I have never believed in the validity of hierarchies of importance and entitlement. I could not have explained this to you as a very young child, but that is when I clearly saw the fallacy—in my young mind, "craziness"—of the whole notion that grownups were superior because their greater size and strength enabled them to brutalize me, or that boys were more important than girls, as my mother tried to tell me in the 1950s. As far back as I can remember I knew that people were no more important than each other or animals or plants. We all "were" and therefore we deserved to be. And later when I learned about religions, that too made no sense. Deities? Beings or powers so great that they deserved worship? If something is truly great, worship by others is irrelevant, as is fearing or fawning. Great beings see with equal eyes and want everybody to know their own greatness. Perhaps they are lonely and want eye-to-eye company.
When I grew up and made my living in offices, my habit of addressing male bosses as equals drove several of them crazy. I believe hierarchies are a good method for achieving certain goals in an orderly way, but that has nothing to do with superior worth or entitlement of individuals, and respect has nothing to do with servile subordination.
When I got my first dog, I was curious about who she was, what she liked and wanted. I went to a training school called "People Training for Dogs" which appealed to me; it helped us learn one another's language and therefore become a better team. None of my subsequent dogs were "pets." They were my family, my partners, and we merely had different responsibilities: mine were to take care of them, protect them, love them; theirs were to be in the moment with me, loving and clear.
The more I've learned true history and the historical roots of slavery in various monarchies—a hierarchy founded in the belief that monarchists are superior beings directly descended from God and therefore others must obey them for their own good—the more I've been baffled by the insanity that this was accepted by enough people to have it exist and grow into doctrine of Manifest Destiny that made genocide, slavery, torture, and all manner of cruelty rational.
I watched Harry and Meghan's interview with Oprah and found myself alone in my interest: to hear from an outlier the true psychology and cost of the distorted values of a monarchy. I was on the edge of my couch as Harry described a family in shackles, constricted, dependent on the press for its existence, on constant edge and undermining one another in a desperate performance to survive. Again, I found myself exclaiming: This is nuts! And yet most people I heard from only wanted gossip on royalty or were judgmental that somebody so privileged was whining.
What?! I wanted to scream. Don't you see he is telling us our history—how we came to be and the insanity that birthed it?
It was only because I wanted to know more from an apparently sane person who just wants to be free that I read this memoir. When I took it out of the library, the check-out woman smiled and said, "Oh, some royal intrigue!" I thought about just nodding, but instead answered, "No. I really want to understand about the monarchy." She looked puzzled, then responded, "I hope you get whatever you want out of it."
Spare starts off as you might expect. You get a heavy dose of the current discomfort between Harry and his brother and father, then jumpcut to the past and dealing with his mother's death with complete submersion into the day-to-day life of a royal family member, boarding school, etc. It's interesting and I thought how much I wouldn't like having to live that way, always in the public eye, but since I don't really care about royals, I got a little bored . . . until in the aftermath of his mother's death, Harry accompanies his father to South Africa where he attends a lecture about a legendary battle between Britain and the Zulus in 1879, and Harry suddenly injects the sanity I was reading for: he says the war was "a source of pride for many Britons, . . [it] was the outgrowth of imperialism, colonialism, nationalism—in short, theft. Great Britain was trespassing, invading a sovereign nation and trying to steal it, meaning the precious blood of Britain's finest lads had been wasted that day . . . . But I was too young: I heard him and also didn't hear. Maybe I'd seen the movie Zulu too many times, maybe I'd waged too many pretend battles with my toy Redcoats. I had a view of battle, of Britain, which didn't permit new facts. So I zoomed in on the bits about manly courage, and British power, and when I should've been horrified, I was inspired." (33–34)
This, to me, tells the whole story of the whole mess: truth vs. our love of the stories we're accustomed to. Our love of drama that turns some people into "other"—be it into superior beings who will protect us or whose lives we can consume like a bowl of sweets because we fancy it is so romantic or exotic, or beings who are treated as property. Harry was twelve when he had his response to this story of theft, but his qualification as an adult gave me hope that I would learn something of value in his memoir—because he has obviously learned something different from what he was conditioned to believe. And in the next few pages, when he displayed his capacity to see the bird's-eye-view absurdity of a grown man frantically dinging a little bell in his boarding school's cafeteria to quiet a roomful of chatting boys who couldn't hear him, I settled down for a good read.
And he began delivering: After the press makes great hay out of him breaking his thumb, he blurts, "Centuries ago royal men and women were considered divine; now they were insects. What fun, to pluck their wings." (46) Harry is experiencing the flip side of the distortion that began our heinous history, and he was a child! I share his outrage. I want to scream the obvious adult bird's eye view: If you idealize people, if you proliferate lies of superiority, eventually the distortion will flip! Nobody is royal. Nobody is superior or more entitled than anybody else! Yes, we are all different, we have different levels of intelligence and physical capabilities, but nobody deserves a higher place in a hierarchical system than anyone else!
However, despite the occasional seasoning of insights, Spare turned out to be mostly a basic memoir that probably will appeal primarily to people who idealize royals, allowing them (the readers) to be moved, shocked, or outraged (depending on their own situations) that royals are just people who do stupid things like everybody else.
For me it was the long story of a normal guy—a middling student, a gregarious hunter who was also so hunted that he found peace in being a professional soldier with comrades at war (this takes up a substantial part of the book and would probably be better appreciated by vets than the general reading public). He is a fairly young man who already has lived an extraordinarily huge life, a guy who in other circumstances would not stand out in a crowd, however he has been born into an abnormal family that allowed him unparalleled privilege, educational opportunities, and travel, but all of it in a bizarre fishbowl world ["fancy captivity" (199)] where the public's scrutiny and fascination with him had zero to do with who he was or anything he'd done. From this distorting magnifying glass of their vision, courtesy of the "paps" (more on the paparazzi in a second), the only options were to burn up (he suffers panic attacks), contort himself into something untenable for the rest of his existence, go numb, or try to escape.
I can relate to Harry's panic attacks. I relate to him (although his and his family's enjoyment of killing animals for sport twisted my stomach; but hey, we all have contradictions). I'm grateful that he has exposed the insanity and symbiosis of the royal life and the carnivorous press. I admire his decision to work on himself and then to share it with others—another act of soldiering. I hope that writing this memoir was deeply therapeutic, and I wish him and his family well and hope they eventually get to live as close to normal (whatever that is) lives as is possible.
But I profoundly disagree with his disconnect between everything he has experienced and a monarchy that was sick, is sick, and deserves to be laid to rest. On page 386 he writes: "My problem has never been with the monarchy, not the concept of monarchy. It's been with the press and the sick relationship that's evolved between it and the Palace." To me, this is an amazing blind spot. Particularly since a few pages later he realizes, during a fight with his brother: "But now I saw that even our finest moments, and my best memories, somehow involved death. Our lives were built on death, our brightest days shadowed by it. . . . we steeped ourselves in it. We christened and crowned, graduated and married, passed out and passed over our beloveds' bones. Windsor Castle itself was a tomb, the walls filled with ancestors." (399)
Ultimately, this book is very moving and it ends with the death of his beloved "Granny," the Queen. And I found myself wondering: as he matures further, will he one day realize he can love his Granny but decry the imbalances that gave birth to her position as a direct descendant of God in a monarchy?
Now, time for one more personal story:
It was a night of what became known as "wilding" in New York City—the night of the infamous "Central Park jogger" rape. I was walking home from my night job in a law office. It was about 11 p.m., and as I hit the Columbus Circle corner of Broadway and Central Park South, I was suddenly—within a second—surrounded by boys. And I mean children, 13- and 14-year-olds. They glommed onto me like bees. Most of them were shorter than I was, laughing and grabbing at my body. But one was my height—5'3"—but at least 30 pounds heavier, a big guy! I will never forget his face, three inches away from mine, grinning as he grabbed for my crotch. He was evil. I blocked him with an oversized purse, but I couldn't move, completely boxed in, and he liked that. The boys were Black. An older white man on the corner saw the whole thing and didn't make a move to do anything. As fast as the boys had swarmed me, they disappeared—probably off into Central Park across the street.
As I read Harry's stories of a life being swarmed by men with flashing cameras, I shuddered, reliving that night. Just imagine if this were your everyday existence.
I hope eventually there will be no more monarchies and that all of us will evolve into beings who see ourselves and one another with egality. What a party that will be.