So last night I took time off from being a free man, in order to become a number. My number was not Number 6
. I consider this use of my time to be rather a pile of Number 2 - albeit in various happier worlds I would contribute the same information gratis and with a good will. At least the UK Office of National Statistics is a pretty straight branch of government, as such things go. Filling in the form gave me a couple of thoughtful moments.
Biggest surprise was on the 'national identity' question, where multiple identifications were very wisely allowed for. I discovered that I do, in fact, positively identify both as English and as Welsh.
identify as British, at least not in the same way. Britain-the-polity is my nation in the tepid sense that other nation-states are very much less so; English, with Welsh running a strong second place behind, are more like personal tribal affiliations (and map increasingly poorly either to race, or even to 'ethnicity' in its day-to-day use - another thing the ONS got right). I have a separate and much stronger affection for Britain-the-place, which is my island home; and for my fellow-islanders, and our near neighbours, and the customs and institutions that have grown up among us; and also for that large and diffuse cultural community called by some the Anglosphere. And I have other tribal and kinship affiliations which are not ethnic or national at all: some of these are at least as important to me as my pervading Welsh-rippled Englishness. It's bogglingly complex when one draws back from it a moment, and sometimes it takes the inherent simplification of a poll or a census to remind me how much so.
And then there was the one voluntary question on the survey: religion. My usual policy, when somebody compels me to do something for their convenience, is to provide them with as little of what they want as I can get away with. But in this case, I decided there was a better case for volunteering my census-simplification of the true answer, viz. "No religion". Religion is the sort of energetic concentrated interest-group to which governments and other folk are often tempted to defer. "No religion," though, is a category which says little about one's actual philosophy or even zeal, but provides a broad hint that one will be unsympathetic to future religiose nudgings from the asker.
Since genuinely religious people will mostly put down their actual religion, and people who know or care very little for religion are notorious for just putting down whatever identity their parents professed, I think it's wiser for people who do
care but don't have a conventional religious identity not to let themselves be under-counted.
It is also the fault of this bureaucratic oppression that I only managed 20 words of Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland
yesterday, and this is the story to which I am sticking. But at least, albeit in a small way, I learned about as much from last night's exercise as Mr Trwyn-Ym-Mhopeth