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.

Some Thoughts on Racism

It seems that calling someone a racist these days is one of the fastest ways to discredit that person’s opinions. That is why, for a lot of people, “playing the race card” is nothing but an ad hominem attack. It is the attempt to beat someone in a debate without actually having arguments. And indeed, there are people who use this strategy. Often it is used by political groups that explicitly label themselves as anti-racist or anti-fascist. These groups usually themselves follow a very much totalitarian ideology that is only on the surface different from fascism. They really have more in common with fascism than not. The hope seems to be that labeling oneself anti-fascist somehow will distract people from their totalitarian agenda and make them good people. Well, they are not good people, but their distraction strategy, at least in the past, seems to have worked better than one would have hoped. But is it fair to say that everyone labeling another person as racist is just playing dirty tricks or are there maybe some people who really deserve the label?

How unpopular the label racist is became clear to me when years ago I stumbled upon a propaganda video of the Ku Klux Klan. In the video a KKK member complained that the Klan was viciously slandered in the media as a racist organization. According to him, the Klan loves all races that god has created. But they should not live in America next to the white man.

This is hilarious I thought. The poster-child organization for white supremacy racism in the US rejects the label racist. This seems nonsensical. But in order to understand why this is indeed nonsense we need to have a closer look at what racism is all about.

What is racism?

Different people have different opinions on this. The so called left for example often uses the word to label any kind of attack on an ethnic minority group that they think is underprivileged. This idea of racism is not very coherent. It is hypocritical and really just a form of totalitarian special interest politics.

For a more systematic theory of racism we first need to clarify the meaning of the word at the heart of it, which is race. On the face of it, it seems to refer to distinct genetic differences in a group of people that result in distinctive physical characteristics. This is how a biologist would define the word. However, these days, the word ‘race’ in racism usually means something broader. It refers to differences in ethnic groups. It therefore has a lot to do with culture and not so much genetics.

This broader interpretation makes a lot of sense. The opposition to biological races and the opposition to culture really appears to be politically the same thing. Is white supremacism really different in principle from anti-semitism? I would doubt that people ever really were opposed to genetics. What people have always objected to is culture. Those savages were praying to the wrong god, had strange traditions, spoke strangely sounding languages and were eating the wrong food. The different looks of people were only used as a possible explanation and identification. And as we know today, non of the things people objected to really have a lot to do with genetics. They are cultural. If this is true then objecting to another person’s culture really is politically the same things as objecting to someone’s race.

Until this point, I am willing to go along with racism. I do believe that there are different cultures in the world. I do not believe that all of these cultures are equally good. I am not referring to trivial things like food. I am a libertarian. I believe that the best way for everyone to live anywhere on this planet is to live in liberty. A lot, in fact most if not all, political cultures that we find at the moment disagree with me on this. One could argue that makes me an extreme racist, as I am in conflict with all ethnic groups, including my own. Alternatively, one could argue that I am a consequent anti racist, as I am equally opposed to all of them.

More seriously though, simply acknowledging differences between cultures is not really a racist ideology. Maybe there are some extreme egalitarians who really believe, or want to believe, that there are absolutely no differences between peoples. But even when I talk to people on the so called left they seem to be very aware of such differences. After all, a lot of them are practicing their very own form of ‘non-racist’ racism, by constantly blaming the evils of white, male culture for everything.

However, traditional racism, as a political ideology, does more than just acknowledge differences. I would argue that at the heart of political racism is and has always been the thesis that certain cultures cannot live in the same society together as equals. If they do live together, there needs to be a clear domination of one over the other. This can take the form of one overwhelmingly outnumbering the others, a legal division into first and second class citizens or can even go as far as an outright master/slave relationship, as we have seen in US history. The other alternative is to physically separate cultures from each other, at best geographically if possible. Abraham Lincoln, who famously freed the slaves in the US with very questionable means, continued till his death to work on a plan to deport all blacks back to Africa. That is exactly what racism is all about. The idea that societies can only work if they are culturally homogenous.

Racism has earned its reputation

It is no accident that this ideology has such a bad reputation. It has earned it throughout history. Wherever we see racist societies emerge, they come with a great deal of violence. It can go as far as an outright genocide like the Holocaust in Germany. This was another classic attempt to remove one ethnic group from a society. Of course not every racist society has ended in such an excess of violence. But violence is very much baked in the cake when it comes to racism. Given that racism cannot give everyone the same rights, there are groups of people that need to be suppressed. And suppression simply does not come peacefully. The preferred front line for racist violence in our time is the border of the nation state. Thousands of people die every year by trying to break the brutally enforced national segregation. Despite that you can still hear the racists scream that the state is not using enough force to keep the unwanted ethnic groups out.

Oh, but I hear the racists object. It is not racism that is causing the violence, it is multiculturalism. After all, good fences make good neighbours. This is of course nonsense. Good neighbours make good neighbours. You only need a good fence if you are living next to a socially incompetent asshole. The violence that racists predict from multiculturalism is a self fulfilling prophecy. If it wasn’t for racists disturbing the peace, there would be no problem with multiculturalism. So it is the racists that are the problem. And by racists I mean all of them. The Imam that preaches that western culture is evil and Muslims should fight it just as much as the members of the English Defence League.

Social incompetence seems to really be a problem of racists. Britain First is another one of those organizations that pretends to be only concerned citizens instead instead of racists. In this video you can see them systematically harassing and antagonizing people. Around 12.45min in the video they cause a confrontation with random people in the street. It almost ends in a fight. The spin that the Britain firsters have on the incident is that they are being threatened in their own country. But really what is going on is just a simple tit for tat strategy which is social skills 101. They antagonize people, so they get a hostile reaction. Their idea of a sociably acceptable behaviour seems to be that they have the right, as Englishmen in England, to not show any tolerance and don’t make any compromises when it comes to the lifestyle of the people around them. In return for this intolerance they expect a complete willingness to compromise and be tolerant from the other side. Of course that is causing trouble.

Political strategies of racists

Given my explanations, I think it is very fair to say that calling organizations like Britain First or the KKK racist organizations is not an ad hominem attack. However, that these organizations are uncomfortable with the label ‘racist’ shows that even hard core racists have realised that they cannot win political battles with it. That is why they are trying to make the word meaningless. The idea is to reverse the ad hominem attack. Anyone who labels anyone else as racist automatically disqualifies as an honest person who is seriously interested in a debate. That is because assumingly everyone knows that there could not possibly be such a thing as a racist movement in our times. Only some totalitarian left-wingers would call another person racist.

Of course this strategy can only work, if they manage to organize racist political ideas under a new, more acceptable label. The most popular label seems to be nationalism. Since most people still accept the idea of nation states, and also the rather strange underlying assumption that there is such a thing as a clearly identifiable nation, nationalism cannot be as easily discredited as racism. It seems perfectly acceptable to physically separate people according to nations. Every state on the planet has laws in place attempting to do just that. This reality seems to give the nationalist agenda a lot of legitimacy. The problem for the racists however is that, at least in the west, the central planning of migration increasingly does not serve to separate cultures from each other. It is just a more or less arbitrary bureaucratic machinery, which distributes visas to all kinds of people from all kinds of cultures. So it is not doing what the racists want it to do.

There are different attempts to deal with this. The most common one is to fight for the concept of the nation. Given visas to members of the wrong culture is simply a mistake. It is betraying the country and therefore treason. Another attempt however seems to be, to change the label again. Unfortunately, more and more of these people think that maybe libertarianism is a good alternative label. There are a number of reasons for that. Libertarianism is not in any form associated with the old racism. It is also anti-establishment. The establishment is perceived to be left wing. Therefore, although libertarianism really is neither left nor right, it can easily been portrayed as right wing. Libertarianism is all about individual, interpersonal liberty. And as it turns out, in order to have liberty, individuals need to have certain private property rights, that allow them to be left alone. To be left alone is nothing else but to be able to exclude people from your life. And here comes the wrong twist in this idea that suddenly makes libertarianism seem attractive to racists. Since individuals can exclude people, groups can do the same. In fact, so the claim of people like Hans Hermann Hoppe, not only can they, but they will. Naturally, so the argument, if you have private property, you will end up in some kind of voluntary segregationist society, in which every culture is living in their very own little harmonic and homogenous communities. And these communities will be big, even as big as a nation.

In principle, I don’t mind people preaching the virtues of private property. But there is a problem when you do that in order to support a false theory. The theory that private property will lead to some kind of culturally homogenous society seems false. Although it seems true on an individual micro level that birds of a feather flock together, all the evidence that we have suggests that this is not what is happening beyond the micro level. Whenever we see people being free to move where they want on the basis of private property they seem to mix up fairly quickly. There are huge economic benefits from doing that. That is why segregationist societies always had to be protected with the full power of the state. There goes the illusion that you can somehow have a harmonious racist paradise without the violence of suppression. And that is the problem with these racist allies of libertarianism. If you have a wrong theory about reality, you can either change the theory or try to change reality. The latter however is not very practical. And that is where the state comes in. The state pretends to be some higher being that can change reality according to an ideology. So the question is, will racists go along with liberty or try to use the state to make reality fit their wrong theories? I think the current migration ‘crisis’ has given us a good hint of what the answer is. Racists are very unreliable allies in the fight for liberty.

Robbie Hance the missing hero

© Baily Rae Weaver

The tramp’s suit was a mass of careful patches on a cloth so stiff and shiny with wear that one expected it to crack like glass if bent; but she noticed the collar of his shirt: it was bone-white from repeated laundering and it still preserved a semblance of shape. He had pulled himself up to his feet, he was looking indifferently at the black hole open upon miles of uninhabited wilderness where no one would see the body or hear the voice of a mangled man, but the only gesture of concern he made was to tighten his grip on a small bundle, as if to make sure he would not lose it in leaping off the train.

It was the laundered collar and this gesture for the last of his possessions – the gesture of a sense of property – that made her feel an emotion like a sudden burning twist within her. “Wait,” she said.

“When did you get aboard the train?” she asked.

“Back at the division point, ma’am. Your door wasn’t locked.” He added, “I figured maybe nobody would notice me till morning on account of it being a private car.”

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know.” Then, almost as if he sensed this could sound too much like an appeal for pity, he added, “I guess I just wanted to keep moving till I saw some place that looked like there might be a chance to find work there.” This was his attempt to assume the responsibility of a purpose, rather than to throw his aimlessness upon her mercy – an attempt of the same order as his shirt collar.

This is an excerpt from Atlas Shrugged, the part where we are introduced to the character Jeff Allen, a former workshop foreman of the Twentieth Century Motor Company and the source of John Galt’s back story. In the piece, Rand gives us little clues as to his character inviting our inductive faculty to work in reverse upon her deductive process. She deduced, from her philosophy, how the character would act in the company of someone more fortunate than themselves. The character was in desperate need, but had integrity and an independent spirit that Rand wanted to show.

Because Rand gives Allen some positive virtues, it is fair to call him a minor hero, not just a device to carry words but someone who acts according to a principle and produces a positive outcome in the book. I have seen the same, if not less, of Robbie Hance than any viewer but it seems to me that the X Factor contestant  is as much a Randian hero as the tramp Jeff Allen or the wealthy steel magnate Hank Rearden. I want to talk about some of the little things that made me like him.

The first was the shyness with which he revealed he was homeless. It seemed he was shy, just as Jeff Allen was, because he did not want to place his needs upon the judges or the audience. It became quite clear he wanted to be judged on his music, but there is more, he did not say he lived “nowhere”, he said he lived “everywhere”, as if it was natural for him that with no fixed home of his own he would exploit any place he wished for his purposes.

Second, in the interview package, he revealed the constraints under which he lived. These were not financial constraints but points of principle. His mother worked three jobs to maintain her family and he knew he was burden. He left rather than impose his needs upon his loved ones. The same applied to his friends, with whom he only stayed two nights a week. One assumes the reason he does not stay more with friends is the same as why he doesn’t return home to his mother. It was when I heard this that my mind flashed back to Atlas Shrugged and Jeff Allen and the line about burdens.

He scrubbed up. Exactly like Jeff Allen, he was wearing clothes that concealed the difficulty of laundry and did not appear at all in need in that respect. In fact, there was another contestant, Adam Burridge, that was dressed very similarly and who was not homeless as you can tell from photos of the evening.

The video of him in the dressing room showed he suffered from nerves, quite rationally, but the way he sat apart from the others showed that he had no need of them at all. He did not look at them, yet seemed comfortable that they were there.

His performance was amazing, but there are a couple of details of interest philosophically. First was the introductory instrumental section that seemed to go on a second longer than necessary. He was making you wait to hear his voice, confident enough in his vocal abilities to know for certain that you’ll like it. He also strummed well, to my ear, and showed off his talent with the guitar.

This contrasted sharply with the end of the performance. Rather than lengthening the performance by emoting, or making melodic noises, he stopped quickly and thanked the audience simply and plainly. He had delivered musically and just wanted to get on and hear the feedback.

The reaction of the judges though was frankly bizarre. The only footage that showed of any fear or apprehension was from before he was on stage. When talking to the judges before and after the performance he stood confidently, slightly stooped as a lanky man will, but making eye contact and speaking without hesitation. He was a confident man on stage.

Why then did at least two judges mention a lack of confidence? That he “just needed a break” etc. Their self-righteous pity for him was utterly unrelated to the confident performance he gave. It was as if they expected a homeless person to be needy and lack self-worth and this is what they projected onto him. If that was how he was going to be packaged and sold by ITV, with non-existent needs pushed onto TV audiences for him in the most insincere way, then no wonder he’s gone AWOL.

I hope he turns up in a pub somewhere singing his heart out with a copy of Atlas in his pack. Not so that he can defiantly claim the role of Randian hero but so that he can know – quietly, privately, but in full – how much better he was than the ITV judges.


UPDATE: perhaps a touch of Gail Wynand’s back story about him.


UPDATE 2 : He has a YouTube channel of his own.

Video: Is UKIP a comfortable home for libertarians?

Harry kicked off the talk by saying that unfortunately UKIP has suffered from some misconceptions but his mind was made up that UKIP was a comfortable home for adherents of the non-aggression principle. I did find it strange that the very next thing Harry said was that objectively UKIP is not libertarian, which for me somewhat conceded the proposition to the floor. Why did he say that?

Factually, UKIP does support an income tax, and it supports state-provided healthcare and education paid for from that tax, which means there will be redistribution of wealth under a coercive system. Yet UKIP, he claimed, was libertarian leaning and the most libertarian leaning of any party. That meant that Harry could feel at home.

For Harry ideas that are not put into action are inert, and putting them into action is very hard work. That means having an institutional party to do that hard work.

A party has several aspects, which Harry listed:

  • Policies, which are what you stand for but have to be a blend between what you believe and what is achievable.
  • Voters, in order to win elections, must be won in large numbers which necessitates policies that have broad appeal.
  • Constitution, allowing a specific ideological stance
  • Members, who’s stances shifts over time but which is also visible to voters.

Harry claimed that it is not possible to achieve “broad cultural change” without participating in elections. That “teeth” and broad appeal were required to make those changes. He dismissed pressure groups as incapable of achieving change outside of narrow issues or policy areas.

He told us that most voters vote in a positive way for a party they want to see govern, not in a negative tactical way; and that voters want to know where you are coming from as a group and from where you get support. The reason for that is that they want to know that while in government, responding to changing circumstances, your instincts and incentives match their own. If you don’t talk to people about healthcare and education and the whole host of other things that they get from politicians, from the state, then they won’t be interested in talking to you voting for you.

Harry claimed that UKIP is libertarian in its constitutional document, which now contains a sound statement of intent. So people will look to it’s constitution and know the party’s instincts.

At this point, Harry went on to make his main point, that when people look beyond the paperwork to the members they will demonstrate libertarian credentials. The young people joining UKIP are libertarians and those new members will slowly shift the dominant ideology of the group and leave the old school of Tories and anti-EU lefties stranded and ready to leave. The party must have mainstream policies for the reasons above, but people will apparently know where their heart is by looking at this membership.

So what of those policies?

Harry boasted UKIP’s Friedmanite voucher system to introduce choice, diversity and value to education. He boasted the flat tax policy which, though being a tax, was at least transparent and difficult to meddle with. He defended the policy of direct democracy and referenda. On this, he acknowledged the tyranny of the mob but suggested it was a useful protection against bureaucrats in areas where decisions must necessarily be democratic. On spending he was proud of UKIP’s pledge to scrap whole programmes worth 10% of spending.

The burka ban, immigration, and gay marriage he had less time for, but suggested they were not as illiberal as we might have heard and benefited from a closer examination.

Making his final pitch, Harry reminded us that a party is essential for effecting broad change; that attracting defecting voters was hardwork, but UKIP’s package, spokespeople and branch institutions allowed it to build a base of habitual UKIP voters; that the institution needs to be paid for, which means having members which must be attracted by having broad appeal and a good package.

He addressed the idea that the EU focus made UKIP seem transient, and claimed that awareness of its other policies allowed it to gain a form of permanence (because the referendum rug cannot be pulled out from under them if they stand on the other issues).

He said UKIP has an opportunity to stake out the classical liberal ground. That it is starting to steal votes from Labour as well as the Tories and that this was thanks to this package and its broad appeal.

My conclusions

Frankly, having played the talk through a couple of times I’m confused. It seems strange to me that a party can have ideologically compromised mainstream policies that are not objectively libertarian when examined, and yet be observably libertarian to the public. I’m not sure it matters that UKIP doesn’t really use the word libertarian or name the movement’s principles, but the limitations of mass media mean voters won’t receive the detailed explanations Harry offered us.

Also, the basic claim made is contradictory on it’s face. It is as if Harry said “it is essential to effect changes via elections and people will vote for our mainstream authoritarian policies because they like how libertarian we are underneath”. It might be awfully clever politically but I have no idea how that can actually work.

I want to support something that talks explicitly about moral principles and changes the assumptions about what is and is not beyond the pale. That’s something that blogs and books did for me by explaining over and over why today’s news events are good or bad. If a policy suggestion is well-intended but coercive I’d like to see TV pundits and newspaper columnists chew it up and spit it out because it is coercive, even when well-intended. Once that happens no-one will get away with coercive policies ever again, but I don’t see how UKIP’s weird message can produce that kind of genuinely broad and deep cultural change while being contradictory on the surface. A party that was ideologically pure and lost every election, such as the lefty enviromentalist’s Green party, could do a better job at making this kind of change, and I’m far from convinced that well-designed pressure groups don’t have a role too.

However, if your purpose is merely to get a school voucher system tried in the next 20 years, then UKIP is more interesting. I think if the UK tried a voucher system, and the consequences were allowed to speak for themselves then the idea might become mainstream, might, but without the why being talked about I don’t see the mainstream adopting consistently libertarian positions long-term. Yet, if I’m wrong and UKIP is able to get it tried then we might learn differently. To succeed in that respect UKIP must do a lot better at putting those things onto the public’s agenda.