Half an hour or so ago I read a tweet on Twitter from someone wondering why he, in Britain, was receiving emails about events in an American university. “Don’t they realise that I live on a different continent?”
One possiblility, I suppose, is that someone got confused about what .uk at the end of an email address stands for. Believe it or not, I heard a while back of people who genuinely thought that it meant University of Kentucky. It stands, of course, for United Kingdom. It’s quite startling to hear your country confused with a university.
Whatever the reason for the emails, it set off a train of thought about the insularity that seems to be springing up as a reaction to the “recession”, “economic downturn”, “credit crunch” or whatever term or euphemism you care to use for it.
And that reminded me of this section of Ursula le Guin’s story “The Royals of Hegn” in Changing Planes. It describes a society where virtually the entire population is a member of the royal family. Their knowledge of the outside world is somewhat limited.
There are 817 kings in Hegn. Each has title to certain lands, or palaces; but actual rule or dominion over a region isn’t what makes a king a king. What matters is having the crown and wearing it on certain occasions, such as the coronation of another king, and having one’s lineage recorded unquestionably in the Book of the Blood, and edging the sod at the annual Blessing of the Fish, and knowing that one’s wife is the queen and one’s eldest son is the crown prince and one’s brother is the prince royal and one’s sister is the princess royal and all one’s relations and all their children are of the blood royal. [ . . . ]
Such questions are not of interest to everyone, and the placid fanaticism with which the Hegnish pursue them bores or offends many visitors to their plane. The fact that the Hegnish have absolutely no interest in any people except themselves can also cause offense, or even rage. Foreigners exist. That is all the Hegnish know about them, and all they care to know. They are too polite to say that it is a pity that foreigners exist, but if they had to think about it, they would think so.
They do not, however, have to think about foreigners. That is taken care of for them.
The worrying thing is, I think there might be a little bit of the Hegnish in all of us . . .