On the Dehumanization of Immigrants

Britain is in the grip of a worrying trend.

Our own Prime Minister compared migrants in Calais to insects when he called them a “swarm”.

Meanwhile, internet comment sections relating to the refugees are filled with hatred and venom. Asylum seekers are referred to as “invaders”, and the trolls encourage the British authorities to shoot them, to machine gun them, and hang them on meat hooks.

This dehumanization of immigrants frightens me. Not simply because dehumanization of large groups of people often foreshadows violence. It frightens me because this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot more of this hateful stuff bubbling beneath the surface of our society. Anti-immigrant sentiment has been swelling in Britain for the last two decades, gently encouraged by tabloid journalists and other intellectually lazy people looking for an easy scapegoat for the economic and social problems of the age. As Richard Seymour noted last year in The Guardian, “77% of people in the UK want immigration reduced, and 56% want it ‘reduced a lot‘”.

Britain has been subject to soaring inflows of immigration in the past twenty years. This has meant large-scale changes to the fabric of society, some of which people may like, but many of which they may not. And there is an additional burden on public services. IPSOS-Mori, for instance, found that there is a strong correlation across Europe between anti-immigrant sentiment and people’s perception of strain on public services. In that sense, anti-immigration sentiment in itself may not be entirely irrational.

Still, it does ignore the fact that there may be cleaner solutions to Britain’s problems than simplistically blaming immigration, and trying to clamp down on human movement. None of the strains on public services, health care and infrastructure would exist if only the government would properly scale investment in infrastructure and public services to demand. Immigrants pay more taxes than they draw out in services, so immigration has hardly made such investment unaffordable. Not to mention the billions of pounds in cheap lending that the private market made available to the government at negative real rates during the last parliament — money that could have been invested in infrastructure and public services — but which the government passed on.

As America — with its millions of undocumented migrants — is discovering, trying to stem flows of humans is very hard. People are slippy, and they go where they wish. Walls and fences are impediments, but they are not absolutes. People can be incredibly singleminded. The stories of the migrants in Calais who have escaped warzones, famines and despots in Africa and the middle east to slip into Europe, and across the Channel are a testament to the resilience of the human will. That resilience is why the anti-immigration internet trolls are setting their sights upon machine guns and meathooks and other such savagery. Walls and barbed wire and officers with searchlights and sniffer dogs isn’t working.

In the bigger picture, as anti-immigrant sentiment has swelled, there may be an overflow into the demonization and ostracization of ethnic minorities, even those who are here legally. Even those who were born here. Even those such as myself who were born here and are the children of white, English mothers. Even, perhaps, to white Britons who favour multiculturalism and immigration. The data shows that Britain is getting more racist, with 1 in 3 admitting to racial prejudice, up from 25 percent in 2001.

In the long run, I have no doubt that the economic benefits of migration — it’s estimated that completely open borders would roughly double global GDP via more efficient matching of workers and firms — will win out and that humanity will become increasingly transnational, and postnational, and ultimately interplanetary.

But for now, with this tidal wave of anti-immigrant and increasingly racist sentiment, I feel frightened at what my own country — a country that I have lived in my entire life — might be becoming.

21 thoughts on “On the Dehumanization of Immigrants

  1. Every immigrant devalues the labour of the indigenous population and reduces their ability to collectively bargain for wages.The only ones to benefit are the people farmer capitalists.

      • This is true under capitalism as we have known it. However, capitalism seems to be deteriorating, at least from the point of view of the 99%. Capital is unable to employ the people who are already here, and the standard of living of most of the population is declining. Therefore, scapegoats will be wanted, and ignorant tribalism is always ready to supply them.

        • | | | | | Capital has always wanted the cheapest labor possible. That can be easily accomplished by an over-supply, whether it be from immigration, child labor, economic decline, or new technology. The industrial revolution in England produced unprecedented heights in manufacturing but unspeakable misery in its people. In both India and England people starved to death who could no longer compete. Those who remained in the work force became mere appendages of their machines, and manufacturers complained loudly against those acts of government which eventually produced protection of children and 10 hour work days for adults. Unregulated capitalism, sought after by such luminaries as George W. Bush, is nothing more than the law of the jungle, and there are millions of our fellow men who would extract the last ounce of work from a broken man for a few more bucks. Ron Slade Sr.26 Deerfield Rd.Covington, Ga. 30014770-784-7439 |


          | | | Stationery, an att.net Mail and Paperless Post collaboration |


      • No, it isn’t a zero sum game. Immigrants can be net contributors, but the wholesale importation of unskilled, uneducated and poverty stricken Third World citizens does little more than increase crime, unemployment, welfare expenditures and multiculturalism.
        Crime rates in Europe ate approximately twice that of natives.

  2. This may be a new experience for the UK, but here in America immigration is an old story. America was known as a “melting pot” where migrants assimilated into the culture over time. But not without conflict.

    My grandparents came from Sicily. Much of the negative remarks made today were also made then. These people didn’t speak English. Worse, they were illiterate even in their own native tongue. They took jobs that no one else wanted, but they worked cheap, so no one else would want those jobs.

    All the same complaints…except the ones about taking public resources. There was no welfare system at the time, so these immigrants weren’t takers. Nothing was being given. They had to make it on their own.

    The other difference was, they actually wanted to become Americans. They learned the language – not only to speak it but to read and write it. They had to in order to become citizens. Today, assimilation is no longer a requirement.

    It only took two generations. My parents were bilingual. My generation only spoke English. No one (including myself) thinks of me as an immigrant.

    Maybe the problem isn’t the immigrants, but what we expect from them.

  3. If the addition of more millions is good for the economy, then China and India should be hip deep in money.
    I’m against meat hooks. I believe if we forced them to listen to country music for, say, 36 hours running, they would deport themselves.

  4. All good comments and a great article from Aziz again. I read that over 4.5 billion people work very hard for less money than they would be paid in the UK on benefits. The internet is getting out the message that the streets of London are paved with gold so can one blame any of these folk being interested in coming here? Add conflict in their own countries and we have a recipe for people wanting to escape to a better life. Unfortunately, we can’t accommodate the numbers interested in coming here. Race, colour or creed generally are not the main issues. Do we really believe that adding millions of unskilled people to the workforce helps the average person in the UK have a better life? It’s an economic disaster for those already here displaced from their jobs by those who will work for much less.
    In addition, with the media coverage of extremist moslems, there is a fear in many people’s minds we may be letting in a fifth column. Many locals feel like aliens in their own communities and do blame the influx of migrants for their inability to get on the housing ladder and so forth.
    Then we see ‘operation lorry stack’ on the M20 caused by would be immigrants and all immigrants get tarred with the same brush.
    Big problems with difficult solutions lie ahead.

    • We have always had immigration but, I agree, this thing has gotten totally out of hand. Here in the U.S. we have kicked this issue around for at least 30 years, and we are pretty much in the same situation as when it started.
      Because it is a sensitive issue the politicians are afraid of it, so they talk and talk and talk, but nothing gets done. Those ethnic groups affected by real law enforcement would certainly retaliate come election time, and our politicians would willingly sell the country down the river if the price was right..
      There are those among us who say there is nothing which can be done about it. If they are right this country will be unrecognizable within 20 years.

  5. I enjoy your comments, but I highly doubt your assumption of free migration would roughly double GDP. The fact is will simply aren’t producing enough Jobs anywhere due to automation.

      • It is no lump of labor fallacy. Look at wage growth across the developed world. It just not there.
        Here in the US, all the politicians are falling over themselves to enact minimum law increasing. If there was truly any shortage of workers, wages would be rising naturally. It will not work either due to workers simply being automated out of existence. In fact, it will expedite the trend.

        All our monetary wizards are capable these days our creating rapid Asset inflation.

  6. In Europe they now have free flowing migration, and isn’t generating many jobs. Your comments around global governance sound like a banker’s dream.

    • Heh, free flowing migration may have added a lot to European GDP. Other factors (e.g. weird one-size-fits-all monetary policy) have probably reduced it. It’s hard to prove a negative.

  7. It seems you are advocating for a one-size all immigration policy: Anybody with two feet should be able to migrate to UK, EU or US. As for European’s GDP, it had less to do with free flowing migration and more to do with hot fiat money flowing into economies thus cause them to overheat. In time, I believe we will see nations states build more walls around their borders than less. Mad Max is our future otherwise.

  8. People starting to trust each-other instead of blindly following the rule of the land was what transformed feudalism into ‘capitalism’/free market/democracy.
    That happened when populations happening to inhabit a certain area morphed into nations = developed enough understanding about the fellow countryman as to trust him.
    Nowadays capital no longer signifies trust but a mere pile of money and democracy has devolved into a mere ritual.
    This is why nationalism has degenerated from ‘I know/trust you so let’s do business together’ into ‘I’m afraid of everybody else so I need you to guard my back’.

  9. Reblogged this on nicichiarasa and commented:
    People starting to trust each-other instead of blindly following the rule of the land was what transformed feudalism into ‘capitalism’/free market/democracy.
    That came to be when populations happening to inhabit a certain area morphed into nations = people developed enough understanding about their fellow countryman as to trust them.
    Nowadays capital no longer signifies trust but a mere pile of money and democracy has devolved into a mere ritual.
    This is why nationalism has degenerated from ‘I know/trust you so let’s do business together’ into ‘I’m afraid of everybody else so I need you to guard my back’.

  10. Lack of trust is one feature of a multi-cultural society. Tribalism seems to be part of who we are. At first, one’s trust is limited to one’s own group, but when diversity becomes rampant mistrust of everyone seems to take over.

    The whole idea of nationhood is based on kinship and commonality, the glue that holds a society together. We can paint over the facts with maudlin sentimentality and greeting card aphorisms about diversity, but there is absolutely no proof that diversity for the sake of difference is good, while there is ample proof that it ain’t necessarily so.

  11. Do you think our influence of IMF, World Bank, just general foreign economic policy is making things worse in poor countries?

    Devaluation of the currency to encourage exports
    High taxes as part of austerity

    These policies are destroying capital in poor countries. Why don’t we start by examining what we are doing to these poor people that is destroying their countries so they have to come here.

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