• Immigration: what’s all the fuss? My thoughts… (part 1)

    With the rise and rise of UKIP, even despite their consistent foot-in-mouth propensity (and perhaps because of it), I have written a piece looking at UKIP in a skeptical light and am now due to write about the subject which concerns them the most. Immigration. This is quite a useful thing to do because in some respects I am not fundamentally sure where I stand on the minutiae of this core election Pandora’s Box.reflections-on-the-fabric-of-immigration-crg-cgp-260x146-2013592

    For me, as a philosopher, there are several ways of looking at immigration:

    • What are the benefits to the destination country?
    • What are the benefits to the source country?
    • What are the benefits to the migrant?
    • Do these questions matter in light of the idea of it being a sort of intrinsic right, irrespective of consequence?
    • How does it work within the present political/economic/infrastructural context (ie UK/EU etc)?

    Part of the problem is that these are really difficult to answer, with people disagreeing, with huge unknowns in predicting future outcomes, and with large amounts of empirical data being needed.

    As with anything concerning politics, it is useful to not just argue on the veneer; one needs to get back to the basics, the fundamentals. And this will also involve psychology, perhaps in its less rational form.


    To start with, we need to establish a moral philosophy, which is itself dependent on what abstract ideas are. This then informs what we, politically speaking, should do. In concise, simplistic form: abstract ideas do not have ontic reality (they don’t have their own separate existence) outside of human minds. In other words, they are conceptual; without human or sentient minds, the ideas would not exist. This means the objective existence of morality and things like human rights do not exist in some Platonic ether. They exist in our heads as concepts and we have to work rationally in order to establish them and construct frameworks and structures to employ and use such abstract moral ideas. This is what it means to be a conceptual nominalist, as I am. So we construct morality ourselves, in the hope that some kind of universalism can be appropriated. Can we all, with our different minds, arrive at a singular moral conclusion?

    One such approach to morality is defining moral value of an action by the consequences that it brings about. This consequentialism is actually fairly popular and intuitive, psychologically speaking. If this is a moral framework that we are adopting, then we need to be considering the consequences, morally speaking, to immigration. We might also consider virtue ethics which seeks to evaluate moral decision making in the context of whether it aligns to the human flourishing of the agent. It is not so much about individual actions being right or wrong, but about the moral character, with emphasis on the virtues, of the agent. How does this fit in with immigration? Would a virtuous person more likely be someone who closes their door on the less fortunate, or on fellow humans, or who opens their door and welcomes in outsiders, as the Good Samaritan did?

    Politics, remember, is about how we should run the country, and thus it is arguably a subsection of moral philosophy. There is clearly a moral dimension to immigration, especially when we consider, from a European perspective, thousands perishing in the Mediterranean as they try to flee poverty, war and political instability in their home countries.

    One of the first things I think it is important to do when starting to consider immigration is “What would do in their situation?” This is vital in putting yourself in their shoes to understand the motivations of the migrants. All too often, immigration becomes part of the us and them paradigm; social identity theory where we have in-groups and out-groups. We see immigrants (now starting to be called migrants in a lot of media as the term “immigrants” is seen as carrying a lot of baggage, so to speak, though often such people, dying on boats, are not seen as people) as others or outsiders coming in to our country and this causes us to be psychologically biased against them. If we looked at them as fellow people, then perhaps our opinion changes. Thus immigration, as a political issue, is actually more appropriately a psychological issue. When we put ourselves in the immigrant’s shoes, seeking to better our life, often for the benefit of our family, then we start realising that what such migrants are seeking to do is exactly what we would do in that scenario. When we do that, we start understanding them better, and we start empathising. This breaks down the us and them barrier. They become humans and not others.

    Therefore, if we start seeing the issue in this way, we understand that it is ripe for irrational bias, and then policy making and political theorising becomes a case of post hoc rationalisation: scrabbling around for reasons as to why you think X or Y after the fact of concluding that intuitively. In other words, the conclusion is not grounded in rationality, but in intuitive psychology.

    That said, this in no way invalidates any conclusions about immigration per se, or says nothing about immigration policies grounded rationally or having rational purchase.

    Philosophy of Borders

    In recent years, I have found myself considering myself less to be British and more to be a member of the Homo sapiens sapiens community. This is mainly due to philosophising and realising that borders are nothing more than arbitrary accidents of history. When we consider that humans are then born, with no control over their births, inside or outside of these accidents of history (invisible and in some sense arbitrary) then we can see that people are simply born lucky or unlucky.

    With this paradigm in mind, it is difficult for me to argue that I should be entitled to the luxuries associated with my country and someone else should not, merely on account of the fact that I was born here and them there, over which I and they had no control. Why should this give me any entitlement? From this point of view, I find it hard to argue against immigration. It becomes a case of social Darwinism: my country is better than yours, it’s for me, and you can’t have it. So there. We regress to mere wild animals protecting our own burrows from competing animals. Surely we are better than that. We are beyond that: we don’t want to commit the genetic or naturalistic fallacy. This is how we got here, or how nature developed us, so this is how it should be

    I can see an inevitable future of a one world order. I cannot see us solving global problems without properly global solutions, and retaining our parochial borders with such a large and growing population seems almost impossible and counter-productive. Whether this happens in 50, 100, 500 or 1,000 years I don’t know. But I am sure humanity will move in that direction. We are, after all, humans, as a universal term. We can already see racial integration. With movement of people and no more geographical isolation which promotes genetic diversification, I can see a similar picture of humanity X years in the future of having no black, white, Asian racial ethnicity, but a homogenous gene pool. It’s a bit of an aside, but I cannot see any long-term retention of large-scale genetic diversity. People move, gene pools mix.

    One can see that with culture. Already, say, in the UK, our cultural cross-section is entirely different to what it was 100 or 200 years ago.

    However, we are in a country with borders, and that framework does currently exist and have meaning. So what need we consider? I will turn to subject of Britain, within the UK (for example) and economic considerations in the next post.

    Part 2 can be found here.


    Category: MoralityPhilosophyPoliticsPsychology


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce