VARIOUS TEXTS: Immigration is won or lost in the playground

By Daniel Finkelstein

The problem isn’t one of numbers but of speed. If too many migrants arrive at once, integration is impossible

A big debate has taken place about whether resistance to immigration has been caused by politicians talking about it too little, or by politicians talking about it too much. I don’t think either is right. I think it’s the facts of immigration that have caused resistance, not the talking.

Let me have a go at explaining. Co-operation with fellow humans is a basic instinct because it has proven to be a successful evolutionary strategy. In a new — and superb — book, Super Cooperators, Martin Nowak and Roger Highfield analyse how collusion* between people emerged and explain how we seek to reciprocate* each other’s favours. We do this either directly, returning the favours of those who help us; or indirectly, building a reputation as a good citizen and co-operating with other good citizens.

It is thus a prominent feature of literature on evolutionary psychology that alongside our co-operative instinct, we have also developed strong armour* against deceit*. We have a very strong aversion to doing favours for those who do not — or might not — reciprocate. An important part of this defence is our strong notion of fairness. The Left has always misunderstood fairness, thinking it merely about equality. But for most people it is a much richer idea. We do not have a strong reaction — “that’s so unfair” — merely when things aren’t shared out evenly. We have it when people are taking out more than they are putting in. Or when we worry that they might be.

The reason why crime, welfare fraud and tax evasion touch off such a strong reaction is that they offend against our gut view of fairness. But why should immigration, which touches off something like the same reaction, offend against fairness? Many, probably most, immigrants are among the hardest-working citizens, contributing far more than they take out. That is certainly my experience.

The reason is complicated, but it starts here. Our determination to be treated fairly is instinctive and we use short cuts to help us to identify whom we think we can trust to reciprocate our favours. We are suspicious* and always on our guard. We attach great importance to signs that people sees themselves as part of our community, that they are not just passing through, and that they are ready to deal with all of us. This may be a crude calculation, perhaps not even a conscious one, but it is a strong influence on our behaviour.

So our instinct as co-operators is to put great value on the willingness of immigrants to integrate. And there has been a good deal of debate about this. It’s just that much of it has been wrong.

Integration is relatively easy to achieve. But it won’t take place by urging immigrants to integrate themselves. All over the world, immigrant communities integrate with broader societies simply by sending their children to school. In a single generation, by socialising with their peers, immigrant children become British children. As Judith Rich Harris explains in her book No Two Alike, the task of adolescents is to make their way in a world dominated by their peers*, not their parents. So they quickly adjust to the norms of their peer group.

Which makes integration a matter of maths. If a school peer group is dominated by British children, the children of immigrants will integrate into it. But if the size of their own immigrant peer group is big enough, then, being only human, young people will socialise mainly with other members of that group.

Thus the difficulty with mass immigration is not, in fact, mass at all. Over time Britain can, and should, absorb many immigrants. The problem with mass immigration has been its speed. At its current, incredible, pace there is no chance for integration, either now or in the near future. And immigration without integration is bound to produce serious political tension, whether the sponsors of such a policy regard such tension as reasonable or not.

Slowing the pace of immigration is not about opposing immigrants. It’s about making a success of immigration.
681 words

* collusion - geheime, vorherige Absprache
* to reciprocate - wechselseitig geben, Wünsche erwidern
* armour - Abwehr
* deceit - Betrug, Hinterlistigkeit
* suspicious - argwöhnisch
* peers - Gleichaltrige

1. The author refers to the book "Super Cooperators" which contains a theory on how a good community can develop. Describe this theory in your own words.
2. What has "fairness" to do with the issue of immigration?
3. Taking into account socialization, how can immigration best be achieved? And when will integration of immigrants fail?
4. Do you think that the problems about immigration in the UK are different from those in Germany? Substantiate your opinion.

Source: The Times of April 20, 2011

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