Before I even get started, I want to be very clear.
President Trump’s decision to enforce the policy of separating children from their parents at the US border is a terrible thing. I very much oppose what he is doing.
In the wake of this stuff, though, I’ve seen some things shared on social media that got me thinking deeply about immigration. A lot of people are sounding off about how the United States is a racist nation with a terrible history of race-based immigration policies. They say that we Americans are a shameful people. They say that we are a nation of white supremacists and always have been.
Of course these are extreme views. Not everyone who opposes Trump’s latest actions thinks this way. I, for one, oppose Trump’s actions and I don’t think this way. But I have seen a whole lot of sentiments like this popping up on my Facebook and Twitter pages. So I have to assume that there must be people who read my stuff and who do think America is a horrendous and deeply racist country.
Thinking about this, I started asking myself some questions. What is “illegal immigration”? Why does such a concept even exist? Why do we have immigration policies at all? Why have they so often been based around race? Why can’t people just live wherever they want?
Here’s what I think, for whatever it’s worth.
Human beings are territorial animals.
This is not unique to our species. Most primates are territorial. In fact, territoriality is extremely common among many animals. My neighbor’s cats spend much of every day re-establishing their territory. If I leave my door open, both of them will come into my apartment and make a circle around it checking to be certain their borders are secure. Many species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and even some insects are also territorial.
Human territoriality is very ancient. Classical literature and even the scriptures of the great religions of the world are loaded with examples. The Bible, the Koran, the Hindu Mahabharata, and even the Buddhist sutras contain plenty of evidence of humans being territorial.
This is the reality of the type of animals we are.
But here is where it gets interesting when it comes to our species. As far as we know, humans are the only animals who experience any ethical qualms about our territorial nature. To me, this is astonishing. We are animals. But we are a completely different sort of animal. We are an animal without any known precedent in nature.
In the distant past there was no such thing as “illegal immigration.” In less developed human societies today there is still no such concept. But we should not take that to mean that, in the past, things were much better, or that, in less developed societies, people can move freely wherever they like.
I recently read about an anthropologist who spent time in a society in the South Pacific that had very little contact with the so-called “civilized world.” He said that a number of groups lived on the small island he visited. He made friends with one of these groups and was allowed to stay among them. But he said that if anyone from his group strayed so much as a half a kilometer or so outside the established range of the group, that person could expect to be killed. If you think Americans or Europeans are uniquely xenophobic, think again.
The reason we have concepts like the nation-state or illegal immigration is actually a major improvement over our past, and a step forward for humanity.
For the last several weeks I have been traveling throughout Europe. A few years ago I lived in Japan. Before that I lived in Kenya. This is a kind of miracle, I think.
I can travel freely thousands of kilometers from my birthplace in lands where most humans are very visibly not of my race. And yet, most of the time everything is fine and dandy. I did not get killed when I walked down the street in Munich, Germany last week. My grandfather could not have done that, nor could my father have done it when he was a child.
This is not a small thing. It is not something any of us should take for granted. For most of the time that humans have lived on Earth, this kind of free movement around the planet was not possible. The fact that it is now seen as normal is incredible. No other species of territorial animal that we know about has transcended its territorial instincts the way we have. We are amazing things, we humans.
The United States has had race-based quotas on immigration in the past. We Americans — including me — look at that today and feel shame. And yet, would it have been any better if our ancestors had acted differently? When we look at the past through the lens of today, it certainly seems so. But we have to recall that humanity’s territorial instincts were even stronger in the past than they are today.
I’m not trying to defend America’s past sins. I too feel a sense of shame when I read about that stuff. Yet I also wonder if it would even have been possible for our ancestors to have acted better. Maybe that was them doing their best to try to sort out and manage their own territorial instincts. And I am most definitely not trying to defend Trump’s current actions regarding immigration.
They were wrong. We are wrong. That’s true. But to their credit, in the past, when Americans realized they’d been wrong about race and immigration, they made changes. We are still trying to refine this stuff even today. And we will change and improve the current situation. I am confident of that.
It would be nice if we didn’t have borders at all. But I do not think we are ready yet to take that step. Someday, when we human animals have made a lot more mistakes and have matured as a result of those mistakes, we may be ready to live in a world without human borders. I believe that is possible. But I do not believe anyone alive now will be around to see that day. This will take many more generations to change.
So, yes, this latest stuff that Donald Trump is doing is really bad. It should not be happening. We Americans should be putting pressure on his administration to change.
And yet, even Trump’s current atrocious policies do not make me think that I come from an especially horrible or especially racist country. To me, it looks like territorial animals still trying to work out the best way to manage what we are. And, once again, we are making mistakes. This latest is one of many, many mistakes we have made in that regard. But I feel confident we can overcome it and emerge even better.
EUROPEAN (Jijuyu Zanmai) TOUR 2018
June 17, 2018 HEBDEN BRIDGE, ENGLAND PUBLIC TALK
June 17-20, 2018 HEBDEN BRIDGE, ENGLAND RETREAT
June 21, 2018 LONDON, ENGLAND TALK
June 23, 2018 LONDON, ENGLAND DAY-LONG RETREAT
July 6, 2018 ZERO DEFEX at Annabelle’s, Akron, Ohio with Hyper As Hell and Burning Lesbians
July 7, 2018 MANSFIELD, OHIO
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