Old world’s approach: managing differences down or up from top
I grew up in a made-up container-country in the west-Balkans populated by patchwork of nations that often differ only in tiny, microscopic ways. Their languages ranging from similar to practically same, the religions for most just various flavours of Christianity. Post WWII leadership played down hard the ethnic and religious differences, and as a result, the historically divided, poor but newly united place undertook rapid economic growth. Growth was so rapid that in short 35 years after WWII living standards approximated the then average level of today’s EU block. It is worth saying it again: starting dirt poor, 90% illiterate in places and with war ravaged infrastructure a country reached near western European living standards and levels of human development in 35 years.
In the 1980s, leadership changed and the new lot started playing the ethnic and religious differences up instead of down. As a result, the briefly peaceful and prosperous place got utterly destroyed. The new divisions caused a fall that was as quick and dramatic as the preceding rise was — during the next 20 years infighting, economic disruption and foreign neo-colonialism reversed almost all the miraculous post-war development. The country where mixed marriages quickly became the norm now was full of hotheads willing to kill the in-laws for speaking a tiny bit differently.
This backward-sliding meant that from the mid-size country millions ended up overseas, categorised somewhere in the overlapping categories of refugees and economic migrants, my family included.
New world’s different approach: celebrate differences
By the end of 1980s we ended up on points of the globe that were about as far as they could be from our home and we didn’t complain about that. In our new living spaces (not homes yet), the culture-shock was profound, but our “New World” receiving countries did amazingly well to help us integrate (without asking to assimilate). We got the same benefits as all the locals: allowed to live with the general population, getting excellent free medical care, free schooling and/or language classes, adequate social welfare net. Maybe just as importantly, in the loose, unscripted interactions with general populace around us encouragement outweighed criticism, and any prejudice was well hidden. Day after day we learnt to relax a bit more, and as we relaxed, we started (unthinkingly) to absorb the habits and mores of our new environment. Immigrants also quickly learnt that getting materially ahead was actually well possible, and motivated by the close knowledge of poverty, many quickly excelled in business or academia, further reinforcing the possibilities in our minds. In this environment, integration typically took between ¼ to 1 generation, depending on the age of the individual and cultural distance that was to be bridged. Troublesome differences didn’t need to be managed — they simply vanished on their own.
New worlds’ migrant neighbourhoods
Since the receiving country played their cards so well, low-socioeconomic migrant neighbourhoods did not become dead-end places — they are but a stage to the general dispensation into surrounding suburbs. Migrant neighbourhoods exist, but do not stand for fixed ethnic identities. They constantly change their composition — after 20 years, immigrants move out to more prosperous neighbouring suburbs and the migrant neighbourhood is filled with new people fleeing the most recent migrant-producing hell-hole of the world — Syrians now, Sudanese, Sri Lankans before then, Indians and Afghans before then, Rwandans and Southern Slavs from the 90s, Vietnamese and Lebanese from the 70s, etc. all the way back to Europe’s refugees, a selection from the tens of millions fleeing WWII and its after-effects, from Estonia to the Balkans.
We still visit our old migrant neighbourhood often, and some of my family still lives in a migrant neighbourhood not because they can’t afford to move on but because it is an incredibly rich, stimulating place to live. Everyone brings their spices, dresses and music, and prejudice is impossible because everyone is different. Around the country, in survey after survey, 80–85% think multiculturalism has benefitted the nation as a whole.
Countries like New Zealand and Australia’s net overall immigration intake is at a very high, over 1%-of-the-population-per-year level, which is equivalent to EU taking about 5.5 million net immigrants per year, year after year.
That rate is so rapid that 30% of all citizens are now born overseas, and that proportion is still rising. Despite the big intake, with the help of far-sighted measures aimed at quick integration, there is no loss of social cohesion and overall effect is judged to be overwhelmingly positive, not least for defusing the demographic time-bomb of a rapidly aging society.
Old world is shouting “crisis”. What crisis?
This can be compared to the “EU migrant crisis” of 2015 and 2016, when refugees and economic migrants equivalent to 0.25% of EU’s population turned up at the EU block’s doorstep.
Europe should not be surprised by the group: right now, there is a reservoir of about 70 million of documented displaced people — most of them stay for decades in inhospitable conditions in the undeveloped region they are from, but a small percentage do, as they tend to have always done, turn into a refugee by attempting the dangerous route to safer places. The same thing Europeans did when they had a war going, as per illustration below:
The size of that 2015/2016 cohort was not especially problematic either: as we’ve seen, Australia deals with (on per capita terms) four times the number of immigrants of all types year after year without any problems at all. Yet, somehow the predictable, manageable, one-off, really quite short and small wave of refugees has sent seemingly liberal, advanced European societies into complete meltdown.
Despite clear evidence to the contrary, many Europeans actually believe that at that rate, they will be terrorised out of existence, or at least taken over, their cultures and religions disappearing. In Australia we know that we are safe and enjoy our thriving culture, and that these fears are evidently, preposterously ignorant. Our family, who live in 90%+ immigrant areas JUST know that immigrants who are helped to integrate WILL end up teaching our kids, serve us in the shop, deliver our parcels, host our children at sleepover parties, work with us in our workplace, treat us in medical centres, care for our elderly parents, fix our cars and computers, barrack for our sports team and are NOT terrorist, or parasites, or subversives, or dirtier, or less than us. After all that time spent together, and having gone through the same integration process ourselves, we JUST know where the other migrants came from (hardship), what they are like (like us) and what their hopes are (same as ours). We know it emotionally (because of multitudes of personal experience) and we know it rationally (because overall statistics confirm they make our societies better). We know all that like we know how to breath air. So, when we are told by ignorant, arrogant Europeans that the migrants are dangerous or just making up their hardships to gain entrance, or that they will bring down our society, the ignorance and heartlessness feels so wrong that even basic words fail us. This is such a clear issue that simple questions could easily stump all anti-migrant rhetoric:
· How come countries with the most immigrants like Canada, Australia or New Zealand have so little terrorism, oppression, and also be the most popular places for everybody?
· If the SAME cohort of migrants behaves one way in Australia and in a different way in Europe, what causes that difference?
But no-one is asking these questions and despite the obvious untruths, the anti-migrant myths live on.
Why are Europeans so ineffective?
The thinking of most Europeans is fundamentally determined by their ignorance. They are shown pictures of rows of tents in sand and told the refugees are basically glamping, and they believe it. Because they all carry smartphones (indispensable on a refuge-seeking journey), if someone tells them some rich Sheik pays them to go and wait for a signal to carry out terror attacks, they believe it. More Europeans have seen UFOs than migrants in real life, yet they believe they are being overrun by migrant, not UFOs. They don’t even understand that it is not illegal to cross border to ask for asylum, that it is actually Europe that is breaking the law by not allowing those asking for refuge in to make their case (just say the words “there is no such thing as illegal asylum seeker as per 1951 refugee convention” to them and watch their eyes turn blank). They believe hardships of migrants are made-up, as if the wars and millions of displaced in that region weren’t incontrovertible facts. They don’t know that all refugee claims are examined, and ones found to be disingenuous are deported back. They ask “why don’t other Arab countries take care of them”, as if they don’t already do many times more than the rest of the world combined.
Some do understand that seeking refuge is legal and the plights are real, but choose not to care. I have even greater problem with these people: we may be ok having a good chat and a cool beer now, but I know this person would be just as callous to my suffering should we not share the same culture or language — so I am just as disposable as the suffering poor. To this person the only value of me is that by random chance I was born into an environment similar to his, i.e. my accidental similarity to himself.
As for ineptitude and laziness on a societal level, it is instructive to consider how, since Europe couldn’t suppress the 2020 COVID epidemic, it declared that “we just have to live with it”, and ignored a number of countries like Australia where it was quickly stopped with social cohesion, simple hygiene and distancing. Instructive, because in the same way, realising integration takes work, it also proclaimed it impossible, ignoring countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand that is not only doing it on much bigger scale (relative to their population), but also doing it profitably. The mental picture is just grotesque: Europe is proudly choosing to cut the tree underneath itself, loudly explaining the impossibility of solution while more enlightened countries just shrug and move on, keep doing the “impossible” as a matter of course, benefiting themselves AND alleviating the problem at the same time.
So, why is all this inaptitude and disconnect?
The long-term culture has to be at fault, as self-important Europe has always been a tough gig for outsiders — the Indian migrant who migrates to Australia becomes an Australian in one generation but an Indian migrant who decided to migrate to Europe remains separate, “a Gypsy” even 500 years later.
We know the societal norms have changed in shorter terms also: fifty years ago, in times of “viva la difference”, tolerance was fashionable, but today xenophobia is celebrated. The same divisive forces that tore apart my birth country and my possible future there now operate across Europe, a continent that has become terrible at accepting, let alone enjoying the differences. Who is responsible for these changing norms? It has to be, largely, top leadership.
With a leadership that is seemingly historically inept, instead of implementing the well-known solutions, Europe is making the problem bigger by playing up the differences, sometimes until the European speciality called genocide becomes the best-looking solution.
My current answer to the “Why” then is something like this: cultural weaknesses, structural weaknesses and economic stagnation serving as a breeding ground, the problem is predominantly top down, with dysfunctional leadership the main cause, but also a little bit the symptom.
Perhaps the highest contradiction is that anti-migrant rhetoric really says that all this injustice and human suffering is justified as protecting higher European values, like Christianity, democracy and its self-perceived “high civilisation” — but it is easy to see that it is exactly those values being destroyed by the current anti-migrant policies.
Let’s start with the easiest one: to those that argue this one, do we really think we can use cruelty to protect Christianity? What would the compassionate, “neither Jew nor Greek” Jesus do when those in need come?
Democracy also is being hopelessly undermined: what point is there to it when European short-term politics is simply driven to exploit the weaknesses of human cognition like splitting by demonising some out-group (Muslim migrants now like Gypsies and Jews were before)? What use is the cementing of political power if that is predicated on hopelessly dividing the populace, ensuring cultural and economic decline and sacrificing human potential?
Finally, ignoring legal rights is especially problematic for a civilising force. Hannah Arendt thought that “rightless people appear as the first signs of a possible regression from civilisation” (The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951). If that is true, right now we are not becoming more civilised.
Europe has great power to affect the world for better, its stated value of tolerance in great demand, and by having contributed to many of the current migrant-producing problems, an even stronger moral imperative to help — but instead, by reflexively leaping to the old habits of racism and elitism, it is cruel and ineffective. Its misguided self-defence is destroying its own essence and causes untold misery for all.