What Cannot be Discussed
Immigration and the North-South Conflict
In his new book The Geek Way, Andrew McAfee quotes Marc Andreessen as having tweeted:
The most serious problem in any organization is the one that cannot be discussed
McAfee stresses that when top executives make it clear that a certain topic is taboo, there is a good chance that the firm is vulnerable on that issue, both financially and morally. He argues that openness and transparency are better for the organization, even if in the short run it makes executives uncomfortable.
I think that we can interpret the political tension in the United States and Western Europe in Andreessen’s terms. The political elites do not want to discuss the issue of how to handle large-scale migration of people from the global South to the global North. Underlying this is an unwillingness to discuss cultural differences between the WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) and the rest. And an unwillingness to favor the former over the latter. Consequently, these leaders face populist revolts, surprising them with Donald Trump, Brexit, Geert Wilders, and the Irish anti-immigrant riot. On the latter, Ed West writes,
It is hardly surprising that trust in the media has plummeted when news organisations report events so dishonestly, a dishonesty that becomes second nature to utopian regimes in which reality is so distant from the idea. After a while, honest discussion simply becomes impossible.
Ireland’s prime minister has since demanded that Irish people stop linking immigration and crime, but there is a very simple solution to this – publish the crime figures, and openly debate them. What they’d show is that some immigrant groups have much higher crime rates than the native population, while some have lower, but the overall trend in Europe is negative - even if immigration is by no means the main cause of rising crime (in Ireland’s case, rates of violence shot up in 1990s, before mass migration).
the majority of people in European society is opposed to mass migration and that their policy on this subject lacks legitimacy To overcome their isolation on this subject the political elites have adopted the strategy of preventing citizens from openly voicing their views on this subject. Through demonising and even criminalising any expression of anti-migration sentiment they seek to shut down discussion on the subject.
The Gaza conflict in North-South terms
As an aside, one can view the conflict between Israel and various radical groups in North-South terms. Israel’s advocates will complain that the phrase “settler colonialism” is not accurate. The discovery of ancient Hebrew manuscripts shows that Jews are indigenous. Moreover, close to half of Israel’s Jewish population are descended from Jews who had lived for centuries in Arab states under Muslim rule, and who fled to Israel during and after Israel’s war for independence.
But one cannot deny that Israel’s culture and institutions resemble those of America and Western Europe more than they do the Arab Muslim world. In that respect, Israel is an outpost of the global North sitting in the middle of the global South.
We see the North-South divide in the reaction to the conflict in Gaza. Countries in the global South are much more likely to be critical of Israel and sympathetic to Hamas. And the pro-Hamas demonstrations in Europe are populated mostly by immigrants from the Middle East and Africa.
The Assimilation Taboo
The biggest taboo topic relative to immigration concerns assimilation. Elites behave as if assimilation into Western culture by immigrants is not a policy problem. Any suggestion otherwise is branded as racist.
But people outside the progressive elites can see with our own eyes that immigrants from the global South into Western Europe are not assimilating. Right-wing intellectuals use expressions like “invasion” or “great replacement.” But their fears are not allowed to be discussed in polite company. As Matt Goodwin has pointed out repeatedly, in the UK even the Tory party is unwilling to raise the issue.
The Asylum Loophole Taboo
I am optimistic that the assimilation model can still work in the United States. Immigrants from Latin America tend to believe in assimilation. They do not belong to a Muslim culture that is hostile to ours. But the Democratic left does not want to champion assimilation, because doing so would concede the conservative proposition that our culture is in some respects superior and worth assimilating into.
What annoys many Americans is illegal immigration. This in turn is encouraged by the perverse way that we deal with asylum requests, as Noah Smith has pointed out.
The way U.S. asylum law works is that if you show up at the border requesting asylum, you’ll either have to wait a long time outside the U.S. for your request to be heard, or you’ll be denied entry outright. But if you manage to cross the border illegally and then turn yourself in to the Border Patrol, you’re on U.S. soil, so you’re legally entitled to request asylum. During the time that you’re waiting for your asylum hearing, you’re typically allowed to stay in the U.S. If you decide not to take your chances on the hearing, you can always not show up, and stay in the U.S. as an unauthorized (“illegal”) immigrant.
If only we could have an above-board conversation about asylum. Suppose that we close the asylum loophole and take other steps to tilt the incentives in favor of legal immigration rather than illegal border-crossing. Then I think that we can have much less chaos at the border. But first our elites must be willing to have that discussion.
In Europe, the situation has gotten much further out of hand. Demographers and economists have predicted that pressures to migrate from the global South to the global North would rise. But political elites say that the problems this poses cannot be discussed. Hence, it festers as a serious problem.
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