Posts Tagged 'immigration'

The Far Country: The case for (and against) emigration.

With its generic title and un-grabby premise – English girl goes to Australia, falls in love – I doubt anyone besides Nevil Shute completists is reading his 1952 novel The Far Country these days. I enjoyed it, but I concede that it’s a tad lacking in dramatic incident. When in the 1980s it was made into an Australian TV miniseries – which I haven’t seen – the writers seem to have thought it necessary to crank up the melodrama by adding controversy over the Czech love interest’s wartime service as a doctor with the German army.

In the book, no-one is the least bit bothered about this. The English girl’s Aussie relatives express some misgivings about her gadding about with a dark-complexioned older man, but only because they’re afraid her folks back home will be prejudiced against foreigners. It’s strange. In the immediate aftermath of the war, when ordinary Brits and Aussies would have had ample justification for hating their former foes, it didn’t occur to Shute that his hero would be affected by such resentment. Thirty-odd years later, the creators of the miniseries assumed that the doctor’s Nazi guilt needed to be addressed.

Like In the Wet, Shute’s epic of electoral reform from the following year, The Far Country contrasts the war-exhausted, ration-stinted Old World with the optimism and expansiveness of the Antipodes. The heroine’s destitute grandmother receives £500 from a well-off niece in Australia, but it arrives too late to save the old lady from the effects of her meagre diet. On her deathbed she conveys the money to her granddaughter, Jennifer, with the stipulation that she should use it to emigrate from dreary, declining Britain.

Jennifer is inclined to ignore her grandmother’s directive and return the money to its sender. A few days later, at the government office where she’s employed as a typist, someone mentions a nephew who is prospering in Canada. A socialist co-worker gripes about the consequences of permitting such emigration:

“It’s not right, the way these young chaps go abroad,” said Sanders. “If it goes on, the Government will have to put a stop to it.”

I wasn’t sure about this character. Even in idle break-room chit-chat, would an idealistic leftist of the early 1950s have entertained the idea of restricting emigration? Or was this just Shute venting his ire at socialist control-freakery? [1]

But it wasn’t only those on the left who were concerned at the loss of British manpower. From an article by Murray Watson, co-author of a book on English immigrants to Canada: [2]

In the years after the war more than 2 million people emigrated from the United Kingdom. Such was the scale of population loss that wartime leader Winston Churchill feared those leaving would hamper post-war recovery. He issued a patriotic appeal on the BBC:

“I say to those that wish to leave our country, ‘Stay here and fight it out.’ If we work together with brains and courage, as we did in days not long ago, we can make our country fit for all our people. Do not desert the old land.”

Shute’s break-room socialist gives Churchill’s appeal an internationalist twist:

“[W]hat this country has tried to do, and what it’s doing, is to plan a new form of government and put it into practice, a new form of democracy where everyone will get a square deal. When we’ve shown it can be done, the world will copy it, all right. You see. But it can’t be worked out if people are allowed to run away to other countries. It’s their job to stay here and get this one right.” [3]

A level-headed accountant named Morrison joins the debate, asking Jennifer to consider the cost of her upbringing:

“For eighteen years somebody in this country fed you and clothed you and educated you before you made any money, before you started earning. Say you cost an average two quid a week for that eighteen years. You’ve cost England close on two thousand pounds to produce.”

Somebody said, “Like a machine tool.”

“That’s right,” the accountant said, “a human dictaphone and typewriter combined, all electronic and maintains itself and does its own repairs, that’s cost two thousand quid. Suppose you go off to Canada. You’re an asset worth two thousand quid that England gives to Canada as a free gift. If a hundred thousand like you were to go each year, it would be like England giving Canada a subsidy of two million pounds a year. It’s got to be thought about, this emigration. We can’t afford to go chucking money away like that.”

She said, puzzled, “It’s not really like that, is it?”

“It is and all,” said Morrison. “That’s what built up the United States. Half a million emigrants a year went from Central Europe to America for fifty years or so. Say they were worth a thousand quid apiece. Right – that was a subsidy from Central Europe to America of five hundred million quid a year, and it went on for fifty years or so. Human bulldozers.”

He leaned forward on the table. “Believe it or not,” he said, “Central Europe got very poor and the U.S.A. got very rich.”

Jennifer is so annoyed by the whole discussion that she decides to take her grandmother’s advice after all. She books passage for Australia.

Is it true that the Old World is poorer for the loss of generations of human capital to Australia, Canada, and the United States? Unsurprisingly, things were tight just after the war, when most of Europe’s savings had just been spent on obliterating much of Europe’s infrastructure. But by the 1970s or thereabouts, the continent – at least the half of it that wasn’t stuck under Communist rule – had rebuilt, living standards had rebounded, and the emigration slowed to a trickle.

Would Europe have recovered more quickly if emigrants like Shute’s hero and heroine had remained, their “brains and courage” helping to increase productivity? Or did their departure contribute to the rising standard of living, bleeding off surplus population and thus helping to keep the cost of housing low and wages high?

In his podcast last year, John Derbyshire scoffed at Nancy Pelosi’s contention that a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border was “immoral”. Pointing to news reports indicating that “There are more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago than in Ethiopia” and that “Half of Romania’s doctors left the country between 2009 and 2015”, he wondered:

Don’t those people’s home countries need their bright, educated, accomplished citizens way more than we do? Could someone please ask moralist-in-chief Nancy Pelosi about this?

I doubt that Derbyshire, a cantankerous immigration foe, really worries that the United States is enriching itself at the developing world’s expense. He would probably argue that migration is a lose-lose proposition: it weakens the source countries by robbing them of their smartest and most ambitious citizens, and weakens the destination countries by afflicting them with overcrowding, linguistic confusion, and interethnic squabbling.

One could also argue that migration is win-win: that teeming poor countries benefit by sending abroad workers who are unlikely to find an outlet for their talents at home, and that rich countries benefit by the infusion of energetic, ambitious young people. This would presumably be Nancy Pelosi’s view.

My own view is somewhere in between. Some people – habitual criminals, mental defectives, and unemployables – are a drain on whichever country they live in. If a poor country can guilt some rich country into taking these people off its hands, why not? For the rich country, it might be worthwhile to take in ninety-nine slackers and thugs on the chance of nabbing a single undiscovered genius whose ideas will generate enough wealth to maintain all the others. But if you can figure out how to get the one genius without taking the other ninety-nine, why not try that instead?

But why does the west feel it necessary to import Ethiopian and Romanian doctors at all? Medicine is a high-paying, high-prestige career, yet for some reason we can’t turn out enough young doctors to meet demand. Are salaries too low? Working conditions too gruelling? Is the high cost of education putting young people off? It can’t be the last: more people are getting advanced degrees than ever before. Wouldn’t it be less trouble to Tiger Mother an extra two or three percent of those high-achievers into med school than to relocate the finest young minds of Addis Ababa and Bucharest halfway around the world to tend our aging, flabby selves?

As it happens, Romanian doctors come up in The Far Country. The Czech hero, Zlinter, is unable to practice medicine in Australia as his credentials aren’t recognized. He can’t afford the three years of additional schooling he’d need to re-qualify, and as he’s happy enough doing manual labour, he’s resigned himself to never being a doctor again. Jennifer protests:

“But what an idiotic regulation!” the girl said.

He looked at her, smiling at her indignation for him. “It is not so idiotic,” he said. “There must be some rule. The doctors from some countries are ver’ bad. I would not like you to be treated by a Roumanian doctor, or a doctor from Albania.”

Working as a lumberman deep in the bush, Zlinter steps up to perform an emergency operation when two of his co-workers are injured in a gruesome accident. This incident attracts the attention of the authorities, who investigate the foreigner for practicing medicine without a licence. His friends and colleagues, resenting this intrusion by big-city bureaucrats, come to the Czech’s defence, but an Australian doctor named Jennings puts the case for caution:

“You’ve got to have a rule,” Jennings said. “Most of these D.P. doctors are crook doctors, oh, my word. You’d be the first to scream if some of them got loose on your family. …Take this Zlinter, for example. He seems to be a careful sort of chap, and since he qualified he’s had a very wide experience of surgery in front-line conditions with the German army. You’ve seen him at his best. He certainly knows a lot about these sort of accidents. But that’s not general practice. Ninety per cent of the general practitioner’s job is trying to decide if an old lady’s pain is heart trouble or wind, or whether a kiddy’s got scarlet fever or a sore throat. Zlinter may be useless at that sort of thing – probably is.”

He paused. “I don’t want you to think I’m against Zlinter,” he said. “I think he’s a good man. If he was qualified I’d like to see him practice in this district and take some of the work off me. But not before he’s been checked over at the hospital and been passed out as competent.”

Seems sensible enough. But I suspect no modern doctor would speak so forthrightly. Shute was writing in the unenlightened age before the benefits of diversity had been revealed to our governing class. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has put it:

[O]ur diversity isn’t a challenge to be overcome or a difficulty to be tolerated. Rather, it’s a tremendous source of strength. … Canada has succeeded – culturally, politically, economically – because of our diversity, not in spite of it.

If such assertions are meant to be taken literally, it follows that even if your Romanian or Albanian doctor turns out to be a bit “crook” (by which Dr. Jennings meant incompetent, not dishonest), the workforce-enriching effects of added diversity should more than compensate for any niggling increase in miscommunication, misdiagnosis, and malpractice.

As for Romania and Albania, today’s wisdom would tell them that instead of vainly attempting to coax their disillusioned professionals into remaining, they should look to even poorer countries – say, Mali or Mozambique – for doctors willing to bring to Eastern Europe the tremendous strength of their diversity. Meanwhile, Australia and Canada will go on sending their idealistic young doctors to do aid work in Mali and Mozambique, completing the cycle.

M.

1. Although Britons were never prevented from transporting their expensively-nurtured selves abroad, the Exchange Controls Act limited how much of their wealth they could take with them. At the time Shute was writing, emigrants to the United States and Canada could bring along only £1000; the remainder of their fortune had to be invested with an “authorised depositary” in the U.K. Even vacationers could take just £25 a year across the border. These rules wouldn’t have impacted Jennifer’s Australia trip, as they didn’t apply to the countries in the “sterling area” that used the pound as a reserve currency. (See the Bank of England’s “The U.K. Exhange Control: A Short History”.)

2. Invisible Immigrants: The English in Canada since 1945, by Marilyn Barber and Murray Watson.

3. I can find no evidence that the U.K. has ever entertained the idea of restricting emigration. But earlier this year the Guardian reported the results of a European Council on Foreign Relations poll showing that majorities in Spain, Greece, and Italy – and near-majorities in Poland and Hungary – would support their citizens being “prevented from leaving the country for long periods of time”.

I’ve written about, let’s see…four of Nevil Shute’s books now. John Derbyshire I last mentioned in an essay on the 2015 Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack. Justin Trudeau came up just a few weeks ago, when I compared him to a “second-rate game show host”.

Election 2019: This crank says nay.

This year I officially became a nonvoter.

The last couple elections I dutifully crossed the street to the local seniors’ centre and stood in line for the privilege of spoiling my ballot. I don’t claim this chore was terribly onerous, but it brought me neither pleasure nor reward, and I wondered why I bothered.

Last time, I considered scribbling a penis or a bunny rabbit on my ballot, to at least provide a moment of levity to the poor schmuck tallying the votes. But the line-up, while brisk, was lengthy enough that I felt guilty lingering behind the partition to doodle, and after a brief hesitation I simply refolded the ballot unmarked.

So this year I skipped it. It was raining anyway.

An NDP-supporting friend encouraged me to vote, vote for anyone – even the Conservatives – just so long as I registered my opposition to “the Christian party”, by which I gathered she meant the ex-Tory Maxime Bernier’s reified fit of pique, the People’s Party of Canada.

I didn’t bother explaining that I have about as much or little enthusiasm for the dreaded Bernier as I have for the other leaders; and that if my vote amounted to a die roll, one name was as likely to come up as another; and that if a single vote for the PPC mattered so much to her she should prefer, to be on the safe side, that I abstain. I just grunted and changed the subject.

***

In an earlier essay I advanced a theory of what I might call, if I were a lefty academic, a systemic bias favouring conservative parties:

Young journalists, freshly escaped from the progressivist petri dishes of the North American higher education system, might sincerely intend to give conservatives a fair shake; but they unconsciously communicate their disdain and disbelief through their word choices, their headlines, the photos they choose to illustrate their articles, and of course, through which stories they cover, and which they ignore.

In a multi-party system like Canada’s, this bias affects which parties get taken seriously. Populists and social conservatives, in order to avoid the taint of association with icky “far-right” ideas, self-protectively cluster with libertarians and Bay Street types under a single big conservative tent; while politicians from the lefty fringe, emboldened by their friendlier media coverage, feel free to flake off into purist micro-parties which splinter the left-wing vote – helping the unified conservatives take power.

That’s the paradox: that left-leaning media might, in clumsily putting their thumb on the scales, accidentally be tipping elections to the right.

Yesterday’s election illustrates the paradox. The Liberals, New Democrats, and Greens – whose platforms appeared, to this untrained eye, as scarcely distinguishable shades of pale pink – together commanded the allegiance of 55% of the electorate. In Quebec yet another left-leaning party, the Bloc Quebecois, was in contention, so that in some ridings the progressive vote was split four ways.

This five-way split is the only reason the Conservatives were in the running at all. Although by international and historical standards they’re about as right-wing as a kindergarten teacher bottle-feeding a baby goat, apparently it’s enough to terrify an outright majority of the population. Against a unified left the Tories would long ago have been winnowed to a handful of farmers fulminating in an Alberta curling rink. Yet somehow they carry on, to the outrage of all decent-minded Canadians, cobbling together a majority every quarter century or so.

Plainly it’s in the interest of said decent-minded folks that a further-right alternative should emerge – one capable of siphoning off five or ten percent of the Tory vote, to give progressive candidates a bit more breathing room.

And yet when Maxime Bernier, miffed at his loss of the Tory leadership contest to hollowed-out marshmallow Andrew Scheer, declared his intention to launch just such a further-right alternative, did the media give him a respectful hearing? No, they went promptly to work re-installing the limits of acceptable discourse just this side of Bernier’s podium, appointing the nation’s most acute offense-detectors to guard the ramparts.

(Of course Scheer’s Conservatives were happy to give clandestine assistance to this project.)

Although there’s little in the People’s Party platform to support the accusation that it is, as my friend put it, a “Christian party”, it has emerged as a safe harbour for former Tories tired of being angrily shushed by their colleagues whenever they admitted to discomfort with the latest advance in the ongoing sexual enlightenment. Also for those drummed out of respectable society for doubting the reality of climate change, or the sanctity of immigration.

I suspect Bernier doesn’t care a fig about these cranky causes. Given his druthers he would have built his platform around laissez-faire economics of perfectly stodgy think-tank pedigree: ending supply management in the dairy industry, for example. But knowing that such a party would appeal only to a handful of bow-tie-wearing statistics profs, he welcomed his fellow ex-Tory refugees, believing (in the manner of the multiculturalists he now affects to disdain) that their diversity would prove to be a source of strength.

Was this realistic? Putting aside taxes and spending, and focussing on the culture-war issues, according to recent opinion polls:

  • 25% of Canadians remain opposed to gay marriage; [1]
  • 33% are leery of letting trans women use women’s bathrooms; [2]
  • 36% would support at least some restrictions on abortion; [3]
  • 18% are unworried about or doubt the reality of climate change; [4]
  • 55% would like to see immigration reduced. [5]

I imagine there’s a large degree of overlap on the gay marriage, transgender, and abortion issues: let’s say around 30% of Canadians are, on questions of marriage and sexuality, more or less socially conservative.

Bernier probably assumed, contemplating the tastes of this recalcitrant 30%, that they must also be angry about immigration, in denial about climate change, and ready to take the knife to taxes and social services. As many of them surely are.

But although it’s convenient for partisan head-counters, there’s no inherent reason these attitudes should cluster. One of the main lessons of the twin Brexit and Trump upsets of 2016 was that when voters are shaken loose from their customary political allegiances, they’ll reassemble in ways that are confusing to metropolitan observers: working-class Labour and Democratic Party voters, it turned out, weren’t as enthusiastic about mass immigration, cultural dislocation, and the affordable wares of Shenzhen as the folks in the capital thought they ought to be.

***

I think social conservative cranks, climate cranks, and immigration cranks should all feel welcome to air their views. This is probably because I’m an immigration crank myself. Which is to say I share with the majority of Canadians the opinion that immigration should be reduced.

The latest polling on the subject is from June, when 63% of respondents agreed that “the government should prioritize limiting immigration levels because the country might be reaching a limit in its ability to integrate them”. (Of course “limiting” immigration is not necessarily the same as “reducing” it.)

As you’d probably expect, the highest support for this proposition – 81% – came from Conservative voters. (People’s Party supporters weren’t broken out.) But the pattern beyond that is counterintuitive: 57% of Greens, 44% of New Democrats, and 41% of Liberals also favoured “limiting”.

Maybe those 57% of Green supporters fret about immigration for the same reason I do: they fear it’s pushing up the cost of housing and accelerating urban sprawl.

Maybe a few of them also believe, as I do, that a nation ought to be something more than a bunch of unrelated people scrabbling furiously to drive up the gross domestic product; that citizens should share some common values, common heroes, even a common language, so they can have a chat in the intervals between acts of commerce.

Regardless, there’s no particular reason that the above beliefs must be paired with, say, opposition to gay marriage or abortion. (In fact, someone concerned about overpopulation might logically be in favour of both.)

Or, to look at the pairing from the opposite angle, many of those Canadians who remain unembarrassed to profess social conservative views are themselves immigrants from places where the penalties for incorrect speech are far graver than being called out by some Twitter scold. They may see four more years of declarations from Justin Trudeau that their beliefs are un-Canadian as an acceptable tradeoff for the chance to bring their relatives over from the old country.

Suppose that there were no correlation at all between social conservatism, climate skepticism, and wanting less immigration. In that case the likelihood that a randomly selected Canadian would hold all three opinions would be 30% × 18% × 55% = 3%.

The People’s Party couldn’t manage even that: their final share of the popular vote was 1.6%.

But if there is a correlation, it may simply be that all three of the above opinions are currently deemed unsayable. A citizen accustomed to feeling that his beliefs have been twisted, traduced, and ignored by the media is bound to begin to mistrust coverage of other topics; if they’re willing to mischaracterize my viewpoint, the dissident realizes, how can I trust what they say about anyone else’s?

***

I’m not terribly surprised by Justin Trudeau’s victory, by the way. I don’t think the election really had much to do with pipelines, or taxes, or SNC-Lavalin, or blackface dance routines, or any of the other things pundits thought were important.

I believe what it came down to was that Trudeau makes Canadians feel special. Since he’s been prime minister, the rest of the world pays attention to us sometimes. Andrew Scheer could strangle Elizabeth May on the floor of the House of Commons and it would be reported somewhere around page 9 of the New York Times. Trudeau puts on funny socks and it’s retweeted around the world.

As the singer Nanette Workman enthused after performing at Justin’s dad’s retirement gala, “I’m not very political, but I love Trudeau. He’s a star. Like Mick Jagger.”

I have a feeling that, as we did with his father, we’ll be putting up with Justin for as long he decides to stick around.

M.

1. Same-sex couples…

64% “should continue to be allowed to legally marry”
15% “should only be allowed to form civil unions and not marry”
10% “should not have any kind of legal recognition”
11% “not sure”

Source: Research Co., July, 2019

2. Transgender Canadians…

33% “definitely” should be allowed to use the public bathroom of their choice
19% “probably” should be allowed to use the public bathroom of their choice
16% “definitely” should use the public bathroom based on their biological sex
17% “probably” should use the public bathroom based on their biological sex
16% “not sure”

Source: Research Co., July, 2019

3. Abortion…

53% “should be permitted whenever a woman decides she wants one”
24% “should be permitted in certain circumstances, such as if a woman has been raped”
7% “should only be permitted when the life of the mother is in danger”
5% opposed “under any circumstance”
11% “not sure”

Source: Ipsos, March, 2017

4. Climate change or global warming is…

47% “an extremely serious problem”
35% “a serious problem”
13% “not that serious problem”
5% “not a problem at all”

Source: Abacus Data, Summer, 2019

5. “I would like to see tighter border controls that allow fewer immigrants into Canada.”

30% “strongly agree”
25% “tend to agree”
27% “neither agree nor disagree”
11% “tend to disagree”
8% “strongly disagree”

Source: Ipsos, January, 2019

 

Managing diversity.

Part IV of The Immigration Heresies.

Most of what follows was written in October 2016. This is the last of four old immigration-related posts which I’m belatedly sharing as part of my Decennial Fridge-Cleaning series.

Some months back I boarded an overstuffed bus with my seventy-year-old, hard-of-hearing, unsteady-on-her-feet mother. As we threaded our way among the straphangers I noticed an empty window seat and steered my mother towards it. “Excuse me,” I said to the woman in the aisle seat. She looked at me uncomprehendingly. “Could you…?” I said, gesturing to the empty seat she was blocking. She didn’t move.

She was middle-aged, conservatively dressed, dark-haired with olive-coloured skin. She might have hailed from anywhere in an arc from Portugal to Palestine to Pakistan. In any case she didn’t seem to speak English. I pointed to my mother and again to the empty seat, making a “swinging gate” gesture with my hands to demonstrate the tiny amount of movement we were asking of her. She stared back with an oddly frightened expression while my own, no doubt, betrayed mounting exasperation.

Finally, shaking her head, the woman rose. I guided my mother into the window seat and turned to the woman with a nod of thanks, but she was pushing her way up the aisle. Apparently she had thought I was demanding that she vacate both seats. I tried to summon her back but the throng had already closed in behind her. Sighing, I plopped down in the aisle seat and put my arm around my mother’s shoulders.

***

There’s a memorable riff in John Derbyshire’s book We Are Doomed about a paper presented by the American sociologist Robert Putnam to a conference in Uppsala, Sweden in 2006. Putnam’s research revealed that, in Derbyshire’s words, “[i]n places with more ethnic diversity, people have fewer friends, watch more TV, are less inclined to vote, trust local government less, and rate their personal happiness lower”. As Putnam put it, they “hunker down…pull in like a turtle”.

Knowing that this would be unwelcome news to his audience of Swedish academics, Putnam did what he could to play down his results. Derbyshire writes:

[The] paper has a very curious structure. After a brief introduction (two pages), there are three main sections, headed as follows:

  • The Prospects and Benefits of Immigration and Ethnic Diversity (three pages)
  • Immigration and Diversity Foster Social Isolation (nineteen pages)
  • Becoming Comfortable with Diversity (seven pages)

I’ve had some mild amusement here at my desk trying to think up imaginary research papers similarly structured. One for publication in a health journal, perhaps, with three sections titled:

  • Health benefits of drinking green tea
  • Green tea causes intestinal cancer
  • Making the switch to green tea

Putnam’s efforts to soft-peddle his findings were a flop. Over a decade later, that “pull in like a turtle” line seems to pop up every other day on the right-wing internet: at the paleocon American Conservative, at the Trumpist Breitbart, at the neoreactionary Jacobite; not to mention deep down in the far-right message boards where the mean kids trade their frog memes. (No doubt Putnam resents it, but it’s not altogether crazy to label him “the alt-right’s favourite academic”.)

We Are Doomed (published in 2009) gives the general flavour of all this commentary:

The happy-talkers tell us that diversity is a boon, making our society stronger and better. Our own lying eyes tell us that it is the source of continual trouble: not merely the solitary “hunkering down” that Robert Putnam discovered, but rancor, disorder, litigation, and violence.

Putnam would disagree. But eight times in his Uppsala paper he refers to diversity as a “challenge” to be addressed “by creating a new, more capacious sense of ‘we'”, or by “redraw[ing] more inclusive lines of social identity”, or by “focus[ing] on the reconstruction of ethnic identities, reducing their social salience without eliminating their personal importance”. Sounds good…whatever it means. But Derbyshire zeroes in on what I think is the key point:

Oh, so it’s a challenge. Well, there’s no avoiding the challenge of diversity. It’s been with us from the start. … It is, though, hard to see why a sane people would be so intent on making the challenge bigger.

***

I was brought up in a smallish city, mostly monocultural, on the Canadian prairies. I moved to Vancouver because I prefer the climate, I enjoy the energy and anonymity of big city life, and I’m not bothered by the chattering of alien tongues. Actually I kind of like it. Noisy English-speakers in public places are a distraction – you can’t help overhearing them, making it difficult to concentrate on your crossword puzzle, your book, your thoughts. While Mandarin or Punjabi or Ukrainian is simply background noise, like the whoosh of traffic.

Still, nearly every week since moving here I’ve encountered some minor vexation stemming from linguistic and cultural confusion. I’ve learned unconsciously to speak a kind of simplified English when interacting with customer-service people. I use hand gestures a lot more than I used to. No doubt this comes across as “microaggressive” when, as often happens, a foreign-looking barista turns out to speak perfect English. I have a small but distinct feeling of relief when I visit a doctor, a dry cleaner, a tax preparer for the first time, and discover that they were raised anglophone. It means I can turn off my polite smile, unhobble my vocabulary, and use irony in the assurance that I won’t be misunderstood. No doubt a similar feeling of relief keeps immigrants returning to the comfort of their ethnic enclaves. Who can blame them? If I were part of a Canadian diaspora in Beijing or Bombay I’d probably spend most of my time in that city’s Little Toronto.

Most analysis of the downsides of diversity devolves into futile squabbles about lawbreaking foreigners and racist natives – Trumpian blither about illegal immigrant rapists and retaliatory blather about how only irredeemable Ku Kluxers would dare to notice the existence of illegal immigrant rapists. These ugly sinkholes in our multicultural harmony mark the hidden nodes of a vast network of tiny stress fractures deep beneath the surface. Individually the fractures aren’t overly alarming. They aren’t caused by ill will. They’re the natural outcome of groups of people with different interests and different assumptions rubbing against each other. Most of them are the product of simple communication failures – missed nuances, misread gestures, muffed jokes – and the friction will decrease as the next generation picks up English. Some of them, like the apparent Islamic antipathy to Enlightenment-derived laws protecting blasphemous speech, [1] may continue to cause tremors far into the future.

In any case it seems obvious that the more diversity you add, the more invisible fractures you get, the greater the likelihood of sudden collapses at points of particular stress. A society can tolerate a given number of fractures before the first big crack appears.

percent foreign born canada usa uk

Foreign-born population. (Click for sources and footnotes.)

The cracking point varies from one society to another. As shown above, Canada’s percentage of foreign-born residents is higher than America’s or Britain’s. Yet there’s little sign here of an incipient Trump- or Brexit-style backlash. Why?

Maybe the type of immigrants we bring in, generally middle-class and university-educated, assimilate more readily than the unskilled Latin Americans who have poured into U.S. border states, or the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who have established Muslim ghettos in some British cities.

Or maybe it’s the phase transition effect I advanced in the previous essay: although Canada’s percentage of immigrants is higher than in the U.S. or U.K., the outright number is lower, so there are fewer communities here where the immigrant population is large enough to coalesce into a monocultural ghetto.

But sometimes I fear Canadians’ famous diffidence and emotional reserve are causing us to repress thoughts that would be better expressed openly, and that the crack, when it comes, will be even more violent.

It would be nice if we could return to the level of civilized debate that existed in  my youth, when everyone accepted that immigration was a tap the government could turn either way, for any number of valid policy reasons – including, “old-timers seem to think there are too many funny accents around, maybe let’s ease up for a while”.

Instead, those old-timers are dismissed as bigots whose opinions shouldn’t count, and anyone with a more substantive argument has to waste half his column inches proving his anti-racist bona fides before he can get to the point. However thoughtful and fair-minded the immigration restrictionist pretends to be, the discerning progressive eye peers through the veil to the ugly, irrational fear lurking behind.

I’ll be upfront about it. I am afraid – afraid that we’re reducing the overall level of trust in our society, which depends on the ability of citizens to communicate in a common language. Afraid that we’re growing our cities at a reckless pace, driving up the cost of housing and paving over the surrounding open spaces. Afraid that we’re inviting the rise of an ethnic-based politics that will further fracture what was already an imperfectly unified confederation.

***

And so, we reach the end of my Immigration Heresies…and, I hope, the end of my commentary on the topic for a long, long time to come.

My preferred policy, as spelled out in the introduction to this series, would be for Canada to gradually reduce immigration to a level that would offset our below-replacement birthrate, while aiming for zero population growth overall. But I don’t feel strongly enough about it to make a nuisance of myself. I’m entering middle age; I don’t have kids; immigration is only one of dozens of issues that might affect my happiness in the few decades I have left; and it’s quite possible that all my misgivings are unwarranted, and the magic of diversity will only, as its promoters assure me, make my life more and more wonderful, until the day I keel over in a nursing home, cheerfully pondering my nurse’s Kyrgyzstani accent.

Since I don’t feel that strongly about it, and since there’s a real risk that publishing these essays will reduce my already tenuous employability, why not keep my trap shut?

Well, as I wrote in the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory, those of us in the mushy middle bear a unique and rather tiresome responsibility: it’s up to us to talk soothingly to the howling partisans on either side, to try to explain to them that their foes are not stupid, not insane, not bent on wrecking civilization, that in fact both sides share many of the same concerns; they just frame them differently.

Based on private comments they’ve let drop from time to time, I’m pretty sure that many of my progressive friends are far less gung-ho about our marvellous multicultural future than they’d be prepared to publicly admit.

This worries me. When widely held opinions [2] are excluded from public discussion, they’re forced deep, deep down into the subterranean realm of rumbles and creaks. We go merrily about our business, oblivious to what’s happening below…until the inevitable Trumpian earthquake occurs.

M.

1. “78% of [British] Muslims thought that the publishers of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed should be prosecuted, 68% thought those who insulted Islam should be prosecuted and 62% of people disagree that freedom of speech should be allowed even if it insults and offends religious groups.” — From a summary of a 2006 NOP / Channel 4 poll of British Muslims.

A 2016 Channel 4 / ICM Unlimited poll (page 612 of PDF) compares British Muslims with a “nationally representative sample of all GB adults”:

In your opinion, should any publication have the right to publish pictures of the Prophet?

Muslim % All British %
Yes 4 67
No 78 20
It depends on the nature of the pictures 12 9
Don’t know 5 4

And in your opinion, should any publication have the right to publish pictures which make fun of the Prophet?

Muslim % All British %
Yes 1 47
No 87 44
It depends on the nature of the pictures 8 7
Don’t know 4 3

Of course, the methodology of the above poll has been challenged.

2. According to this poll by the left-leaning Broadbent Institute, which was spun by its sponsors as proving that Canadians want their government to do more to resist President Trump:

  • 69% “strongly” or “somewhat” support stricter rules on immigration that would allow in fewer immigrants and emphasize proven job qualifications.
  • 67% “strongly” or “somewhat” support screening immigrants for Canadian values as a condition of entry.

In the last Conservative Party leadership race, candidate Kellie Leitch was treated by our pundits as some kind of moral leper for attempting to appeal to those two-thirds of Canadians – and as near as I can tell even she never actually advocated reducing overall immigration numbers.

(For what it’s worth, I wasn’t too keen on “Canadian values” screening myself, which in practice would just be a test of immigrants’ ability to memorize and recite the pieties mentioned on Kellie Leitch’s website: “the equality of men and women, freedom of religion, and equality of all under the law”.)

Way back in 2006 I fretted about the long-term consequences of low-birthrate liberalism and high-birthrate social conservativism. In 2012 I wondered what would happen when birthrates in the developing world plunged to the levels prevailing in the west. And in a 2016 post inspired by Huxley’s Brave New World I previewed my argument about immigration, assimilation, and social phase transitions.

Phase transitions.

Part III of The Immigration Heresies.

This was written sometime in mid-2016, then shelved. I’m publishing it now as part of my Decennial Fridge-Cleaning series.

It often helps me get started when I have someone else’s ideas to bounce off. By luck, this morning I plucked at random a book off my shelf that touches on a theme I’ve been struggling to define.

It was Lionel Trilling’s collection The Liberal Imagination. In an essay from 1947 entitled “Manners, Morals, and the Novel”, Trilling wonders why American novelists seem to “have a kind of resistance to looking closely at society” – by which he means the existence of social classes. He writes:

Consider that Henry James is, among a large part of our reading public, still held to be at fault for noticing society as much as he did. Consider the conversation that has, for some interesting reason, become a part of our literary folklore. Scott Fitzgerald said to Ernest Hemingway, “The very rich are different from us.” Hemingway replied, “Yes, they have more money.” I have seen the exchange quoted many times and always with the intention of suggesting that Fitzgerald was infatuated by wealth and had received a salutary rebuke from his democratic friend. But the truth is that after a certain point quantity of money does indeed change into quality of personality: in an important sense the very rich are different from us. So are the very powerful, the very gifted, the very poor. Fitzgerald was right…

Earlier American writers, says Trilling, had proposed explanations for this blind spot in the national literary imagination:

There is a famous page in James’s life of Hawthorne in which James enumerates the things which are lacking to give the American novel the thick social texture of the English novel – no state; barely a specific national name; no sovereign; no court; no aristocracy…

In consequence, these writers argued, American culture offered

no sufficiency of means for the display of a variety of manners, no opportunity for the novelist to do his job of searching out reality, not enough complication of appearance to make the job interesting. Another great American novelist of very different temperament had said much the same thing some decades before: James Fenimore Cooper found that American manners were too simple and dull to nourish the novelist.

Trilling observes however that

life in America has increasingly thickened since [Henry James’s time]. It has not, to be sure, thickened so much as to permit our undergraduates to understand the characters of Balzac, to understand, that is, life in a crowded country where the competitive pressures are great, forcing intense passions to express themselves fiercely and yet within the limitations set by a strong and complicated tradition of manners. Still, life here has become more complex and more pressing.

Seventy years on, America has become much more crowded, its competitive pressures greater, its social rules more complex, in a way that, if Trilling was right, should have led to an improvement in the quality of American literature. But would anyone say the American novel circa 2017 is in better shape than it was in Trilling’s time? I doubt it. But perhaps that’s because Americans’ creative energies have shifted to other media, with movies and TV shows jostling for room at the pinnacle of the culture where novels once lorded it alone.

***

But what interests me is the phase transition alluded to by Fitzgerald in his comment about the rich, and by Trilling when he contrasts the easy manners of 19th century New England with those in “a crowded country where the competitive pressures are great”, like France or England.

In chemistry, matter undergoes a phase transition when heat is added – ice turns to water, water turns to water vapour – and that just about exhausts my knowledge of chemistry. In the social realm, phase transitions are fuzzier and harder to define, but no less real and important.

If Fitzgerald was correct that the rich really are different from us, the phase transition might occur at the point one has accumulated enough wealth to no longer have to worry about money. This gives one a certain immunity to caring what the rest of us think. Society might still condemn your nonconforming behaviour, but there’s no risk of it getting you fired.

There must be a corresponding phase transition at the bottom of the economic scale, between those with barely anything – who are desperate to preserve what little they have – and those with nothing – who have no further reason to give a damn.

Another obvious social phase transition occurs when population is added. When two individuals are brought together, social interactions that were previously nonexistent suddenly become possible. When a third person is added, the possibility of allegiances is introduced – two of the three might team up against the third. Another phase transition occurs when the group grows large enough that comfortable face-to-face conversation is no longer possible, and it splits into subgroups.

At this point we’re moving beyond the size of a family unit or social gathering and into the realm of what we would call society. The next major limit is marked by Dunbar’s number, with a phase transition occurring when the population grows beyond the number of personal relationships that the human brain is capable of managing – 150 or so, according to Robin Dunbar.

To elaborate on my highly scientific analogy, just as the boiling and freezing point of water vary according to atmospheric pressure, social phase transitions are sensitive to other pressures besides simple population growth. For instance, the Malthusian limit – the point at which a society outstrips its available food supply – varies depending on location, climate, and level of technology. Given enough agricultural, transportational, and organizational know-how to keep its population fed, a society can go on cramming in people, probably not forever, but at least until some as-yet unencountered phase transition is reached – like the “behavioural sink” brought on by overcrowding that doomed the colonies in the NIMH mouse utopia experiments.

***

Imagine a newly-arrived immigrant family in a small town in the Canadian prairies circa 1910. Wishing to preserve their ancestral customs, whatever those customs might be – Ukrainian, German, Chinese, it doesn’t matter – they reach out to nearby families of the same background with whom they can gather on traditional holidays to chat in their native language, sing their native songs, share their native recipes. But those other families live a long, rattling buggy-ride away. Between holidays our newcomers eagerly scan the international news for rare mentions of their homeland. They wait weeks for replies to their letters home. Once in a while a parcel arrives with precious canned goods unavailable in Canada, wrapped in a weeks-old newspaper. They nurture a slim hope of someday saving enough to make a trip to their home country, knowing that in all likelihood they’ll never see it again.

At work, by necessity, they speak only English. Their children attend school and make friends with Canadian-born kids who are at best politely bemused by the newcomers’ quaint customs. Within a year or two the children, now speaking unaccented English, are mildly embarrassed by their parents’ devotion to the old ways. The children switch easily between English at school and their ancestral language at home, but as they reach adulthood and move out, marry native English-speakers, see their parents less often, their sense of ethnic identity fades. The next generation picks up from its grandparents only a few proverbial expressions and snippets of nursery songs.

Contrast a Chinese immigrant family arriving in Vancouver in the 2010s. They arrive in a metropolis where roughly a third of the population is ethnically Chinese. Very likely they settle in a neighbourhood where Chinese are an outright majority, where their children attend schools surrounded by fellow Chinese-speakers. The community supports multiple Chinese-language newspapers and radio stations. The more popular Chinese movies are playing at the local multiplex. Chinese TV shows can be streamed online. Not only canned goods but fresh fruits and vegetables from back home are available in most grocery stores. And if in spite of all this the new arrivals get homesick, for a few thousand dollars the whole family can take a week’s vacation in China.

Supporters of mass immigration point out that at various times in Canada’s history, the percentage of foreign-born residents has been as high or higher than it is at present. Those earlier immigrants integrated quickly enough, so why shouldn’t these?

foreign born canada 1871-2011

Source: Statistics Canada, 150 years of immigration in Canada.

But they’re overlooking the phase transition that separates a small, spread-out population from a large, densely-concentrated one. A minority of a hundred thousand people can support economic activities like newspapers, radio stations, and specialty grocery stores that a minority of a hundred can’t.

canada immigrants rural vs. urban 1921

Click image for data.

canada immigrants cities 2016

Click image for data.

And that’s not to mention changes in trade, travel, and technology that together have reduced the pressure to integrate.

I’m not overly gloomy on Canada’s prospects in the era of mass immigration. After all, I elected to leave my small city on the prairies and relocate to hyperdiverse Vancouver, and I like it here. But it’s a matter of taste. Native-born Canadians are as entitled as newcomers to be partial to the way of life they grew up with, and it’s not crazy of them to notice that that way of life is being displaced at an ever-increasing rate.

M.

PS. I previously used the above graphs in a post this summer about high housing prices in Vancouver.

The Nogoodnik Rule.

Part II of The Immigration Heresies.

This was begun in early 2016 and revised in mid 2017. I’m finally publishing it now as part of my Decennial Fridge-Cleaning series.

Let me tell you everything I know about two asylum claimants, “Carl” and “Veedu”. (Their stories are from a June, 2017 article by Nina Shapiro in the Seattle Times.)

Veedu and his family are from Pakistan. Veedu declines to explain why they fled their home country. They arrived in New York City on tourist visas and applied for asylum. It seems they were permitted to live freely in the city while their claim was adjudicated. Veedu says they’d still be in New York – pending the outcome of their asylum claim, presumably – if Hillary Clinton had won the last presidential election. But Donald Trump won instead. Sensing that the atmosphere had grown unwelcoming, Veedu and his family decided they’d have a better chance in Canada.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement between the U.S. and Canada, if Veedu and his family had attempted to claim asylum at a legal border crossing, they’d be turned away. However, due to a weird loophole, if they were already inside Canada when they made their claim, they’d be permitted to stay. So they flew to Seattle, asked a taxi driver to take them to Blaine, Washington, and walked across the unfenced border into British Columbia. Canadian border agents picked them up a few minutes later. They’re now living in Vancouver while their claim is decided.

Now here’s Carl. He’s a Kurd from northern Iraq, who had long felt oppressed in his homeland because he likes to drink alcohol and listen to music, activities frowned on by conservative Muslims. After working for an aid organization helping refugees from ISIS, Carl began receiving ominous texts calling him “an infidel, a spy, a tool of the Americans”. Feeling endangered, he finagled a tourist visa to visit a friend in Seattle – but he had no intention of hanging around there. Like Veedu, he’d heard that the Canadian border was an easy cab ride away. Unlike Veedu, when he arrived in Blaine he found himself unable to proceed. There was no physical barrier to stop him. He just couldn’t bring himself to cross. He’d never broken the law before. He took a taxi back to Seattle and filed an asylum claim with the United States.

I don’t know whether Veedu and Carl are legally entitled to receive asylum, let alone whether they “deserve” it. I don’t know whether they’d be genuinely threatened if they were returned to their home countries, or how likely they’ll be to obey the rules, to fit in, to prosper, if they are permitted to stay. I don’t have enough information – not nearly enough – to attempt to make judgements like that.

But there is one fundamental difference that emerges from these brief portraits. Veedu and his family were okay with violating the law to get to Canada. Carl wasn’t. On that basis, I’d prefer to have Carl.

But we got Veedu instead.

***

In my view, the purpose of immigration policy is straightforward.

    • Settle on the number you want to bring in.
    • Impose a screening process that will
      • Select applicants with desirable attributes, and
      • Reject those with undesirable attributes.

Of course, after you’ve settled on the number, you need to decide how much weight to give various positive qualifications like education, job background, language proficiency, and so on. Is an unmarried English-speaking college dropout tradesman more or less desirable than a married mining engineer with a shaky command of the language and four kids?

By contrast, while we might argue about the definition of “undesirable”, most people would at least agree on the necessity of screening known criminals out of our potential immigrant pool. There are always going to be borderline cases – criminals who have reformed, or those whose crimes were committed in protest against their repressive governments. But in general, the number of deserving non-criminal applicants is so great you can afford to err on the side of caution. There will be no difficulty filling your quota.

An immigration system functioning under the above rules should result in an immigrant population more productive, and more law-abiding, than the native-born population, because of what I’ll call the Nogoodnik Rule:

In the immigrant population, nogoodniks are screened out. Native-born nogoodniks you’re stuck with.

functioning immigrant selection system

This doesn’t mean immigration is an unqualified benefit to the host society. Apart from the occasional nogoodnik who sneaks through the screening system, there are hard-to-quantify social costs to linguistic confusion and cross-cultural misunderstanding. But so long as most immigrants are seen to be pulling their weight and playing by the rules, native-born citizens will pay those social costs with a minimum of grumbling.

But I’m proceeding on the assumption that the immigration system should prioritize the security and well-being of existing citizens. Open borders advocates reject this assumption. They say we coddled citizens of the west have done nothing, besides accidentally being born here, to deserve our good fortune, and we should grant the full rights of citizenship to anyone else who shows up.

As I said, I think this is a terrible idea. You’re asking citizens to forgo the right to determine the size and composition of the immigrant population, and to rule out known criminals and troublemakers.

Even so, an optimist might argue that immigrants under an open borders system should be no less productive, and no less law-abiding, than the native-born population.

This optimistic view assumes an identical distribution of productiveness and law-abidingness in the countries of origin and destination. It also assumes that immigrants constitute a purely random selection of the originating population. If nogoodniks are likelier than others to immigrate – say, in order to mooch more generous welfare benefits in the destination country – then the optimistic view falls apart. But who knows? Maybe those willing to immigrate are more hard-working, on average, than the destination population. Presumably you’d have to be fairly ambitious to go to the trouble of relocating.

In short, under open borders, citizens have no idea what kind of immigrants they’re going to get. But at least they can hope for the best.

What no-one in their right mind would ever suggest is a reverse selection system, one that actually favours criminality over law-abidingness. Or so you’d think. And yet that seems to be exactly the system that Angela Merkel imposed on Germany in 2015 in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Remember, Merkel never threw open the border with Syria, for the obvious reason that Germany doesn’t share a border with Syria. Those seeking asylum in Germany had to,

  1. Make it out of Syria alive,
  2. Survive a risky boat journey to the Greek islands, and
  3. Trek on foot halfway across Europe.

After all this, if they arrived safely, they were permitted to stay until their asylum claim was decided (rather than being shipped back to the country where they’d first entered the European Union, as the law had previously stipulated).

Now, as you’d expect given the physically demanding selection system she’d imposed, the resulting migrant population was overwhelmingly young, male, and single. In other words, right off the bat she had selected for a population more likely than the average to be criminally disposed.

Additionally, by announcing that Syrians would receive favoured treatment over equally desperate Iraqis, Afghanis, and others, Merkel created an incentive for unfavoured migrants to “lose” their documentation, or acquire fake documentation, and pass themselves off as Syrians. Anecdotally, this seems to have happened a lot. Willingness to fudge your citizenship is not in itself proof of antisocial tendencies, but it selects for those who are comfortable fibbing to authorities.

Most importantly, instead of merely presenting themselves at a controlled border crossing, migrants had to enter Europe by sea, which usually involved paying human smugglers for a nighttime boat ride from the coast of Turkey to one of the nearby Greek islands. Again, seeking out and haggling with smugglers is the kind of requirement that tends to put off the law-abiding while doing nothing to discourage rulebreakers.

reverse immigrant selection system

I don’t mean to imply that most or even many of the migrants are criminals. In any large population a tiny minority are habitual nogoodniks. How tiny a minority? It’s hard to say.

To use my home country as an example, at any given time about 125,000 people, or 0.35% of all Canadians, are either in jail or on probation. But obviously there are other nogoodniks out there, or else the crime rate would be zero. 0.35% is much too low. [1]

In 2008, the Toronto Star reported that “more than 2.9 million people” had records in CPIC, Canada’s national crime database. Half a million of them had never been convicted of anything. That leaves 2.4 million convicted criminals – 7.2% of Canada’s population at the time – but a fair chunk of those records must refer to one-time, forgivable idiocies like DUIs and barroom scuffles. 7.2% seems way too high.

I’ll take a wild guess that our real nogoodnik rate is only one or two percent – higher among men, higher still among unmarried young men. These are the 1-2% of Canadians whom, if they were trying to immigrate here, we would unhesitatingly reject.

But Merkel invited in a million or so migrants. Assuming the Middle East’s nogoodnik rate is comparable to Canada’s, a purely random selection of a million Middle Easterners could be expected to include ten or twenty thousand criminal types.

That’s bad enough. But Merkel actually designed a system that favoured those most comfortable skirting the law.

So it’s no wonder her countrymen are bucking. Media figures have reported worriedly on the rise of anti-immigration sentiment in Germany. In 2016 the centrist foreign affairs columnist Matthew Fisher had an article on “The Face of the Far Right” in Canada’s National Post. He spoke with Tatjana Festerling, unsuccessful Dresden mayoral candidate and the “darling” of a new party called Pegida, or “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West”. Fisher wrote:

Surprisingly, Festerling regards Canada’s points-based immigration system as a model.

“What we need,” she says, “are Canada’s immigration rules.”

“I see Toronto as a wonderful melting pot. You are a Canadian, no matter where you are from. You have put the barriers to getting in so high for immigrants and you have kept them there. There is a sense of freedom and respect for yourselves that does not exist here.”

This shouldn’t be that surprising. If mainstream parties abandon commonsense policies, people who support those policies have no-one to vote for except extremists. If the darling of Germany’s “far right” looks to Canada’s fairly moderate immigration rules as an improvement, maybe the designation “far right”, in an international context, is not actually all that useful.

I’m too far removed from the scene to say whether there’s any real danger in movements like Pegida. I will observe that you don’t need to be on the far right to be appalled by Angela Merkel’s decision to impose, without democratic debate or any apparent foresight, the flat-out dumbest immigrant selection system ever conceived.

M.

1. It was while researching prison statistics for this post back in 2017 that I realized I was suffering, as we all do, from Gell-Mann Amnesia.

Selective indignation.

Part I of The Immigration Heresies.

This was written in September 2018, then put on ice. I’m posting it now as part of my Decennial Fridge-Cleaning series.

Let me start with what I think will be an uncontroversial statement: I hate cigarettes.

When I was a kid my dad would send me to the corner store to pick up his smokes. Back then a sixth grader could ask for two packs of Number 7 Reds and the clerk would hand them over, no problemo. I must’ve burned out a couple million alveoli hanging around my dad for the first fourteen years of my life; not to mention all the restaurants, buses, and malls where I was obliged to bathe in strangers’ fumes. I hated the reek of the stuff then and I hate it now.

Being a premature old man, nearly every day I walk to one of a few nearby coffee shops to read the paper and do the crossword. I like to sit outside – but smoking is still permitted on some patios, and even where it’s not, the prohibition is rarely enforced. So I have to pay careful attention before I take a seat. Even if the folks at the next table aren’t smoking, are there clues I can use to predict whether they might light up?

Are they male or female? Young or old? Proles, hipsters, or yuppies? And perhaps the most reliable clue of all – foreign or Canadian-born?

In my neighbourhood the main immigrant groups are Ukrainians, Chinese, and Middle Easterners. In my experience, roughly 100% of Ukrainian men smoke. Chinese and Middle Eastern men smoke a little less, but still at a rate far higher than among the Canadian-born.

My observations are backed up by the data. Here’s Wikipedia’s world map, based on a 2008 World Health Organization report, showing male smoking rates by country:

male smoking rate by country 2008

Source: Wikipedia

(Female tobacco use is much lower – Chinese and Middle Eastern women barely smoke at all, but Ukrainian women still smoke at a higher rate than Canadians.)

Considering that the rate for Canada includes all those chain-smoking immigrants, and that the foreign-born make up over 20% of the population, the smoking rate for native-born Canadians must be lower even than that map indicates.

Suppose I were a single-issue voter dedicated to putting an end to smoking in Canada. A good way to do it would be to reduce the number of immigrants from Ukraine and China, and replace them with immigrants from Ethiopia and Sweden.

Which brings me to Maxime Bernier.

Under Canada’s last Conservative government, Bernier was for a time Minister for Foreign Affairs. He lost that role due to a dumb screw-up, served a stint in the backbenches, ran last year for the vacant Conservative leadership, lost by a hair, and made little attempt afterward to mask his disgust at the new leader’s ideological waywardness.

A while back, Bernier published on Twitter a few lines critiquing Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government’s “cult of diversity”. I thought that, adjusting for Twitter’s standards of argumentation, his comments were pretty reasonable. But the reference to the cult of diversity predictably enraged disciples of the cult, one of whose tenets is that it is not a mere opinion but a scientifically established fact that Diversity Is Good. Bernier was denounced by all right-thinking Canadians; his party was half-hearted, at best, in his defense; shortly afterward, the heretic announced that he was abandoning the Conservatives to launch a new, more principled right-wing party, with himself as leader. We’ll see how that goes.

The day before the big launch, National Post columnist John Ivison nitpicked Bernier’s foray into the “murky topic” of multiculturalism:

But when I suggested his references to “diversity” led many people to assume he is referring to people of colour, his denial ends up sounding like an affirmation.

“They are misinterpreting what I am saying. When I talk about diversity, I am talking about diversity of opinion, diversity of values, diversity of what you believe,” he said. “I’ll give you an example, if you have two people coming to Canada and one of them wants to kill Jewish people and the other one doesn’t, are we better to have two people who believe in different things or two people coming to Canada who don’t want to kill Jewish people?”

A charitable interpretation is that Bernier is musing aloud, that he hasn’t really thought it through and the example quoted came to him in the moment.

Since Ivison doesn’t bother to explain what the uncharitable interpretation would be, we must work it out for ourselves: I think Ivison means that when Bernier refers to people who “want to kill Jewish people” he’s really talking about Muslims, who by the Rules of Diversity are counted as “people of colour”, and that therefore Bernier’s explicitly anti-racist comment is actually racist.

But the uncharitable interpretation of Ivison’s interpretation is that Ivison thinks, in glaring opposition to reality, that A) there are no prospective immigrants who want to kill Jews, or that B) the occasional immigrant who might want to kill a few Jews isn’t that big a deal, really, when balanced against the sacred value of Diversity.

Let’s run with Bernier’s example, but maybe dial down the heat level a bit. Suppose I were a single-issue voter dedicated to putting an end to anti-Semitism in Canada. I’d probably be very attentive to what kind of people – male or female, young or old, prole or yuppie, foreign or native-born – were likelier to express anti-Semitic beliefs. I might look online to see if any research had been done to confirm my observations:

anti-defamation league global 100 results 2014

Percentage “harboring anti-Semitic attitudes”.
From the Anti-Defamation League’s Global 100 survey, 2014. [1]
Image source: Reddit

 …But I’m pretty sure all right-thinking Canadians would condemn me for thinking that, you know, there are a lot of people all over the world who’d like to immigrate to Canada, and maybe instead of trying to collect one of each type in order to maximize our Diversity, we should pick the ones who are likeliest to get along with the ones already here.

***

A few months back a suspect was arrested in the murder of a 13-year-old girl whose body was found in Burnaby’s Central Park last summer.

Since this is a park I regularly stroll through, and since I have a close female friend who at the time lived in the neighbourhood, and since the lack of specifics about the how-and-why of the murder gave rein to the community’s darkest imaginings, I had naturally been anxious that the killer be caught.

He hasn’t been convicted, so I’ll leave out his name. But the suspect is a 28-year-old Syrian refugee who arrived in Canada shortly before the murder.

As always when an immigrant is accused of a crime, there was a panic within the Cult of Diversity that unbelievers would seize on the incident to cast doubt on the tenets of the faith. Sure enough, a crowd of protesters gathered outside the courthouse on the day the suspect made his first appearance, waving signs attacking Justin Trudeau’s immigration policies.

Angry rednecks? Torch-wielding alt-righters? No; judging by appearances, and by the language on their signs, most of the protesters were Chinese immigrants – as were, I should mention, the family of the young victim. [2]

protester marrisa shen murder trial

Image source: Global News

Local English-language reporters didn’t seem all that interested in trying to figure out what these immigrants’ beef with the immigration system might be. My crazy guess? They were miffed that while their families had had to jump through many hoops to prove their worthiness to enter one of the world’s most peaceable countries, refugees from the world’s most violent countries had been waved in with the scantiest of vetting.

In an article shortly after the suspect’s arrest, local professor of criminology Neil Boyd was quoted:

We can’t predict with unfailing accuracy who will or will not commit crime, all we can say about immigration is that people who come to Canada as immigrants have lower crime rates than native-born Canadians.

I’d read this a thousand times before – every time an immigrant commits a high-profile crime, I’d wager – but it had never occurred to me to wonder: how does the Cult of Diversity explain this bizarre fact? Do they ever question why native-born Canadians commit more crimes than immigrants?

The racist explanation would be that Canadians are hereditarily predisposed to criminality. Perhaps on average we are born with lower intelligence, poorer impulse control, or greater aggressive tendencies than non-Canadians.

I personally find that unlikely, and I’m sure that the Cult of Diversity would reject the notion with an elaborate show of disgust. They’d say that criminality has nothing whatever to do with one’s genes, but is caused solely by social factors: poverty, lack of education, exposure to violence, and so forth.

Therefore if native-born Canadians are more crime-prone than immigrants, it must be because we were brought up amid greater chaos and poverty. Right? We lawless urchins of the tundra, who grew up scratching a living among the suburban slums of Brampton and Burnaby, understandably exhibit less self-discipline than immigrants raised amid the placid prosperity of Port-au-Prince, Lugansk, and Baghdad.

Yet somehow that explanation too seems a little off.

Might there be some other reason for immigrants’ lower crime rates?

Maybe something to do with the stringent immigrant selection process which those Chinese-born protesters went through, and which many of our more recent newcomers bypassed?

***

At this point my argument would seem to require that I post a third global map, this one depicting national crime rates, to illustrate that Canada is in fact much more law-abiding than most of the countries from which our immigrants hail. But I’m not sure such a map exists, or at least one I’d be willing to put my trust in.

As criminologist Neil Boyd could tell you, we can’t measure the crime rate directly; all we can do is infer it from arrests, police reports, and crime victim surveys. Many, perhaps most crimes go undetected. What’s more, the definition of crime varies from country to country, and from year to year: marijuana was recently made legal in Canada, and a large number of technical criminals ceased to be criminals overnight.

Criminality is determined not just by the law, but by the social environment. While many foreigners will go on objecting to dope-smoking whatever Canada’s laws might say, those same foreigners will shrug at practices we consider antisocial: a Nigerian businessman might consider it perfectly harmless to bribe a government official, because that’s just how things are done in his country; likewise, a Ukrainian might feel no compunction about blowing smoke in a stranger’s face, or a Pakistani about broadcasting his dislike of Jews. In Canada, as immigrants discover, these practices are frowned on; though the more time they spend in neighbourhoods full of fellow Nigerians or Ukrainians or Pakistanis, the longer it will take for alien habits to die.

Now, I dislike crime even more than I dislike smoking and anti-Semitism. But I’m not a single-issue voter: I recognize that when devising an immigration policy there are a ton of factors to consider.

For instance, it’s widely believed by economists that without a steady inflow of new workers to step in for the baby boomers as they begin keeling over, our economy will collapse. I’m a bit skeptical of this assertion, but it should definitely be taken into account.

Compassion also needs to be weighed in: are we willing to stand by while people are murdered, tortured, and starved by their brutal or incompetent governments, when we can rescue them at minimal inconvenience to ourselves? How many are we willing to rescue, and at how much inconvenience? And is “make your own way here and maybe we’ll give you asylum” really the smartest way to go about it?

Even the most rabid xenophobes will concede that diversity has its upsides – that it’s nice to have a choice of cuisine besides burgers and fish-and-chips, for instance. And even the most starry-eyed supporters of mass immigration must occasionally become frustrated when trying to explain their needs to civil servants and customer service reps whose English language proficiency is around the level of Tarzan’s.

Balancing upsides and downsides: that’s the basic task of democracy. Or you can join the Cult of Diversity and save yourself the trouble of thinking about it.

M.

1. Regarding that global anti-Semitism map: I have some strong reservations about the ADL’s methodology and conclusions. Still, their Global 100 studies do provide a useful way to compare countries’ attitudes toward Jews.

2. The young victim’s name was Marrisa Shen. I recently was puzzled by a prominent graffiti on the side of a hand dryer in a public washroom: “TRUDEAU POLICY RESPONSIBLE FOR MARRISASHEN”. I wondered what word the illiterate vandal had been trying to spell: Marrisation? What on earth could that mean? It was the cloud of replies surrounding the original graffiti, accusing the first vandal of racism and declaring “HATE NOT WELCOME HERE”, that finally clued me in.

The immigration heresies.

I. Selective indignation.
II. The Nogoodnik Rule.
III. Phase transitions.
IV. Managing diversity.

These four essays, all on the topic of immigration, were written at intervals over the last three years. I’m finally posting them as part of my Decennial Fridge-Cleaning series.

It would annoy me if readers came away with the impression that I’m opposed to immigration, let alone (as the media will lazily slur anyone who expresses reservations about the subject) “anti-immigrant”.

As I see it, I’m pro-immigrant: I want immigrants to do well. My fear is that struggling newcomers will coalesce into a resentful ethnic underclass – as seems to be happening in parts of Western Europe. The way to avoid this is to select the applicants who are likeliest to thrive, and to give them, once they’re here, every opportunity to do so.

Taking in any and all who wish to come, however downtrodden and ill-educated, may lead to feelings of universal brotherhood and plaudits from the Toronto Star editorial board, but such newcomers are more likely to struggle – and their descendants to wonder why they and all their relatives have incomes below the Canadian median.

I try as a rule to avoid stridency in my writing, but let me give vent to my exasperation for a moment. Here in the west, a couple generations back, we discovered the exception to what Robert A. Heinlein in 1950 described as “the basic theorom of population mathematics”:

Life is not merely persistent … life is explosive. The basic theorem of population mathematics to which there has never been found an exception is that population increases always, not merely up to the extent of the food supply, but beyond it, to the minimum diet that will sustain life — the ragged edge of starvation.

Happily, that turned out not to be true: in advanced human societies the combination of birth control and female emancipation will not only arrest population growth, but actually reverse it. What luck! It turns out we have the flexibility to undo some of the more damaging decisions made by our ancestors as they rushed pell-mell to clear space for the apparently unstoppable surge of civilization. Forests clear-cut, wild prairies tamed and fenced, wildlife driven into preserves, urban streams buried in metal pipes: a shrinking population leaves room for us to rethink these short-sighted actions – not only for the good of wolves and bison and migrating salmon, but for the good of our children and grandchildren, who can enjoy living in proximity to the natural world that, with the best of intentions, we and our parents mutilated. This needn’t mean everyone retiring to thatched-roofed huts and hoeing their gardens by hand. It might mean fewer, bigger, denser cities, with clusters of high-rises overlooking newly-replanted forests where subdivisions once sprawled.

Admittedly we have the short-term problem of funding a comfortable retirement for the baby boomers. But once that demographic lump has passed through, it should be possible to run a productive economy with a stable or gradually decreasing population, kept in balance by modest, selective immigration from the parts of the world that haven’t yet stepped off the Malthusian treadmill.

It’s true that it would be more profitable to go on basing our economy on cheap labour and galloping population growth. It may even be true that my idyllic vision of the future is unachievable, and that the only route to sustainability requires mass immigration for the foreseeable future. For many people, the fact that free market eggheads and social justice mushheads fall back on the same open-borders gospel proves the gospel must be true: for cynics like me, the question is which side has co-opted which.

Maybe I’m wrong. It’s not that I think that mine is the only acceptable vision for Canada’s future. It’s just that I resent like hell being dismissed as a Nazi for holding it.

M.


Michael A. Charles is a writer, animator, and musician currently living in the Vancouver area. He used to be the singer and guitarist for the band known as Sea Water Bliss.

You can find a selection of his cartoons, music videos, and ads on the Gallery page.

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