Immigration, identity and Brexit

Why is the immigration issue at the heart of many a Brexiteer? In a recent conversation I was engaged in, it was pointed out that a stable society has a common culture, and that culture is not the same as race. For example, we have a British culture that includes people of many different races and creeds, as seen in the Vote Leave camp which include amongst others, Muslims for Britain and a LGTB group Out and Proud. Interestingly, a lot of the earlier immigrant population of Africans, Caribbeans and Asians tend to support Brexit as well, as I’ve heard from a few different sources. The common thread is a shared British cultural identity. What has cultural identity got to do with Brexit?

Wanting to control the flow of immigration is not racist nor anti-other-people, it’s a sentiment that arises trying to protect one’s identity from cultural erosion. When an immigrant population drastically changes a culture that you identify with, immigration can feel like a personal threat to one’s identity.

Everybody associates with one cultural identity or another.
For Brexiters, this identity is linked to a solid past. How about you? Do you identify with your family from whence you came, your land where you grew up, your language, your history, the entertainment that made you and your friends laugh? If so, then you may want to conserve and protect these aspects of your culture. In which case getting out of the EU is a good idea, because we want certain things to stay the same, i.e., we want control over immigration so as to protect the culture that we identify with. (Addendum: The EU has also undermined a deep rooted English culture of jury trial, Habeas Corpus, and industrial pioneering that is only possible in a free market capitalism. Some things are worth conserving.)
On the other hand, if you identify with an idealistic future of a new world order where everybody in the world is equal and the government provides you with the essentials of life, then the EU probably sounds like a step in the right direction.

Some would say that it is part of British culture to accept immigrants, and that cultures evolve, which is true. In the past, and also currently, immigrants assimilated, and together with the local population, developed a new identity called British. It takes time and will of all parties. But the current open-border immigration is a different matter. When discussing immigration, we must talk about numbers and time frame, to properly understand the situation. My husband explained it like this: Immigration is like rain; when the fields are dry and the crops are wilting, you want it to rain. But when the fields are flooded and the sheep are drowning, the last thing you want is any more rain. So with immigration, a culture can absorb moderate numbers of immigrants at a time, but not large numbers all at once, otherwise the culture, hence society, becomes very unstable.

The Brexit campaign is said to be so much more energized than the Remain campaign (even when Remain has more than twice the funding of Leave). I think this is because the influx of immigration in the last fifteen years has forced us to reflect on our own identities, and have awakened our primal instincts to fight back what feels like a threat to our own identities.

  11 comments for “Immigration, identity and Brexit

  1. Nico Metten
    Jun 15, 2016 at 8:37 am

    “Wanting to control the flow of immigration is not racist nor anti-other-people, it’s a sentiment that arises trying to protect one’s identity from cultural erosion.”

    That is an oxymoron in one sentence. How is “protecting one’s identity from cultural erosion’ not xenophobic, in other words anti-other-people. Who is ‘one’, if not a collectivist identity that everyone else has to bow down to? Because not everyone agrees with that. There are lots of people who are very happy to rent their property out to, or hire someone from outside the country.

  2. Ayumi
    Jun 15, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    Let me understand your view. So one state (EU) is dictating what to do with another smaller state (UK)’s borders. From a free individual’s perspective, you can invite whomever to your own property, and no state can interfere with that, not the EU, not the UK. Right?

    Let’s say there is no state, no EU, no UK, just millions of private properties. In this setting, I say that people would naturally come together in some form of social unit, however small or large that may be, voluntarily. Communes, tribes, villages, cities, etc. There will probably be a lot of people who come and go looking for a suitable unit to settle into. (Or remain a wayfarer for life, but that’s rare). In any case, people would naturally identify with a particular culture, and this identity once developed does not change that often, if ever, in one’s lifetime. Do you agree?
    Men without cultural identity is like a sophisticated robot. Not human.

    When this cultural identity is threatened with sudden and drastic change, people will feel protective. This change can be caused by an influx of immigration, or even a business tycoon can buy up huge lots of land and make the village that you grew up in, into one huge parking lot.
    Would you seriously not care if your home town was unrecognizable, as long as your own property was unchanged?

    What I’m saying is that State or no State, this fuzzy thing called ‘British cultural identity’ (which is many things to many people), is changing too rapidly and drastically that people feel protective about it. NOT because people are afraid of other cultures, but because one’s identity is heavily invested in it.

    Case in point, when fear (of losing one’s cultural identity) isn’t there, people are often glad to welcome and befriend people of other cultures. Think of an international group of people in a youth hostel in Europe. It’s voluntary, it’s fun. Most of us are fascinated with different cultures, precisely because they are different.

    But when fear (of losing one’s cultural identity) is there, people often become weary, if not hostile, to whatever it is that is threatening to erode it. Which in this case is mass immigration. (Which is imposed by the state I might add). People are not weary of mass immigration because of xenophobia, like I said, if the fear wasn’t there, there’d be no problem.

    • Nico Metten
      Jun 15, 2016 at 6:36 pm

      > Let’s say there is no state, no EU, no UK, just millions of private properties. In this setting, I say that people would naturally come together in some form of social unit, however small or large that may be, voluntarily. Communes, tribes, villages, cities, etc. There will probably be a lot of people who come and go looking for a suitable unit to settle into. (Or remain a wayfarer for life, but that’s rare). In any case, people would naturally identify with a particular culture, and this identity once developed does not change that often, if ever, in one’s lifetime. Do you agree?
Men without cultural identity is like a sophisticated robot. Not human.

      I don’t know what people do with their liberty. Some form communities, others like multiculturalism. I just want the state out of it. As long as their are no state borders, the people are in charge. The anti immigration Brexiters want to take the power away from the people and give it to the government in Westminster.
      Whether people prefer to live in homogenous communities or not, saying no to immigration comes with a huge economic price. I bet that if you want to sell your house and get a better offer from a foreigner, you suddenly care less about how homogenous the community is. We can talk about all day about what would and would not be nice, if economics does not matter. But in the real world, everything has a price. And closing the borders is basically putting a lot of costs on people who disagree with that policy and now our forced at gun point to not associate themselves with people on the other side of the border.

      > Would you seriously not care if your home town was unrecognizable, as long as your own property was unchanged?

      Maybe I would care. But who am I to dictate the price for my psychological inflexibility on others. That is just not right.

      > What I’m saying is that State or no State, this fuzzy thing called ‘British cultural identity’ (which is many things to many people), is changing too rapidly and drastically that people feel protective about it. NOT because people are afraid of other cultures, but because one’s identity is heavily invested in it.

      Your personal identity is whatever you want it to be. But you have no right to control everyone around you. If you are annoyed that other cultures are moving into your neighbourhood, then that is clearly xenophobia. Whether you think that is positive or negative, it is what it is. And the only legitimate way to deal with that is, you have to buy up all the land around you. That is the price. Of course it is easier to vote for a government that then violates people’s rights.

      > But when fear (of losing one’s cultural identity) is there, people often become weary, if not hostile, to whatever it is that is threatening to erode it. Which in this case is mass immigration. (Which is imposed by the state I might add).

      It is imposed by the state? How? Open borders is the absence of the state.

  3. Ken Ferguson
    Jun 15, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    The concept of cultural identity is for communitarians. Cultural identity diminishes our individual identities which are the only things that really matter.

    “Libertarians” that support the right of the state to close its borders to immigrants are supporters of the state and therefore anti-libertarian.

    This post is nothing more than little-Englander tosh, I’m afraid.

  4. Ayumi
    Jun 16, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    Ken, Nico, we meet again! (We had a similar discussion before)

    I should have made clear in the post that “want to control borders” is not only about wanting people OUT, but also wanting some people IN. How is it that Filipinos and Japanese people who I want to hire because they are good at the job have insane visa restrictions, while anybody from the EU regardless of anything, can come without any fuss? I believe in meritocracy. Not racism.

    The UK government is preventing people we want in, while the EU government (because the Commission is really a government) forces the UK government to let in people we may not want. Open borders or closed borders, we have no say either way.

    In this referendum, we have the opportunity to get rid of one layer of government that is forcing open borders. After we leave the EU, we can urge the UK gov to let those whom we want, in.

    Ken, the Free State Project is what you would call ‘communitarian’, no?
    There is nothing un-Libertarian about sticking together to protect certain cultural values, like freedom. If the US government facilitated a huge population of Communists to live in New Hampshire, wouldn’t the Libertarians feel it as a threat to their Libertarian way of life?

    It just happens that much of the “British culture” is Libertarian. Not entirely of course, but Magna Carta, concepts of individual liberty, free speech, jury trial, transparency and accountability in politics, etc. are things that has roots here. These values can only be protected if we band together and fight against what erodes them.

    • Nico Metten
      Jun 16, 2016 at 1:04 pm

      I don’t disagree with you that we should get rid of the EU layer of Government. However, it is weird to complain that the EU is forcing the UK to let people in. So it is forcing the UK to stop its border tyranny. How is that a bad thing. It is not legitimate for a state to decide over immigration, period. That is nationalism at its worst.

      Of course, the fact that the EU itself has closed borders is a problem. However, the states are quite sovereign in letting more people in. Malta and Cyprus are selling passports to anyone who can afford one. They are not stopped by the EU, although they are even in Schengen. If the UK wanted more Filipinos in, it could give them visas, no problem. For all the good arguments against the EU, immigration is a big argument for the EU. The fact that the Brexit camp is using this as a main argument to leave shows that a lot of them are not really liberty minded. They are essentially complaining that the EU is to free. It is the most worrying bit about the whole leave campaign and the main reason why I have not been too public about my support for leave.

  5. Paul Marks
    Jun 16, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    A lot of the development to cater for an expanded population is not really free market at all.

    Many of the housing estates are only built because of government subsidies – low interest rates from the Bank of England and outright subsidies in terms of roads and so on.

    For example the rain I am now hearing on the windows is flooding some of the housing developments in this town.

    Everyone knew they would flood – but the government pushed through the developments anyway.

    Does not sound very free market or libertarian to me.

    And without the (really government backed) housing developments there would be no where for the increased population to live.

    Ditto the vast new roads and other “infrastructure” schemes.

    If they had to be self supporting (no subsidies) there would be far less mega development.

    And, therefore, England would still look like England. Rather than Mega City One from Judge Dredd.

    As for “free migration”.

    If that is a libertarian principle – so is the right of non association (the other side of Freedom of Association).

    If people do not wish to employ or trade with a certain group of people (say red haired people – or people with blue eyes) that is their libertarian right.

  6. Paul Marks
    Jun 16, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    As for borders.

    Do not, for example, ranchers on the border of the United States and Mexico have the right to defend their property?

    Defend it without fear of “Civil Rights” attacks from the government?

    Without government people would still exist – and they would seek to defend their land from hostile groups of intruders.

    Anyone who knows Irish history (North or South) knows how this is done.

    Without government intervention to prevent it – “burning out” hostile intruders is the norm.

    They are “burnt out” because if they are not they will gain sufficient numbers to “burn out” the existing population of an area.

    Say, for example, the followers of Islam come to an area and try to impose Islamic law (no women going around with hair uncovered and so on) should the existing population just accept this new legal system?

    Is it being a “little Englander” to wish to stand up for one’s own legal principles against those of invaders?

    Talk of “democracy” does not really help – as that just means majority rule.

    And mass immigration can change who the majority are.

    Want a death penalty for mocking Mohammed? If you have an Islamic majority that is what you will get. A new majority (or even very large minority) means a new legal system based on totally different principles.

    It is actually” “little-Englander tosh” to deny this. The British (especially the English) have been spoiled by centuries of relative domestic peace.

    Most people n the world know that one has to fight hard to keep one’s own land against hostile groups of migrants.

    It is nothing to do with biological race (after all the former Bishop of Rochester is a brown skinned man born and brought up in Pakistan) – but it is to do with beliefs and principles.

    If someone comes sincerely wising to join your nation – this is a good thing.

    But if large numbers of people come with the desire to displace your nation with their own – this is a bad thing.

    It is no longer immigration and has become invasion.

    Even if weapons do not flash at first. They will later – especially as numbers increase over generations.

    Anyone who has crouched on the Syrian border (as I have done) knows that “free migration” would not lead to the libertarian utopia – it would lead to ashes and dried blood.

    Those who died quickly would be the lucky ones.

    Even I was shocked by the criminal negligence of politicians who have invited in (active government invitations and help – welfare and so on) populations whose belief system is utterly incompatible with Western populations.

    They, the politicians, may well have signed the death warrant of their own people – and that can not be a libertarian thing to do.

  7. Richard Carey
    Jun 16, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    @ Nico,

    “Whether people prefer to live in homogenous communities or not, saying no to immigration comes with a huge economic price.”

    Value is subjective. Homo Economicus, who only ever buys for the lowest price and sells for the highest, is a theoretical construct. In reality, we don’t conform to this. One could state the opposite of your assertion and not be wrong, because its truth depends on how one values the benefits/drawbacks associated with a homogeneous/multicultural society.

    • Nico Metten
      Jun 17, 2016 at 9:50 am

      Richard, of cause valuations are subjective. That is why not everyone will value a homogenous society over their profits. The problem that anti multiculturalist have is that they need to make a statement about everyone else”s valuations. Because if a few people do not agree with their valuation, you will get multiculturalism.

      And closing the borders via the state is imposing huge cost on others, who disagree with that policy. So it is nothing but special interest policy.

  8. Julie near Chicago
    Jun 22, 2016 at 9:46 pm

    Paul, really excellent. *applause*

    Ayumi, thanks for both your posting and your additions in the comments. Particularly good: Your thought-experiment, where people, all of them 100% free to come, go, and stay as they will, will tend to self-sort into pockets of individuals who are like-minded, or who find some sort of commonality with the others, in some way important to them (though they may not be conscious of it); and in time to develop a mini-culture of their own, which they come to feel somewhat as one does toward “home.”

    No matter what so-called “libertarians” who don’t fully subscribe to Freedom of Association (as Paul notes) hope, it is a fact that humans mostly prefer to live within a group where their own attitudes and tastes are acceptable to the prevailing attitudes of the group. This is true even of many “loners” who in fact long for such a group, even if they prefer to leave the group for long periods. There’s still the sense that there is a place in the world where they are welcome; indeed, that there are other people in the world who are like them.

    .

    And from the libertarian point of view, more specifically:

    It is first of all the core belief that individuals should be allowed some genuine degree of freedom from the domination of others (a ruler, a neighborhood council, a Government…) that makes our societies, and indeed all “Western” societies — meaning those which genuinely embrace this attitude toward individual self-determination — worth protecting.

    (The degree to which different Western countries or societies accept this philosophical belief as such and as determinative of the way to treat others seems to vary quite a bit. Personally it seems to me that the prohibitions against murder, theft, and assault get their operative importance as a result of Western Christian mores at least as much as from philosophical doctrines — and notably, the philosophers who most stressed that these are acts to be forbidden had at least as much Christian or Jewish cultural lineage as they did Greek or pre-Christian Roman.)

    If we value the right of self-determination, we must insist that others who claim to wish to join us accept that this right really is a right and that they honor it in practice, and respect and honor all the sub-rights which flow from it. This insistence is the first line of the defense which is necessary (and “necessary” already means “absolutely necessary”) in order to protect that right.

    *”Western” to me specifically includes Israel.

    .

    Richard, a good point, although I think you are using the word “multicultural” in its obvious and natural sense. Thus a “multicultural” society would be one like yours and mine at their best, where groups of differing cultural backgrounds rub elbows, respect one another’s cultures as important to those who celebrate their cultural heritage, and enjoy one another’s differences, where these are not harmful to others. This assumes that the people of all these different cultures agree on the political principles and practices of the larger society, although there is a huge discussion here that I’ll omit.

    But in common parlance, the word means the forced embrace of all or virtually all “cultures” or mores as equally acceptable by what is seen as the “dominant” society. Everyone knows that the dominant society is racially and ethnically grounded, as it is exclusively white, mostly of European ethnicity, and extremely oppressive. Therefore members of this segment of society must be forced (forced) to accept the equal value, desirability, and dignity of all cultures, whether or not they share the values or mores of that “dominant” society.

    I don’t appreciate this usage, by the way, and I couldn’t understand the objection to “multiculturalism” when I first discovered the word. It took me a little reading to get the current common usage of the term, as explained above.

    Anyway, agree with you. Although complete homogeneity is pretty bland…Chinese New Year is fun, St. Patrick’s Day is fun, eating Grandma Dora’s delicious New Orleans cooking was fun, and actually I am disappointed in intra-U.S. travel these days, where every area, every region, has the same look and the same stores, and if it’s a tourist area they all tend to have the same tourist junk in the souvenir shops.

    We like to go to other people’s houses for a party, and then we’re glad to return to Home after. (Real Home, that is. Not the place where you flop with people you don’t much like. *g*)

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