When Her Majesty asks, the experts answer

Dear Queen Person,

OK, OK, technically I'm meant to call you Your Majesty or Your Highness or something else decorous, humble and traditional possibly including Queen of Canada. But this being the age of self-esteem I just wouldn't feel validated doing that. Despite which I did sort of want to congratulate you for getting a bunch of arrogant pundits to apologize in writing because they didn't see the recession coming. How ever did you do it?

Yes, I read the news stories saying you went to the London School of Economics in the fall and asked "Why did nobody notice it?" What I don't get is how this obvious, mildly phrased query could induce the British Academy to assemble a panel of expert academics, public servants, journalists, politicians to discuss the question. I'm even more flummoxed that the panel resulted in a letter to your Queenship summarizing the discussion, signed by a member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee and an eminent historian, which said "the failure to foresee the timing, extent and severity of the crisis and to head it off, while it had many causes, was principally a failure of the collective imagination of many bright people, both in this country and internationally, to understand the risks to the system as a whole" then blamed "wishful thinking combined with hubris."

I realize the letter also offered a variety of excuses and a cloud of defensive rhetoric about people who did predict trouble. But hey, this is 2009. What really counts is that in the end the authors came semi-clean. Getting the chattering classes to admit the obvious is no small feat nowadays.

As I began drafting this note, it crossed my mind that monarchists out there would peddle nonsense about the advantages of that system. They might even babble that when prestige and honour attach to a hereditary office rather than its current occupant it can evoke humility without grovelling in others and elevation without arrogance in the holder, who after all knows that they have the job because of pure luck (maybe not even the good kind; you could discuss with the Prince of Wales whether his life would have been easier if he'd been born Chuck Windsor in Croyden). But I crossed that thought out. I mean, hey, in this day and age?

After all, I'm meant to feel good about myself, right, and humility is a real pain. Like deference and manners and all that rubbish. In fact one thing I really like about democracy is how the politicians always tell me I'm special and should get whatever I want. Granted, they don't always act like it, but I sure like hearing it.

It was quite an achievement to extract this letter for all its failings. It was probably even good for the pundits. J.R.R. Tolkien once said tipping your hat to the squire might be bad for the squire but it was dashed good for you, or words to that effect. Rather pointless advice when we don't even wear hats anymore except backwards where it's hard to grasp the brim. But maybe we could try doffing our ear buds or some such.

Indeed, were we to interrupt the steady stream of technologically advanced overstimulation now giving us attention-deficit issues, we might in the ensuing silence observe something odd. It is possible to yell that pundits are fools, or slam politicians for defining the term "fool" in new and remarkable ways at every occasion. It is possible to write arid treatises on the unforeseeability of the economic future due to the transcomputability of zzzzzz. I've done both. But what is very hard to do is get anywhere by either route.

It's easy to annoy or stupefy people with the right sort of prose. But it's hard to change their ideas. Besides, what Your Queenliness achieved in this business was above all a triumph of manners not of intellect. You made pundits admit a huge, hideous, embarrassing error politely, clearly and humbly. That's weird. In fact it's anachronistic.

There's the rub, isn't it? Everybody knows monarchs are offensive, elitist, undemocratic and, trump in an age of progress, out-of-date. How then can Your Majesty have managed to elicit such a refreshing outburst of good behaviour by raising an eyebrow instead of your voice?

While I'm at it, how do you manage to look so sensible in a world where, to admit the obvious, so many people spend so much time, money and effort looking ridiculous and arrogant including pundits and people with ear buds, fashion models, teenagers, politicians, journalists and so on.

We're so cutting edge and you're so behind the times. It just doesn't make sense. But there it is, and I have to write to you and admit it. In the words of the old deodorant ad, anything less would be uncivilized.

P.S. We're sorry we made fun of your hats.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson