How warmongers and open-borders activists collude to disrupt viable societies
If you have a romantically humanitarian worldview, you may well welcome all policies that seem to help other people in need and oppose all actions that may either harm or hinder others. An idealist would resist all wars, abhor all violence and accommodate all victims of military repression and socio-economic upheaval, receiving refugees and economic migrants with open arms.
Such extreme altruism rests on a Rousseauian interpretation of human nature, i.e. that we are all good at heart and only corrupted by an oppressive system that concentrates power in a few hands and pits one group of people against another. Its antithesis is the Hobbesian view that we are mainly self-interested and can, if left to our own devices, resort to savagery to further our selfish ends. I believe the truth lies somewhere in between, but one thing remains certain: civilisation affects human behaviour and some civilisations are much more violent or coercive than others.
Alas we are a socially competitive species. We don't just strive to better ourselves, but to win a competitive advantage over others. We see this behaviour at play in mate selection, in creative pursuits that require strong motivation and in our desire to gain influence over others. However, we can only live together peacefully if we fully respect each other's personhood and agree to a set of a ground rules to resolve conflicts. This begs the question: to what extent do we need the supervision of coercive authorities to maintain social order?
While opinion leaders may appeal to our idealism and emotions, in the real world ordinary people appear powerless to change the course of events. We may yearn for a harmonious world free of the deep-seated rivalry that once divided us, but such a paradise remains little more than a pipe dream. On the burning issues of military adventurism and mass migration we have four camps:
- Pacifists oppose all wars and all borders, i.e. infantile leftists or anarcho-communists.
- Jingoists always support wars against rogue regimes, but expect their governments to keep them safe by enforcing strict border controls, i.e. many rightwing nationalists or Trumpian neoconservatives.
- Extreme interventionists support military interventions against the perceived enemies of progress, but also welcome the erosion of national borders and transfer of power to superstates, i.e. globalists such as American neoliberals, European federalists or the likes of Hillary Clinton, Tony, Blair, Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron.
- Non-interventionists oppose most wars, but still want borders to protect their way of life and cultural traditions, i.e. most ordinary working people.
Proponents of the first position clearly live in cloud cuckoo land. National borders are just one of many barriers between different groups of people. The biggest divider between us remains the power of wealth to control our access to private property. While an unemployed Portuguese woman can hop on a bus and travel within the Schengen zone to the wealthier regions of Northern Europe without ever having her passport checked, the intervening landscape is replete with countless other manmade barriers denying us access to buildings and land. I can't just turn up at a five star hotel and demand access to a vacant room because I have nowhere else to stay. I need to prove my ability to pay the going rate. Sure, in an ideal environmentally sustainable world without extremes of poverty and opulence, we may not need border checks at all, just as people in safe neighbourhoods do not feel the need to lock their premises at night. Do I lock my front and back doors because I distrust my neighbours or assume all passers-by are ill-intentioned? Of course not, I do so because in an imperfect society burglars may take advantage of my vulnerability.
The other three options have many nuances, but the real contrast lies between conservatives and interventionists. Pragmatically most governments of affluent countries need to maintain social order at home and may acquiesce to the demands of their more conservative citizens to keep their towns and cities safe from the worst excesses of gangland violence that plagues bustling metropolises across the developing world. Likewise many European governments seek to distance themselves from unpopular US-led wars to maintain trust with the general public. This gives us the illusion of a diversity of opinions among political leaders and national governments. It may seem that some politicians talk about the dangers posed by terrorists and foreign dictators, while others are concerned with helping those displaced by wars. It's a truism that if you don't want refugees in your country, you should oppose the arms sales and wars that caused so many to flee these war-torn regions.
I now think it's too facile to lay the blame for the endless wars and social dislocation in much of the developing world on Western military interventions alone. Most migrants who have fled to Europe with the help of people smugglers and aid agencies do not come from regions directly affected by recent US-led wars. Moreover, many civil wars rage in regions where the main Western powers have been more noticeable by their indifference, allowing some analysts like neocolonialist historian Andrew Roberts to suggest that we need more not less proactive intervention to stabilise Africa and the Middle East. It's hardly a coincidence most new low-skilled migrants (i.e. not those who could easily obtain a work visa) come from regions with a high fertility rate and a fast rate of urbanisation. People tend not to flee stable communities unless they are no longer able to fend for themselves or are enticed by promises of untold riches in faraway cities. Rural Africans experience their biggest culture shock when they move to a big city where they are likely to meet many other itinerants, not when they later decide to move another city in a more affluent country with a more advanced welfare system.
War is not the only cause of death and destruction. Environmental mismanagement is a much bigger killer. Moreover, many technological solutions, such as better sanitation, modern medicine and higher agricultural yields through irrigation and fertilisers, may lead to other problems further down the line like rapid population growth and an exodus of young adults to large cities. If the economy fails to provide most men of working age with gainful employment without a social safety net, many will turn either to crime or fanaticism, hoping for salvation through submission to a political or religious cult. Just as the professional classes in the affluent West embrace green solutions to meet the challenges of the coming century, Africa's upwardly mobile middle classes embrace mass consumption with a verve reminiscent of the swinging 60s.
Many of us have theorised that Western powers intervened in the Middle East mainly to gain control of the oil supply, but demand for this oil is growing faster in China, India and Africa as their car ownership approaches European levels and within the next ten to twenty years most vehicles will be electric anyway, reliant more on the availability of lithium and abundant cheap electricity than on the price of crude oil. However, we will need massive infrastructure to power billions of vehicles, robotised manufacturing facilities, domestic appliances, air conditioners, hospital equipment and other machines essential to our high tech way of life. Whether we bedeck deserts with giant solar panels or invest in next generation nuclear fusion reactors, only large corporations will have the resources to build and maintain such phenomenal infrastructure further reducing regional independence. Billions of urbanites are already at the mercy of remote organisations responsible for their energy, water and food supply. People may protest, but are powerless to challenge the hegemony of tech giants. If even oil-rich Venezuela, which used to be self-sufficient in food, cannot develop the technology to gain functional autonomy from big business, there is little hope for countries like Nigeria or South Africa whose restless populations are demanding a bigger slice of the global cake.
If neoliberal lobbyists really cared about people in the third world, they'd promote greater self-reliance to minimise the kind of sudden cultural and demographic change that can destabilise societies and trigger internecine conflict. They see the destabilisation of previously viable societies not as a threat to world peace, but as an opportunity for yet more intervention. So it should come as no surprise that many of the same global actors lobbying for more humanitarian wars, which tend to empower local militias and create more refugees, also welcome mass migration, not as a temporary side effect of environmental mismanagement, but as a desirable end in and of itself. The same players also seem quite happy to witness social dislocation across many European and North American cities. The spectres of Islamic fundamentalism, gang violence and rightwing extremism serve to justify more surveillance and a clampdown on free speech, while divided communities only empower social workers to engineer new identities detached from our cultural heritage.
Flag-waving nineteenth century imperialism has now morphed into progressive globalism coopting trendy social justice activists as its missionaries, but supported by the same banking cartels and industrial behemoths that once bankrolled Western colonialism. Once the middle classes of the home countries of the great empires may have enjoyed some economic privileges and cultivated a sense of moral superiority over the apparently less civilised peoples of their colonies. By contrast today, outside a few safe havens of general opulence and social stability, the whole urban world has become an occupied territory that nobody can truly call home.