On Open Borders

On the front page of today’s Times we read about Kyrgyzstan, which is busy providing intelligent observers, at sanguinary cost, with yet another data-point about the incomparable blessings of Diversity.

Meanwhile, Dennis Mangan brings to our attention an outstanding paper on said blessings, by Australian academic Frank Salter (original here, but visit Dennis’s place for his comments and what will probably be a lively discussion amongst his readers, who are generally a sharp and feisty lot, with pungent opinions).

Some excerpts from the Salter article (Roman numerals are links to footnotes in the original):

Unrestricted migration would harm Australia’s national interests in ways documented by scholars in economics, sociology and related disciplines. Much of the harm is predictable from what is known about the dysfunctions of diversity. They include growing inequality in the especially invidious form of ethnic stratification. No one likes to be ruled over by a different ethnic group or to see his own people worse off than others. The result is resentment or contempt, depending on the perspective taken.

Diversity has also been associated with reduced democracy, slowed economic growth, falling social cohesion and foreign aid, as well as rising corruption and risk of civil conflict.[iii]

The loss of social cohesion bears emphasis. Disapproving of birds flocking together is beside the point; it is a biological fact that needs to be taken into account.[iv] Rising diversity within human societies tends to drive people apart, causing them to take sanctuary in individual pursuits and ethnic communities. The practical consequences are reduced public altruism or social capital, evident in falling volunteerism, government welfare for the aged and sick, public health care[v]and a general loss of trust.[vi] Ethnic diversity is second only to lack of democracy in predicting civil war.[vii] Globally it correlates negatively with governmental efficiency and prosperity.[viii]

On “equating parochialism with morally repugnant ‘racism’ “:

Surely that is not true, firstly because “racism” has no agreed definition and has been deployed for ideological and ad hominem purposes. It is more an instrument of abuse than of reason. If its use cannot be avoided it should be reserved to describe ethnically aggressive statements and acts, not the peaceful expression of pro-social sentiments common to humans everywhere.

Secondly, the notion that preference for one’s own people is immoral ignores the universal interest we all share in particular affiliations. All humans share parochial interests that give rise to social preferences. It would be maladaptive not to prefer people of our own type, beginning with kin. And in general this preference is moral. Bearing and caring for our own children, choosing friends on intuition, and having a special affection for our own country cannot be equated with hating others.[ix] A liberal society that allows free expression of these moderate preferences is hardly the moral inferior of one in which the elite scolds and punishes the people’s aspirations to have a country of their own.

The universality of parochial interests contradicts Prof. Bagaric [the target of Dr. Salter’s criticism in this article] when he states: “For most of human history there have been few migration limits. . . . A relevant reason [for restricting immigration] cannot be a person’s birthplace. This is merely a happy or unhappy coincidence.” The anthropological reality is the precise opposite: until recent decades almost all human society have sought to prevent permanent mass migration. Hunter gatherers and primitive agriculturalists, farmers and herders have all laid claim to a territory and fiercely defended it. Marriage partners have been found almost exclusively within the ethnic group, encompassing the local dialect. The psychological motivations for this are well established in such predispositions as social identity mechanisms, collectivism, assortment by similarity, innate cognition of human kinds, and rational choice.[x] Evolutionary origins of territoriality and ethnocentrism are indicated by their being human universals as well as being found in apes. And from the evolutionary perspective, which acknowledges the limited carrying capacity of all territories and of the world itself, it is maladaptive to allow one’s lineage – family, clan, or ethnic group to be replaced by others.[xi]

Dr. Salter concludes by asking:

How have so many scholars come to ignore accessible knowledge about human nature and interests?

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7 Comments

  1. howsurprising says

    Unassailable fences erected between groups only encourages speciation. Differences may be diminished by encouraging those who would cross boundaries to do so. New more global alliances and allegiances may be nurtured by encouraging the free flow of ideas, materials, and genes. Old identities, parochial and narrow are fostered by erecting fences in fear of the other. They are endangered by open borders. We see it in the new fundamentalisms, in east and west, that are threatened by such culture contact. Should we then give in to their demands for clean lines on the topography of human kind?

    Posted June 16, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    I’m sorry, HS, but this is a pipe dream. You imagine that jumbling everyone together will serve only to “diminish differences” — but the long lesson of history, and the consensus of contemporary research, is that this is nothing more than a pure and persistent fantasy. (It’s a fantasy I used to believe in too.)

    In the real world (that is, the world of actual human societies inhabited by actual human beings), what excessive diversity creates is tension, social fragmentation, low trust, strife, and — again and again and again throughout history and everywhere on Earth — violent disaggregation, as we are seeing today in Kyrgyzstan.

    What you derogate as “old identities, parochial and narrow”, some of us call “societies”, and “cultures”. They are a natural part of what it is to be human.

    I like my culture, and will do what I can to preserve it.

    “Should we then give in to their demands for clean lines on the topography of human kind?”

    Perhaps we should. At the very least, we should think twice before aggressively erasing such natural boundaries in the name of naive Utopianism. There’s a reason why they exist in the first place.

    Posted June 16, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Permalink
  3. Kevin Kim says

    “…what excessive diversity creates is tension, social fragmentation, low trust, strife, and — again and again and again throughout history and everywhere on Earth — violent disaggregation…”

    I’d say that a lot is riding on the word “excessive.”

    Posted June 16, 2010 at 11:27 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Right, Kevin. As they say, the poison is in the dose.

    Posted June 16, 2010 at 11:41 pm | Permalink
  5. howsurprising says

    Well Malcolm, do you disagree with the basic theoretical point that erecting barriers between populations only enhances the accumulation of cultural (and biological) differences?

    Your dismissal of my point as a pipe dream is silly. I didn’t say peace and love would follow. I said that cultural differences diminish with increasing contact. If you look at borderlands between culture areas you will see that this is distinctly true. It does not follow that cultural similarity between groups leads automatically to harmony. Far from it. It is a matter of the identities that are chosen and encouraged to flourish. The very success of our military despite its internal diversity demonstrates this quite well. But I suspect already that you agree with me.

    But, in a global world, fencing out the outside world (like North Korea, I suppose), is no solution to international conflict. The so-called Muslim world is experiencing the resurgence of fundamentalism precisely because old established orders are threatened by cultural (and political and economic) intrusions from the West. Indeed political Islam may be seen as a transmutation of European 20th century fascism. Your stance is that such a response is only right- preserve the social order from the viral intrusion. Well, i don’t disagree with you (and you may be surprised that a lot of liberals might too), except that when people like you worship at the feet of the narrative of “clash of civilizations”, your solution is to set in stone the very premises of the conflict itself. Erecting barriers only ensures that the premise of two distinct civilizations becomes reality- and that does nothing to bring an end to the conflict.

    No pipe dreams here, Malcolm. I probably have lived among more non-WASP’s than you. I know the costs of cultural diversity first hand. But I also see that such boundaries are crossed all the time. It is, as you have said, a matter of the dose. I’m not friend of “open” borders, at least in as much as the borders are between unequal partners. An open border with Canada (or France for that matter) would hardly concern us too much. Indeed, rather than erecting fences at the Mexican-US border, we ought to make immigration to the US only attractive to young foolish international lovers, by investing in Mexico

    Have you ever seen oDesk? I can hire a programmer from Bangladesh for under $8 an hour. I can only hope that with time the market will level.

    Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    Well Malcolm, do you disagree with the basic theoretical point that erecting barriers between populations only enhances the accumulation of cultural (and biological) differences?

    No. But it seems that you would not agree that there might be some value in preserving those differences. Regarding Islam in particular: if you want to see the results of not erecting appropriate barriers, have a look at Britain and Europe. Is that what you want?

    The so-called Muslim world is experiencing the resurgence of fundamentalism precisely because old established orders are threatened by cultural (and political and economic) intrusions from the West.

    Ah yes, the familiar refrain (indeed, as fatiguingly familiar as it is suicidally hallucinatory): it’s all our fault, of course. All we have to do is fling open our doors and tone down our obnoxious cultural “intrusions”, and comity will ensue, at no cultural cost to the West. The Muslims of the world really just want to love us for what we are, if we would only let them.

    Nonsense. Forgive me, but that is nothing more than starry-eyed, idealistic poppycock, with a distasteful measure of cultural self-abasement mixed in.

    The so-called “so-called” Muslim world is experiencing a resurgence of “fundamentalism” because Islam has never, throughout its history, strayed far from it for long, and always returns to the well. The fact is that what you call “fundamentalism” is Islam itself, and what apologists in the West call “moderate” Islam is in fact heresy and apostasy.

    (And by the way, Muslims, too, have a name for the “so-called” Muslim world: they call it the Dar-al-Islam, which means “House of Submission” — as opposed to the name they have for the rest of the world, which is called the Dar-al-Harb, or “House of War”. We get to choose which one we live in.)

    Finally, you undermine your own argument here. If the effect of “cultural intrusion” is as damaging as you suggest (which, I agree, it is), and naturally provokes tension and angry defensiveness (which it does, always and everywhere), then why on earth should we encourage further such intrusions here in the West?

    I said that cultural differences diminish with increasing contact. If you look at borderlands between culture areas you will see that this is distinctly true.

    Right. You mean like in Kyrgyzstan’s Ferghana Valley? Where the two groups are “hardly distinguishable”?

    I probably have lived among more non-WASP’s than you.

    I doubt that. I’m 54 years old, and have lived in New York City all my adult life. I’ve also worked in the music industry for more than thirty years, traveling all over the world to make recordings in an enormous variety of genres, from rock to R&B to jazz to Haitian compas to traditional Japanese and Indonesian music, and more. I have also immersed myself in Chinese martial arts, and Chinese culture, for 35 years. My wife is a “non-WASP”. I think I have had adequate exposure to other human groups, thank you.

    Despite your caricature of my position (“fencing out the outside world”, as if that were what I am proposing), I’m glad to see that you do agree that “the poison is in the dose”. Diversity in small doses is a tonic to a society; in large doses it is unhealthy, or even fatal. Let’s stop insisting that more is always better.

    Posted June 17, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Oh, and no, I hadn’t see oDesk. Hope my employers never do either!

    Posted June 17, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Permalink