Those of you in the UK might have seen images like this one in your travels around the internet or around London. I don’t know much about the campaign, but you can find out more about it here. Essentially, it is has emerged in the context of a highly toxic public debate in the UK on the issue of immigration, and aims to ‘humanise’ the debate, showing that immigrants are real people who make ‘real contributions’ to the UK.
What follows is a version of some thoughts that I posted to Facebook this morning, and I feel comfortable making them publicly.
First off, this is definitely a good first step. Hurrah! Those of you who know me, and have read my previous posts (particularly on why I voted YES in the Scottish Independence referendum) will know that I am pro-immigration through and through. But two thoughts have crossed my mind upon learning of this campaign, and I say this having only been able to find images of about 2/3 of the posters.
The first is that ‘this type of immigrant’ is exactly the ‘type of immigrant’ that UKIP wants. No political party is saying it doesn’t want ‘hardworking immigrants’ with great cultural capital who will bring ‘economic’ and other benefits to the country. I really worry about turning immigrants into a ‘positive economic investment’. Even my own party, the Scottish Green Party, have had to bow somewhat to this dominant societal discourse and frame their progressive and compassionate views on immigration in their manifesto largely in terms of economic and cultural benefit:
We believe Scotland should be a welcoming country where immigrants are celebrated as an asset to our economy and enriching for our culture. Immigration is a great benefit to Scotland, just as Scots have benefited over the generations through migration to other countries. We will consistently challenge the toxic rhetoric used by too many politicians which turns people against their neighbours. We will reinstate the post-study work visa to allow students who study at UK universities to stay and use their education in Britain. We will reform the dysfunctional approach of the UK Visas and immigration agency to meet Scottish immigration needs. We will create an asylum system which treats people with dignity.
In my view, ‘we’ have so much and ‘need’ to be welcoming to many other immigrants, including those who may ultimately be a ‘drain’ on ‘our’ economy. ‘We’ have space and money. Let’s give it to those who need it, not just those who can help ‘us’ out.
Secondly… and not specifically related to this campaign…what are the thoughts of those parties who adopt a pro-‘hardworking, highly-skilled immigrant’ stance on the long-term impact of such a stance? For example, what happens in a hypothetical world, 20 years from now, when a ‘visible’ change has happened in the top jobs in UK society, when ‘indigenous’ people feel that ‘the government’ has let them down by targeting folk from overseas, rather than prioritizing training ‘people who are already here’, and when the top performers in ‘our’ schools are increasingly 1.5 and second generation immigrants, the children of these highly-successful and driven people, etc? Personally, I don’t have a problem with that admittedly hypothetical future, and I would hope that others would be able to have the historical consciousness to trace such a situation in part to early-21st century tougher ‘controls on immigration’. Another possibility, is that the current xenophobia towards those who don’t fall in to the ‘highly-skilled’ and/or ‘hardworking’ category will simply be extended or transferred to those who do.
Anyway, as I say I think this campaign is a great first step, and hope to see much more of this kind of positivity in the future. I realise that there are likely a lot of generalizations and over-simplifications in this rant. I also appreciate the need for the country to not simply open its borders, but would always urge policy makers to remember that immigrants are people and not merely a potential economic gain/drain, and that we should perhaps be a bit more generous with the resources at our disposal.
A massive, thought-provoking quotation from Timothy Fitzgerald, with which I couldn’t agree more:
“From our own postcolonial standpoint, it should be easier for us to question the idea that, whereas other, less-advanced peoples are permeated with ritualism and therefore with a ‘religious’ worldview, we in Anglophone cultures do not ‘do’ ritual, except minimally in church. I ask, rhetorically, but with serious theoretical intent, why should the legal procedures and taboos surrounding our courts and ideals of justice, our separation of the branches of government, our concept of private property, the practices of the stock exchange and the capital markets, the traditions of the civil services, be considered ‘nonreligious’, but the practices of divination, or the Islamic Shari’a, or the generic potlatch of various indigenous American peoples, or Buddhist meditation be assigned to the ‘religion’ basket? Why are transcendental values such as the belief in progress, or individualism, or nationalism, or the democratic virtues of ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’, the practice of secret ballots and elections of governments, which many millions of people died to establish and institutionalise, not included in books on ‘religion’? Why should state institutions that defend the freedom of Americans such as the Pentagon, the White House, and the Congress be treated as nonreligious rather than ‘religious’ or ritual institutions? Is the queen of England, who is supposedly head of a secular state, but who is also the head of a national religion, to be treated as a religious or a secular functionary? Is the raising and lowering of a national flag of religious or secular significance? It seems we are trapped by language when we consider these issues. For, arguably, they are all both religious and secular, and in that sense neither, for they undercut this grand dichotomy. We need to dissolve these reified binaries if a new paradigm is to have a chance to get articulated in public discourse.”
Fitzgerald, Timothy, 2007. Discourse on Civility and Barbarity: A Critical History of Religion and Related Categories. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 38.
I am currently working my way through Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart’s Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, and I was struck by two comments they made on Max Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic thesis. These points have much wider implications and I just wanted to share them with you quickly.
I don’t have time to go into the details of Weber’s thesis, detailed at length in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, but essentially he theorised that a minority Protestant emphasis on proving that you were “saved”, led many to start trying to earn money for the sake of earning money, and not for things that they needed. This led to investment, re-investment, and the development of Capitalism as we know it today. I haven’t checked out the accuracy of the Wikipedia article, but if you want a quick overview of the thesis you can find it here.
The first quotation from Norris and Inglehart that I would like to share with you is this:
“It should be stressed that Weber did not claim that the restless go-getting entrepreneurial class of merchants and bankers, shopkeepers and industrial barons were also the most devout ascetic Protestants; on the contrary, he argued that “those most filled with the spirit of capitalism tend to be indifferent, if not hostile, to the Church.” He therefore did not expect an individual-level relationship to exist between personal piety, churchgoing habits, and adherence to the Protestant work ethic. Instead, this cultural ethos was thought to be pervasive, influencing devout and atheists alike, within Protestant societies. Any attempt to analyse the Weberian theory should therefore be tested at the macro-level, not the individual level.”
Norris, Pippa and Inglehart, Ronald, 2004. Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 161.
I think this just perfectly summed up for me just how pervasive the influence of religion can be in society. I am not saying that this is a good or bad thing. It is just worth noting that even if everyone in society decided to abandon their religious faith, the vestiges of the major religious faiths in that society would remain pervasive throughout culture, law, morality and more for many, many years. Just look at what Phil Zuckerman has found in his research in Scandinavia (see Society Without God): although Denmark and Sweden have among the highest rates of unbelief in the world, with minimal church attendance and belief in God and the afterlife (I’m sorry I don’t have the figures to hand just now), the vast majority of the population are still tax-paying members of the Lutheran Church, have their children baptised, get confirmed, have weddings and funerals in churches, and positively identify as “Christian” whilst shunning the label “Atheist”. Religion does not have to be important in people’s lives for it to exert an influence and, additionally, people do not have to hold to the tenets or practices of a religion for them to consider it important.
“It seems clear that today, contemporary Protestant societies place relatively little value on the virtues of labour, in terms of both material and intrinsic rewards, especially compared with contemporary Muslim societies. Systematic survey evidence from a broad range of societies indicates that by the late twentieth century the work ethic was no longer a distinct aspect of Protestant societies – quite the contrary, they are the societies that emphasise these characteristics least of any cultural region in the world. Any historical legacy, if it did exist in earlier eras, appears to have been dissipated by processes of development.” (ibid:169)
Something which has struck me lately, especially in the case of Britain, is that we are generally incredibly lazy. We may not like to admit it, but in the majority of cases if we can get away with doing a job in a half-arsed manner, then this is what we will do. If asked to do more work, we complain. We prefer sitting on the sofa and watching television to reading a book, going out for a walk, or building something. I know I am making massive generalisations here, and we are not as bad as all that, but at the same time can you imagine our grandparents’ generation being quite as inactive in their prime as we are today? Maybe “development” carries its own curse? Maybe there is a peak after which a society ceases to apply itself to collective endeavours with the same zeal as it did in the past? Maybe we will all end up like the sad remnants of humanity depicted in Wall-E?
I haven’t thought any of this through… these quotations just provoked some thoughts, and I thought I might as well let them do the same for you.