Philosophy can seem the most cerebral and abstract of disciplines. So what would happen if a philosopher stepped out of his study and ’embedded’ himself in an ordinary (but unfamiliar) community in his own country and tried to work out whether the English people have anything which could reasonably be called a philosophy?
That’s exactly the challenge that Julian Baggini set himself in 2005, when he left his comfort zone in Bristol and moved to Rotherham, which, it turns out, is as typical as you can hope to find of how the English live now.
We met this month to coincide with the paperback publication of his account of his sojourn, Everytown, and I asked him how his assumptions about what he would find had matched up to reality. Here’s the list he made as he travelled north:
‘On the train, I jotted down a list of values and characteristics I expected to find, making no attempt to mask my prejudices. I thought there would be toleration for difference, but no real love for it, and only as long as it is not perceived as threatening. There would be provincialism. People’s aspirations would be modest, or else for superficial things like fame or wealth. The best life would be comfortable and fun.
People would think religion was for weirdos and philosophy for boffins. Anti-intellectualism would be rife. People would have their philosophies of life, which would be simple but true: be thankful for what you’ve got, make the most of what you have; time waits for no man.
Although in behaviour most people would be sexually liberal, most still want to be married and think that children deserve two married parents. There would be a thin line between having some youthful fun and being a slag. Homophobia would be normal.
Despite the talk of a national culinary renaissance, people would still eat badly and the ‘best restaurant around’ would be rubbish…’