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The new case against immigration: A Comment on Mark Krikorian's thesis by James Schipper

This commentary on Mark Krikorian's latest book on immigration is typical of James Schipper's fresh and independent outlook. He shows the problem of assimilation from a different angle. It is not simply a matter of "too many too soon". Other factors come into play as well. Why is integration of newcomers important from an environmental perspective? Dr. William Rees, co-author of Our Ecological Footprint, said that social cohesion will be necessary to meet the upcoming ecological challenges that will face us. - Tim Murray

Hello. I just received and started to read “The New Case Against Immigration” by Mark Krikorian. His central thesis is that mass immigration is undesirable, not so much because immigration today are quite different from those in the past, but because the US and the world are different.

One difference that he mentions is that modern means of communication and transportation make it much easier for immigrants to remain in contact with their country of origin and practice what he calls trans-nationalism, which hinders their assimilation.

I think that the problem of trans-nationalism is vastly overstated. What matters more for purposes of assimilation are the frequency of contacts between immigrants and the natives of the new country than those between immigrants and their country of origin.

Let's take two Polish immigrants: Karol and Tadeusz. Both speak Polish at home, are members of a Polish club and a local Polish Catholic church, phone Poland twice a week, e-mail people in Poland regularly, read Polish newspapers on-line, receive a Polish TV channel at home and visit Poland every summer for 4 weeks. We can say that they have not been cut off from Poland.

Karol lives in a Polish-dominated neighborhood, his co-workers are mainly Polish and his children go to a school where over 50% of the pupils are children of Polish immigrants. Tadeusz, by contrast, lives in a neighborhood which has only a few Polish families, his co-workers are all non-immigrants and his children go to a school where there are only a few Polish children. I would say that Tadeusz is subject to constant assimilatory pressure because for 48 weeks per year most of his contacts outside the home are with natives. The same applies to his children.

It may be useful to make a distinction between additive assimilation and substitutive assimilation (my terms). With additive assimilation, the immigrant masters the language and culture of the new country without losing those of the old country. With substitutive assimilation, the language and culture of the new country replace those of old country.

I don't see a problem with additive assimilation as long as it is not carried forward to the second, third, fourth, etc generation. Of course, this refers only to objective assimilation, that is, mastery of the language and familiarity with the culture of the new country. Subjective assimilation, that is, going native, feeling like natives and identifying totally with them, is another matter. I would say that very few adults immigrants, regardless of circumstances, attain full subjective assimilation.

It should be pointed out that modern means of communication can also favor assimilation. TV and radio from the new country can enter the immigrant home at each hour of the day. I know a Greek woman whose TV watching essentially consists of a channel from Greece. When I asked her once whether her children watch that channel too, she laughed. "Are you kidding", she replied. This woman speaks nearly perfect English, so seems to be a case of additive assimilation.

In Paraná, my home state in Brazil, there were dozens of Polish colonies, many of which remained Polish for over a century. This occured, not because those Poles had such frequent contacts with Poland, which of course they didn't, but because they had such infrequent contacts with native Brazilians. They tended to live in largely self-sufficient rural communities with their own church and school.

In Southern Russia, the Germans imported by Catherine the Great in the second half of the 18th century resisted Russification for many generation.Mind you, many if not most of them were Mennonites. In Eastern Europe, many Jews lived in separate Yiddish-speaking communities for several centuries. I would say that those three examples illustrate the importance of contacts with the host population for assimilation.

One important difference between the world today and the world of 1900 is that schooling is much more prolonged. This favors rather than hinders assimilation. When children of immigrants have to spend 12 years in schools of the host country, they are are subject to constant assimilatory pressure, unless the children from one immigrant group are the overwhelming majority at the school.

It is generally assumed that Hispanic immigrants in the US are the least assimilated. If that is true, it isn't because they have more frequent contacts with the homeland than other immigrants but because their large numbers and their concentration in a few states allow them to have contacts mainly with their own kind.

The lesson in the above is very simple. If you want your immigrants to be assimilated, don't import too many of them from one country or from countries that are similar, such as the Spanish-American countries.

James Schipper is a resident of London, Ontario (August 2/08)

Submitted by Tim Murray, Director Immigration Watch Canada www.immigrationwatchcanada.org

Comments

It's clear that assimilation is important from an environmental perspective.

Agriculture in Australia has historically been about farming European species in European ways. Many farmers continue to do so, even though salinity problems, the impact on native species, loss of topsoil and water stress all indicate that such practices are far from sustainable. Aside from mainstream agriculture, previous generations have imported plant and animal species that reminded them of 'home'. Foxes and rabbits, introduced for sport, have had a huge impact on our native species as well as reducing agricultural productivity. Lantana now degrades over 4 million hectares of Australia's environment.

Of course, all this is well known to most year 6 students, but what's less well considered is the role that assimilation - or the lack of it - played in making it all possible.

Consider the early British colonists. Were they committed to Australia, our land, plants and animals? Did they feel any connection to Australia? Was it 'home' for them?
Of course not. They were English (or Scottish or Irish or...) plain and simple. And to our eternal cost, succesive generations were actively encouraged to feel the same. Despite the good work of people like those in the Jindyworobak movement, many Australians still related to Menzies 'British-to-the-bootstraps' outlook as late as the 1950's. So the early colonists - and their heirs - proceded to replace all this weird native flora and fauna with more familiar species. Make it more like home. And their children and grandchildren, inheriting their farm, inherited their attitudes too. This was 'British-Australian' culture in action. Bugger the consequences.

Had there been greater awareness of - and respect for - Australia's environment, the early colonists and their descendants might have found that native species provided answers to some of their problems. Bob Beale and Michael Archer have explored these themes in 'Going Native', a book I'd strongly recommend. Indeed, if the development of a modern Australian native culture had been more actively fostered in the past, many of the environmental problems of today could have been mitigated.

Now, I think it's natural for immigrants to feel an attachment to their homelands. It's also right for Australians to take up ways of living that originated elsewhere, if those practices are environmentally and culturally appropriate. No one's too worried about being able to get a good gelatto.
But over time, it's also natural for later generations to adapt to the cultural norms of their new homes. Having official policies that work against this trend is like Canute trying to hold back the tide. Pointless and - in the meantime - divisive and damaging.

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Once again Dave shocks me with another of his typically astute comments. I don't believe anyone has discussed assimilation in these terms before. Certainly not in Canada. It has always been framed in terms of "these people should learn to speak OUR language and learn OUR customs". I think Dave is saying that it is WE who should learn the "language" of the environment where we actually live rather than the environment our grandparents emigrated from. The New Canadians from Asia and southern Europe who live in urban colonies in the five major Canadian cities are not really connected to the land to which they emigrated to. But the native born white yahoos who wreck the landscape with ATVs and snowmobiles and work it as industrial loggers have no spiritual affinity to it either. And most aboriginals, according to my observation, have been corrupted by this crass culture.

So the question, Dave, then, is, assimilation, by all means. But assimilation into what? Assimilation into mindless shopping mall consumerism? Assimilation into insensitivity toward the natural word by a rainbow coalition of Caucasian, Asian, African and Aboriginal spenders, recreationists and workers? All knit together by a common language and harmony and tolerance? If this is the case, I am for anarchy. Nihilism. Let it all fly apart. Let all hell break loose.

Tim

Thanks Tim.

The thing with shopping mall consumer culture is that it's trans-national. If I slip down to the local hyper-mall I could just as easily be in Vancouver or Los Angeles as in Canberra. And why would it be any different? Business is increasingly multi-national. Starbucks in every city etc. The media reflects this and reinforces a feedback loop that progressively divorces people from the social and ecological environments that they live in.

Internationalists of 'left' and 'right' persuasion either see this as no cause for alarm, or even as a positive thing. But is it?

The environmental effects of not "thinking ourselves into the landscape" are patently obvious. On environmental grounds alone, we should encourage people to build appropriate houses and commercial structures, plant native gardens and make appropriate use of native species for agriculture and as companion animals. But instead, we see broadacre developments of faux-Tuscan style houses with no eaves, black tiled roofs and gargantuan air conditioning systems. No space for clotheslines, but electric tumble driers in every dwelling. This in parts of Australia where 40 degree + days are a regular occurence through summer! Planning laws do nothing to limit the madness, even though there are some great examples around of buildings designed to work with the environment to provide superior accommodation, with a much reduced footprint.

Anyone can own a cat or dog - despite the obvious effect that feral cats and dogs have on native species - but you risk prosecution if you feed the blue tongue lizard that lives under your stairs.
Agriculture is still often carried out in ways that just don't suit the climate, soils and landscape in Australia. At the risk of repetition, I'd urge Australian readers to have a look at Michael Archer and Bob Beale's 'Going Native' for a more thorough examination of these issues.

So some aspects of Australian culture are - or should be - shaped by our environment. But others are shaped by social factors and these are sometimes harder to quantify. Australians share a language and other ways of life that largely reflect a historically European heritage. English is the official language. Christianity is nominally the predominant form of religion. Our legal structures are descended from English systems. But over time, we've evolved some cultural elements that are uniquely Australian. Not British-Australian, not anything-Australian - just Australian.

Examples include a culture of mateship and association with the 'underdog' that derives from the conditions prevalent in the convict period (see, for instance, Russel Ward's The Australian Legend). A fondness for sport and other outdoors activity reflects a climate conducive to these things; we've even derived a unique form of football (AFL). There have been some excellent films made that utilise the unique light and landscapes here. I could go on for ever, but..

The thing with all of these cultural aspects is that none of them are in any way exclusive to one racial group or another. They are - in fact - inclusive rather than divisive in nature. So in a country as diverse as Australia, these things should surely be encouraged.

A single, modern national culture will go some way to building true harmony. Encouraging people to cling to the cultures of their homelands, while at the same time preaching tolerance at them, will not.

Australian culture's squeezed between the Californiculture of TV on one hand and the tribalism of official multicultural policies on the other. We should be building a modern Australian culture that's unique, inclusive and environmentally appropriate. The foundations are there. To do so in a comprehensive way would involve all levels of Government and include the broadest scope of activity. Assimilation to such a culture would be something that all Australians could work on together, over time. It's as different from the 'Fit In or F*** Off' model as multiculturalism, and infinitely better than either.

Or at least I think so.. :)

Cheers
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Of course, all this is well known to most year 6 students, but what's less well considered is the role that assimilation - or the lack of it - played in making it all possible.

Consider the early British colonists. Were they committed to Australia, our land, plants and animals? Did they feel any connection to Australia? Was it 'home' for them?

Of course not. They were English (or Scottish or Irish or...) plain and simple. And to our eternal cost, successive generations were actively encouraged to feel the same. Despite the good work of people like those in the Jindyworobak movement, many Australians still related to Menzies 'British-to-the-bootstraps' outlook as late as the 1950's. So the early colonists - and their heirs - proceeded to replace all this weird wholesale lingerie, native flora and fauna with more familiar species. Make it more like home. And their children and grandchildren, inheriting their farm, inherited their attitudes too. This was 'British-Australian' culture in action. Bugger the consequences.

Note: I am not sure why the above post includes a link to a commercial site, but I am assuming that it was posted in good faith. Let's hope that this is not the start of a trend. - JS

Whilst appalling things were done to the environment by our colonial forefathers, more and more of their descendants have started to gain a greater appreciation of the environment, probably beginning from around the middle of the 20th century.

However, this trend has been massively set back by increased waves of immigration since the 1970's. Just as many early settlers (1) had not affinity for the land, so too is the case with many late 20th and 21s century immigrants. Canadian Tim Murray has written a lot of teh poor rate of participation of newere immigrants in environmental organisations as compared to earlier settled Canadian citizens. The same would be applicable to Australia.

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1. This was particularly the case since the Gold Rushes of 1851. Prior to then many settlers' values were influenced by the considerable number of scientists in their midst, who respected the environment. Sheila Newman has written of this in her Masters Thesis of 2002.

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