We like to be smug, on this side of the bond, about how America is hobbled from pursuing obvious political and social advancement by its mythology. The idea of the self-reliant, successful, pulled up by their bootstraps cowboy or the ‘American Dream’ are toxic myths with just enough truth to them to stop the poor and downtrodden working truly in their own interest and demanding things like decent welfare safety nets or medical care.
‘Idiots’ we say, at the parade of ignorant rednecks that congas across our TV and computer screens. ‘Morons’ we laugh at their talk of ‘death panels’ and ‘socialism’ without the slightest inkling of what they’re talking about.
The truth is though, that Britain has its own mythologies that are just as politically and socially damaging. Sure, we share some of those same American values but they’re not as widespread in our culture and never really got traction in the wider society, even in the worst excesses of the 1980s.
No, the cultural myth that fucks us over is older and perhaps more insidious. It’s the ‘stiff upper lip’, it’s the ‘blitz spirit’. Its the idea that there is something noble, wonderful, magical and so DAMN BRITISH about suffering, forbearance and stoicism.
Americans are conditioned to think that hard work and enthusiasm will allow them to ‘make it’, that they’re all ‘temporarily embarrassed millionaires’ to quote Steinbeck. We British are conditioned to worship, idolise and fetishise suffering and sacrifice and that’s how the Chancellor can squeeze and squeeze and squeeze the worst off while granting a 5% break to the most wealthy. We think it’s noble to struggle on, even if our rulers don’t.