Of Islands and Identities

Here’s a question, prompted by witnessing yet more Facebook fractiousness – never in short supply when threads weave around “independence”, or “nationalism” (whether in the context of Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK, or the UK’s with the rest of Europe). Does the giddy whirlpool of identity politics ever stop swirling through the social media? I can do without it.

One of the things that made me a willing island-dweller is the enhanced sense of detachment from attention-seeking, loyalty-demanding “centres of power” – be they based in Brussels, London, Edinburgh, or even Stornoway. I may or may not agree that the various responsibilities the big towns claim for themselves are fairly distributed. The point is that, even if I do, I clearly don’t need to “identify” myself exclusively with the polity or jurisdiction over which each one exercises its “authority”. That’s fundamentally not sensible, in my view. The real world is mobile and multi-polar. Our loyalties and attention shift and divide – and properly so.

TeampullCrotalThis is not new. Take Gaelic, for example – an important part of my current cultural make-up (as I’ve mentioned once or twice elsewhere). One of the many highlights of a recent visit from Irish language enthusiasts was seeing how close we could get to Teampull Chaluim Chille in Balivanich (Baile a’ Mhanaich – The Monk’s Town). The name alone evokes a “pan-Gaelic” past that pre-dates notions of “Ireland” and “Scotland” as the separate “nations” we think of today. But history moved on, and while we may still feel the pull of cultural and linguistic affinity as Gaels, there probably aren’t many around today who will profess a loyalty to “Gaeldom” alone, wholly to the exclusion of other cultural constructs – such as “Scotland”, or “Ireland”, or even indeed “Britain”, or “Europe”.

As it turned out, the land around the Teampull is so boggy that most of us didn’t properly complete our mini-pilgrimage, with the noble exception of Mairtín. His perseverance paid off though, as he got some stunning shots there that sit very prettily alongside the rest of his Benbecula album. Surely we can all recognise and acknowledge the beauty to be found here, irrespective of IMG_0786autocorrecthow we each place ourselves “culturally” or “nationally”. We all have the capacity to appreciate others’ work and worth, and that seems to me like a better basis on which to construct healthy relationships, and so reasonable dialogue, than any over-emphasised or falsely attributed “cultural differences” that tend only to solidify as self-fulfilling prophecies. I wish folk would stop disrespecting other people’s integrity or intelligence on the basis of how they divide up their communal identities. It’s disturbing. I may be about to relieve my FB friends list of a few folk (none pictured here) who can’t seem to break out of a vicious-looking circle. Time to set course away from a “virtual Coire Bhreacain” being fed by dodgy-looking ethno-essentialist undercurrents…

(Disclaimer: These are my own musings. None of the gaisgich pictured above should be implicated in any political, constitutional, or other conclusions that readers may wish to draw from them. I think it’s fair to say the consensus was that we had a jolly good time…)

About Gordon Wells

Language learner and teacher (English, Gaelic, Hindi and Urdu). Interested in bilingualism and creativity. At home in the Hebrides.

Posted on 20/11/2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Fair post, Gordon. As a discussion medium FB sucks the big one, as those across the Pond would say, but in a way that’s fair enough as it was never intended as such, for all that Zuckerberg and his dodgy corporation have tried to make it into a ‘universal solvent’. It’s good for posting announcements and keeping in touch with folk, even perhaps meeting online like-minded folk (though that has its own self-reinforcing dangers as we all now), but for discussion it’s all heat and no light.

    Your announcements of new blog posts on FB are welcome, and to this unwilling city-dweller in the barbarous South are interesting and very enlightening. They certainly help to dispel the stereotypical image, which it appears that many folk North and South still have, of the Western Isles (Hebrides is just soooo Roman, my dear ;-)) as a dour decaying outpost of Scotland. The Island Voices posts on the increasingly multi-ethnic makeup of the population have been especially interesting, and to me indicate a culture that’s evolving and remaking itself, which IMO is essential to any culture and society that wishes to not just survive but thrive.

    So do please keep posting updates and news on FB. For your own sanity, and indeed time management, it’s probably wise to keep any ‘discussion’ to a minimum.

  2. Gordon Wells

    Grazie, Hamstair chòir! My word, a comment on WordPress. Yes, I think I remember those pre-Facebook days… Don’t worry, I’m not intending to shrink my own FB output, certainly not of the Island Voices stuff. (Thanks for the appreciation, BTW.) I’m just looking to thin out the dodgy “external input” that tends to choke the quality stuff – which does exist! But so much seems to lie at the mercy of the gate-keeping algorithms either way… So thanks again for paying a visit to WordPress!

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