This column periodically revisits the concept of boundaries as fundamental to civilization itself. Perhaps the most self-evident, the most taken for granted, and yet the most often violated boundary is that between the real and the fictional. The violation of that particular boundary (or those boundaries, as they are as infinite as the number of impossible things that can never happen) is the by far the most dangerous and the most likely to lead to immediate and extreme consequences.
Perhaps the best known instance of disastrous consequences stemming from the breach of a boundary between the real and the fictional was the American Civil War of 1861. At that time in human history there had already existed for more than two generations a simple incontrovertible reality: chattel slavery was not commensurate with civilized, industrial societies. This reality was evident to all, with the crucial exception of the ruling classes of the American South. These highly educated and highly influential people chose to not only cling to the illusion that slavery could endure into the industrial age, but bet their fortunes and their honor on it. Needless to say, they lost their bet and with it were lost the countless lives of brave Americans. Furthermore, they created a dangerous reality that reverberates through America to this very day and in fact more today than in the last fifty years.
Today, the illusion that so grievously hurt the South one hundred and fifty years ago has morphed into a different, though no less dangerous one. This illusion is often called “white supremacy”, but really it is the illusion that “white” denotes a type of ethnicity, cultural identity, or common history. In reality, skin pigmentation or claiming the continent of Europe as one’s ancestral homeland has exactly nothing to do with either one of those things. Europe is home to many cultures that span the spectrum from Eastern collectivism (Russia) to Western individualism (Britain). From extreme work ethic (Germany) to extreme laissez-faire (Greece). Ethnically, Hungarians would be quite amused to be told that they share anything in common with the Portuguese. European diaspora is similarly diverse; it is doubtful that much in common can be found among people in Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, or America, whose ancestors came from the European continent.
An argument often put forth by participants in the “white supremacy” is the supposed economic success of white majority countries as compared to those that are not so lucky. This is an easily refuted argument. The success of certain European and European-derived societies relies on the culture of lawfulness that has flourished in them due to certain historical and geographic reasons. The British, for example, being the occupants of a small island meager in natural resources, developed a highly venturesome culture that depended on a high degree of order and discipline to succeed in its maritime endeavors. The French and the Russians, blessed with vast natural resources, did not have to venture far from their shores.
Counter-examples of course abound, both in history and in the present. Japan, China, and South Korea developed highly economically successful societies without the benefit of “whiteness”. What they share are hard-working and law-abiding populations. Recently I saw a side-by-side of Detroit in the 1960’s (white! prosperous!) and now (black! derelict!). The message is clear. Or is it? The 1960’s Detroit benefited from zero competition from Germany, Japan, and Korea, all still licking their wounds after WWII. Soon as that competition hit in the 1970’s, it turned out that Detroit (all white!) was producing inferior product with inferior quality at uncompetitive prices and capitalism worked. Cadillac became Caddy and nobody wanted that stuff anymore. Prosperity left Detroit and found a new home in Stuttgart and Tokyo. Real estate prices dropped and more African Americans moved in now that they could afford it. So no, Detroit is not derelict because of blacks. It is derelict because whites ran it into the ground. In fact, the story of Detroit is a perfect counter-example for white supremacy; American whites (and in the 1970’s most blue collar and nearly all white collars workers in Detroit were white) were beaten, fair and square by a bunch of Asians.
Illusions have reasons; denying reality does not come naturally. In the antebellum South, the idea of African Americans, who in many areas constituted the majority of the population, obtaining the full slate of rights guaranteed to all Americans including the right to keep and bear arms was so unpalatable to the ruling and the working class whites, that they had to take refuge in the illusion that this inevitable outcome could be long forestalled. Today, American communities, many of which are majority white are being disrupted by an influx of refugees, migrants, and immigrants, both legal and illegal. This is introducing significant stress factors into communities many of which are already struggling to provide adequate services to their existing populations.
Significantly, these stresses have nothing to do with the ethnic origins, the skin color, or the religion of the new arrivals, though it may seem that they do. They have everything to do with their lack of experience in functioning as members of law-abiding societies and their low educational and public health standards. It is exceedingly difficult for societies to successfully absorb massive levels of immigration when immigrants are less educated, less healthy, and less experienced to the rule of law than the original population. Just ask the nearly 100% Ashkenazi Israel of the 1950’s how hard it was to absorb the massive immigration of Jews from North Africa, Yemen, and Iraq. Or the much more prosperous Israel of the 1990’s about the absorption of Ethiopian Jews. Many, many mistakes were made. Many scars remain. Intra-Jewish Ashkenazi on Sephardi (in other words white on black) racism was rampant and, unfortunately it had not yet been fully effaced to this day. Ethiopian Jews, whose standards of education, health, and societal development were even lower than those of the Sephardi Jews from the 1950’s, are finding it even more difficult to fit in. And Israel is struggling with them even more, all the good intentions in the world non-withstanding. But there is also a highly illuminating counter-example. The 1970’s and 1990’s waves of Russian Jewish immigration to Israel, while not without their own difficulties, proved to be much easier to absorb. And it is easy to see why; these folks were educated, healthy, and law-abiding (in other words used to living in a state of lawfulness). They set about learning Hebrew, finding the ins and outs of the Israeli society, and eventually joining its leadership at the highest levels. It took them a few years to achieve what Sephardi Jews could only realize after two generations. Was institutional racism to blame? Were non-immigrant Ashkenazi Jews receiving preferential treatment? Most certainly, in both cases. The Russian immigrants however knew how to deal with discrimination; they were experts in it from the old Soviet Union days. The Sephardi Jews had to learn the hard way. Ethiopian Jews are learning still.
Inviting non-Ashkenazi Jews to Israel as part of the Law of Return enjoyed and still enjoys wall-to-wall consensus in Israel, though the difficulties associated with it have always been well-understood. Imagine how much more difficult it is when these kind of immigrants are foisted on communities that were not consulted in the least prior to their arrival. No wonder that some of the folks who are so ill-treated by their own elected officials are pushed to finding refuge in dangerous illusions such as “white destiny”, “white genocide”, etc. What is desperately needed are responsible leaders like President Trump, who lead the way to a common-sense immigration policy. This policy should be broadly merit-based, such that most immigrants who are granted entry are law-abiding, educated, and healthy individuals. Such individuals, regardless of anything else, will be welcomed with open arms in any American community. A small number of refugees from less fortunate backgrounds can be admitted on humanitarian grounds in consultation with their host communities. Perhaps Hollywood, California is better suited to receive Somalian refugees than a small town in rural Minnesota. Let’s ask them!