What’s more useful; a well made cup of coffee or a Royal?

Royal Pomposity

Coffee cup

British economist,  philosopher and all round smart guy, E.F. Schumacher made the following proposition in the 1970s in his ground breaking book Small is Beautiful:  “The prestige carried by people in modern industrial society varies in inverse proportion to their closeness to actual production.”

What he’s suggesting is that people with lots of ‘prestige’ tend to not actually contribute to society, while those in the ditches, doing the dirty work, involved in direct ‘production’ are usually afforded little to no ‘prestige’. For me, to validate and or open a discussion about such a statement would be to possibly look at, say, Paris Hilton (hang on, I own’t go there, we all know she’s a fucking idiot, and a waste of time), perhaps someone a little closer to the general populaces heart; the British royals.

Ok, now we’re talking. What indeed is it that they contribute? I know I know, “They do a great deal for charity” you say. Yet where do they get the money to perform their charitable acts? From us. You and me, well the Poms at least. So besides turning up for the random cutting of ribbons outside institutions of indoctrination (some call them schools), parading in front of the Thames in pompous outfits, and spending millions on grand ceremonies set to perpetuate their own mythology and influence, what do they do? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, not much. Yet we afford them so much press coverage, such reverence; people line the streets of towns and cities all over the world when they arrive, people go into fits of hysteria when someone even touches one of them.  But good luck trying to question it.

What we’re told is that the British monarchy and it’s pomposity in general, is a great tradition, and a time honoured symbol of national unity*. News readers and the like often parrot the idea on coronation days, and other days of ridiculous pretentiousness, that we’re witnessing a thousand year old tradition. In the words of Roman Krznaric, ‘This is, to put it mildly, nonsense.’ Most of these modern ceremonies costing millions of pounds are relatively recent inventions, and what is known unto historians as ‘invented traditions.’ In the late 1800s class consciousness was beginning to rival national fervour. Popular Democracy was looking like it may well topple the Monarchy. So what did they do to stop their slide into oblivion? Well, as noted in Sir David Cannadine’s 1983 book The British Monarchy and the Invention of Tradition, they, and when I say they I mean the then Prime Minister Disraeli, began bestowing invented titles upon the royalty (see the Empress of India title bestowed on Victoria for example), throwing, what in todays language could only be described as a red carpet/gala event where they were sure to arrive in glorious splendour (see Edward VII’s carriage used to take him to his coronation), or even going so far as to change the royal families name in an attempt to obscure their German heritage (changing their name in 1917 from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the House of Windsor).

Now I got a little waylaid by the royals (little r intentional), but the point is that we attribute these people with notions of greatness that simply aren’t. So I suggest that instead of waiting hours by a road side to catch a glimpse of a member of the royal family (who essentially do nothing but prop up the idea of themselves), take some time out for someone who actually does something of value. Be it the lady who makes your coffee, that handsome young chap who delivers your mail, or the doctor who saves family members day in day out, I think it’s time we allocate prestige where it ought be allocated: To those who contribute; To those who actually produce something of tangible value.


2 thoughts on “What’s more useful; a well made cup of coffee or a Royal?

  1. It’s supply and demand. I can have a well made cup of coffee today, tomorrow, any day. The royals on the other hand are a scarce commodity.
    Of course they are just people, but their personhood is not what is on sale – their role is what is on sale.

    They’re also a veblen good, the more expensive they are, the more desirable they are.

    Simple economics.

    • I believe you’re being ironic, no? A Veblen good? You’re referring to the late great Thorstein, yes? You understand his classic Theory of the Leisure Class is a Satire right? Good. I’d also be inclined to ask you what role in particular the Royals are selling, but if you’re asking that question then I’d implore you to reread Veblen’s masterpiece, and maybe a few things about the modern propagandist system. Then we should talk a little more. 😉

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