17 February 2011

The Myth of the 'Other'

Self-portrait in a bus 2
Me as the 'other'

Here’s an idea. You know the single men in the nightlife having fun? I don’t want to generalise – it’s the root of all misunderstanding – but it has happened occasionally that the objective at the end of the whole bother has been the hope of finding someone to go home with. It’s not really a beautiful story; I never claimed that it was, but bear with me for the sake of the analogy.

Sometimes the objectives of these soldiers of evolutionary urge to protect the future of the species are met and other times not. Some individuals have better ‘success’ rate, but that tells nothing about them as people except that they have a better ‘skill’ to get what they’re after. Neither does failing to meet the objective; it is not an indication of not having tried your hardest. It doesn’t mean that those individuals have hit the club categorically refusing any opportunity for tender or cynical love.

You’d be delusional to think that way wouldn’t you. And this by the way is no finger pointing or judging. Our species depends on the urge behind these theatrics. Essentially this is our survival.

But why am I talking about this?

Because to say that people coming to our European societies from elsewhere don’t want to work is like saying that the menfolk in the night don’t want to get laid. They very much do, but aren’t always successful.

Both of these examples are matters or survival, only on very different levels and in both cases sometimes the desired best case scenario goal is not met and then, the individual in question must make peace with something less flattering. Less flattering in a sense of their personal preference – there aren’t any universal standards. And having talked about groups of people in very generalising ways, there is no categorically uniform way for any group to be, so the premise of generalising is always misleading. I am not referring to any one person – only occurrences that are very real and the hypocrisy around understanding, but more often not understanding them.

So it is for these reasons, if once more I hear one of these ‘immigration sceptics’ talk about ‘work based immigration’ as opposed to some kind of ‘social welfare free ride immigration’ I will… well, better not to promise to do anything particularly demanding because I will definitely hear this at least five more times before the lunch.

There are many kinds of people hoping to relocate - I have relocated previously to Ireland, UK, South Africa and Sweden. I have spent enough time in a few other countries to have to become part of their society, but never once have I been called immigrant. So one disclaimer: I do use the word immigrant here with unease as it, as a brand, has been effortfully dragged in the mud and given ethnic definitions; this actually is a topic on its own right, but let it be noted that I am not happy with that word and use it for the lack of a better one that would be widely understood – should I come up with a neologism I confused the matter even further. And there certainly are many stories people have and my attempt is not, not to understand them, but exploring them isn’t my focus either. Not at least this time around.

Fear of the ‘other’ is nothing new. The term other, as I use it here, originates from early anthropology of colonialist – their attempt to understand the ways of other cultures. This attempt looks certainly offensive and pathetic in retrospect – the starting point, to describe it politely, was very presumptuous. It was part of the start for something very toxic in our world, but nonetheless it was perfectly in line with the zeitgeist. We’d hate to admit this, but it’s not so far from the general mood of our own time either. There has always been a need to look down and find someone there. Whether we are holding a musket or a smart phone in our hands while doing it, is just a matter of insignificant detail.

My question is essentially why are we so scared? Is this some deep-rooted evolutionary insecurity that whatever we are won’t survive what the others are?

To break a few myths here are some thoughts.

It’s not easy to abuse the system. It’s not necessarily easy to even benefit a bit from it.

Who are these system abusers anyway? Has someone seen some evidence or is it all based on some story that a guy with a bomber jacket and shaven head had heard from some source that he claims was reliable? Please email me with ways for so called immigrants to abuse the system, because as a husband of someone who isn’t a citizen of the country we live in I am baffled that such idea is even presented. It’s not easy, if even possible.

Being unemployed or even underemployed is no fun. Generally speaking people want to work and have an income, because not having one makes life difficult. Using the logic that all immigrants without a job are not willing to work – and this is very popular unquestioned generalisation – is like assuming the same of all unemployed locals. Except the people from outside generally have their qualifications nullified one way or another and a foreign doctor may not be able to get even a cleaner’s job because of not speaking the local language. Yet.

It’s in the best interest for a person to speak the local language, because life can be frustratingly difficult to the ones who don’t. Only, learning a language doesn’t happen overnight.

People, especially with time are very likely to adapt the ways of their new habitat. There won’t be much of a threat that the new Europeans will force us all to adapt their cultural ways. No one is going to force you. I guess we Europeans are so scared because we have a history of changing the societies completely especially in North America and Australia, but also in parts of Africa and South America. Well, the immigrants are not coming here to do the same. They are not coming with their armies and flags.

Islam is not really a threat in Europe. Many disagree with this and manifest it with exaggerated if only verbal hostility. And then there are few who need fists and knives to express their emotions. Then others rather patronisingly feel that in the name of tolerance – what a terrible term – they must automatically approve everything anyone may want to do. That causes a problem with the formerly mentioned group and this conflict, together with years of negative PR by media contributes to the problem which for the most part is a problem because it has been so completely blown out of proportion.

Well, of course there are some problems. To be honest, there have been incidents of violence by Moslems, but there have also been incidents by people of other faiths. As someone who doesn’t subscribe to any of the religions, I am feeling less threatened I guess, but let’s just say that the North American immigration debate has found many equally threatening things about Mexicans who aren’t Moslems so this really seems like a case of ‘there’s always something to worry about.’ Perhaps it just reminds the Europeans on their largely lost faith; something that not all have yet made peace with. The new European Christians are often also immigrants and they are not all that much more welcome either.

So let’s stop being so scared that it tempers with our critical faculty. Conversation is good, but from now on I have no time for the quasi-science and conveniently selective interpretation of studies by the people who feel threatened and take it out on the ‘other’. Because difference is different – not wrong. And that is alright. And immigration sceptics aren’t all uniform either. They are a diverse group I am sure. So are the ones opposing them just like the immigrants are. Generalisation works best in making flawed narrow misleading points and in setting up of apartheid-esque systems.

The criticism here is not on the debates about policies, but the bigots hiding behind them. Many societies have very dysfunctional immigration laws and integration systems (through the experiences of my wife I’ve witnessed one). My criticism is on fear-mongerers who debate on an arrogantly uninformed level of directly translating emotion into a supposedly rational argument. They plant the seed of doubt in the mind of the rest of us. What if? What if they are right? Perhaps I am still better off not taking a risk and hiring an immigrant. But if you want integration to happen you have to be part of it; not necessarily actively as long as you’re not actively sabotaging it either, and if you want it not to happen, and you want your country to opportunistically not participate in this segment of the globalisation then you must be realistic, say it and take the responsibility of it. Not just offer never ending problems and refusing the solutions.

No comments: