Sunday, September 27, 2015

Perhaps I Am Not A Liberal

I'm not really sure if I'm a liberal. I honor warm feelings for others; I certainly support the First Amendment very strongly; I believe in collective action as represented by government. But I'm also pretty practical. I don't believe in feckless charity; I don't believe in sloppy thinking; I honor some of the principles of conservatism, as in Edmund Burke and his Reflections on the Revolution in France. But I'm not in bed with anything like what passes for conservatism currently in America – no, siree Bob!

In medical school two friends and I founded the Public Health Club. Dean Robert Ebert assigned Dieter Koch-Weser as our advisor. It was then I learned about the Law of Unintended Consequences (LUC). For our first meeting he assigned readings about what happened in areas where doctors and public health authorities abolished malaria. LUC prevailed in these articles. With malaria conquered, population increased, with a resultant increased suffering from human congestion and increased poverty, if that were possible, all from the best of intentions.

Decades later I read about Western beneficent organizations alleviating the suffering during African famines by importing food. Critics pointed out that the LUC would then ensure that the next famine would be even worse, with even greater suffering, since core problems would not be addressed.

So, with that attempt at an exculpatory introduction, what about the refugees descending on Europe? You could say that the refugees are consequent to an awful civil war in Syria, as well as unlivable conditions in other countries. Certainly that is true. But civil wars do not erupt out of nothing. The refugees are fleeing with their pitiful families, which number how many? Six, eight, ten? We pity them the more for their numbers, but what are they doing with all these kids? It's their culture. (I've said for a long time that the Palestinian strategy is to have as many kids as possible and then don't educate them, but that's another matter.) Yes, that's their culture. They have overpopulated their home country, which became manifest when the severe drought came and they fled the rural areas for the cities. They countries are not cohesive, but rather divided into religious tribes who get along sometimes, but when push comes to shove, they fight each other. Overpopulation plus lack of cohesion equals misery.

While the civil war might be the proximate cause of the mass flight, the deeper cause is overpopulation resulting from a culture of human fecundity. In the natural world we see bees overwhelming the hive and then a group leaves to form a new hive elsewhere. It's not a stretch to recognize the same dynamics at work here, even as the outcasts tug at our hearts.

It is only natural to think Europe should be generous and take the refugees in. But, are the refugees say that they want to become Europeans? Maybe some are. But I think most are saying that they want a better and safer life for themselves and their large families, not that they want to change themselves. They don't want to give up their culture. They want room to create a new hive.

I remember the story of Kosovo. It used to be Serbian (I hold no brief for the Serbians, btw, but I believe that this is the fact.) Then fecund Albanian Muslims moved in, proliferated, became a majority, and now they rule, as they and others feel they have every right to do, because they are now a majority. Without firing a shot (at least initially), they gained new land.

As I write this, Ann and I are on the Silver Seas Shadow traversing the North Pacific. We sat with some Brits the other day and conversation turned (not on my initiative, as it happens) to Muslims in Britain. Our new friends told us that in their neighboring towns between Manchester and Leeds, five times a day, loudspeakers blast out call to prayers, invading the auditory space of what used to be quietly Christian towns. And we also read in the papers a day or so ago that in France Islamic prayer services are spilling out onto the streets surrounding mosques in various towns, leading to proposals that this not be allowed. This can be uncomfortable for some; I certainly would not like it; others might feel more at peace with this increase in diversity. Opinions vary, I guess. I think I'm just pretty conservative here.

For many centuries now, after the terrible consequences of wars based on religion, the European tradition has been for religion to be a private affair, and for disparate religious groups to interact with common understandings in quotidian life. The United States has shown how possible it is to benefit from the influx of other cultures; the intention of most immigrant groups to the US has been, however, to become Americans. They have been able to keep their religions and still fit in comfortably, and make the US better. So the big question is this: how does that apply to the would-be Muslim immigrants to Europe? Would it be their intention to fit in? Could they do it? And would the Europeans allow it, and even facilitate it?

To my mind, these aren't easy questions. I think of the Iraqi immigrants to Sweden, who came because of Sweden's commitment to human rights for all. One result of the influx was that a Davis Cup match between Israel and Sweden could not be freely played in Malmรถ because of anti-Israel protests by the immigrants. The match was played to an empty stadium. Others might think a five time daily call to prayer over loudspeakers in their hometown is acceptable. Would they also think that this imposition of Iraqi prejudice is also acceptable?

France hasn't been able to handle Algerians, who have been banished to the banlieus, from which emanated the assassins of Charlie Hebdo. Cast blame where you will, but isn't that a foreseeable result from warm feelings of wanting to help the refugees? We might say that France should “do better” by the refugees, but maybe they just can't. You have to know your own capacities. Should they willingly admit the refugee bees from the Middle Eastern hive when the foreseeable result is more empty stadia when Israel comes to visit, or more assassins for those who exercise free speech?

I don't think the Syrian civil war is the fault of the West; it's an internal problem. Still, you can't just let people suffer when they appear at your doorstep. I don't have great alternatives.

I wonder if it would be possible with strong united military power to establish a safe zone in Syria to which civilians could flee – but who would govern it? What rules would there be for separating factions? What would the future be, when we know that the highest birth rates on earth occur in refugee camps in the Middle East? This can't happen, I'm sure.

So what about asking the refugees to choose one of two options:
  1. Choose to apply for permanent citizens in the new country, adopting it as their home, and obligating themselves to learn the language fully, to educate the children in the country's schools, to educate themselves about the new country's customs and laws, and to keep their own customs and religion in their private life only. The host country would be obligated to help in seeking a job for at least one of the parents of the family and providing the integration services, and the welfare costs, etc. It would be expensive.
  2. Or they could choose to be a temporary visitor who will be required to migrate back to the home country when the host country would deem it safe. In the meantime they could take welfare or jobs might be found, and the kids educated in the Western style, not in madrassas.

There is a reason the world in agog with what to do here, because it certainly is not easy. I'm not hard hearted, but I've seen enough to respect LUC. You don't have to be a fascist Hungarian to be careful to preserve what you have.

Budd Shenkin


  1. "But I'm not in bed with anything like what passes for conservatism currently in America – no, siree Bob!"

    But it doesn't seem like you're "in bed" with anything like what passes for liberalism currently either. Accept all the refugees without question--not. Syria is the fault of the US--not. You lack the political correctness of a liberal. I'll give you 2 pts for that! I think you're more conservative than you realize.

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