Brexit and bigotry (crosspost from CT)

Following my previous post, I’d like to add a bit more to the debate about Brexit and migration. On this issue, a common defence of the Leave campaign is that the central concern was about the need to cut the number of migrants to the UK so as to reduce competition for jobs. The plausibility of this defence has been undercut by recent negotiations, widely reported in the Australian press, but largely ignored by British media.

Prior to the Brexit vote, and constrained by freedom of movement within the EU, the Cameron government sought to address these concerns by imposing stringent restrictions on non-EU migrants, notably including Australians. Unsurprisingly, Australians weren’t happy about this, and the Australian government voiced these concerns.

But, given the validation of concerns about migration by the Brexit votes, and renewed pledges to cut net migration, you might have expected Australia to get short shrift from the new government. Not a bit of it. On the contrary it seems pretty clear that the hoped-for cut in EU migration will allow more room for Australians (someone has to do all those jobs, after all). Boris Johnson has been explicit about this, but what really matters are the favorable noises coming from Home Secretary Amber Rudd, whose portfolio covers migration.

The underlying idea, again made explicit by Johnson, is a restoration of free movement within the ‘white Commonwealth’ (Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Britain). This would take British migration policy back to the line advocated by Enoch Powell in the 1960s, and arguably further back than that.

It’s easy enough to point out the racism* implicit in Johnson’s position. But, as I said in my previous post, that has to be the starting point, not the end point. It’s necessary to respond to the particular form of racism present here, and show that it’s untenable. The assumption underlying Johnson’s position is that it’s possible to operate a large scale migration program in a way that avoids explicit discrimination, but ensures that only “people like us” get in.

One illustration of the problem, put very neatly by one of my Twitter commenters, is that Johnson might be surprised at the range of colours young Australians come in these days (unlike the largely Anglo-Celtic society he apparently visited as a youth). The same is true of New Zealand and, I think, of Canada. Free migration to the UK will bring in plenty of the people that the Brexiteers want to keep out.

On the other side of the coin, there’s the irony that the Polish government (along with the rest of the Visegrad group) is simultaneously ready to fight to the end for the principle of free movement within the EU and to resist demands that Poland should take its share of refugees from Syria. This kind of hypocrisy is, if not the norm, at least very common among supporters of discriminatory immigration policies: they are keen to keep others out of their own patch, but resentful of any constraints on their own freedom of movement. That makes sense from a viewpoint of racial/tribal superiority, but it’s hard to see any other basis for it.

The contradictions inherent in racism and tribalism mean that it can’t be sustained for long as a basis for policy, as it will need to do if Brexit is to work. But that doesn’t mean it can’t do an awful lot of damage in the meantime.

* Writing this, I realised that someone would be bound to raise the point that, as white Christians, Poles could not be the subject of racism or religious bigotry. Anyone thinking raising this point might want to think about the bloody history of scientific racism regarding the Nordic and Slavic “races”, not to mention the role of anti-Catholic bigotry in English history.

63 thoughts on “Brexit and bigotry (crosspost from CT)

  1. @Zed Hogan

    Some of the other commentators here basically seem to be making grand claims that they love all humanity. John Ralston Saul, the Canadian philosopher has commented on the impossibility of loving all humanity. As he frankly put it, most of us struggle to properly love the familial few closest to us. This is how realists, as opposed to dangerous idealists, see the world. JRS calls for citizens (of a democracy) to be “disinterested”. This is not a synonym for “uninterested”. It is the antonym of “self-interested”. To be disinterested means to fight within the democratic polity for general rights which might or might not apply to us personally.

    In the modern context, the only place that democracy, or a reasonable facsimile of it, exists is in certain nation states. The attempts to make ever greater supranational entities and empires have been ongoing failures and disasters. It is quite reasonable for democratic nations as they stand, or more correctly for their citizenry, to band together and demand local and national protections against neoliberal corporatist globalisation.

    The USA is a case in point. The USA would be wise to re-implement tariff protections, arrest and reverse its de-industrialisation and take steps to rebuild its infrastructure with new government programs to generate full employment. Free trade under neoliberal capitalism wrecks the heartland of the USA and it has certainly wrecked Mexico as well. It does nobody any good except (in this phase of capitalism) the US billionaires and the Chinese. This is fine for the Chinese and they are realists about it. They know their goal is the deindustrialisation of the rest of the world. They have about another 900 million peasants in the heartland who can yet replace Western consumers. China will not need our markets forever. Heading in the current direction under current policy, we need China indefinitely. China only needs us for another set, historically short period after which they will jettison us. This, simply is realpolitik.

    We are best placed to fight for general rights in our own democracies. When it comes to the rest of the world, they and us would be better off without our foolish interference in their affairs. Most modern migration is pushed by the unnecessary wars the West has unleashed in the Middle East and in previous times in S.E. Asia. Some modern migration is now being pushed by global warming. As the medicos say, first do no harm. Most of our Western interference in other countries makes matters worse for them. We (the West) can’t save the world and neither can we accommodate them, and it is vanity to think we can. They don’t want or need our kind of “saving”. We would be best served getting our domestic economies in order and our own under-privileged integrated back into society.

    This is not an anti-migration stance nor an anti-refugee stance. It is a realist stance that says;

    (a) all countries need a population policy in a world with limits to growth;
    (b) all countries have an ecological footprint which it is dangerous to exceed;
    (c) some countries have already exceeded their long term sustainable footprint;
    (d) encouraging or permitting emigration to areas where populations will be unsustainable long term is counter-productive;
    (e) countries which are at limits can still accept immigration so far as it is balanced by emigration;
    (f) countries which are at limits can still accept refugees again so far as they are balanced by emigration.

    This is a realist and leftist stance. The problem with many faux leftists (they are really centrists at best) is that they lack all realism.

  2. @Ikonoclast

    Empires, at least in the direct rule sense, are a thing of the past. Nobody is proposing setting any new ones up.

    Supranational bodies have had many successes, even if they have not lived up to all their potential. Many of the UN subsidiarity bodies (WHO, UNHCR, etc) have had many successes. Smallpox is gone and polio s on the back foot. It is true that the UN has not stopped all war, but it provides pressure against it.

    The EU is half-way to actually being a nation state. It could go all the way and become a democratic nation state. India is a functioning democratic nation state and has over 1,200,000,000 people and 22 official languages. Nation states are created, not pre-existing fixed facts. The EU, run as a democratic federal nation would almost certainly work.

  3. Zed Hogan says there is such a thing as reasonable bias, and that only unreasonable bias is bigotry. So bigotry is always someone else’s behaviour: they are unreasonable: I am reasonable. The hell with this sophistry!

    Zed says, too, that you ‘would’ help family before neighbour; neighbour before distant stranger; and so on. Is that ‘would’ or ‘should’? All his arguments were for ‘should’ – you ‘should’ not leave your home country, you ‘should’ look after those nearest.

    Maybe I will know more of someone closer’s need, and be able to help more easily. Maybe I am held more responsible for some who are close to me, by others, and so I know they have no help but me. But if I know the greatest need, and it is further from me, of course I will and I should help the remote stranger. And if I have a choice between what is not very helpful to anyone, and what is very much so, again I prefer to be more helpful even if to a more remote or less familiar person.

    What I do for MSF is all for quite remote strangers: it is also very helpful (MSF has very low admin): and the needs MSF meets are extreme. That doesn’t stop me helping closer to home and lesser need, too.

    Of course I am biased, at a minimum by my ignorance and by my uncertainty of what will help or how much it will do so. And I have silly, because baseless, preferences. As far as I can I should find out more and refuse to follow a preference I have worked out is baseless. I think everyone should try to do so, too.

  4. @Ikonoclast wrote:

    The USA would be wise to re-implement tariff protections, arrest and reverse its de-industrialisation and take steps to rebuild its infrastructure with new government programs to generate full employment. Free trade under neoliberal capitalism wrecks the heartland of the USA and it has certainly wrecked Mexico as well.

    Australia, also, would do well to implement these policies from United States’ Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s platform.

    The live debate between Donald Trump and crooked Hillary begins tomorrow on ABC News 24 at 11:00am +10:00. (There is a 1 hour debate followed by 1 hour commentary by a panel) As far as I can tell, it won’t be repeated, at least, not on Australia.

    I think that humanity’s future may well depend on enough American voters becoming informed by watching this debate.

  5. @James

    Trump as President is not an answer, just as H. Clinton as President is not an answer. Does this mean the US currently has no answers? Yes, that’s exactly what it means. Institutional politics in the USA has no answer to the USA’s dilemmas. A new answer will have to come eventually from the working, the poor and the dispossesed. They are a very large majority after all and getting larger every year. However, the time is not yet right. The people will have to suffer further by following false leaders and a false system (capitalism) for more painful years of decline. They haven’t hit rock bottom yet. Only when they hit rock bottom will their false consciousness be dispelled and the real nature of the system, capitalism, be brought home to them.

    Crooked Hillary? Sure, she is crooked. But don’t forget crooked Trump. Equally crooked and even more reactionary, if that is possible. As I said, there are no answers for the USA under current production, institutional and ideological arrangements. Things will get worse for a long while yet.

    At the same time, yes, strengthening local, regional and national economies will become necessary. The eventual collapse of global corporate capitalism will mean once again a greater need for regional and local resiliency.

  6. A lot is at stake in the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

    Ikonoclast wrote on September 26th, 2016 at 18:43 :

    Sure, [Hillary] is crooked. But don’t forget crooked Trump. Equally crooked and even more reactionary, if that is possible.

    Even if we were to believe all of the claims made against Donald Trump, he would still only be a fraction as horrible as Hillary Clinton.

    Hillary Clinton started, or helped to start, a number of wars: against Serbia in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2011 and Syria, also, in 2011. Not only did hundreds of thousands of Iraqis die, but in America, as a result of the criminal 2003 Iraq invasion, 22 veterans, are taking their own lives EACH DAY as a result of their experiences.

    Clinton is the walking, talking definition of a political prostitute, completely controlled by special interests, Israel and the shadow establishment. Since the beginning of 2013, Clinton has received at least $21.7 million for 92 speeches she has given to private organizations and groups. This includes $225,000 from Morgan Stanley; $225,000 from Deutsche Bank; $225,000 from Bank of America; and $675,000 from the Goldman Sachs Group (for three separate speeches). George Soros, the investor, billionaire and regime change extraordinaire, has also put millions into Clinton’s campaign. – Hillary as President would be Catastrophic for the US and the World (3/4/2016) by Steven MacMillan | New Eastern Outlook

    Whilst Donald Trump is not without apparent flaws – in 2013 he called Edward Snowden a traitor and he is bellicose in his pronouncements against Iran – he has also challenged a number of facets of the official global narrative of the United States establishment.

    He has challenged the claim that Russia is a threat to US interests and said that the US could gain a lot from friendship with Russia. Donald Trump has also praised Russia for its bombardment of Islamic State terrorists in Syria – unlike the United States’ and Australia’s murder of 62 Syrian soldiers at Deir Ezzor on 17 September in support of Islamic State terrorists.

    As I noted above, Donald Trump opposes globalisation and the export of American jobs to low-wage economies and opposes mass immigration across the Mexican border into the United States.

    I think Donald Trump’s decision to nominate for President was courageous. Americans and the rest of the world should be grateful to him.

    If you are still not convinced (or even if you are), be sure to watch the debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton tomorrow (Tuesday) from 11:00am until 1:30pm on ABC News 24.

  7. # 29 Zed Hogan

    Economic migration is almost never legitimate in my book.

    So your family is aboriginal/native Indian or war refugees?

  8. @jrkrideau I am 3/16 native but that is irrelevant. We must think about these things in historical context. My ancestors migrated no later than the 1800s, many in the 1700s. The population of the world in 1900 was 1.6 billion. It is now 7.1 billion. The population of the United States in 1900 was 76 million. It is now 319 million. That is greater than 4 fold increase since 1900. The world has changed just slightly since my ancestors were migrants. We can’t afford huge migrations anymore. We’re out of land and out of resources. Countries must stop producing people like a commodity and then exporting them wherever convenient. We only continue with this nonsense at our peril.

    Besides, are you suggesting I’m somehow a hypocrite because of something that happened two centuries back? Fatuous.

  9. @James

    Adbvoctes of Trump will love his rants – but swinging voters will see a multi-bankrupt business hoon who does not pay his bills, scams workers, and pays not tax.

    Even swinging voters will know you cannot cut company taxes to 15%

    Bye. bye Trump.

  10. Tony Abbott, as leader of the opposition Liberal party who then won in 2013 and became prime minister of Australia (albeit briefly, until his own party knifed him in the front), based on saying not the truth but simply what a bunch of people wanted to hear; the moment he got in power, he ignored, reversed, forgot, and generally exposed most of his election promises for dust. There were a handful that he kept, but his reasons for promising those things were fatuous or even 180 degrees turned from the facts of the matter. Abbott is a master of post-reality politics.

    The thing to note here is that if a strategy of total negativity and false promises and false facts was sufficient to get Tony Abbott into power, then the same phenomenon is possible in the USA too.

    I do like Stephen King’s analogy for Trump though: “listening to Trump’s speeches is like listening to a piano fall downstairs.” Indeed.

  11. Commenting on a couple of issues touched on above.

    “Economic migration is almost never legitimate in my book.” – Zed Hogan.

    This is a little strong. A better formulation would have been, “Pure economic migration is a privilege not a right.” The receiving country has to want you or invite you. This is probably the case now in most countries. Zed raises some very good points. The migration equation has changed. The earth is full basically. Most countries and most regions are full. I mean this in the sense of maintaining a sustainable ecological footprint. In any case, migration into someone else’s lands should always have been by invitation. Clearly, this has not been the case in most of human history. But a full earth and an international system have changed the game in this regard.

    Trump would be the worse deal. Hillary is not much better but a two party dictatorship system offers ordinary and poor people very little. I endorse what Chomsky said in his article “Why People Should Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils and Spend 5 Minutes Making the Decision”. – “My feeling is that [voting is] a decision but it’s the kind of decision that’s kind of tenth order. I think it should be made in five minutes… Most of the time it’s a very small decision, maybe if you can, you just have to compare the alternatives and see if there is on balance any difference but it doesn’t seem to be a fundamental question.”

    Note that he talks of the “lesser of two evils”. His frank assessment is that H. Clinton and the Dems are still a political evil, just the lesser one. The reason, I think, that he refers to the decision as worth making but tenth order is he assesses that voting in a faux democracy like the USA changes very little. The oligarchic, plutocratic and corporate managerial classes (partly overlapping classes, think three-circle Venn diagram) have control of the process and capitalist money has bought and suborned all major politicians and parties. Nothing will change until a major economic crisis and/or climate change crisis and/or war crisis intervenes and causes radical power realignments in the political economy.

    People who hero worship either of these candidates and think either candidate cares a fig for ordinary people or even has much idea of how to deal with current problems… well all such dull, foolish sycophants have rocks in their heads. They need to ring a friend or buy a thought. Or maybe get an education or start reading books.

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