Tuesday, 26 October 2010

In which I contemplate the curious nature of perspective

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

As I skittled through the 487 things which my Google reader said I should read this morning, I stumbled upon something which I thought was such an outrageous piece of good news that I had another Hold the Front Page moment. I was so bullish that I was going to title this post 'In which it turns out we are not fucked after all'. (I apologise for the swear, but it was that good.)

The 2010 Legatum Prosperity Index had come out with its rankings. Dear old Blighty was number 13 out of 110 countries. I thought this was tremendous. We are number 5 in Entrepreneurship and Opportunity, and number 9 in both Governance and Social Capital. Hurrah, I thought, it does not all have to be entropy, all the time.

Digging into the findings (because findings must always be dug into, as any fule no) I discovered even better news. Britain has the fourth largest percentage of people in the world who give to charity. We come second overall in the category of people believing that they can turn to friends or relatives for help, a glorious 96% saying Yes to that question. Grumpy old Britons turn out to have 'very high tolerance for racial and ethnic minorities', and 'extremely high levels of civil liberties'. And the hits just keep on coming: Great Britain has a 'low level of corruption', a 'robust democracy', and a (don't faint) 'highly effective government'.

By this stage, I was almost dancing in the streets. It's Good News Day. Let there be sounding brass. I wondered how the media would cover these astonishing findings. Surely there would be general rejoicing and, perhaps, over at those papers who adore to insist we are all going to three different kinds of hell in twenty-seven handcarts, a tiny mea culpa.

It turns out I rank number one in the world for naivety. Here is the headline over at the Guardian: 'Lord Mandelson: UK's poor place in prosperity league is not indictment of Labour'. I love how Mandy manages to shoehorn himself into the thing, and would expect nothing less from The Prince of Darkness. But 'poor place'? Poor place?

I slunk back to the drawing board, chastened. Clearly, I am misguided and wrong to think that number 13 out of 110 is pretty damn good. Personally, I blame Shakespeare. There is a curious psychological contradiction in the British mind. Because we produced the greatest writer in the world, and because we once ruled the waves, I think we still half believe that we should be number one. We invented cricket, for God's sake. We had The Beatles and The Stones. We bred Churchill and Sir Christopher Wren and Mrs Woolf and Charles Darwin and Hawksmoor and Vanbrugh. From this tiny isle came Jane Austen and Florence Nightingale and Edith Cavell and Alan Turing and Watson and Crick. At the same time, there is the enduring gloomy glass half empty we are all going to the dogs idea that runs through the national psyche like Brighton through a stick of rock. Put these two clashing notions together, and you get the conclusion that number thirteen is rubbish.

The perception twist is also seen in the report itself. For instance, on Safety and Security we rank 23rd, which does not sound that marvellous. Once you read the thing, you see that this number is dragged down by the perception of crime. Only 2% of Britons were assaulted last year, but a staggering 40% do not feel safe walking home alone at night.

I still say it cannot be all bad. I like understated sentences like this: 'There were no casualties from civil or ethnic violence in the UK in 2009'. Or the rather poetic 'Human flight is very low'. Two cheers for low human flight. Despite what you might read in some of the more hysterical tabloids or the antic message boards, the fact is that emigration of 'professionals, intellectuals and the middle class' is the seventh lowest in the world. At least we still have our intellectuals, although historically we do not always love them. (Too clever by half is traditionally one of the most favoured British insults.)

I am going to continue to regard this as a good news moment. I shall go on searching for sunshine if it kills me, whatever naughty Lord Mandelson of Foy and the Guardian headline writers have to say on the matter.

Here is a little symphony in green to celebrate:

26th Oct 2

26th Oct 4

26th Oct 9

26th Oct 5

26th Oct 8

26th Oct 6

26th Oct 11

26th Oct 10

Some people of course have far more important things than numbers to think of, like the eating of sticks:

 26th Oct 7

Or the contemplation of first principles:

26th Oct 12

Or just generally going about their business:

26th October 13


  1. the fact that you are looking for sunshine even though the dark lord seems to continue to be seen as relevant even though he is an unelected dementor for democracy is heartening too.

    As are pictures of happy dogs and green stuff.

  2. I have missed reading your outpourings in the last month - finally am beginning to catch up and this was a lovely one to kick-start the new momentum with. And pics of the dogs and verdant greenery are very uplifting on a day when it seems it will never get light.

  3. So glad you both like the green stuff. I sincerely believe it has a soothing effect on the harried mind. :)


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