John Derbyshire: Worse Than America! Lampedusa And European Elite’s Suicidal Insouciance


In the space of a few weeks there, two news stories came along with an obvious connection between them. Outside the sphere of Dissident Right websites, however, the connection was not made. Respectable persons all over the Western world are now well-schooled in what Orwell called “crimestop”—the power of not thinking forbidden thoughts.

  • Story Number One:

…was he release in mid-June of the U.N. World Population Prospects report. The population projections for Africa were particularly striking. The U.N. estimates that the population of Niger, for example, will increase from today’s 18 million to 204 million by the end of the century—more than present-day Brazil.  The former Belgian Congo will have 262 million, more than today’s Russia and Mexico combined.

Population scares are of course nothing new. Biologist Paul Ehrlich made our flesh creep with his book The Population Bomb 45 years ago, and Dr. Malthus was working the field 170 years before that.

The U.N. demographers did not set out to write a best-selling book, though, nor to make philosophical points about human nature, only to project present trends in fertility and mortality into the next few decades, with different—though all reasonable—assumptions yielding low, medium, and high variants for the resulting numbers. Table S.2 in their report, from which I took the data in the second paragraph above, uses the medium variant. This is simple numerical work.

And yes, there have been some impressive drops in fertility over recent decades, especially in the Islamic world. Table S.11 shows nations with the largest and smallest changes in fertility between the late 70s and the late 00s. The average Iranian woman went from producing 6.28 children in her lifetime to 1.89. On the other hand, fertility in Somalia increased in those 30 years from 7.00 to 7.10 children per woman.

Comparing their results with those of the previous report of two years ago, the U.N. authors say:

In the new revision, the estimated total fertility rate (TFR) for 2005-2010 has increased in several countries, including by more than 5 per cent in 15 high-fertility countries from sub-Saharan Africa. In some cases, the actual level of fertility appears to have risen in recent years; in other cases, the previous estimate was too low.

[World Population Prospects, The 2012 Revision: Key Findings and Advance Tables, U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, June 2013; my italics]  

  • Story number two

…was the October 3rd catastrophe off the Italian island of Lampedusa, when more than 300 people from sub-Saharan Africa drowned when the boat they were packed into capsized. Most of the victims were from Eritrea and Somalia, though there seem to have been some West Africans among the dead, too.  

The Africans were of course trying to get to Europe as “refugees” or “asylum seekers,” although a typical Lampedusa boatload seems to consist of healthy, well-fed-looking young men (and the occasional woman), while the coyote fee, which can run to several thousand dollars, is far beyond the financial resources of most in the sending countries. Just the boat trip from the Libyan port of Tripoli costs $1,200, and Tripoli is 3,000 miles from Somalia.

The cool numeracy of the U.N. population report generated a scattering of news stories, then disappeared. Numbers—who cares about numbers? The Lampedusa disaster, with its immediate human-interest content, proved more enduring.

The Italians, even though they are in the forefront of the issue, seem remarkably clueless about the larger implications of what is happening—or perhaps exceptionally proficient at crimestop. Enrico Letta, Italy’s fool of a Prime Minister, seems to have promised state funerals to the victims, and:

Letta said he considered it a disgrace that survivors of the disaster had automatically been placed under investigation thanks to the Italian law against clandestine migration, even if they would likely be eligible for asylum.

[Lampedusa shipwreck: Italy to hold state funeral for drowned migrants, by Tom Kington, The Guardian, October 9, 2013]

Signor Letta seems later to have backed off from the state funerals, but he did grant Italian citizenship to the dead. Whether that grant extends to the wives and children of the deceased (or those who may plausibly claim to be such) back in the Horn of Africa, I haven’t been able to discover. But Letta seems to be doing his best to encourage the flow off illegal immigrants from Africa into Europe.

Among the cultural spin-offs from the Lampedusa affair was a radio program broadcast by Britain’s BBC on October 16th.

The program was one episode of a weekly series with overall title The Moral Maze. The format is for a panel of four program regulars, under the direction of a moderator, to interrogate invited expert “witnesses” on some topic with a moral dimension: abortion, business ethics, pornography, “Is Wagner’s music morally tainted by his anti-Semitism?” and so on.

The October 16th episode of The Moral Maze had “migration” as its topic, with particular reference to the Lampedusa disaster.

(I note in passing here the preference on the part of leftists and open-borders propagandists—the BBC is heavily loaded with both—for the word “migration” over “immigration.” “Migration” has a reassuring look of equivalence about it, as if the flows are multidirectional. Some Somalis want to settle in Europe; some Europeans want to settle in Somalia; what’s the problem? There is a whole column to be written about these terminological sleights of hand, but I’ll leave it for another time.)

The BBC doesn’t publish transcripts of the program—or if it does, I couldn’t find one—so I made a transcript myself and posted it here. It includes full instructions for downloading or listening to the original program.

The program commences with a brief, neutral description of the week’s topic by the moderator. Then each of the panel members in turn states his own opening position on the topic in a hundred words or less.

Here we were deep in BBC-land. There were four panelists: a lifetime inhabitant of Leftish policy think tanks, a Left-libertarian harpy who was formerly a stalwart of Britain’s Revolutionary Communist Party, an Anglican priest who was awarded the Stonewall Hero of the Year award in 2012 for contributions to homosexuality, and an Economist editor. For us old Daily Telegraph readers, the shade of the late Michael Wharton hovered over the proceedings.

Two of these four, the harpy and the priest, stated frank open-borders positions. The harpy said that “the immigrant is an ideal moral figure”; the priest quoted Emma Lazarus with gusto.

The other two averred degrees of enthusiasm (“I think migration has benefited Britain” and “I take a relatively generous view of immigration”) but with some cautious qualifications.

That’s how far the thing was tilted to the Open-Borders position: an Economist editor was on the restrictionist side!

The program’s four “witnesses” were very little better.

Moderator: Our first witness is Dr. Phillip Cole, who’s Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of the West of England, written extensively on migration, including Debating the Ethics of Immigration: Is there a Right to Exclude? Er, is there?

Cole: No. There isn’t a right to exclude.

Moderator: So in your view, should all borders be wide open?

Cole: Yes, they should.

Hoo-ee. The leftish-wonk panelist scored the best points from Dr. Cole:

Can I just probe this incredibly pure position that you have about open borders, with a bit of kind of reductio ad absurdum? The Sentinelese tribe of the Andaman Islands, they’re one of the most remote tribes in the world, and the international community recognizes that we should leave them alone, because they respond very badly to outsiders. Would you be completely laid back if a thousand twentysomething Westerners decided to land on the Andaman Islands tomorrow because they just fancied, you know, getting away from things?

Journalist Ed West, author of The Diversity Illusion: What We Got Wrong About Immigration & How to Set It Right (noticed on VDARE.com back in April) was the next “witness” up. But he got tangled in theology with the priest and in political philosophy with the harpy, to no enlightening purpose.

Speaking as a fellow sufferer from chronic esprit d’escalier, I offer Ed my sympathy.

Third “witness” was an Italian chap from the Institute for Research into Superdiversity. You didn’t know there was such an institute, did you? Neither did I. In fact, dwelling as I do in reactionary darkness, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as superdiversity until I looked up these participants’ bios. You learn something every day.

The Italian superdiversicrat unfortunately had trouble making sense, not entirely because of his imperfect command of English. The only thing I could figure out was that he did not want the African illegals sent back to Africa.

The sturdiest opposition to the Open-Borders crowd came from author Harriet Sergeant, who does social research at a Thatcherite think tank. She was the only one of the eight participants to speak up at length for the historic native populations of Europe. After the priest had noted gaily that immigration is good because it benefits immigrants she riposted:

The people who have not benefited are the poor . . . Because their schools are overcrowded, the hospitals are overcrowded, they can`t get housing . . . So I think, actually, I actually have a moral problem with, with sort of middle-class people sitting round discussing, saying how wonderful immigration is, when actually for us, it is all to the good.

Even Ms. Sergeant, though, made it clear that she believes mass immigration has an upside. Vibrancy! Those ethnic restaurants!

Priest: I love London…London’s a town that immigration has built, isn’t it?

Ms. Sergeant: I couldn`t agree more. I, I don`t like to admit this, but I grew up in London during the seventies, when we had very little immigration, and it was a deeply dreary city, frankly. So I agree with you enormously.

As it happens, I lived in London in the seventies too, when it was still majority white British, which is no longer the case. People shunned the “vibrant” areas. A local joke at the time went: Q—How can we reduce street crime in London? A—shut down the Victoria Line. (The Victoria Line of the London subway system had just been extended to Brixton, a black area.)

I found 1970s London a lively place full of interesting people of all classes. “Deeply dreary”? Ms. Sergeant didn’t get out much.

For a window into the suicidal insouciance of the European elites, this little 43-minute cultural snippet is hard to beat. You can download it from the BBC website or read my transcript. Harriet Sergeant’s gestures to the native working class and Ed West’s attempt to distinguish law from morality both aside, the overall atmosphere is thick with denial, ignorance, ethnomasochism, xenophilia, and smug moral universalism.

That homosexual priest:

Our moral responsibility is always to this person who is more other than us, rather than same as us.

I wonder if the speaker believes he has more moral responsibility to heterosexuals than to homosexuals? Orwell came to mind again: “A Humanitarian is always a hypocrite.”

American listeners can take some comfort from the fact, clearly on display here, that the cultural death-wish has a firmer grip on the other side of the Atlantic than it yet has here. There is a stifled, constipated quality about the Moral Maze discussion that you don’t find here, not even—well, not to the same degree—on NPR, which is our closest equivalent to the BBC. The Europeans are far gone into the night, much further than us.

In Britain, anti-racism is at levels of clinical hysteria. A white person can be ostracized over there for using the word “colored.” Attempts at mild racial humor will get you investigated by the police. An accusation of racism is so potent, people will hesitate and deliberate earnestly before inflicting it on their worst political enemies. Harmless citizens accused of the dread heresy squeal their innocence pathetically: “But I’m not racist!”

Hence the walking-on-eggshells quality of some of the exchanges.

Moderator: I don`t know what you thought, Claire, but [I was] slightly wary when, um, when Dr. Cole said, when taxed I think by Anne, er, what about democracy, what about the opinions of the, if you like, the existing resident population, er, he kind of said, um, he, he seemed to imply that people who, who took the opposite point of view to him were inherently unreasonable.

Harpy: Er, as xenophobic, or even hinting at racism…

Moderator: Er, he didn`t, he didn`t say that. I mean, he, he, er…

Harpy: No, but I, but I, no, but I`m say …

Here is a suggestion for the BBC program producers: We here at VDARE.com have been toiling in the vineyards of immigration policy for well over a decade now. We know the data, the history, and the arguments, and we’re schooled in a more open environment of debate, an environment less in thrall to the rigid dogmas of superdiversity and less cowed by the heresy-sniffers. Some of us, when accused of being “racist,” have been known to smile benignly and say: “Yes. What’s it to ya?”

So next time you want to do a thumb-sucker program on this topic, why not bring in the New World to redress the balance of the Old?

Why not invite one of us on your program?

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His most recent book, published by VDARE.com com is FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle).His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.

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