Suggested reading: Watching ‘The Crown’ with Britain’s anti-monarchists: ‘I feel queasy’

by Alex Marshall

On Monday evening, Finna Ayres and Matt Turnbull met in Ayres’s London home to do something their friends would have found shocking: watch the latest season of “The Crown,”Netflix’s show about the ins and outs of Britain’s royal family.

Ayres, 80, a retired architect, and Turnbull, 35, a brand strategist, are members of Republic, an organization that wants to abolish Britain’s monarchy in favor of an elected head of state. Neither were fans of the show, but had agreed to watch the new season as an experiment.

The evening ahead was such a potentially unsettling experience that Turnbull had brought two packs of beer with him. “If I’m going to sit through a hagiography for the royal family, I need to be lubricated,” he said. … (continue at The New York Times)

29 Comments

  1. I am disappointed. This is a poorly written piece that makes no attempt whatsoever to understand the role of symbols in tending to unite the tribe. I think a reading of Harari’s Home Sapiens might help. What happened to multiple perspective taking, a sincere attempt to understand the perspectives of multiple stakeholders? This article is simplistic, tendentious and one sided. Now that is quite normal for certain sections of the media but shouldn’t we. as philosophers(and wannabe philosophers for that matter) rise above that level and search for deeper insights? For myself I think that understanding is what matters, not the partisan expression of emotions(that is so unStoic). I am not English but I am an intrigued observer who wants to understand more. Happily I don’t have to take sides.

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    1. Peter, the very idea of monarchy seems to me to be reprehensible and insulting. So, no, sorry, I’m not going to broaden my perspective. As Sagan once aptly put it, it’s good to be open minded. So long as your brain doesn’t fall off…

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  2. the very idea of monarchy seems to me to be reprehensible and insulting.

    Yes, it does ‘seem‘ that way to you. But large numbers of people feel very differently. Why should that be? I think that is an important avenue of inquiry. I do hope you are making a sharp distinction between the medieval manifestations of monarchy and the modern constitutional form we see in the UK. This is the implicit mistake that people tend to make. Judging the modern incarnation by the sins, shortcomings and injustices of the ancient manfestation is a severe error of reasoning.

    no, sorry, I’m not going to broaden my perspective

    Of course I respect that but I must ask if that attitude is incompatible with embracing philosophy as a way of life. But then I am an unPhilosopher so what do I know.

    As Sagan once aptly put it, it’s good to be open minded. So long as your brain doesn’t fall off”

    A readiness to consider multiple perspectives has left my brain firmly attached to the right place. But I am ready to admit that it might not be true for other people. I have met one or two people like that.

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    1. Peter, the fact that many people feel differently abut X or Y is entirely irrelevant, as you well know. It’s logically fallacious to appeal to the opinion of a majority. And in this case, at least among western nations, monarchists are not a majority.

      Of course I make a distinction with medieval monarchs. But that doesn’t change the fact that, in my opinion, the whole idea of nobles is misguided and pernicious. Moreover, these people are entirely parasitic on the rest of society.

      No, refusing to “open your mind” to certain possibilities is not incompatible with embracing philosophy as a way of life. Why would that be? Should I be open minded about fascism or Bolshevism as well? Would that be incompatible with philosophy?

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  3. It’s logically fallacious to appeal to the opinion of a majority.

    Sorry but the logical fallacy is yours. I am not appealing to the opinion of a majority to justify a finding. That is your mistaken interpretation of my words. I am saying that a significany body of opinion exists and this is worthy of study and understanding.(why do they feel this way? What role does this serve? Is this a useful role? Why has this institution persisted and been so durable? What does this tell us about the British people? What does this tell us about obdurate Italian-Americans? What is the relevance to the role of symbols and symbolism in the life of a nation? Why are we so deeply attached to the symbols of nationhood, to the symbols that denote our belonging? Why have the symbols, of all kinds, that denote belonging so deeply permeated our culture)

    among western nations, monarchists are not a majority.

    Quite true but irrelevant. We are talking about the UK. And so was the article about the UK. The rest are irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

    the whole idea of nobles is misguided and pernicious

    A condemnatory statement is not an argument. It is merely an attitudinal guide.

    Should I be open minded about fascism or Bolshevism as well? Would that be incompatible with philosophy?

    I never used the term “open minded”. You dragged it in, assigned it to me and gave it an unfortunate connotation. A common if unfortunate debating tactic.

    Multiple perspective taking does not mean embracing those perspectives as your own point of view and this is not what I am advocating. It does mean displaying a readiness to examine other perspectives with the goal of understanding them and looking for beneficial insights.

    Above all I am deeply wedded to the idea of searching for understanding and pentrating insights and therefore to delay condemnation since I think this pernicious practice hobbles the mind.

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    1. Peter, if you didn’t mean to invoke majority opinion you may need to word your comments more carefully. It sure sounded like that’s what you were doing to me.

      But if you weren’t, then it’s hard to reconcile your stated anthropological interest in why people like the monarchy, an interest that I share, with your strong criticism of the essay I posted.

      Yes, we are talking about the UK monarchy but it is not irrelevant to point out that the Brits are an (odd) minority among western countries. In this respect, a leftover of a thankfully bygone era.

      My condemnation is an expression of my feelings, and as such you ought to respect it. If you want an argue against the monarchy then I’ve already given you one: they are parasites. Another one is that the notion that some people ought to be privileged by birth is contrary to democracy and egalitarianism, tel values I hold in high regard.

      As for taking multiple perspectives that’s nice, and indeed useful. But you and I don’t disagree on the fact that the majority of Brits support the monarchy, we disagree about whether they ought or not. The fact that they have a different perspective is obvious; why they do is interesting; that they do is abhorrent.

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  4. I mean, at least, Charles the environmentalist could start riding a bike, like the Scandinavian and Benelux monarchs, could he not? And, yes, that is facetious and sarcastic, but also serious. Even allowing for their smaller populations, the financial weight of those monarchies on their countries is far smaller.

    Going to social/cultural anthropology, as I blogged a couple of months ago, what I find interesting, Massimo, is that so many Americans have such a fetish (what else to call it?) for the British crown. https://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2022/09/royals-envy-societal-class-based-penis.html

    Sidebar: Speaking of crowns and your country’s formerly having one, and still having a “monarch” inside this little bitty place inside Rome? Just finished David Kertzer’s newest. At the end, he straightforwardly calls Pius XII a Fascist.

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  5. you may need to word your comments more carefully. It sure sounded like that’s what you were doing to me.

    It is always a good idea to quote your interlocutor’s actual words. That way the discussion stays accurate and focussed.

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    1. That’s often unwieldy and gets in the way of the flow of the discussion. This isn’t a court of law, it’s an exchange among like minded seekers of wisdom.

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  6. But if you weren’t, then it’s hard to reconcile your stated anthropological interest in why people like the monarchy, an interest that I share, with your strong criticism of the essay I posted.

    It deserves strong criticism because it is poorly written and argued. The NYT is one of the few media outlets that I subscribe to. That is because many of their articles are well researched and balanced. This article does not live up to the high standards I associate with the NYT.

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    1. What do you mean by “poorly written and argued”? Are you raising a stylistic issue when you say poorly written? And what do you think the argument would be, exactly? I took it to be a piece of anthropological journalism, not necessarily putting forth a specific judgment about the monarchy. Did you interpret it otherwise?

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  7. My condemnation is an expression of my feelings, and as such you ought to respect it

    That sounds like King Massimo talking. Am I guilty of lèse-majesté?

    More seriously though, I certainly have a great deal of respect for you. But your opinions can be questioned, especially when they border on the extreme. For example
    reprehensible and insulting
    misguided and pernicious
    that they do is abhorrent
    they are parasites

    We are allowed to have strong emotions but we should not be ruled by them. Moreover they should be reserved for matters close at hand that have an immediate, direct and important bearing on our lives, where we can potentially have some influence on the outcome. Everything else is a waste of emotion.

    It hardly needs to be said that you are allowed to form opinions and that I should respect the differences of opinion. But I retain the right to question them in a spirit of tolerant goodwill, even if sometimes the discussion becomes robust.

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    1. Thanks for allowing me to express my emotions on my own blog. It is very big of you.

      That said, isn’t a bit pretentious of you to tell me (or anyone else) at what times I should feel or express my emotions? This is a public forum, so presenting one’s arguments and even emotional responses influences people. Why would that be a waste of time? And if it is, why are you wasting your time answering?

      Of course you have the right to question my opinions. You might have noticed that all your comments were allowed to pass through.

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  8. don’t disagree on the fact that the majority of Brits support the monarchy, we disagree about whether they ought or not.

    Well no, we don’t disagree about the ‘ought’. My stance is that of a neutral observer who does not want to rush to judgement. This is a real and fascinating phenomenon. If I immediately jump to the conclusion that they are “reprehensible, pernicious and abhorrent parasites” (your words) then I have closed off my mind.

    What good does it do to close off my mind with such harsh words? It might be emotionally satisfying but closing off my mind is a harmful practice that impoverishes my mental life. Why should I want that? It seems to be another way of practising self-harm.

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    1. Peter, again it is pretentious of you to assume that my judgment is “rash” (your word). I have thought long and hard about systems of government, and about the UK monarchy in particular.

      And as I mentioned before, sometimes it doesn’t really take that long to arrive at sensible conclusions. The Nazi were supported by millions of people–surely an interesting phenomenon, anthropologically–but how long did you find yourself on the fence before deciding they were bad?

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  9. I am going to close off with two anecdotes that might help you understand my motivations in this discussion.

    In the course of my work at a very large automotive company I would often walk through the plant from end to end, stopping to talk to all and sundry, to question and understand.

    One day, at the end of one long and tiring walk, I thankfully collapsed into my office armchair with a restorative mug of coffee in hand. And then I was struck by a startling and improbable thought.

    Nobody knew how to make a motor car.

    Everyone I spoke to knew his tiny specialized task but nobody knew how to make the total motor car. And yet somehow we were doing it. I myself had seen the hundreds upon hundred of cars rolling off the end of the assembly line. And, to my pride, we were doing the job quite well(but I must admit that not all of our customers agreed).

    How was this possible? It had all the appearances of a miracle. The strange thing is that nobody questioned or even seemed aware of this miracle. If one looks at the detail one sees Brownian motion yet somehow this Brownian motion self-organizes into a complex, highly functional whole. It is rather as if someone had brought a magnet to the underside of a card sprinkled with iron filings, producing a supervening pattern.

    What is this magnet? How does it impose a supervening pattern on the Brownian motion of society? The automotive factory is my analogy for society at large. To say that we self-organize is true in a simplistic descriptive sense. But it has no explanatory power.

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  10. And then the other anecdote.

    I was travelling with the Quality Assurance director of our company to evaluate parts suppliers. One evening, at the happy hour cocktail time, I vented about the atrocious organisation, practices and quality of our parts suppliers. To my shock the QA director turned on me and sharply rebuked me.

    Yes, he said, that is all true. But your attitude has blinded you to all the good that can be found in these companies. Everywhere you go and in everything you see, you can learn something important and beneficial. Look for that and then tell me what you find.

    Wow, that was a strong rebuke from a very powerful man and I really took it to heart.

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    1. He should probably have been fired.

      Then you would have been spectacularly wrong. He was one of our most successful QA directors, with a stellar record and was greatly esteemed throughout the corporate Group. One of the things I did was to analyse all quality related measures from our company and compare them within the Group and within the industry. They compared very well indeed. Working with this man was one of the highlights of my career. In him I found a true sage and mentor.

      But your remark is so interesting because it seems to illustrate the zeitgeist of today’s skeptics. I choose instead thorough-going inquiry fueled by lively curiosity.

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  11. my judgment is “rash” (your word).

    I did a search on this web page and the word was only used once, by you. So I am somewaht bemused by your comment. Quoting your interlocutor’s actual words is a good practice. That said, I also fail this test. These mistakes happen.

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    1. Peter, bottom line: I’ve given you at least two reasons why the monarchy should be abolished. 1) They are parasites; 2) The very idea of nobility is demeaning and anti-democratic. I haven’t heard a single reason from you about why they should be kept.

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  12. And as I mentioned before, sometimes it doesn’t really take that long to arrive at sensible conclusions. The Nazi were supported by millions of people–surely an interesting phenomenon, anthropologically–but how long did you find yourself on the fence before deciding they were bad?

    This is a classic example of argument by extremes. Nazis have no relevance here(Godwin?). But that is not the main problem.

    You seem to be eager to jump to conclusions, mainly of the condemnatory kind(that is soo skeptik). What good will your conclusions achieve? What will change, other than restricting the range of your thinking?

    What I do know is that by refusing succumb to a judgemental-condemnatory attitude I am giving my mind space to consider the entire problem landscape, to explore it and learn from it. I know from my past experience that there are some surprising discoveries to be made which have enriched my mental life.

    Of course in the end we will always form judgements. That is our nature. But it is also the source of bias, prejudice and injustice. That is the destination we must avoid and we do so by carefully examining the entire problem landscape while setting aside our own emotions and biases. In the end it comes down to the most basic question of virtue ethics – what kind of person do I choose to be?

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    1. Peter, seriously, please tone down the self compliments. We get it, you’re virtuous and I’m not. That said, what great insights about monarchy and government have you gotten from your open mindedness?

      Also, again, you rush to judgment. (Ah, the irony.) You assume that my conclusions are the result of an eager jump, instead of careful and protracted deliberation. Could it be that you simply disagree and can’t articulate why, so you keep attacking my epistemic virtue instead?

      And why do the Nazi have no relevance here, exactly? They are an example of an obviously bad thing. Just like the monarchy. But if you don’t like the analogy, here’s another one: I don’t need to think too much before realizing that is a bad idea to put my hand in a fire.

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  13. You seem awfully sure of your own virtue, Peter.

    Er, no Massimo. Becoming a Christian has concentrated my mind on my own defects. What I have become more sure of is the direction that I should be going and with that the realisation that I have to do a lot of work to get there. But I am sure you understand that. Virtue ethics is a process with the goal of building a certain kind of character. I am a late arrival on the scene so I have further to go.

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  14. Peter, bottom line: I’ve given you at least two reasons why the monarchy should be abolished. 1) They are parasites; 2) The very idea of nobility is demeaning and anti-democratic. I haven’t heard a single reason from you about why they should be kept.

    You have completely and absolutely misunderstood my entire line of reasoning. I think because you are so emotionally invested in the issue.

    I am not defending the monarchy(would you like to quote my words?). I am not arguing for or against them. As far as I am concerned this is an open issue(and I live in a Republic). In the UK a great number of people support the monarchy. Why is that? I would like to understand that. A much smaller number are equally opposed. Why is that? British society has for the moment a kind of consensus that this is a beneficial institution. Why is that? Is it beneficial? In what ways can it be beneficial, or for that matter, detrimental?

    I am searching for a nuanced understanding of an important institution in a particular society at a particular point in time. That seems like a good goal. It would help if you did not attribute a point of view to me that I have not expressed.

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