Two add Two equals Five because Four is a Racist Number

Racism, or more correctly in most cases xenophobia, is matter of ethics. It seems fair to conclude that racism has no place in any caring society because nobody benefits from being victims of prejudice based on arbitrary ethnic distinctions. In the real world prejudice is a natural by-product of extreme variations in wealth, rampant materialism, heightened social competition and growing duplicity (namely the contrast between our anti-racist rhetoric and selfish behaviour). I doubt the Hotel Ritz has a specific policy to bar natives of Mozambique, but few Mozambicans could afford to stay there just one night if they saved up for a whole year. It's a club that cunningly excludes anyone who can't pay, but is probably surprisingly tolerant of any billionaires with genetic traits that may otherwise be subject to prejudice.

By comparison environmental sustainability is a matter of scientific inquiry. Naturally as our appraisal of the facts is imperfect, we may reach different conclusions. Supposing someone stated that “Britain's long term carrying capacity probably ranges between 20 and 40 million, because blacks are ill-adapted to our culture”. The conclusion may be correct, but is not supported by the premise. The stated rationale is of course inconsequential to the matter at hand, makes an extreme generalisation, assumes the superiority of our culture and is as such patently racist. The country's carrying capacity is an equation of total human impact (population times per capita consumption), available resources and efficiency. As available resources can be temporarily boosted by plundering resources from other regions and the sustainability of new technology is open to debate about its side effects, different interpretations of the same empirical data may lead to different conclusions, but ideally not biased by emotions.

Now let's suppose I called a plumber to investigate a leak with water dripping down slowing through a tiny crack in the bathroom ceiling after a week of subzero temperatures. I may feel better if he informed that by simply filling the crack I could stop the leak. If, however, the leak came from a burst pipe and as soon as I turned on a tap downstairs water would come gushing down flooding the whole house, I should like to know. It may cost me £200 to employ the plumber to replace the burst pipe now, but that's still cheaper than several thousand pounds to repair any damage that may result from a flood. So an honest and dependable assessment would be in my best interests, however much I hate rip-off plumbers.

In the recent debate in the UK media over immigration and the fact the kingdom's population has just topped sixty million, liberal pundits have accused proponents of tougher immigration controls of racism, while the gutter press has highlighted the criminality of some sections of the immigrant community. So by this logic whether or not this archipelago can support a population of 60 million and continue to run such a huge trade deficit in food, raw materials and manufactured goods boils down to mere taste. Liberals are supposed to be supercool and tolerant of all things groovy, so we just need more immigrants enriching our diversified multicultural melting pot, while reactionaries selfishly hate all newcomers. Some are at least consistent in slamming the green movement altogether. Spiked Online, formerly LM Mag, has long advocated material and demographic growth as the only means to progress. In a 2005 Channel Four series on the immigration debate, one of Spiked Online's regular columnists, Kenan Malik, showed picturesque scenes of vast expanses of rural East Anglia to substantiate the claim that Britain could support millions more human beings. Viewers were not asked to consider how many hectares of farmland, woodland, raw material extraction (mining, oil drilling etc.), industrial estates and how many cubic metres of potable water each resident needs. The UK can only survive with its current population and level of consumption because we import most of what we consume and export a good deal of the pollution generated by our lifestyle. This is only feasible if other regions produce huge surpluses and are willing to buy services from us. The harsh reality is that the island's medium term prosperity is tied inextricably to global trade and, more specifically, international finance. Should the US economy collapse and with it leading multinationals responsible directly or indirectly for hundreds of thousands of the country's best paid jobs resulting in a crash of the housing market and mass unemployment, how could we afford to source the relatively cheap imports we now take for granted? Spanish tomatoes seem a better deal because fossil fuels make it relatively inexpensive to ship tonnes of refrigerated fruit and veg thousands of miles and store them for several months. With fossil fuel prices destined to rise as the energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) decreases, we may soon have to relocalise our economy, using up every acre of available farmland. If predictions of dwindling per capita energy resources owing to the recently named phenomenon of peak oil prove unfounded and we have a bright future with nuclear energy and/or abiotic oil, then these assumptions had better be based on hard science rather than wishful thinking. However, wars of conquest in the Middle East and the behaviour of the world's superpowers (US and China) reveal growing competition over access to vital energy resources. The sum of two and two is easy to verify. Claiming it were five, would in effect redefine the meaning of five unless we were to conclude that 2+2 = 2+3. Likewise, the arguments of many neo-liberal apologists for global hegemony do not differ much. A scientifically flawed statement is wrong whatever the ethical rationale. They appeal to our emotional empathy with the plight of the poor to support the introduction of more cheap labour into a country with an artificially inflated economy.

"Britain's carrying capacity is much bigger than the current population because to suggest otherwise would be racist".
Again the premise does not substantiate the claim. If we are genuinely motivated by altruism, we might consider how best to help people in the regions of greatest emigration. However, even a cursory analysis of migratory flows would reveal a very different picture than just a continuous stream of new immigrants to wealthy countries. As cheap labour flows into the country, chiefly to help big business, more and more well-to-do native Brits buy property abroad, so Spanish, Cypriot and Bulgarian coastal resorts are filling up with ex-pats as Poles and Lithuanians flock to London, leaving whole communities in Eastern Europe deprived of their younger population and acting effectively as a brain drain. As a result the economies of many Eastern European communities begin to depend on income earned abroad leading natives to abandon agriculture and seek employment with export-oriented businesses reliant on global trade, locking them into a global system dependent on cheap fuel and technology controlled by a handful of transnational corporations.

Rather than foster a climate of reciprocal respect and tolerance, these trends further disempower local communities and generate growing distrust towards outsiders. Ironically the ruling elites play a shrewd game of sewing the seeds of xenophobia by shipping cheap labour to regions with higher incomes and suppressing dissent within native working classes through the imposition of political correctness. Fifteen years ago in the grim years of Thatcher's rule, many unemployed blamed the government or big business for their plight, but fast forward to 2006 and many unemployed are persuaded they have a mental illness or lack key skills that many new migrants have.

In all fairness it is xenophobic to demand more than the average global living standard. So if the world can only support 650 millions personal motor vehicles, we'd better raise our person-to-car ratio to 10:1 rather than the current 2:1. If current technology and energy resources can only supply each global citizen with 1600 kg of oil per year (based on 2001 figures), then the UK should cut its 4000 kg per capita to 40% of its present level, indeed to reduce our dependence of fossil fuels we'd need even greater reductions, unless we seriously believe that all 6.5 billion global citizens can sustainably consume as much as Western Europeans do.

Revised statement: "The UK's high-consumption lifestyle is xenophobic because it affords us with a bigger slice of the global cake than our proportion of the global population warrants".

Now that begins to make sense. Of course one could state “The UK can support a much greater population because genetically modified food, nuclear energy and outsourcing of all industry to Mars will significantly boost our planet's carrying capacity” which would make sense if the rationale were scientifically feasible. Likewise one could assert that "2 + 2 = 5 if the value of the number two increments by one after the plus sign". It's the same fuzzy logic.

Neil Gardner