Showing posts with label USA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label USA. Show all posts

A Europe in Whose Image?

Over at New Statesman, Prof. Brendan Simms presented and extended a review of the 'European problem' in July.

The two essays together trace a fascinating arc of the relevant history and make for necessary reading. It was amusing though to see USA and UK painted as more perfect unions than the EU, not to mention sort of disinterested bystanders in the European project. (In the case of UK, a particularly prescient bystander, quietly shaking her bowed head just outside the ring. In the first article, he upholds a case of British exceptionalism not dissimilar to one that he singles out France to be chided for in the second.)

Characterizing the British and American unions as exemplary is particularly curious in 2015. Federal-state friction in the US has crippled policy areas from healthcare and immigration to marriage and gun laws. Since the last general elections in the UK, meanwhile, Scots have one foot out the door with all the new MPs taking every opportunity to dole out statistics as to how well they'd do on their own. Sure, Europe has dug for itself a unique fiscal-monetary predicament, but judging on solidarity alone, judging on what eventually happens every time the union is threatened, I'd give the EU a soild 8/10, the UK, a 6.2. And the US? Ask me again in 2017.

I agree, of course, with the main thrust of both articles.

To Arrive Where We Started

Man moves. Without migration, the history of mankind would have been a blip in the Pleistocene epoch, and the epoch would not have that name. And yet, once we settled, subsequent migration has always brought conflict in its wake. Once a people get attached to a piece of land, they take to seeing all who arrive after them as usurpers. The attitude is familiar to anyone who has as a child fought over a trifle - invariably one side cites the fact that they found or used it first as a pre-emptive trump.

It is not saying anything new to remark that in post-millennium political landscapes in all parts of the world, political constituencies thrive on taking and propagating that myopic view of migration and immigrants. In some cases though, the pairing of the complaining destination population and the group of hopeful new arrivals is pregnant with irony.

Inspecting immigrants entering America

circa nineteenth century,
Source:The Wellcome Library via Europeana
Creative Commons License
...and in the twentieth.
Source: U.S. National Archives via Europeana

Germany, just as other countries in Western and Northern Europe continues to see polarising discourse on immigration, assimilation, integration, ‘multiculturism’ and other sundry ‘-tions’ and ‘-isms’. Not everyone uses so many words, but the conflicting sides each stem from set worldviews concerning expectations, responsibilities, prejudice, promises, roles, culture and every such thing.

The debate descends into a chicken-and-egg stalemate. In the case of Germany and Turkey though, to speak to those who know only the language of who-saw-it-first, one only need look further back in time to stumble across shudder-inducing irony. Overwhelming DNA evidence is now confirming a picture of early migration in the region. All indications are, that not only are a majority of modern Europeans descended from a wave of new arrivals (c. 7000 years ago) from Anatolia who dominated the earlier indigenous population, those arrivals also brought with them the knowledge of farming. Listen to the narrative as told with a view of current borders: agriculture came to Germany with Turkish immigrants, who then settled there and replaced much of the then hunting-gathering population of Germany.

Wildebeest Migration
The Face of (Wildebeest) Migration (in Profile)
Photo by Ganesh Raghunathan, under Creative Commons Licence via Flickr

Another face-scratchingly gigantic irony lurks in the fears that Chinese immigrants uniquely inspire in the West. When I read of the widespread notion that the China’s rapid progress is built on top of technological secrets stolen from university research labs and replicated back home, I sigh. The concerned suspicion not only extends to tuition-paying students that universities need, but transfuses prejudice to much larger contexts. Consider this from an article in Foreign Policy: “The Chinese are still busy copying technologies we built over the past few decades. They haven't cracked the nut on how to innovate yet.” The language that another commentator uses in the Business Insider to counter that view is, if anything, even more telling: “Does anyone in their right mind think the Chinese people are any different than the Japanese or any other human society? Don’t worry. The Chinese will ‘crack the nut’ too.” Future tense.

I sigh because I seem the only one to remember from primary school when I was taught a long list of inventions that took longer to make their way from the Chinese heartland to the rest of the world which then marvelled at how they ever managed without those gadgets for centuries. I am weaker than the temptation to reproduce the list in part. The enterprising folk invented: the flush-toilet, porridge, printing, brandy, bells, whiskey, wheelbarrows, kites, compasses, crossbows, calendars, oil drilling, fishing rod, whips, helicopters, mechanical clocks, hot air balloons, parachutes, the iron plough, relief maps, suspension bridges, umbrellas, water pumps, seismographs, and arguably many more such besides the more commonly known silk, paper, abacus, gunpowder/fireworks/matches and, of course, china (ceramics). Talk about freeloading, violating patents and piggy-backing your technological revolutions in the distant wake of pioneers!
Ming dynasty mariner's compass
Diagram of a Ming dynasty mariner's compass
via Wikimedia Commons

Yes, property rights were codified much later and intellectual property recognised as such relatively recently, but that does not detract from the fact that the timing was more convenient for some regions than others. The concept of stealing has been doubtless known to mankind ever since we fought over scarce meat that a few had hunted for many. Any ancient society could have prevented the stealth of ideas - penalties were much more deterring back then. That it did not occur to them is a sign of virtue. Imagine trying to assess today the benefits of learning of farming or paper just a bit earlier from a foreign visitor.

1562 Map of America ("Hold that compass still!")
via Library of Congress

Patterns of migration often show complex interdependencies and cross-flux of values, with the new arrivals sometimes bringing in priceless wealth of knowledge and ideas that may help the receiving population leap-frog great strides on the path of human progress. Irony aside, the moral is that migration, much like travel, is good for innovation and progress. People meeting new people is like fertility treatment for the birth of ideas. Peace-time movement is rarely the same as a horde of have-nots invading upon a group of gullible haves, sneaky alien parasites leeching off every last drop of the bounty that attracted them. If we must look to population interaction in nature rather than history to shape our expectations for human societies, parasitism is a curious pick from a whole continuum of cases. Symbiotic organisms depend on the mutual benefits and often co-evolve into fitter forms. Many parasites do the host no discernible harm. Think of your school days when the word 'bacteria' put you in mind of fearsome disease-inducing pathogens. Whereas we now know that human physiology would be inconceivable without the trillion bacteria we host. Imagine a bag of skin that carries far more bacterial DNA than the human kind viewing an approaching bacterial colony with prejudiced suspicion.

Children and School: A Snapshot on 3 April

Threading four news items reported this morning:

A bunch of children shown climbing a tall ladder in news videos inspire everyone the world over. That they brave near-vertical cliffs for school is a popular meme on twitter today. The BBC reporter inevitably draws a link to China’s rapid development having eluded the region. Is it easy or necessary though to constantly judge one region’s conditions compared with another's? It is hard to ignore the pristine cloud forests in the backdrop there (Sangzi, Hunan). Roads destroy and divide habitats such as that. Unless she has severe acrophobia, would the child necessarily be better off caught in the midst of a school traffic phenomenon so severe it has its own Wikipedia entry? With all our common knowledge of the advantages of modernised urban life, can we also acknowledge and not dismiss the perks of an active life in wild surroundings?
Portrait of Haitian Girl Western Sahara - Refugees
A child in Port-au-Prince, in Dakhla,
Speaking of comparisons between Chinese and American schoolchildren, an interesting account of what happens when immigration eventually does pit them together: something about the success of tuition classes aimed at local students in Chinatown is now attracting non-Chinese students from all over New York City. Not that proximity matters today. Even when they remain separated across the pacific, comparisons with their Chinese counterparts appears to be high on the policy agenda in the US.

Afghanistan Faces of Tsunami Disaster
in Mazar-i-Sharif, and in Mulliyavalai. Photos courtesy United Nations, via Flickr, licensed under a Creative Commons License
Whether you face a difficult trek to school and happen to get low grades, or face perilous traffic conditions and yet consistently top the class, surely what matters most is that you are cared for and you have a school that you are motivated enough to go to every day. That you were not abandoned either by those that nature entrusted with your care or those that society elected to be responsible, as continues to happen to far too many children in almost all parts of the world.