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Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Refugees are like the children of dysfunctional families

Last month I wrote a blogpost about identity politics and how it has failed to help many of the groups of people that rely on it to sustain them in their communities. The post was titled ‘When identity politics start to fail’ and it got the normal number of pageviews, neither good nor bad. But the refugee problem that keeps popping up reminded me of that post and what I had said in it, and brings me back to the topic.

Refugees are like children who have grown up in dysfunctional families where the parents neglect and abuse them. The leaders of countries like Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar, where most of the world’s refugees come from, rule in the absence of functional representative government, often at the point of a gun, and marginalise large segments of their populations while getting rich in office from corrupt practices. China is helping countries like this (Cambodia is another one it helps) because it refuses to give its people the power to choose their own leaders. With this example before them, these corrupt nations think that you don’t need democracy to be successful, and so they drag their feet on reform and use the military to maintain their power (Egypt and Thailand are other examples here).

But their leaders refuse to import the kinds of ideas that they and their people need in order to live productive, healthy lives in the pursuit of happiness. Nationalism and a kind of stubborn pride helps them to keep such ideas out of the polis. This is where identity politics fail. It helps you to feel good about yourself but it can also stop you from learning things if they are wrapped in packaging that you don’t like. The parents indulge their base appetites and the children, the refugees, become the problem of the developed world, which are like foster homes for the entire global community.

The stories these leaders and their people tell themselves in order to justify the status quo are not working and the postcolonial narrative peddled by intellectual elites in those countries and in the developed world, inspired by the nonsensical claptrap of postmodern theory, only functions to keep them ignorant and prey to any stray compulsion that overtakes them while they go about their daily lives. They have, in manty cases, lost the kind of connection to tradition (such as a royal family) that helps to sustain people by giving them a good example that can help regulate their everyday conduct.

Religion, which binds some of these communities together, fails because it tends to be at war with democracy practically everywhere (Turkey and Iran come to mind). Other ways that people use to generate cohesion in their communities, such as tribes or languages (think Afghanistan or Myanmar), also work against the basic aims of human rights because they create minorities that are abused by partisan ruling classes. There are tribal groupings in developed economies but these tend to align closely with the parties that exist in the political system. You are a “leftie” or a “conservative” or a person belonging to some other category that derives from the system of government itself, so there is usually no fundamental conflict between your personal allegiance and your political views.

People in developing countries are fed a lot of rubbish at the top and at the bottom, though both high culture and popular culture, and are for the most part unable to correctly read the messages that come out of the developed world by way of the products of the mainstream western culture industries such as rock music and cinema. They haven’t got the cognitive tools they need to learn the lessons these artefacts embody for everyone else and they dismiss the whole package of western values because they find that some aspects of western culture to be in conflict with their own tastes.

But we know that the people in these countries want to have the same things that people in the west enjoy: a fair go. The opportunity to get ahead based on talent, hard work, and the inherent gifts that nature has endowed you with. Just look at the name of the political party that Recep Tayyip Erdogan leads in Turkey. In Turkish it’s known as the AKP, but the English translation is “Justice and Development Party”.

You get the government you deserve, goes the old adage. It’s not just the leaders in these countries that are at fault, it’s entire populations that are making life unbearable for so many. And because so many of the communities that Trump caustically calls “shitholes” have not developed the cognitive tools that can enable them to properly handle the technologies that come out of the west, they then become dangerous to their neighbours as though a child had been given a loaded gun to play with (Russia is a classic example of this). It’s like the famous line Jack Nicholson playing Colonel Nathan R. Jessup used in the 1992 film ‘A Few Good Men’: “You can’t handle the truth!” Given the tools to kill, stupid people merely choose to kill. It becomes, “You can’t handle this technology!”

What to do about this seemingly intractable problem of unweaned populations suddenly finding themselves in an adult world? Last Thursday I made a half-tongue-in-cheek blogpost suggesting that we should train up young emissaries at our universities in the theory and practice of western civilisation and send them out with the task of spreading the cognitive tools developing nations need to fully function in the modern world. I dubbed them “soft-power shock troops”.

At the end of the post, I added that private corporations might be asked to help pay for such people because politically-stable countries make better markets for their products, and they would in the end benefit from the spread of reason that would follow. But maybe another way to get results would be to tie development aid to goals to do with governance. So in order for funding to continue, target countries need to meet agreed-upon markers in terms of liberalisation of the political system and the establishment of a viable civil society.

The post got a fair number of views but no-one took it very seriously, least of all people in the intellectual elites in the west who have drunk the Kool-Aid of postcolonial theory. People like Noam Chomsky are part of the problem because they feed garbage to people living in the developing world, pointing at figures from our shared history saying, “Blame them!” This device tells people in these countries that they don’t need to change they way they behave, and so naturally they don’t. It exonerates them of responsibility for their criminal actions.

But while the leaders in the developing world are relieved of any burden of responsibility for the wellbeing of the general community by their peers in academia in the west, the refugee problem their conduct produces shows no signs of evaporating. Quite the opposite, in fact. Tens of thousands of them cross borders in an effort to enter Europe and America every year. Many more try to get to Australia but are stopped by measures deriving from bipartisan policies. These debates are certainly not going to go away any time soon. As long as the dysfunctional families of the developing world continue to abuse and neglect their children, refugees will continue to seek safe havens in the foster homes of the global community.

1 comment:

Matt Moore said...

Some data:
https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SM.POP.REFG.OR?page=6&year_high_desc=true
http://www.unhcr.org/en-au/statistics/unhcrstats/5b27be547/unhcr-global-trends-2017.html

The refugee crisis is largely caused by a single country - Syria. Yes, there are refugees from other countries but 1/3 of the world's refugee population comes from that one, failed state. And most of those Syrian refugees are in Turkey. I don't think Bashar Al Asad gets legitimacy from the legacy of Edward Said (as problematic as his work was).

I agree with you that there is merit in not giving money to dictators but Syria is far beyond that. It is completely broken. And it's people are in a lot of trouble.