The English Year Zero

The French Revolution  attempted to sweep  away  many of the everyday cultural anchors that attach a people to a way of life: the currency, the calendar and the systems  of weights and measures.  The new  calendar did not last but the currency and metric system did. The French lost forever an important part of their shared experience.   It was perhaps the first attempt at a Year Zero obliteration of the past not by an invader but by the elite of a people.

Britain has never experienced a cultural  upheaval as starkly dramatic as the French Revolution,  but  revolution can come in subtler ways.  In the past forty years she has seen her counties butchered; lost her historic currency and suffered  a creeping undermining of her traditional  weights and measures.  Like the French revolutionary experience, this damage  been inflicted from within.

Edward Heath’s  re-drawing of  county boundaries through the Local Government Act  1972 (active from 1974) saw Cumberland and Westmoreland lost as they were merged into Cumbria; Herefordshire, Worcestershire and England’s smallest country, Rutland,  obliterated; Lancashire,  Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Somerset, Gloucester , Northumberland, Durham and  Warwickshire shorn of much of their historic territory and population  through the creation of the metropolitan “counties”  of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire and the meaningless  new counties of Avon, Cleveland, Cumbria, Hereford and Worcester, and Humberside created. 

Of all the things which give a human being a sense  of belonging and permanence it is the land in which they live.  People form  an emotional attachment to  things. They buy products because of their branding. They give names to their cars.   Sailors have an intense relationship with their ships.   How much more potent is the relationship with the place where they live. Unsurprisingly, human attachment to land is the most emotional attachment  after family. Territory is what men have fought for more than anything else because a secure place to live is the source of all security.    Humans need continuity, not incessant and dramatic change.

Few if any things are more disorienting than the re-naming of the place where you live. It seems to strike at reality. That is why when politicians try to make such changes, the old names commonly  live on for generations, sometimes centuries; why Petrograd became St Petersburg again so readily after the Soviet Union fell.   

Why did Heath do it? Ostensibly on the grounds of administrative convenience. He might as well have suggested the Church of England would have been better served by  demolishing its great mediaeval cathedrals and building new modernist ones.  It was the act of a man who at best lived beyond the touch of history and at worst was a willing destroyer of  English culture in his desire to translate Britain into a province of a United States of Europe.

Decimalisation was primarily promoted on the tawdry, false and utterly soulless  grounds that it would substantially  increase business efficiency, a claim as improbable as Nye Bevan’s belief that the cost of the NHS would soon drop as the population’s health improved due to better healthcare . Even if the claim of business efficiency  had been true, it would have been  a criminally trivial reason for  ditching a currency with a 1,300 year history dating back to the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the 7th century with their silver  peningas (pennies).     It removed  from circulation those reminders of the past, the many old coins in circulation. Before decimalisation every handful of change reminded one of England’s history.  You looked at coins and saw the heads of  different monarchs,  ran you hands over the coins and felt the centuries which they represented.  It was common to find coins dating to Victoria’s reign and there were a fair number older than that. Occasionally something really old would appear (the oldest coin I ever received in change dated from the reign of Charles II).   It was a form of informal education. With decimal coinage all this was  swept away if not  exactly at a stroke – florins, shillings and sixpences limped on for a few years –  but most of the history was  lost immediately because pennies and halfpennies became obsolete overnight.

Metrication replaces measures which grew organically over the centuries from the natural usage of  the people – a hand was the breadth of a hand, a foot the length of a foot, a yard is the distance of a man’s arm – with an alien and contrived system.  Imperial measurements are man-related. Metric measurements are simply arbitrary measures derived from such things as the diameter of the earth. They are the imposition of a foreign and arbitrary system on the English. No one forced the English to use imperial measurements.  They  grew out of Man’s natural behaviour.  It is natural to use an arm, hand or foot to act as a measure. Even today we  use our feet  place close one after another or paces to measure a distance.     The yard arose from need and inclination: the metre was an artificial construct.  Imperial and metric are a pair akin to English and Esperanto.

Choosing units which grew naturally out of men’s needs means that they are the units with which people are most comfortable.  For many everyday purposes metric units tend to either be too large or too small because they have been based not on experience but on an intellectual construct of the Age of Reason.  A pound feels naturally right, a kilo too heavy.   A centimetre is too small for many measurements and a metre too large.  Imperial measurements offers an intermediate measurement the  foot.  So it is with other measures.  We have the pint, quart and gallon; metric gives us merely the millilitre and the litre. Of course, Imperial standard measurements are the result of an Act of Parliament, but they were based on the usage which grew from  human beings developing what they needed. That made Imperial measurements  comfortable to use.  

The same people who constantly attempt to debunk any claim to uniqueness or distinctiveness about England and its people will doubtless point out in their pathologically self-hating way that miles are derived  from the Latin miles and pennies  the Latin denarii. That is irrelevant. What matters is that a people takes and moulds words  to their own wishes.  It is like a man who takes clay and melds it into one pot rather than another. The clay is the same, the pot is not.  

The argument that the change to a decimal currency and metric measurements is justified because of its greater ease of use holds no water.  As one who grew up using Imperial measurements  and a currency denominated in pounds, shillings and pence, I can vouch for the fact that this caused no great difficulty in everyday life.  It was what came naturally.  It is also debatable whether  in pure arithmetical terms a base of ten rather than twelve  has more utility. The duodecimal system can be factored more fluently, for example,  10 is factored by just  5 and 2, 12 is factored by 2, 3, 4 and 6.. Nor is a base of ten natural. Commonly amongst primitive peoples the counting system is something along these lines: one, two,  plenty.  No automatic use of ten because we have ten digits on the hands and feet.

The creeping metrication has produced a disturbing result.  Those who are  older  still think entirely in Imperial  and are confused by metric. The young , who have been taught only metric* in schools,   often have no firm grasp of the system  because  a system of weights and measures  formally taught  is no more likely to be remembered by most  than is algebra.  Consequently  they are confused by both Imperial and metric  measurements.   (A good way of testing whether someone understands metric is to ask them their height in metres or the waist measurement in centimetres. If you get five in a hundred to give the correct answer I would be surprised. )

The upshot of this change to metric  is not an increase in efficiency of  ease of calculation by the population as a whole but a widespread  abrogation of individual judgement on the value of things by measurement  simply because people do not understand the measure being used.  This ignorance  also has effects on work in those jobs where precision of measurement is necessary.  If someone mixing paint does not  know the difference between a millilitre and a litre trouble is assured.  The general effect is for large numbers of people to have lost any sense of proportion in measurement. It is akin to the number blindness of those who cannot do arithmetic without a calculator and consequently have no idea of whether the result they get from the input is correct.

There is also the political dimension.  Since 1896 Britons have not been  forced to  use Imperial measurements . (They were  at liberty to use either imperial or metric  in trade after  Parliament passed the Weights and Measures (Metric System) Act  in that year).  Britain’s membership of the EU has removed that freedom with  metric  measurements now being the legally required system when used for goods and services sold by quantity. Dual labelling  – metric and Imperial – was allowed  by the EU but this was meant to be phased out  by 31 December 2009. However, that demand has been dropped and what the EU calls ‘supplementary indications”  (Imperial measures) are continuing without any definite end. Nonetheless, the metric  system is the dominant legal system and any trader refusing to use  a metric measure is liable for prosecution as the “Metric Martyrs”  (most famously Steve Thoburn)  discovered.  If you want to sell a pound of potatoes you have to weigh it on metric scales and price it according to the metric price. 

It might seem  strange that the people who continuously tell us that the preservation of cultures is the most important thing in the world are also the people who  pushed through decimalisation  and are in the process of  forcing metrication on us at all costs. Sadly, there is no mystery.  It is cultural cleansing arranged by our elite in who are Quislings in the service of liberal internationalism in general and of the EU in particular.   The upshot is that English  children have been and are being denied what has been part of being English for many centuries.

I have entitled this piece the English Year Zero. Why not the British Year Zero? Because counties, our  currency and the Imperial system of weights and measures have their origins in England. Their  antiquity and origins  make them more valuable to the English than to the Celts.  A native of Yorkshire calls himself a Yorshireman  but a  Scot does not refer to himself as Midlothian or a native of Lanarshire a  Lanarkshireman. Rather, a Scot will refer to themselves as a highlander, by their clan, their religious affiliation (Protestant or Catholic)  or derive their status from a city such as  Glasgow.   The Welsh and Northern Irish have similar cultural reference points. Similarly, the Celts  have in the back of their mind that the pound sterling and  Imperial weights and measures are English imposed devices which makes them value them less at best or even be actively glad to see them destroyed or under threat.   

* school pupils are taught “rough metric equivalents of imperial units still in daily use”, but are not taught how to manipulate Imperial units –  Mathematics – The National Curriculum for England Key stages 1–4, Joint publication by Department for Education and Employment and Qualifications and Curriculum Authority 1999.

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6 Responses to The English Year Zero

  1. Bill Chapman says:

    “Imperial and metric are a pair akin to English and Esperanto.” What an interesting thought. I’m an English-born Welsh-speaker who is quite happy to use yards, feet and inches at home and metres and centimetres when “on the continent”. I also speak Esperanto. It is a useful language and certainly was not designed to replace English or any other language.

    • “It is a useful language and certainly was not designed to replace English or any other language.”

      I didn’t suggest it was, Bill. The distinction I was making between a natural language and one deliberately and artificially created.

  2. Pat Naughtin says:

    Dear Robert Henderson,

    You wrote: “They are the imposition of a foreign and arbitrary system on the English.”

    You appear not to be aware that the metric system was invented in England in 1668. When Bishop John Wilkins invented the “universal measure” that 120 years later, became the “decimal metric system” his intention was to provide an honest coherent system of measures that could be used for all people for all measuring activities. See http://www.metricationmatters.com/who-invented-the-metric-system.html for details of Bishop John Wilkins invention.

    By the way, I have had the honour to visit Bishop Wilkins grave in the church of St Lawrence Jewry in London.

    Cheers,

    Pat Naughtin
    Geelong, Australia

    • I was aware of Bishop Wilkins’ envisaging of something akin to the metric system but that has no relevance here because he was merely a private individual creating an intellectual construct. He also invented the idea of a universal language. You might might as well say he was the inventor of Esperanto because he envisaged a universal language.

  3. Pat Naughtin says:

    Dear Robert Henderson,

    You wrote: “… he was merely a private individual creating an intellectual construct.”

    This may have been true in 1668, but his concept of a “universal measure” was taken up by Thomas Jefferson in its entirety and then communicated to the “philosophes” of France in the 1780s when Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were the USA ambassadors.

    If you go to http://metricationmatters.com/docs/USAMetricSystemHistory.pdf and search for Jefferson you will find references to Jefferson’s 1790 report to Congress on measurements for the USA. If you then compare these with Bishop Wilkins’ original concept you will find multiple similarities between Jefferson’s report and the 5 pages from page 190 in Wilkins’ “An Essay Toward a Real Character and a Philosophical Language.”

    You also wrote: “You might might as well say he was the inventor of Esperanto because he envisaged a universal language.”

    I agree with you that, to the best of my knowledge, Wilkins writings on language were not taken up directly by the creators of Esperanto. However, Wilkins word grouping concept was taken up by Dr. Peter Mark Roget (1779–1869) when he published his “Roget’s Thesaurus” on 1852 April 29. I believe, but I have not personally seen this, that Roget gave credit to Bishop John Wilkins in the early editions of his work.

    Cheers,

    Pat Naughtin
    Geelong, Australia

    • “This may have been true in 1668, but his concept of a “universal measure” was taken up by Thomas Jefferson in its entirety and then communicated to the “philosophes” of France in the 1780s when Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were the USA ambassadors.

      If you go to http://metricationmatters.com/docs/USAMetricSystemHistory.pdf and search for Jefferson you will find references to Jefferson’s 1790 report to Congress on measurements for the USA. If you then compare these with Bishop Wilkins’ original concept you will find multiple similarities between Jefferson’s report and the 5 pages from page 190 in Wilkins’ “An Essay Toward a Real Character and a Philosophical Language.”

      None of this changes the fact that he was a private individual with an idea which was never taken up by his own country.

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