Debunking liberal humanist myths with a minor Shakespearean twist
|My American audiences will appreciate that although this discussion is cast mainly into the context of Australia and South-East Asia, its application is global and has special resonance for American audiences, who now find themselves with a President whose emergence has been as much as anything else, the product of long term collective fantasizing about and denial of, some serious ideological, social and economic contradictions, of which migration is no small part.
Humanist libertarian ‘Wets’ are very quick to identify the environmental unsustainabilities of corporate capitalism, but when it comes to their own sacred cows, like migration/asylum/refugee policy, they are as completely blindsided as those they presume to criticize.
Press the ‘Wet’ compassion buttons and their ordinary critical judgement morphs into an infantile credulity like that of the happy clappy born again religious crowd. And it is equally impossible to have a rational discussion with them that doesn’t degenerate into ideological name calling and ‘Poor Thingist’ posturing.
One would think that the convulsive upheaval that is now going on in the US and in the EU in relation to refugees and asylum seekers would give most people still in possession of their judgement some pause for caution and a little bit of reflection on not just the follies of well intended political goodbodies, but the absolute carnage they can leave in their wake, if anyone listens to them too much.
Lack of respect for the importance of boundaries, whether they be moral or territorial, is the worst kind of political inconsequentialism that can leave one’s children and grandchildren with a poisonous legacy which never goes away.
We in Australia have a very nice little multicultural society which has done pretty well as result of cautious gradualism and an affluence that has more than anything else, smoothed the route to a comfortably homogenized diversity. That has more or less, so far, stood us in very good stead. And that is because we have been very careful to maintain broad consent and legitimacy for cultural, religious and demographic changes that we knew were going to push the existing boundaries and test their elasticity, but within safely manageable limits.
However, that happy state of affairs can be quickly undone. There is absolutely nothing about multiculturalism that can be taken for granted, because in most places, the multi-cultural legacy has been variously toxic, particularly where that gets mixed up with religion.
We do not have to resort to going to the US or the EU for trouble spots. Our own region will do very nicely as it abounds with examples of either failed or heavily poulticed multicultural/inter-religious experiments.
Malaysian and Indonesian Muslims do not ‘get on’ with non Muslim Chinese. Indians and Fijians don't either, and neither do the Hindu Tamils and Buddhist Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. Hindus and Muslims have had ‘their moments’ on the Indian sub continent, as Buddhists and Muslims are having in Myanmar and Thailand...and Christians and Muslims are in the Philippines and Indonesia...
That multicultural smile that foreign tourists get when they come to dear old Singapore belies some very bad history whose legacy is now managed more tightly than a fish's rear orifice. And at the slightest hint of 'trouble', state sponsored ‘community’ organizations and the police are down on it faster than you can say Cronulla riots (a series of Western Sydney Lebanese boys v The Rest Sydney beach brawls in late 2005) because ‘disturbances’ are very bad for business.
Muslim (mostly Malay) immigration is tightly controlled, as is Muslim access and distribution into publicly subsidized housing projects (which accounts for most housing) because Muslim ghettoization isn’t allowed. Sermons in Mosques are vetted before delivery and any combination of religion and politics is forbidden. By the same token, ‘the authorities’ do not tolerate anything that does not promote multicultural ‘harmony’, ‘understanding’ and ‘mutual respect’. And they are very pro-active in promoting these fine virtues, especially with people who are a bit reluctant to ‘see the light’.
The Australian anti-Islamic ‘Q’ society wouldn’t last a day in Singapore. But by the same token, when the island state became independent in 1965, fifteen percent of the population was Muslim and most of that Malay. It still is. There is a cap and they stick to it.
In January of 2016, the Singaporean Law and Home Affairs Minister, K Shanmugam, gave a very astute assessment of the challenges to multiculturalism and inter-religious harmony in the region and how Singapore is meeting them. It is a sober analysis and sobering read, especially for anyone who thinks Waleed Ali (the local white liberal media ‘moderate’ Islamic pin-up guy) has the final word on what it means to be Muslim: http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/religion-terrorism-and-threats-to-singapore-... .
While we do not have the benefit of Singaporean style ‘guided democracy’, we still do have a political system that is solidly committed to multiculturalism and a majority that is prepared to accept a substantial inflow of refugees and properly funding all aspects of the intake, including housing them, educating their children properly and providing adequate social service supports, without compromising services to existing populations, despite budgetary problems.
My contention is that the success of Brexit and the rise of anti-immigration movements throughout Europe and the US (which has long predated the current refugee crisis) was caused by ideologically introverted and socially insulated ‘Wet’ Political Establishments who would rather trade in tatty, fudged and overused accusational clichés like ‘racism’, ‘bigotry’ and ‘prejudice’, than actually listen closely to grass roots mass constituencies, concretely assess and re-assess ethnic, cultural and belief contradictions, realistically respond to them with consistent rules of engagement that establish clear boundaries, and intervene decisively in a timely fashion if that is necessary, like they do in Singapore.
If one doesn’t have all the leverages of a Singaporean government minister and one isn’t listening very carefully to what people are thinking at a grass roots level, so one can keep heading off problems before they become problems, and instead we truck along in ideological la la land, things can quickly get out of hand and be very difficult to fix later. With something as delicate and sensitive as multicultural harmony, no one can afford to outrun their domestic constituencies and not keep their confidence and willingness to collaborate in the multicultural project. The parliamentary re-emergence of Pauline Hanson and Co (a local political Trumplet) is a very bad sign that that hasn’t been happening, which is especially concerning in the context of the increasing aggression and anti secular assertiveness that is emerging not just out of the margins of Islam, but its centre. (See link above)
Denialism and obfuscation are not a monopoly of loud mouthed Newscorp fantasist ‘commentators’ and faux journalists. Reading the debates about European inter-communal ‘No Go Zones’ hinges on how narrow one wants to make the definition of that term to be. Obviously the humanist Wet commentators emphasize the original military use of the ‘no go’ term to wash the issue off their ideological windscreens, by pretending they don’t exist, because nowhere in Europe is there a militarized version of this phenomenon à la Catholic precincts in Northern Ireland during ‘The Troubles’, whereas the Newscorporistas emphasise the wider and more popularly understood definition of ‘a not so sensible place to live or visit, if you are white, or a single police car, especially after dark….’
More, one has to have ones hand sufficiently on the pulse to know if that tendency is also starting to develop parallel governance features that are not in keeping with a secular legal system and liberal democratic values. Trends like that are not static and can move quickly if allowed to by denialism, ignorant complacency and inaction.
The ‘Wets’ are just using definitional obfuscation on this, as denialists are wont to do, because they do not want their ideological sacred sites touched, in exactly the same way as the Newsorporistas do on climate change, or anything else that ‘undermines’ the perceived infallibility of markets.
The take home is that denialists and obfuscators in general and the ‘Wets’ in particular, create around themselves absurd and irrational moral expectations of others, particularly where the ‘Wets’ for the most part are living in nice, educated, safe ‘n successful petty bourgeois multicultural suburbs peppered with MercBMW successful Chinese and Indian professionals and business people, whose kids go to the best schools and only wear designer labels…. and the ‘racist bigots’, who are living in or near ethnically and religiously ‘challenged’ suburbs, where, as in Britain and Europe, ‘White Flight’ has become the go.
In the end the ‘Wet’ so called ‘progressives’ are just as into their own version of ‘racism’, ‘prejudice’ and ‘bigotry’ as anyone else, because what passes for ‘debate’ is actually an anti heresy accusational cannonade to assign blame away from themselves and their constituencies and to preserve what is left of the ascendency of their ideas. The White Flight people are deemed ‘racist bigots’ before they have even been put through the ideological unsoundness wringer, tried and officially condemned. Thoroughly bigoted and prejudicial white racist (and other) stereotypes are a part and parcel of the humanist’s own Wet tool kit; you know, ‘angry old white men’ which is code for a very nasty ageist, racist and sexist slur implying the irrational sensibility of a negatively assigned ideological status, without ever having to prove a thing.
One of the more popular ‘Wet’ narratives has been to co-opt William Shakespeare’s fragmentary monologue put into the mouth of Henry VIII’s Counsellor (and later Lord Chancellor) Thomas More, condemning anti-foreign sentiments in relation to the Protestant refugees coming into England from Catholic regions of the continent at the time (and right through the Reformation period). But as now, these newcomers didn’t threaten the interests of a petty bourgeois like Willy S. They weren’t going to compete with him for work opportunities, or work for lower wages and take housing accommodation at higher rentals.
And the foreign refugees that a successful playwright would have met would have had all the discreet charm and mannerisms of his class and higher, and whose straightened circumstances were likely softened somewhat by bullion and precious stones sewn into corsets, dresses, hats and shoe heels (not unlike the Vietnamese middle class refugees after the collapse of South Vietnam).
But for the London working class, an influx of refugees just made a very hard and tenuous life even harder and even more tenuous. And they would all be on top of one another in the already cramped and difficult conditions of working class London Life (life expectancy around 40) to share the disruption and the love.…
It would be easy to masterfully see the obvious long term economic benefits of and feel sanctimoniously compassionate towards that protestant migration, and the compelling necessity for it, if one were in a sufficiently Olympian position to be insulated from its grass roots effects…like St Thomas would have been.
Shakespeare was referring to anti-foreigner riots back in Henry VIII’s time, perhaps 80-90 years before, but was actually writing about it when Elizabeth’s settlement policy within the country towards Protestant refugees was very restrictive and ‘discriminatory’, to reduce their local impact, precisely to make sure such riots were not repeated on her watch.
We cannot possibly expect continued consent for mass migration of people who are very different to us when they initially get here, if we are not seen to defend our borders from people smugglers and the uncontrolled flows of people they bring, or demonstrate some appreciation of the colossal cost of processing people that way, instead of the infinitely less expensive (and fairer) method of taking people already processed and waiting in refugee camps, or allow too many in at once so that the migration begins to look like invasion, or over-pressuring our existing institutions and infrastructure, like schools and housing, so that we start to struggle with integration and create ghettoes and gangs instead of a steady absorption and dispersal of ‘new chums’.
Anyone in any doubt about the potential for inter-ethnic/cultural/religious failure ought to take a tour of the outer suburban Muslim ghettoes around Paris and assess how very unhappy and poorly integrated into existing French society those populations still are, twelve years after those communities set off the biggest riots in the country since 1968. And it wouldn’t be a bad idea to familiarize oneself with the increasing regularity and scale of radical Muslim attacks on French society, or this religious movement’s worldwide propensity to increasingly reject western secularism and laissez-faire liberal values (See Singapore Minister’s speech link above).
And that rejection is not unrelated to the fact that these libertarian values themselves are in varying degrees of crisis after 60-70 years of feckless and wilful deregulation and privatization of the social commons. This is exactly the same agenda as corporate market forces have been pursuing in their respective sphere of influence, over the same period. Taken together, this has institutionalized systemically half baked crummy values, moral exceptionalism and inconsequential thinking, which have re-enforced the contempt, enmity and aggression that is now being directed at the poor attitudes and practices of both sides of the libertarian divide.
Trump isn’t just going after women and illegal immigrants for sexual and political target practice, but the multilateralist agenda of multi-national corporations as well.
Respect for boundaries….sexual, political and economic ones...mmmm...
By way of remarkable contrast, and one increasingly attractive to those who have doubts about the wisdom of mass immigration/refugee intake, and especially from Islamic sources, is Japan. While this country is the second largest funder of global refugee infrastructure, it is firmly committed to indigenous cultural, religious and ethnic homogeneity, takes virtually no migrants of any nature at all, has a microscopic Muslim population and has never suffered a Muslim terrorist attack on home soil. Nor is it likely to. And while we do not have to agree with that posture, it ought to give us some pause for thought about the risks we take on board and the caution and the very hands on management we ought to be adopting, when we go the other way.
As the Singaporean Minister Shanmugam points out, no matter how well organized and well implemented their multicultural policies and security systems are, a Jihadi terrorist attack is only a matter of time….So we need every possible t crossed and I dotted to make as sure as possible that our multicultural infrastructure can withstand a solid battering.
Compassion does not recognize the value and importance of an orderly system of intake. All it can see is the immediate and tangible 'suffering' of the supplicants at the national door. And the thing is, if we get it wrong and muck up the system, today's ‘poor things’ can very easily become tomorrow's malcontents; and if not them, their children.
The relationship between ‘victim’, ‘oppressor’ and ‘rescuer’ are highly mobile and interchangeable modes that can shift rapidly downstream, if one isn’t managing the variables properly, in a far sighted fashion.
The goodbodies tell us that there is no such thing as a refugee ‘queue’; only the overwhelming needs of now matter. Well I have news for that. Baloney there isn't ‘a queue’. Those with very short memories will not recall the highly successful queuing system used for the Vietnamese wave of refugees back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It took 10 years of ‘queuing’ to get through them all, but it was an orderly system and everyone digested their fair share very nicely and with no trouble then and none now, 30-40 years later.
But that all depended on regional co-operation, which has not happened this time round. Indonesia allowed itself to be used as a fly-in destination for Australian bound asylum seekers for their journey out of Indonesian ports, in way past use-by date Indonesian fishing hulks, for mostly (but not always) ceremonial breakdown, leak ‘n sink charades off Ashmore Reef, just off the North Coast of Australia. And if the occasional boatload of not-so-poor things drown, well the AU$8,000 a head isn’t refundable, so who cares? The boat was only rigged to last long enough to get to the reef and there are plenty more customers happy to take the punt.
The asylum seekers who are now being left to rot in the camps on Nauru and Manus Islands are hostage to rotten, disorganized, fantastically expensive and incompetent policy making by an Australian ‘Wet’ government that couldn't discipline its humanitarian instincts until it was far too late.
I and people like me will vote out any government that isn't responsible enough to take a hard line with those poor wretches, because even blind Freddy knows that the moment we don't, the ‘snakehead’ migration contractors will be back in business. And to administer that hard line requires people who can still tell the difference between discipline and ‘repression’, toughness, and ‘abuse’, discomfort and ‘suffering’, and can appreciate that they are dealing with desperate people who have taken an enormous gamble against our migration/refugee system...and failed.
We owe asylum seekers and refugees nothing more than temporary asylum. They are beggars, not choosers of their final place of re-settlement and the accommodation does not have to be tourist standard, but surely much better than to be found in UNHCR camps in the South Sudan, Yemen or Syria. Our obligations under the UN conventions for refugees are entirely voluntary. Nobody can gainsay our right to protect our borders or determine how many people we take in, or on what basis and how much we are prepared to sacrifice to properly pay for it, to make sure it is done successfully for the very long term, so that our children and grand children do not become victims of incompetent good intentions and benign sentiments by people who haven’t felt and/or are unlikely to feel the immediate effects of getting it wrong.
Overwhelmingly, they do not live anywhere near the Muslim districts of Paris or Western Sydney….
Remember ‘The Exodus’, when poor thing Jewish refugees tried to ‘find their way home’ to Palestine and those naughty anti Semitic British bastards tried to stop them. And look at those Jewish refugee-poor-things now; the Middle East’s leading fascist occupation force...Very nice...
One of the more sobering episodes of failed refugee policy were the Gothic Wars towards the end of the fourth century AD, when very large contingents of Goths begged for asylum from the pursuing Huns, by being allowed to cross the Danube and settle within Roman territory. They were allowed in, but the local Roman infrastructure didn’t have the resources to contain, manage, absorb, or even feed them properly. The results were initially disastrous for the Goths and when they turned on their Roman hosts, then it was disastrous for them; a major military defeat and the death of the emperor in battle, permanent loss of territory and a setback from which the empire never recovered.
We have all this to look forward to as the post WW2 moral consensus and political settlements continue to unwind and degenerate into war, and climate change starts to make some regions unviable for the sizes of their human populations.
Uncritical empathy and compassion is the lowest form of policy driver. It cannot tell the difference between that and indulgence, or between the propensity for ordinary kindness and the world view of wanton ‘sucks’ and gullibles, that is as likely to earn the contempt of those it helps, as gratitude. As an old interpreter friend of mine who has spent a lot of time dealing with Australian asylum applications repeatedly points out to me, many of the applicants couldn’t tell the difference between generosity and weakness.
Nor does this petty bourgeois constituency that has politically lost its majoritarian constituencies (and thus become too invested in ‘poor thing’ minorities, in order to prop itself up) seem either willing to acknowledge the decline of its hegemony, make good the loss of its legitimacy or do the basics to avoid the progressive decay of its collective judgement, by appreciating the full extent of the disintegration of its capacity for long term sustainable and consequential thinking.
The highest policy driver is the wisdom to balance contradictory values and criteria in ways that are sufficiently coherent to keep diverse constituencies on board during a very unstable period, and get us through it with the minimum of conflict and damage, in ways that our descendants can continue to manage satisfactorily, indefinitely, like the Singaporean are doing, by not leaving anything to chance, having a plan, sticking to it and constantly following up all its performance parameters, so that they don’t get too many nasty surprises down track.
For people who want to talk the sustainable talk, they have to walk the sustainable walk.
Good governance, whether we are talking parenting, or government refugee policy, or managing the environment, isn’t just about benign and well intended attitude and/or feeling the love of respective constituencies, but rational and disciplined policy, a preparedness to enforce it, and if necessary, with a well fortified resolve and tough behaviour, whether it be dealing with pathetic creatures armed with a thousand sad violins and choirs of excuse makers, or poisonous cold blooded corporate slitherers.
People who cannot manage that are delusional ‘paper tigers’ who neither command respect, nor obedience, nor a mandate for the future. And if (when) the social humanist and corporate market liberal laissez-faire mobs fail in their respective domains to defend the social, ecological and economic commonwealth with coherent and rational policy, there will be plenty of entities around in the not distant future who will be only too happy to take over the job!
Social and ideological vacuums have a way of attracting that kind of attention...and being around when that sort of thing is being sorted out, is not a good place to be...Trump’s America could be the first cab off the rank in this coming brave new world.
Watch this space and instead of despairing and condemning, learn, eat some humble pie and take some responsibility for your mistakes, if a ‘Wet’ humanist you be. And if you do that, one day you might even be worth listening to.