Beyond the celebrations of Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee

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Jósef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski (1857-1924), known worldwide as Joseph Conrad, an English-speaking Polish novelist, was born in Berdichiv (the spelling changes depending on the direction of the wind, or the story), a city in northern Ukraine far of the sea, of any sea. At that time, Ukraine was under the rule of the Russian Empire, which was opposed by the parents of the future writer, an extreme that cost both parents an early death in exile. The orphan boy grew up dreaming that one day he would sail those seas that were so far away from him.

Several of Conrad’s novels are based on how much he lived and learned during his years spent in the British merchant navy, perhaps the best known being Heart of Darkness (1902). It is a chilling tale narrated by an old sea dog named Marlow to some companions gathered on the deck of a yawl anchored in the Thames.

Before recounting how he went up a mighty and indomitable river that would take him to meet a certain Kurtz, an ivory trafficker who had abandoned all traces of civilization, letting himself be carried away by the most primitive impulses that reigned in that unknown (for Europeans) ) heart of the African continent, Marlow contemplates the bank of the Thames before his eyes and what he sees is nothing but another heart of darkness, the one that existed before the Romans “civilized” the primitive natives of the island and from which they have not yet fully freed themselves.

Not all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the recent four-day jubilee in London could hide its dark side, which there was. Paraphrasing Walter Benjamin, one could say that any show of power, which is what that jubilee was, is at the same time a show of barbarism. In this case, yes, very showy, very sophisticated, very media, very soft power, but even so…

In June 1887, George Santayana (1863-1952), the Spanish philosopher who trained in Boston and Harvard, witnessed Queen Victoria’s Jubilee from the balcony of a mansion four steps from Buckingham Palace, and he did so as a guest of none other than John D. Rockerfeller, who was about to become the father-in-law of one of the thoughtful thinker’s best friends at the time. But what most caught Santayana’s attention was not the splendor of the jubilee but the magnitude of the inconsistency of the trifles exchanged between the tycoon and his servile guests.

Ten years passed in the blink of an eye before Santayana was once again invited by Rockerfeller to the new jubilee of the fireproof Queen Victoria, this diamond. On this occasion, the lucky ones gathered there watched the parade go by from the oil industry tycoon’s rooms in Piccadilly, but unlike the previous jubilee, the golden one, Santayana was so engrossed in such a colossal display of power that he forgot , as he confesses in his memoirs, of the presence at his side of the richest man in the world, his host.

Poverty and moral neglect

In 1902, ascended to the British throne, among other displays of power, the plump and lewd Edward VII. On the day of the coronation, the Yankee adventurer and writer Jack London arrived in London as a reporter, although far from his mission being to cover the royal splendor, what an American magazine asked him to do was to delve into the abject underworld of the largest and most powerful city in the world, which he did disguised as a penniless sailor who couldn’t find a ship to sail on.

The misery and moral abandonment that London describes in ‘The People of the Abyss’ makes your hair stand on end. Although what is most shocking now is that, more than a century later, in the midst of so much jubilee, growing inequality pushes more and more people and entire families to the brink of that same abyss, yes, with cell phones, junk food and false brand sneakers.

Let the perceptive Santayana have the last word: “British society rests on ‘vested interests’, that is, commitments made by people without realizing it, but who turn out to abandon them would cause them great discomfort. You have to carry on with the charade, and it becomes a point of honor to drop dead on stage at the end, without removing your makeup or feathers.”

It would seem that Isabel II, 96, has it assumed. What will come after such a show of power promises to be, even in the best of scenarios, disappointing, frustrating, disoriented. They paint coarse for the United Kingdom of Brexit, with or without monarchy, with or without Johnson.

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