Political discussion about (im)migration is extremely polarized, and most people I’ve witnessed talking about migration seem to become very stupid when discussing it. It’s not that I disagree with the points people make (often I don’t) or that I think I understand the subject better than they do (mostly I don’t). It’s that otherwise quite rational people become very stupid when they talk about migration. I don’t mean that people shouldn’t talk about it, but that people seem to lose very important cognitive abilities when discussing it. The obvious explanation for this is that politics is the mind-killer, and arguments are treated as soldiers. Most people discussing migration have a partisan position and are unwilling to admit a single fact supporting the opponent’s side. People pick a side they expect to win, and then fight it out. I think that is human and understandable, and stupid.
So today I’ll just lay out some key facts about migration, on which most people should be able to agree. They don’t, and they won’t, but in the future I can just refer to this in case someone says “well uh nobody ever thought about both sides of this issue so I ain’t gonna do that either”. These are all relevant facts and need to be taken into account. I consider most of them so important that failure to recognize and accept them reflects either complete denialism or psychotic-level failure of cognition.
This post does not condone or condemn different practices on migration. I take no part in that discussion, mostly because it seems dangerous. If you believe I should not say these things, please tell me so. I recommend people use their faculties of reason to figure out the best solutions and try those out. I do not want any part of politics in that sense. However, I believe this post can be useful to those who are willing to be sincere about one of the greatest political phenomena of our time, but haven’t really given it a serious thought.
- Migration is more or less inevitable.
People have migrated throughout history, and there is no reason to believe they won’t continue doing so for whatever reasons as long as it is physically possible and incentives exist. Some areas are becoming less inhabitable over time, sometimes people are forced to migrate, and sometimes people just believe they can build a better life elsewhere. These pressures lead to migration, and it is just a matter of where these people migrate, not whether or not they do. If someone offers lack of migration as a solution to migrant crises, they are in Wonderland.
2. Migration can destroy whole societies.
Historical examples are too numerous to count. Most easily pointed are the devastation of most North American Indian societies, the Inca and Maya societies and several other American Indian societies by European migrants. There is no need to look any further. Anyone who claims migration cannot destroy whole societies inhabits Neverland, and can be safely ignored for the time being.
3. Migration can improve society’s well-being.
Migrants can be very useful to the target country’s original population. For instance, the United States famously took a great advantage of immigrant Asian workers in improving its railway infrastructure in the 1860s. This had issues of its own. Less successful migrants are easily taken advantage of, enabling economic growth and increase in the original population’s well-being at the cost of those migrants’ well-being. More succesful migrants found companies and take important roles in the target countries, increasing economic growth and helping the original population that way. To claim this is not possible or relevant is just silly – both of these are continously happening.
4. Migration from unstable areas likely has a destabilizing effect on target countries.
Migrants and refugees from unstable areas have disproportional difficulties landing jobs, learning the target country’s language and generally integrating into the target country’s society. They end up disproportionately on social welfare, commit more crimes and end up being victims of physical or economical abuse in rates pointed out over and over again. All of this has an obvious long-term destabilizing effect on the target country, be it in the form of more foreign terrorism, more domestic terrorism, more crime, more homelessness, more racism, greater income inequality or whatever. It is beyond dispute that these phenomena destabilize countries accepting immigrants from unstable areas, however one might see the morality of such immigration.
5. Migration will destabilize European countries.
Europe is currently accepting, and to an extent forced to accept, migrants from severely unstable areas. This means European countries will face destabilization due to immigration in the decades to come. This is a straightforward conclusion of the previous point and worth pointing out. This destabilizing effect is politically, economically and socially relevant.
6. The number of migrants accepted matters as to whether target countries remain peaceful.
This is also a logical step following the previous points. Western countries generally do not discriminate immigration from specific countries, and for the time being there is no politically (internationally) viable option to do so. This means that increasing the total number of migrants will increase the number of migrants from unstable areas. This leads to an increase in the total destabilizing effect of migration. It is easy and safe to conclude that the total number of migrants accepted should be restricted to ensure the stability of target countries. “By how much and to what extent” are questions that remain open to discussion. “Complete restriction” and “no restrictions” are not sane options, as argued out by other points here. Anyone advocating either one of these ‘solutions’ is not being realistic.
7. Human rights matter.
It is important to help those in need, and prevent human tragedies from occurring. If someone claims that human rights do not matter, they are not being realistic, or they are psychopathic. In both these cases the claims should be safely and firmly ignored. No one would like to see their wives and daughters raped, their children burned, or themselves oppressed and hounded to no end. Human rights concern these things, and they matter. To say that human rights do not matter is to take an absurd position to avoid the inevitable difficult discussion on how much we should do to help those in need, how much we can ask of ourselves and others to invest in lives that will never touch ours, and how much we can realistically help in the first place. Those discussions are difficult and complicated, and to deny human rights completely is to seek an easy way to avoid those difficulties. However, the categorical imperative suffices quite well for that. If human rights do not apply to other people, they do not apply to your wives and daughters either. Make of that what you will, and face the consequences.
8. European nations cannot help every immigrant that would like to settle.
That being said, an equally absurd position is to say: “Either human rights concern everyone, or they concern no one, so we cannot turn our back to anyone.” This is the same fallacy as in the previous one, except it takes the opposite point of view. To avoid the inevitable and difficult discussions on the limits of help, some people go stupid and say that everyone gets helped. While they do so, they are either hopelessly in denial, or, as Slavoj Zizek said, hypocritical. Points 2, 4, 5 and 6 demonstrate that this is the case. Such people either fail to recognize the basic destabilizing risks of migration, or rely on the fact that their absurd fantasies will never be tried out in practice, and thereby proven insanely dangerous. It is an undeniable fact that we cannot give everyone the best help they deserve or need. This applies not only in migration, but also in healthcare, social welfare, schooling and so on.
9. European nations cannot turn back every immigrant that would like to settle.
People opposing immigration usually go stupid this way. They point out the risks of uncontrolled migration and the likely destabilizing effects of any migration, and go into a loop consisting of migration has downsides, so no migration, because it has downsides, so no migration. This is useless, stupid and dangerous. European countries do not possess such economic, military, logistic or technological resources that they could realistically prevent people from migrating to Europe. This is not to say that Europe should not take any migrants in, but that Europe physically cannot stop them from coming. It is impossible. The concentration camps in Greece and around its borders are in just as bad a shape or worse as they were six months ago. People will cut holes in fences, pay human traffickers, trick border control, swim and pedal across seas and if necessary, shoot their way through. This problem will not go away, and begging it to go away by saying “no migration!” is as unrealistic as is saying “no restrictions”. To suggest that all migrants to disappear from Europe is lunacy.
10. World’s power players must take responsibility to help solve the migrant crisis.
There is no way Europe will solve the migrant crisis by itself. World’s most important military powers, and regional powers in unstable areas, have significantly contributed to the development of the current migrant crises. ISIS is in many ways the result of the US invasion in Iraq (not to say some similar organization could not have formed, had they not invaded). Many contemporary conflicts in Middle East have the late 1900s US-USSR power struggles as their root cause. It is beyond dispute that the United States, Russia and China serve a key role in any future developments in many unstable regions in today’s world – whether or not their governments or their citizens like it. That is a logical conclusion from the fact that they have power.
11. Not all migrants are refugees.
Most discussion on immigration focuses on whether to help those in need, and the destabilizing effect those in need have on the target countries. This is the political divide. We must help / we must survive. Most migration and the most likely immediate and long-term effects of migration do not have to do with these issues. We should mostly devote our time to discussing the economic and social effects and questions of migration, as they are the most likely and easily predictable consequences of migration. That is: migration’s (immigration’s and emigration’s) effect on job markets, market ecosystems, schooling, demographics, public health, and so on. Off the top of my hat I’d estimate that at least 50% of discussion on migration should concern these issues – and yes, besides immigrants from Middle East. Anyone willing to discuss migration sincerely should be interested in these aspects as well.
13. Not all migrants are of equal instrumental value.
I should severely stress and emphasize the word ‘instrumental’. See point 7. That said, some migrants are better for the target country than others. Highly educated migrants willing to integrate or assimilate are most useful to the target country, help improve attitudes towards migration and fare well on their own. This is a relevant factor in estimating the future stability of a society accepting migrants. It is a taboo to suggest that this should be taken into account in estimating whether or not grant asylum or citizenship to a migrant, but in practice most countries already have laws in place that fulfill this purpose to an extent, making this point an obvious fact. It might be worthwhile delving deeper into the subject so as to better coordinate the total effects on migration and help both the original population and the migrant population.
14. Not all migrants are nice.
This is also a taboo, and therefore the favorite of anti-immigration fanatics. It is, however, also a fact. Some migrants have committed heinous crimes in their countries of origin, and some migrants enter their target country with the intent to deliberately destabilize it. This point in particular has to do with the stability of the target country and the original population’s attitudes towards migrants. Target countries should specifically have measures to enforce that migrants do not endanger the original population, or they risk further destabilization both via dangerous migrants destabilizing their surroundings and via public opinion trending towards anti-immigration extremists, who promise safety and security to frightened people. Failure to plausibly protect the original population carries a severe risk of eventual overthrow of government, leading to further instability.
15. Original population attitudes matter.
How people feel about migrants matters. Most European countries are democracies to an extent, and pleasing the electorate matters. It can also be argued that people deserve to be heard. Thereby it is important to shape laws and practices concerning migration that reflect the needs and wishes of most people. This is how democracy ideally works.
16. Racism likely has a destabilizing effect on migrant population – original population relations.
Racism and migrants’ experiences of racism directly undermine trust between the migrant populations and the original populations. This increases the likelihood of eventual ethnic conflicts and decreases the likelihood that migrants are successful in their target countries. This precludes the positive effects immigration might have on target countries and increases the destabilizing effects of immigration. Therefore it is safe to conclude that original population’s racist attitudes have a net destabilizing effect in a situation where migration is more or less happening any way.
17. Influencing original population’s attitudes to decrease racism likely has a stabilizing effect on target countries in the long run.
This follows logically from the previous point. It is worth pointing out explicitly that crude attempts at pro-immigrant propaganda may face a severe backlash, as has happened in several European countries.
18. Influencing migrant attitudes and assimilating them to target country’s culture will likely reap the best results on stability.
The other side of the coin. It is not enough to convince the original population that some amount of migration will be inevitable and that everyone fares better if we get along with that. Migrants who want to integrate and are willing to accept their target country’s culture will face less issues in their new home, and are therefore more successful. That means they increase eventual stability by both being successful and by decreasing target country’s racism (this is not to say that original population’s racism is their responsibility to handle or their fault).
19. If the migration crises are not dealt with in a sustainable way, that will likely produce the worst results.
This is the most important point of all of these. We will only have one shot at doing it right – there really is no going back. Failure to deal with both the fact that migration is eventual and inevitable and the fact that migration has destabilizing effects on Europe is destructive and extremely dangerous. That failure will likely feed instability, resentment between different populations, severe inequality and crime, and will eventually result in ethnic conflicts and severe political instability. Both these issues must be acknowledged to reach a compromise which enables a safe, productive and just Europe in the decades and centuries to come.