Tuesday, June 6, 2017

“They’re Not Our Kind”

Drop a large anonymous box into the wilds of Africa. Do the animals in the jungle or the savannahs rush forward to explore this newest factor in their world? Obviously not. Curiosity killed the cat. Animals are programmed to avoid anything they do not understand. Such new elements are assumed to be malevolent, an assumption programmed into them to keep them alive. Where animals operate in groups, the designated (evolved) defenders might set out to explore, identify and resist this intruder or the varying species might just avoid that unknown force until time makes it ordinary. This natural and atavistic response to “different” is programmed into virtually every sentient creature on earth. Humans too.
But with logic and analytical abilities, education and language, humans have purportedly gone through millennia of atavistic evolution, able to adapt, understand and even coopt these differences. The most atavistically evolved among us become explorers, discoverers and scientists, actively seeking out and/or creating “new and different.” Perhaps it is because we feel so technologically powerful that most of what could challenge us can be tamed or controlled by that technology. Yet we live in a new world where misdefined “faith” trumps truth and scientific fact.
If you mix “difference” and that rejection of science with growing shortages of natural resources, environmental degradation, negative changes in economic opportunity and global repression and conflict – accelerate the introduction of “difference” by forced migration – watch that atavistic circling of the wagons ripple powerfully back to the surface. Fear of the different, marginal in prosperous and stable times, moves disturbing to dominance among too many of us in periods of extreme change and mounting jeopardy. Blame the “different others” is the clear side-effect.
The American melting pot or lettuce bowl seems to be sinking into the quicksand of uncertainty. Welcome to the early 21st century. We underestimate the powerful grip of this ancient emotion and overestimate our commitment to religious beliefs that preach harmony, brotherly love, acceptance, helping the unfortunate and not sitting in harsh judgment of others.
There is a huge argument all across Europe these days. The same Europe that fostered oppressive colonialism for centuries. This debate has fueled political movements, vitriol and extreme retrenchments of traditional populations and values… a movement that most certainly has crossed the ocean to our own shores. The premise in the Western world? “Except for traditional white ethnically European, assimilation does not work.” If that notion were remotely true, the experiment we call the United States of America is doomed to failure… but then, so is Canada. Toronto, Ontario, Canada – not Los Angeles, New York, London, Mexico City or San Paulo – is the ethnically most diverse city on earth. Sorry, despite the roiling political seas here in the United States, Canada is just fine, thank you.
That, then, cannot be the inevitable result of our lettuce bowl. I’d like to think that the constant immigrant-refreshing of American knowledge and research is what made us great, powerful and addicted to innovation. We have been so overwhelmed by people who are different that we have made this into our glorious signature, why we have been, until now, been labeled “the land of opportunity.” As immigration has seriously declined, the rest of the world is justifiably skeptical of America’s commitment to tolerance and diversity. Even tourists sense the hostility. “Travel to the United States has dropped as much as 16 percent in the months since President Donald Trump took office — and there's no sign of recovery, according to a new study.” NBCNews.com, May 24th.
What is also significant in understanding our current hostility of “people of difference,” and that of much of Western Europe, is the failure of the second and, for those of easily discernable difference (clothing choices, religious markings and race), subsequent generations to find a viable and relevant place in that “new” society. The first generations, the immigrants themselves, are seeking escape from horrors or an ability denied them in their countries of origin for economic betterment. Their reaction to their new homeland, after their learning the language and settling into their life’s routine, is gratitude. Appreciation. Joy and commitment to their new nation.
Not so, their children. The festering isolation, the clear discrimination they feel, witnessing prosperity on television but never able to achieve its benefits, is not countered by hostile memories of the “old country” and the gratitude of having escaped it. Simply, they are denied an identity of relevance in the new land. They are easy pickings for radicals from that “old country” telling them to “come back” to fight for “something greater than themselves,” to resist their oppressors (of which they see lots of examples) and receive that super-cherished new identity of relevance, the ability to feel that they belong and are values. Assimilation to them is nothing more than a broken promise. ISIS and al Qaeda understand this reality better than most. It is their most fertile source of new international recruits. But it’s not just folks from Islamic nations; it is anybody who simply looks or acts “different from the mainstream.” Why?
Wikipedia: “Multiple factors affect the likelihood of downward assimilation, including race, location, and absence of mobility ladders. Generally, immigrants enter the sectors of the labor force that experience low pay, commonly through jobs in the service sector and manufacturing. Such jobs seldom offer chances for upward mobility. The lack of good pay and resources available to immigrant parents affects the likelihood of their U.S.-born children being able to rise out of poverty. Children born to low skilled immigrants may experience assimilation into the impoverished groups of the United States. Instead of adapting to the mainstream values and expectations of U.S. society, they take on the adversarial stance of the poor, entering the vicious cycle of poverty. According to the theory of segmented assimilation, second-generation immigrants are less likely to experience downward assimilation when their race does not align with groups that experience prejudice and discrimination, such as African Americans. Also, immigrant families can enter well established ethnic groups in the United States to increase their pool of resources, lowering the possibility of downward assimilation for their children.
No single human being has done more to enable discriminatory words, feelings and actions against people of color here in the United States than Donald – speak or tweet (and then act?) whatever is on your mind without regard to the consequences – Trump. If those second (and beyond) generation social outcasts were welcomed into society, provided with an education that creates opportunity, do you really think the world would be as remotely unsettled as it is? How exactly has “they’re not our kind” made our world better? For those who consider themselves Christians (or just tolerant, law-abiding citizens) but practice “rejectionism,” might I suggest their spending some quality time rereading the New Testament or their moral equivalent (like the Constitution)?
I’m Peter Dekom, and I am wondering exactly how this newfound intolerance has enhanced our lives and made us safer.

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