Thoughts on immigration

samfloy~3 August 2019 /Philosophies

This week’s post is potentially a bit touchy, but one that feels useful to write about.

As mentioned last week, I’m leaving Kenya at the end of the month, the timing of which is driven by Brexit.

One of the big global topics at the time of the decision (/ now) is immigration and upon reading a book a few weeks ago, I realised how my understanding of the topic was pretty crude.

Here I’ll go through how I’ve tried to refine my understanding.

Crude view: immigration is good

For as long as I can remember I’d never really thought about immigration.

I knew that I enjoyed living in a multi-cultural society, and I believe that there are net benefits to the free movement of people.

Whenever I’d read headlines of people saying immigrants are ruining a country I’d instinctively react with the notion that such people were racist and I should, therefore, dismiss anything else that they have to say.

When I’d have discussions with friends/ watch debates about immigration, as soon as the person would start uttering remarks about “preserving our culture” or “capping the number of immigrants” I’d automatically switch off, assume they were close-minded, and try and change the topic.

At times they would, I’m sure, think something similar to me.

When you’ve got two sides unwilling to even listen to each other, it’s only natural that any kind of consensus-building stalls, as both parties are unwilling to engage a conversation.

Getting some nuance on “immigration”

I was reading the book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. It’s by Yuval Noah Harari (the guy who wrote Sapiens).

Each chapter is his thoughts on a topic that’s important to understand for people living in this century (Work, Religion, Truth etc.).

The chapter on immigration suddenly brought clarity on the topic to me.

The rough idea is that the swirl of arguments on immigration can be distilled into having differing opinions to three questions:

  1. Is immigration a right or a privilege?
  2. How much should the immigrant assimilate with the host’s culture?
  3. How long before someone is “fully” assimilated?

Seeing it laid out like this got me thinking about some of the headlines/ arguments I’d seen recently and how often the discourse would be helped by honing in on the differing viewpoints people have one these three questions.

For example, I was listening to this podcast about Denmark, where immigration is a hot topic. Danish people are typically quite liberal, but with an influx of immigrants over the past few years, a vocal right has forced moderate centrist politicians to adopt a “hard line” on immigration to preserve votes.

The result is a big rift between those who:

Now, this is, of course, a simplification, but at the crude level there’s a clash on immigration is good vs immigration is bad, but if you go a level deeper, it seems more like people have grievances about different things and so end up talking past each other.

The result is people get increasingly frustrated at the other side and conversation doesn’t progress. 

Refined view: I’m not 100%

Going through the 1, 2, 3 frameworks of immigration I find I have more empathy with those who want to curb immigration.

It’s not to say I agree, but instead, I feel I have a greater understanding of the viewpoint than when I dismissed anyone with anti-immigration views as being racist.

I’m still in favour of the free movement of people.

What this analysis has made me think more about is how to foster an environment where diverse cultures can coexist (i.e. 2).

In a lot of instances, this appears to be the pertinent issue and one where hopefully some middle ground can be sought without shutting down the borders.

Using the three questions yourself

Whilst the framework might not be perfect, I’ve certainly felt it useful in progressing the conversation on immigration more than anything else.

If you find yourself in a Brexit/ immigration conversation any time soon, you might consider drilling down into these points to see where your (dis)agreements reside. Even if you remain where you were, it’ll probably be a useful exercise for all parties.

Often frustration seems to subside when people feel understood (rather than necessarily agreed with) and one thing I’m increasingly worried about is a situation where people’s frustration boils over into aggression, and any possibility of a reasonable resolution is lost.

You could also read the the book, as that gives more depth to what I’ve written above – I realise it is still pretty high level.

Any thoughts you have on this, or interesting articles/ counter-points, please do share! I’m interested in getting better informed on the topic.


In other news…

Back to Kenya. I’m nearly ready with the release of some new podcast interviews (will share links when released). Next week I’m off to visit companies producing chia seeds, cashew nuts, and artisan chocolate. 

If you have any questions for such companies, please let me know!

Also, if there’s a business in the region that you think has an interesting story to tell, then let me know, and I’ll try and arrange to go and visit them.


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