The one real question in the world today: whether those rights of man that we hold so dear—of certain men, that is—can be preserved at the expense of others. I’ll let you think that one over …
That is the President of France, speaking to ambassadors from other Western nations as his own is being overwhelmed by a flood of illegal immigrants from the Third World.
It is of course fiction, so far at any rate. To be precise, it is Jean Raspail’s 1973 novel The Camp of The Saints, Chapter 34.
I remember thinking when I read Raspail’s book a dozen or so years ago that he had missed the mark—forgivably enough, I suppose, for a writer in the early 1970s (see below). Raspail’s poor Third Worlders coming ashore in Europe are from subcontinental Asia. Wouldn’t they, in the 21st century, more likely be black Africans, I thought?
I thought correctly. India is currently stable and improving. Right now they are having an election—a fair and orderly one by Third World standards. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are politically wobbly but inching forward. The situation in Pakistan remains perpetually “desperate but not serious.”
Meanwhile there are indeed hordes of Third Worlders trying to get into Europe, but they are mostly Africans. The European territories near to Africa—or, in the case of Ceuta and Melilla, tiny Spanish enclaves on the Moroccan coast, actually in Africa—are being besieged by would-be illegal immigrants.
Needless to say, all the Main Stream Media stories about these Mediterranean illegals take a sympathetic line. In a recent Wall Street Journal piece about Ceuta and Melilla, whose boundary fences are Europe’s only land borders with Africa, we read that:
Raymond Persie twisted his ankle when he hit the ground [after scaling a fence into Melilla] and ended up in the custody of Spanish police. Yet those stumbles didn’t cripple his dream of working in Europe and sending money home to his father and younger brother.
[African Migrants Stream to Spanish Enclaves, by David Román, Wall Street Journal, April 3,2014.]
Is there some sort of universal style rule taught in journo schools that any story about illegal immigration must include the word “dream” at least once?
The subtitle to the Wall Street Journal piece is: “Thousands Fleeing War and Poverty Storm Madrid’s Territories in Morocco, as EU Moves to Fix System.”
The system that needs “fixing” is presumably the system of orderly immigration into the EU—just as, in current U.S. elite-speak, our own system of orderly immigration, as defined by laws enacted by the people’s representatives in Congress duly assembled, needs “reform” rather than firm, efficient enforcement.
There is in fact very little in the WSJ piece about EU efforts. The principal mention of the EU is:
Last month at least 15 West Africans who sought to avoid climbing the barriers drowned while trying to swim to Ceuta, as members of the Guardia Civil fired rubber bullets into the water—a tactic sharply criticized by EU officials and Spanish opposition leaders.
Nor does the WSJ explain why we should sympathize with able-bodied young men fleeing from wars that threaten their home countries. Shouldn’t they be in uniform, protecting their families? Aren’t they actually deserters?
Similarly with a BBC report on the same topic.
Musa, 25, from the Democratic Republic of Congo has been in Melilla for three months.
He says arriving in the Spanish territory was like being “liberated” because life in the camps [set up by African illegals in the hills near Melilla] was so “tough.”
He plans a life in Europe: “I have faith that one day my dreams will come true.” [Spain Melilla migrants: On a hill, in sight of Europe, by Tom Burridge, BBC News, April 15, 2014.]
Again with the dreams! Are the native peoples of Europe permitted to have any dreams? The dream, for example, of preserving the dwindling number of jobs in their countries for their own kin? Unemployment is Spain is at 26 percent.
And if these Africans are escaping such dire poverty, why do they all look so robust? Well-dressed, too, according to the BBC story:
From their tracksuits, trainers and haircuts, some of the younger members of what the migrants call the Cameroon Camp are fashion-conscious.
Accounts of the boat people crossing from Tunisia and Libya to Italy and Malta are likewise sympathetic, the more so since the calamity of October 3rd last year, when a boat crowded with illegals sank in darkness off the Italian island of Lampedusa, causing 366 of the 518 people on board to drown.
Like many of the survivors, Fanus [from Eritrea] dreamed [sic] of starting a new life in Europe, and had set her sights on Sweden. Italy has high unemployment [13 percent] and poor social security, limited training and education opportunities for refugees, and a system that`s hard to navigate even for Italians; asylum seekers in Italy have protested about ill-treatment and racism. [Lampedusa boat tragedy: a survivor`s story, by Zed Nelson, The Guardian, March 21, 2014]
The October 3rd incident also inspired a piece in the current issue of The New Yorker. The piece features Father Mussie Zerai, a Catholic priest from Eritrea now living in Switzerland.
Fr. Zerai runs a charity to help African illegals. Hearing of the disaster last October he went to Italy to lobby politicians and to be interviewed on TV.
The Sky TV announcer asked Zerai what he wanted from the Italian government. Zerai offered some proposals. Europe should open a “humanitarian corridor”—typically used to rescue civilians from war zones—to give asylum seekers an alternative to the smugglers’ boats. New arrivals needed a “dignified welcome” with “economic inclusion.”
In contemplating these events, some such thought as the following comes to mind: “Well, it’s natural to feel some sympathy for these people, taking great risks for a life better than they can hope for in their own miserable countries.”
How natural is it, though? Steven Pinker’s 2011 book on the decline of violence through history (reviewed by me here) contains a chapter titled “The Humanitarian Revolution.” Pinker quotes the well-known entry for October 13, 1660 in Samuel Pepys’ diary:
Out to Charing Cross, to see Major-general Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition. He was presently cut down, and his head and heart shown to the people, at which there was great shouts of joy … From thence to my Lord’s, and took Captain Cuttance and Mr. Sheply to the Sun Tavern, and did give them some oysters.
A child alive and sentient in 1660 might, in old age, have dandled an infant born in 1740, who might have had grandchildren born in the 1820s, a mere half century before my own grandfather, whom I knew well.
Even with our new understanding that human evolution has been “recent, copious, and regional,” it is not likely that such a rapid change in human nature has been biological. Pinker himself, drawing on the work of sociologist Norbert Elias, offers a plausible cultural explanation:
Elias suggested that during the transition to modernity people not only exercised more self-control but also cultivated their sense of empathy. They did so not as an exercise in moral improvement but to hone their ability to get inside the heads of bureaucrats and merchants and prosper in a society that increasingly depended on networks of exchange rather than farming or plunder. Certainly the taste for cruelty clashes with the values of a cooperative society: it must be harder to work with your neighbors if you think they might enjoy seeing you disemboweled.
That, if it is correct, opens the question: What if the humanitarian impulse towards distant ethnies becomes as socially counterproductive as the “taste for cruelty” towards our own fellow-countrymen did from the 1660s onwards? How will Western culture adapt?
Our way of thinking about other ethnies, like our attitudes to public torture, are time- and culture-dependent. So is the matter of which ethnies we think about. When he was writing The Camp of the Saints in 1972, Raspail likely had in mind the previous year’s war between India and Pakistan and the natural disasters that preceded it.
Even leaving aside such availability bias, there was a numerical case for Raspail’s making his boat people Indian. Taking “India” to include Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka (but leaving out Burma), its population in 1972 was 702m against a total for Africa of 374m: an India/Africa ratio of 1.88.
Today that ratio is 1.55 and dropping fast. On U.N. projections it will be 0.90 at midcentury, when Africa’s population will be 2.4 billion. Demographically, this looks like being Africa’s century.
More precisely, it will be the century of sub-Saharan Africa. Current total fertility rates for Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, and Egypt are 2.15, 2.00, 2.07, 2.78 and 2.87 , per woman respectively; for Niger, Mali, Somalia, and Uganda, and Nigeria they are 6.89, 6.16, 6.08, 5.97 and 5.25.
If the citizens of Spain are disturbed by the sight of those sub-Saharan Africans besieging their territorial outposts in Morocco, the Moroccans themselves should be more disturbed. Will these North African nations even still exist in the year 2050?
The continuation of present demographic trends depends of course on the ability of the nations concerned to cope with the consequences.
In demographic terms, it seems, the Asian century could be followed by the African century. That’s an amazing thing. But Asia’s remarkable economic, cultural, political and social progress had to do with more than just demographics. And even that growth could end up being a curse for Africa if it doesn’t have two things that have been crucial to Asian successes: good governance and careful resource management.
Right now, many African countries aren’t particularly adept at either governance or resource management. If they don’t improve, exploding population growth could only worsen resource competition—and we’re talking here about basics like food, water and electricity—which in turn makes political instability and conflict more likely. The fact that there will be a “youth bulge” of young people makes that instability and conflict more likely.
[The amazing, surprising, Africa-driven demographic future of the Earth, in 9 charts, by Max Fisher, Washington Post, July 16, 2013.]
In The Camp of the Saints the Western world is destroyed by its own humanitarianism, that humanitarianism whose advance Steven Pinker chronicles very ably. French soldiers and sailors desert their posts rather than fire on the incoming boatloads.
That might happen. If, on the other hand, as Pinker argues, human culture responds to new circumstances by changing its sensibilities—if the world-embracing humanitarianism illustrated by the tone of those news stories is only skin deep—the direction of attitudinal change may flip into reverse in coming years.
I wouldn’t be so comprehensive myself. There are instances of people sacrificing their lives in a humanitarian cause.
There aren’t many such instances, though. We revere saints because they are exceptional. There never has been an actual camp full of saints; and on this side of the Apocalypse, there could not be.
For most of us there is a calculus of sentiment, in which the willingness to hold an opinion bears some relation to the price of holding it. The price of being anti-imperialist in London literary-intellectual circles seventy years ago, when Orwell was writing, was zero, if not actually negative, and to that degree Orwell was correct.
The price of humanitarian sympathy for the African hordes just beginning to gather on the south shores of the Mediterranean is likewise low, unless you are an unemployed Spanish laborer. In the years to come it will be getting higher quite fast.
We may be headed for a humanitarian crack-up.
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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