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Preserving Culture in a Chaotic World

We live in a connected world. When a civil war in Syria rages out of control for years, its civilian victims flee to Europe. When corrupt governments and drug cartels run rampant in Central America’s Northern Triangle, those who fear for their lives flee north to Mexico and the United States. When central Africa suffers civil war and/or famine, its residents move north, often to Europe. As China’s economy produces more and more wealthy citizens, they buy up property in America and their children attend private U.S. schools and universities. At the same time that this is happening, birth rates for native populations are falling below the replacement rate across Europe, the UK, North America and some Asian countries, such as Japan, resulting in a need for immigrants to work in those countries’ economies in order to pay for the retirement and health costs of aging native born populations.

The worldwide troubles that have caused dislocation of millions of people are rarely a result of just the internal circumstances of the countries in which those people reside. The Syrian war would not continue without outside support from Western countries, including Europe and the U.S., for rebels, and support for government forces from Iran and Russia. The Central American drug trade is supported by the continued epidemic of drug use in the United States and laws that make the drug business illegal. Western and European efforts to help African nations in need because of war or famine have been ineffective and half-hearted, and are dwarfed by the efforts to use Africa as a source of natural resources or a market for goods. The flow of foreign money into some resource-rich African countries, and into the pockets of government officials, has fueled disputes that have led to coups and to countries, such as Sudan, splitting in two after a prolonged war, in order to divide the resources and the money flowing from them.

The sociopolitical battle that is going on in Europe, the UK and the U.S., is based on the question of acceptance versus rejection of the large numbers of immigrants entering those countries, and, in the eyes of many, changing their cultures. Hungary’s  prime Minister, Victor Orban has stated,  “there is no cultural identity in a population without a stable ethnic composition. The alteration of a country’s ethnic makeup amounts to an alteration of its cultural identity.” During his recent visit to the UK, Donald Trump said, “I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad. I think you’re losing your culture.” The same arguments are made in the U.S., where White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, talking about illegal immigrants to the U.S., said, that they are ““not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society.” Hungary’s Orban as well as other right-leaning leaders in Europe and the UK, as well as Christian leaders in the U.S., have also cited what they view as an incompatibility of Islamic religion with Western, Christian values.

Regardless of whether the influx of immigrants is slowed, there are already enough immigrants in European countries and the U.S. to cause us to figure out how to better assimilate them into our culture. Such assimilation is a two-way street, which requires the larger culture to accommodate some of the nuances of the minority one. Multiculturalism is not a monolithic entity and not the same in every country. Many European countries, including the Balkan states and Spain have long histories of Muslim domination and have mixed religious populations that sometimes get along and sometimes fight. America was settled by waves of Europeans, each one mostly rejected by those who were already here, but eventually being assimilated. Learnng about one another is bound to be the key to resolving internal conflicts around immigration and culture. Bigotry and prejudice lead only to hostility.

At the same time as developed countries are resisting the cultural changes that accompany the admittance of large numbers of foreign-born into their borders, their industries and their economies are dependent upon them. Across the U.S. and Europe, less skilled foreign workers work the farms, provide food, domestic, and sanitary services and contribute taxes to pay for health and social security programs. Multiple studies in the U.S. and Europe have shown that immigrants put more money into the economies of these countries than they take out. Even if native-born residents chose to take such jobs, there are not enough of them to do so because of falling birthrates, and less healthy older adults in the native-born population require public services at levels unaffordable without a sufficient number of younger people contributing to the economies.

The United States under Donald Trump and many European countries, such as Hungary, have attempted to solve the dilemma by toughening borders so as not to allow anyone in unless they are invited, and altering priorities for immigration to include only those with sufficient skills, education, or financial means to immediately add to their economies at high levels. The hope is also that such people will also more easily assimilate into the existing and traditional society of a country, as they reap higher benefits from their own contributions to the society. Such policies are being enacted as some of the immediate immigration pressures are lessening, particularly in Europe, where the flood of refugees has reduced to a trickle, as a result of less Syrian turmoil as well as agreements with Turkey and Libya and other non-European refugee destinations, to keep refugees in their countries in return for financial and economic aid. In the U.S., immigration from Mexico, both legal and illegal has become a net loss in recent years, although it has increased from Central America.

Toughening borders and resisting illegal immigration as well as reducing refugee quotas can work at reducing immigration or allowing it to be more a selection process so long as conditions outside of a country do not reach intolerable levels and produce an unmanageable number of asylum seekers. So far, none of the developed countries who are wrestling with the immigration issue have addressed the causes of people leaving their countries—causes to which developed countries often contribute. Within countries that have received immigrants, there has not been enough of  a movement to incorporate them into society to ease tensions between immigrant communities and those who are already resident in a country. While this is in a very large part due to fear and prejudice, it also is a problem no one knows how to solve. Both Germany’s Angela Merkel and former British Prime Minister David Cameron have famously stated that multiculturalism, the idea of valuing and preserving the differences between cultures while incorporating them into the overall society without demanding assimilation, “has failed.”

The issue of maintaining a civil society when its members don't all agree on some basic issues and value very different traditions is a difficult one to solve. The fear and prejudice that differentness causes in native populations itself contributes to immigrants being estranged from both the economic and social benefits of a society and leads to the development of subcultures that can be antisocial. In the U.S., immigrant groups, whether legal or illegal, are less prone to crime than are native born Americans, however, this advantage is lost on their native-born children, who, in many cases, grow up in poverty and crime ridden ghetto circumstances. In Europe, immigrants have higher crime rates than native-born residents in most countries. Unemployment and poverty, which themselves contribute to crime, are also higher in European immigrant communities.

With global warming likely to cause increasing natural disasters that, in turn, lead to more armed conflicts and more famine and then to more migration of populations, the idea of developed countries in the Northern part of the world walling themselves off in order to preserve their way of life seems futile in the long run. Central American drug activity is not lessening, as U.S. drug demand continues. The Middle East is not getting more peaceful and instead, Saudi Arabia and Iran are becoming more likely to engage in continuous proxy wars to establish dominance in the region, as they are doing now in Yemen. For the moment, immigration pressures in America and Europe are actually less than in the recent past and there may be enough time to give the world an opportunity to arrive at some possible solutions to this problem. What is required is less incendiary rhetoric and more constructive problem solving. Solving global warming (or at least mitigating it) and raising the standard of living, assisting with the development of infrastructure and legal systems in developing countries, while solving international disputes without engaging in  proxy wars that displace millions of people would ease the pressures that lead to massive illegal immigration (ironically, China seems to be pursuing such a program in Africa by providing resources to strengthen legal systems and infrastructure, although not human rights). Accomplishing these tasks requires international cooperation and leadership—not just among developed countries, but among all countries. It cannot be left to the market forces of international business, as these have accentuated, not helped the problem. Governments need to become involved. Hunkering down behind our walls while not addressing any of these problems will not solve anything.





Reader Comments (3)

Very nice essay.
I would love to see you expand it looking at additional stressors like concentration of wealth and new technologies and the interplay of all these across the class structure.
It might also be interesting to think how/why people think of culture as static when clearly it is constantly changing...Is there adeeper fear that is unresolved?
By the way, your economic analysis re maintenance of a lower class of lower paid workers is only correct if we want to continue the current inequalities and unfairness that exist. Effectively your arguement assumes that non-immigrants (citizens) would not enter the workforce given sufficient economic incentive. It is important to keep in mind that many foreign nationals, a Mexican for instance, are earning 12 times more than they could at home. As an incentive to attract workers that is like paying 12X minimum wage to people already here. Many people would pick crops for $100 per hour...actually I imagine that many would for just 15 or 20 dollars per hour. Paying more to the lower class would also relieve the guilt burden that people must feel when they recognize their food is produced by people that can hardly afford to eat.

July 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

Casey, You made me spontaneously laugh out loud when you quoted Donald Trump: “I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad." I hadn't heard that one. I'm wondering if he thinks that the US allowing his grandfather in at 16 was also "very, very sad". How ironic!
Apparently, Trump's ancestral name was "Drumpf" which changed to Trump around the turn of the 19th century from what I read from various sources. His grandfather who came over when he was 16 used the name "Trump" (I had read that information on Wikipedia when Trump was first running, and now all references to "Drumpf" have seemingly been removed. Hmmm,)
My own grandfather came to America about the same time and also became a citizen. According to my calculations, that makes me merely third generation since "first generation" is the first to become citizens. Like my family of origin, Trump's family has been in America for only about 150 years; we come from immigrants quite recently! Again, how ironic, his views!
You are exactly right with your assessment of global climate change affecting migration. When I interpreted for deaf students in a Meteorology class way back in 1990, the prof was explaining how the extremes of drought and heat and rainfall, make migration inevitable. Add all the other factors, and we're a world on the move. "Back in the day," people would speak highly of a city that was "cosmopolitan". Maybe we need to accept and take joy in the fact that our world will only become more and more integrated and "cosmopolitan." I sometimes think those more conservatively inclined think it's somehow easy for others to be open-minded or that they're ignorant of possible negative outcomes. It isn't easier for people who are less conservative to accept changes. It isn't that they are naive about possible outcomes. It's just that they have been raised to believe that acceptance is the right thing to do, and open-mindedness is "a good" that leads to peaceful living. If we can look at a crowd and say, "Wow, I'm experiencing a mini-world right before my eyes - how enriching, 'how very cosmopolitan,'" then from that mindset, we can figure out everything else.

July 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

Illegal aliens are greatly overrepresented in US federal crimes. Given the lack of state and local statistics, the assertion that immigrants or illegal aliens commit less crimes than the native population is dubious at best and very likely wrong. Regardless, every illegal alien in this country is already a criminal. Perhaps not dangerous, but a criminal nonetheless.

Islam, in its most fundamental practice, is highly incompatible with Western liberal culture. This has played out dramatically in Sweden, Germany, France and especially Great Britain, where the government is constantly occluding the immense criminal activity of immigrants with Islamic-country origins.

I’m not sure why anyone thinks that government can solve global problems. That’s the exact opposite of any government’s mission, which is to solve national problems. People have a misplaced, pseudo-religious faith that some form of government is capable of solving global issues. I’m very skeptical that this is so. Government-enacted forced cultural integration has obviously failed, so why would it be able to effectively address a supposedly more complex issue?

“Raising the standard of living” is a far more noble and moral cause than trying to achieve through thievery the Marxist concept of wealth/income equality.

July 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

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