Some weeks ago the United States was abuzz with an Oprah interview with a certain UK prince and his princess wife. It felt in a way, like old times. Oprah, a fixture of US culture for decades was bringing us into the intimate sphere of two larger than life characters who could not in good taste just go onto social media posting their grievances. People of their royal stature still need the formal media to conduct an interview so all their internal pains can be converted into burning scandal items for our consumption. While we as a group were busy sounding off on the drama of this prince and princess of our former colonial rulers, half a world away another princess was pinning her survival to videos she shot in the toilet of a palatial prison.
The formal television interview of the prince and the princess, of Harry and Megan, were part of the standard if ever-evolving performance of being a royal, of being at the top of our established global order. Despite the honesty and the revelations, the interview did little more than give us peasants someone to root for or against from our very faraway seats. Meanwhile the princess Latifa begging for her freedom and that of her sister, Shamsa, was actually threatening the order we know, using media she made herself. The difference between these two situations is crucial and it has nothing to do with one prince and princess being different or worse than the princess stuck behind bars.
Princess Latifa of Dubai has a very rich father, and by orders of magnitude he is much richer in cash assets than the Queen Elizabeth. Yet, they are friendly and quite strategically aligned, as most sovereigns are. Money likes money and old monied families like other old monied families, even if they dislike them personally. The issue is one of class and maintaining a specific hierarchical order that has been passed down to us masses for generations. Of course most royal families would like others to believe that their rights to rule or to at least be very extra special, are given by God. That was their original claim to rulership and in many ways it remains untouched despite advances in math and science, despite so many advances in culture.
Royalty is generally just another name for the winners of old bloody conflicts between groups of people who no longer even exist as distinct. Royalty as it relates to old families full of pedigrees relates to the violent and rather consistent oppression of their very own peoples. So whatever loyalty or fascination we have in regards to these old families we have all conveniently forgotten that before they ever colonized using boats and railroads they were busy consolidating their power locally in kin-against-kin brutality. You see, brutal takeovers have to practiced at home before they can be performed abroad.
Of course we are invited to forget the brutal roots of all monarchy and to simply gawk at their shoes and hats, at the dazzling jewels on their necks and heads. I’m guilty of it myself. I love a good royal feature complete with matching bags and upswept tendrils. I can not help but wonder what the next generation of royals are doing in their Swiss chalets, or on tropical holiday. It’s no different than a singer, or a movie actor in some ways, these royals, and it makes you wonder what that means for the rest of us. Royals without peasants can’t exist.
We have learned through these current monarchs and the heads of state and industry who aspire to be them, that there is nothing to see in the monarchy except divine order. There is nothing to see in the class and income inequality that traces its lineage all the way back to these castles and their barbaric and dreary castles, yet there is everything to remember. Of course with these long, storied lineages the noble families are having a dramatic and difficult time of maintaining appearances and their own, critical, internal hierarchies. No matter their success and their personal myths, there is no way for these families to avoid the times, the technologies and yes the complete shift in culture that is forcing them to reconsider and update themselves. Of course that can be harder when your family name is intricately tied to extraction and things we call fossil fuels. It can be hard to update your operating system when you are literally operating from a fossilized family structure that in some ways is incredibly comfortable until it is not.
“Technology is cool, but you’ve got to use it as opposed to letting it use you.” — Prince
With no one really left to colonize on Earth and with human rights considered a real if pesky “thing” it has become harder and harder to keep playing the old scripts of monarchy in a manner that makes any sense. Sure the dazzling jewels and the fancy clothes do help the performance of it all, but the pressure inside these families can be immense. One must be pure to be royal: and that purity is a moving target of norms that never update. All over the world no matter the color, race or creed, the old royals are suffocating from standards that have little to do with the traits of true nobility and which have almost everything to do with playing a cultural role meant to consolidate disparate groups and their power under a single umbrella identity.
Right now Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum must believe that if he gives an inch to his daughters the entire family will fall into something graver than sin, and that is shame. Similarly, in the UK if the very tenets of colonization are called out publicly by a commoner turned princess, the shame mounts. The sting to the families in both these cases has little to do with the particular offenses and everything to do with getting real. Today’s scandals both gossipy and deadly expose the fairytale that royals are somehoe closer to God. The current media establishment has little incentive to expose too much of what it means to be intimate with power except for some sound bites because in a strange way they need these old elites to keep the bigger myths of class and social organization in place. The media needs storylines they themselves can exploit and control and old royal families are now very much exploitable.
Nobility as an ordering principle for the classes is one of the oldest forms of deceit. Noble is not a status given by bloodline. Noble is not attained through wealth nor attention. Noble is a characteristic earned by actions.
So what does this nobility gained through actions not bloodlines or bank accounts mean for us as humans? Well, it means that we the peasants need ever more freedom to behave as the individual sovereigns we are. It means that human rights really are about dignity and that dignity is necessary to every negotiation, to every social contract. Today people call each other by royal titles all the time, and this is right since nobility comes from the way we treat each other and stand up for what is just. The fact that this language trend comes from the most traditionally oppressed parts of our global society is an evolution of truth and it indicates a change, an evolution in human society.
Dignity is every human’s birthright.
Of course we all know that monarchies on the whole are not as powerful as they used to be, so it might be a good time to recruit them towards this project of real dignity for all. Today the oligarchs of silicon landscapes, the tyrannical communist and nationalist leaders, the would-be potentates equate their power to that of a king. Their imaginings of billions for me and a lifetime of toil for you must be stopped in its mythical tracks for any change in the practical. It must also come to us peasants: we must no longer believe in our benign leaders. We must not believe in the billionaire who says he cares while his life depends on an updated feudal code.
We need to reimagine nobility for the sake of extending dignity to all humans and to the world we inhabit. We must look at each plot where a person stands or sleeps as a throne, and treat that throne with dignity. Today’s invocation of royalty must turn us away from opulence and ceremonial kisses on rings; towards people, actions, of gestures that change lives for the better. We need a royal notion that makes nobility less about money and power and more about respecting this Earth for its own dignity and for its own closeness to God.
We kind of know this already here in the peasant seats, but we really need to get the message out to these suffering old-royal families and to those who think themselves royal by virtue of their yachts. We really need to get those with these awesome lives and educations to get down here in the trenches with us so they can put their mythic status to practical use. We need to really re-invent their old “noblesse oblige” and see how it relates to our own peasant codes of dignity and doing right by our families and neighbors.
Today nobody knows where a princess is being hidden, dead or alive, but with her smartphone she gave the world a clue. Still she is not the focus of our news feeds because her reality is too revealing of what is truly happening in the world today. Princess Latifa’s harsh reality of prison and torture at her father’s hands is not ideal for clickbait. Instead we are offered a couple upon which to drool for their rightful yet still very tame and manageable anger. We can focus on the princess alone or on the lovely couple, but we must remember that what we are doing is looking at the end of an era. The sun kings and their families are not our future, not even when they pop a fresh face onto their lineage. As the technology of our lives changes so does everything else.
No one is closer to God because of land ownership. No one is closer to God because of their skin color, height, creed or gender. No one is closer to God than the next person simply by virtue of inheritance whether it is of titles or of plain old money. No one is closer to God because of anything on the outside. True nobility is an inside job.
Good luck to all the royals facing down the truth of their lineages and to all of us peasants waking up to ours. Good luck to those who live and die hidden in silence, whether they be princesses, peasants or something yet to be known.