Monday, July 4, 2016

Long rage post on how ignoring immigration concerns will doom us all

The above Toronto Star headline and article is probably the most dangerous thing to the political order today.

I already talked about this at some length in my last post on this blog, talking about the Brexit referendum and how liberal politicians basically ended up screwing themselves because they don't take the people with concerns about immigration seriously. The basic point for those not interested in rereading is thus: listen to people who speak up about the impact of immigration they feel, and maybe we won't end up in the mess the UK is in right now. Also, try not to call them racists for simply saying something.

Then the Toronto Star decided to put out this absolutely ludicrous headline saying that Ontario faces an "epidemic" of Islamophobia, with a subhead focusing on the fact that 70%+ of people do accept immigration, but they feel the government should take care of people already in the country - I would add a "too" to the end of the sentence, because I doubt most respondents felt it's a pure either/or proposition, but the article of course doesn't say that.

The article then goes on to summarize a 52-page report in under 700 words. The very first lines of the article are thus:
While Canada rides a wave of global praise for welcoming Syrian refugees, a new poll suggests we’re also facing a wave of something sinister — Islamophobia.

This scaremongering opener is actually ridiculous when you go through the article itself, because while there are certainly some concerning figures within the article, they don't actually point towards Islamophobia - they point towards the great immigration debate of the UK, US and Europe  that is coming to English Canada, and it may hit us like a tonne of bricks if we aren't prepared.

And who is propagating this rising concern, you ask? The bloody media currently writing clickbait headlines about it.

Let me just lay out the articles actually presented in the article for you before I go any further.
  • ~33% of Ontarians have a positive impression of Islam, and +50% feel Islam, even mainstream denominations, are violent.
  • 72% feel immigration is valuable to society, and 71% say it is a part of their cultural identity
  • ~75% feel that we need to take care of people in Canada, "instead of spending resources on refugees."
  • 46% say we admit too many immigrants, while 45% say we admit the right amount
  • ~60% say the federal government's decision to accept Syrian refugees was right, and ~20% said they participated in welcoming refugees to the country.
  • ~75% said Muslim immigrants have "fundamentally different values, largely due to perceived gender inequality."
  • Non-specified number of those with unfavourable impressions of Islam have higher opposition to Syrian refugees, and are more likely to say Canadians need help at home.
  • 53% said we should only allow immigrants with similar values, and 74% said we need to be more strict about who we accept.
The poll was conducted among 1,009 people with three point margin. And it is the only poll so far of its kind, just to note that as well.

This may or may not be unpopular to say, but each of those data points above have a reasonable motivation behind them that doesn't equal to outright racism or Islamophobia, though all of them can certainly lead to acts motivated by it. All of those people behind the above numbers are driven by a multitude of complex reasons, certainly some of it stemming from discriminatory views, but much more of it by disintegrating political discourse, by rapid change in their communities, by sensational media that inflames their anger or guilts them into submission, and by the feelings of alienation, dispossession and lack of control felt by larger-than-you-think swaths of the province and the country.

But that does not equal out to wide swaths of the province becoming virulent Islamophobes. It points to a growing trend of people feeling ignored by governments that seem more eager to tout how many refugees they're accepting than what they're doing to lower the cost of electricity or help with the cost of living.

In Ontario, and I'm sorry to say this, we have a government and leaders that are tremendously unpopular who make even more unpopular decisions, and they aren't disliked without justification. As much as I love Kathleen Wynne's commitment to combat climate change and bettering transportation and so on, my own family currently pays more out of pocket to keep our home powered than we can actually afford. It would be so easy for someone in my position to see a newly arrived family seemingly getting a better deal than I get to become a little jaded. It isn't hard to see someone with mental disabilities on the street without support, and wonder why the government is scrambling to bring in refugees from overseas but then turns around and says we can't afford to spend more on healthcare. And none of those things has to be true, remember that, because perceptions are what count in modern politics, not the truth.

Add onto it other concerns that this survey probably didn't even touch, such as how people's communities are changing faster than they can cope with. If you lived in an area your entire life, where you're used to certain people and certain surroundings, rapid changes in the demographics of those communities are going to shock you. It will create anomie between the resident and the community they've become attached to, alienating them from their surroundings in ways they never expected, such as seeing new customs like women wearing hijabs or hearing a new language dominate in the local grocery aisle. When they see the school system struggle to try to integrate newcomers who speak vastly different languages, or see in the media articles about new immigrants putting stress on the healthcare system, or hear a politician yell about how everything used to be better before we let "them" in - can you actually blame anyone for falling into negative opinions about immigration, something driven by a government often seen as uncaring and far away from the reality in which they live?

I can't find a fault in the logic, honestly. And it really hurts to say that, because I'd love to follow the Star in saying these people are racist, they're old WASPs soon to die off, but I know it isn't true. Furthermore I know how dangerous it will be to let it fester, we all do now.

The vast majority of people in the survey who responded with varying degrees of skepticism about immigration, Muslims, and the government's actions on this front aren't drooling Islamophobes - they're frustrated, and they have every right and reason to be. Society is changing and they're feeling left behind by any number of institutions and policies, and immigration and immigrants, especially those from foreign cultures (Muslims are the concern now, but before them it was Slavs and before them, the Irish, and of course throughout Canadian history, the French) make convenient boogeyman because they're so pervasive, especially in Ontario.

We tell them they all benefit from immigration and multiculturalism, which in the broad sense is absolutely true, but when was the last time someone demonstrated that to them in a substantive way? How do you do that? And in lieu of being able to do so, how do you cope with their concerns?

I'll tell you one way you don't - by calling them racists and brushing them off as such. Which is why that Toronto Star article is so damaging. Here are the final two paragraphs of that article:

Despite a generally positive view of immigrants, 53 per cent of Ontarians said we should only allow immigrants from countries that have similar values to our own while 74 per cent said we need to be more strict about what kinds of immigrants we accept.
“There are imbalances in the worth of immigrants relative to ‘the people here.’ They are seen as valuable to society but less deserving of our resources,” the poll found. “This shows that acceptance of immigrants is not without its limits.”
Of course it isn't. You cannot have massive changes in communities and societies without people on the other side of those changes saying "slow down." But as I've tried to stress throughout this post, it isn't just because the immigrants are Muslim - we've seen the same complaints about Poles and Romanians, even Germans and Spaniards, in the UK. People want to have some semblance of control over what is going on, and unfortunately a lot of them don't feel they have it. They're going to lash out at those that seem to be getting the better treatment - again, even if it isn't true, because truth is often a casualty in these kinds of arguments, the ones subject to passions rather than reason.

But the Toronto Star seemingly doesn't get that. Instead it is just going to piss off a swath of people who feel their concerns are justified but are just being called Islamophobes instead. This will not help anything, and the Star should be ashamed of that.

So what are the solutions to all of this? Because there is obviously a growing problem, and if we aren't careful, anti-immigrant sentiment will become a political tool for candidates and parties. We know when that happens, when politicians and media stoke the flames of frustration, we will actually get a wave of Islamophobia, one with tragic and earth-shattering consequences on things maybe not even related directly to such concerns, like Brexit. Some say we're already in that position, though I think we aren't even close to a true movement yet.

The top goal should be figuring out a way to demonstrate how immigration benefits people specifically, because we know it does. If we show them how immigrants enrich their lives, personally, economically and culturally, then we're taking the right steps to stop people from blaming those who, in all honesty, are just like them in many ways, with the same amount of control over their new surroundiungs as those already here. We must do this if we want to avoid the backlash seen in the United States, UK and Europe, especially among the struggling in this country.

But I am nothing if not a realist, and what I'm about to say will probably make some people mad, because unfortunately if we want to keep the province and country on a progressive track, we're going to have to make some compromises. It starts by listening.

These are your families, friends, neighbours, and ultimately they're citizens and voters, and we need to listen to the concerns they have and bring it back to the legislatures of the country and actually act upon them. The solutions will range from providing more economic access and support for those in poverty, which we all want anyway - or, to be blunt, it may even lead to discussions about limiting immigration or reexamining how newcomers are integrated into Canadian society. We will have to actually have discussions on these issues, no matter how uncomfortable they end up being, and it may lead us to things that twist progressive hearts. But at least we'll be ensuring these people have their voices heard, and we can find a way forward that doesn't lead to hate.

The alternative is that we act like toffs and condemn everyone who says immigration is having a negative impact on their lives as a racist, Islamophobe, whatever, and act like we can ignore them. We can put up all the posters we want about how that Muslim immigrant is just like you, but if we're not addressing the deeper insecurities people feel, then they will eventually find an outlet that will. The people who will ride waves of anti-immigrant populism to power are the ones we truly need to stop, and we can only do that by getting to the source before they do.


  1. Yeah, the way the establishment polarizes this debate is despicable. (The Star is establishment agenda with the conscience of a liberal. One can see this in the way they campaign and do damage control for the Ontario Liberal party and their fierce opposition to electoral reform which would remove their stranglehold over government.)

    The establishment created the immigration mess in Europe with free-market reforms: a) free trade; b) a common currency area (to enforce fiscal discipline on social democratic nations via monetary policy); c) free-market borders (whose entire purpose was to flood EU countries with cheap labor; instead of red-tape 'Temporary Foreign Workers' in Canada to export jobs internally, they have permanent foreign workers.)

    Like they sold 2000s' derivatives as the latest in financial innovation technology, they sold the EU as 'peace, love and unity.' Both times, selling the people a bill of goods.

    Presently the establishment resorts to PC outrage to maintain their control. Don't like this bribe-taking presidential candidate of ours? You're a 'racist, misogynist Bernie Bro.' Don't like this immigration anarchy of ours? You're a right-wing fascist and must be shamed by society.

    Fact is the 'unwashed masses' tend to squawk a lot more about immigrants when they are facing hard times of their own. (Just like they dump on welfare recipients.) It's human nature. A society can make political correctness its official religion. But with any kind of authoritarian or totalitarian society, the people will say their Hail Mary's in public then joke about the Pope crapping in the woods behind closed doors. (Their hatred of their oppressive overlords can defiantly exaggerate their blasphemy, so to speak.)

    The real cure to ending strife between the majority and minorities is Keynesian 'New Deal' economics. If times are prosperous, people won't have any fear and anger to transfer to hatred. They will enjoy their lives: live and let live. (People are generally good-natured, willing to make sacrifices and do the right thing; they are invested in the future of humanity through their children and grandchildren. The establishment is far removed from these human qualities. They have all appearances of being ethically-bankrupt sociopaths; no slimy politicking or crime against humanity beneath them.)

    The establishment is comprised of grand Balkanizers. They are a small minority that has to divide and conquer society to maintain their power and wealth. They love strife and discord. Pitting various groups against one another.

    The establishment is clearly not the solution to our problems; the establishment is the problem.

    1. I'm someone who actually believes action by the establishment is the solution... but I can't argue that they're also the problem. I find its a mistake to tar everyone in power as the same, because they aren't - some groups are more willing to play these games than others are, both without malevolence and also with. The trick is bringing everyone in the establishment together to say, hey, this is going to be a problem and its your fuck-up so you need to fix it before what we have that is positive is swept away in populist anger.

  2. Terrific article as usual, Kyle.

    Reading this, I'm reminded of how other Canadians have repeatedly made hay of Quebec's language laws and debates over "reasonable accommodation", implying that they're racists for the concerns about how their communities are changing, the use of new languages in their communities, and the feeling that they are expected to adapt to conform to the new immigrants' needs, without doing much to actually integrate into their new home society.

    As it turns out, concerns about this were common across the entire country.

    If anything, Quebec is one of the few places that's actually tried to address these issues, including establishing firmer rules and expectations for new arrivals.

    By and large, Quebec did so for a lot of the same reasons people in other parts of Canada feel frustrated as Kyle described here.

    And has accusing people of being racist, colonialist, patriarchal, preserving traditional power structures, or whatever else, actually gotten us any further to resolving these issues?

    Actually, no, it hasn't. Neither has calling people stupid and idiotic for expressing skepticism about things like "free trade" as it's expressed in trade agreements like NAFTA, or seemingly unlimited immigration as shown by the EU.

  3. Consider the establishment the upper class: the top 20%; the net investment holders and upper management in business. Obviously, like any group, not every member is corrupt. I don't advocate stringing these people up by lamp posts. What I am saying is that their capture of democratic government, the economy and the news media is entirely corruption and unacceptable. The solution is for the people to stop it with their votes and by taking to the streets in protests when necessary.

    Their various looting schemes over the past 35 years have caused enormous damage:

    a) inflation-fighting monetary policy that erred on the side of investment holders at the expense of workers putting millions of North Americans out of work permanently and driving down real incomes; it also contributed to economic collapse;

    b) pump-dump-short market manipulation schemes that have wreaked havoc: 1987 stock market crash, 2001 'dot com' bust, 2008 derivatives meltdown;

    c) pump-dump-short-deflate-buy! currency-market manipulation schemes: Latin Tigers, Asian Tigers, euro-zone;

    d) tax 'efficiency' tax-cutting schemes (for the rich) that caused skyrocketing government debt; (looting wealth that saddles the people with debt)

    e) free trade schemes meant to drive down wages and Balkanize the international community creating a deregulatory race to the bottom when another financial meltdown could trigger fascist revolutions, world war and the Anthropocene; when global warming could produce the same before the end of the century.

    f) privatization rent-seeking and gouging of consumers

    g) the trend towards monopolization from growing corporate agglomerations that gouge consumers (more rent-seeking; this is pecking-order entitlement found commonly in Nature absurdly parading around as a meritocracy; the establishment's self-serving economic ideology absurdly parading around as technocracy;)

    h) deregulation; the worst failure, the 2000s Bust Out: a complex web of fraud among predatory-lending commercial banks, trust-liquidating bond rating agencies, Ponzi-scheming investment bankers, paper-stretching shadow bankers, very-big-shorting hedge fund managers and Masters of the Universe playing musical chairs with the global financial system. (With boiler-room pump-and-dump market manipulation schemes, insiders have to be in direct collusion to know when to dump the hyped-up worthless investment; mass-market pump-dump-short manipulation schemes, however, require indirect collusion — a latch-on conspiracy: a player hypes up dog investment; other players realize the game is afoot and join in the hype; the dump signal is not communicated directly: players listen for the music to stop: a market signal the bubble is about to burst.)

    i) disaster capitalism: as Naomi Klein shows in her meticulously-researched book 'The Shock Doctrine', Milton Friedman invented the concept of manufacturing economic crises to force neoliberal reforms on a people who would never vote for them (i.e. premeditated fuck-ups.)

    In short, these robber barons are not looting wealth from a farm of money trees. They are looting wealth from the people destroying their living standards, saddling them with towering debt, and putting the global economy on the verge of collapse. If the global economy collapses, this will trigger fascist revolutions and world war just as it did in the 1930s. If this happens, civilization is toast.

  4. BTW, the solution to all these problems is simply a 'New Deal 2.'

    The first New Deal was charted into 'terra incognita.' Ended up creating modern living standards which were unprecedented in human history (before the neoliberal looters came to power through Reagan.)

    So we have the foreknowledge that a 'New Deal' would be the solution to all our problems. This is an idea that's in the air. The movement that is now forming to end the neoliberal era, is similar to the movement that swept FDR to power in the 1930s. Only difference is that people are connected across the democratic world through the social media which makes a contemporary movement potentially much more powerful.

    (The movement is not about any particular political leader coming to power; it's about doing the right thing collectively in parallel to representational democracy: fighting for human rights, human development, humane living standards and a stable, sustainable global economy using the Keynesian 'New Deal' economic system which is actually Utopian [but developmentally over time — less than a century at present according to my calcs — not instantaneously by means of a half-baked revolution.])

    Long story short: it's all about the movement; that's the thing to keep an eye out for.