had already taken up the cudgels in an article titled “Heir to Throne Attacks Science and Good Sense’. Hitchens is a far better writer but also rather more acerbic than I am and you might care to look at his response. But I will finish with a short quote from his article.
“A hereditary head of state, as Thomas Paine so crisply phrased it, is as absurd a proposition as a hereditary physician or a hereditary astronomer. To this innate absurdity Prince Charles manages to bring fatuities that are entirely his own.”