We perhaps remember what happened last year in Great Britain when the public was invited to submit names for the government's new scientific research vessel. Almost all the people who participated suggested the same name–Boaty McBoatface–a very nice name, we thought. We even submitted it ourselves to the organization responsible for naming our first grandchild. And just like the Brits, we had our submission swatted back at us unceremoniously, and so we learned that the world is run by tyrants who tromp all over the will of the people.
In Britain, the powers that be promptly named the research ship after a long-dead naturalist, though they did throw out a little bone to public opinion in announcing that the ship's robot submarine would bear the winning name. And so this week, the little yellow Boaty McBoatface departed for its first mission, to explore meltwater flow and underwater currents in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica.
A British commentator writing under the name Stuart Heritage, a name that might be even sillier than Boaty McBoatface, helps us understand the larger issues here:
Boaty McBoatface is what the people wanted.... So it's a bad idea? So what? People vote for bad ideas all the time....
Look at [London Mayor] Boris Johnson. Boris Johnson is a terrible idea. He's a egotistical twit in a child-sized Sia wig who keeps filling London with insane foreign-owned monuments to his own genitals, but people keep voting for him anyway.... Nobody overrode the results and installed a more sensible mayor.
Boaty McBoatface would have been trampled by the might of the state had it been suggested in mainland Europe, while the gonzo patriotism of the US would have left the poll only containing options that sounded like Bruce Springsteen albums – Soaring Eagle or Thunder Avenue.... Boaty is the British character writ large. “We are British,” it says. “We have terrible ideas but, God bless us, we stick to them.”
Boaty McBoatface is a godawful name for a boat, and anyone who voted for it deserves to be stripped naked and fed poison in a dungeon for the rest of time, but the people should get what the people want. Can you hear us? Je suis Boaty McBoatface. Nous sommes tous Boaty McBoatface.