Read any serious newspaper, and the plot of virtually every story is the struggle of People vs. People not classes, but races (or cultures, to be polite).
One people seeks its “fair share” of the land and water controlled by another people. One people complains its borders are being breached by another people. One people seeks to avenge an injury to its self-esteem inflicted once upon a time by another people.
One people grovels to be taken in and cared for by another people.
One people petitions the government to favor it at the expense of another people. One people demands the erasure of another people’s cultural-religious symbols and their replacement with its own.
Ethnologists would do a better job reporting the news than journalists can.
Then add to this basic plot the end of the Cold War. The emigration/immigration patterns thawed out by the end of the East-West standoff are so striking that many have analyzed and characterized them, including Robert D. Kaplan, Francis Fukuyama, Samuel P. Huntington, Paul Kennedy, and most recently Patrick Buchanan in “The Death of the West.”
Just as motion in the atmosphere is away from high-pressure areas and toward low, the demographic momentum of Asia, Central and South America, and to some extent Africa is causing a seemingly irresistible outflow of population toward the relatively less populous nations of Europe and North America. This latest round of the “rise and fall of peoples” proceeds as it always has but with three major differences.
First, the expansion of these Third World populations is not due, as was the pattern in the past, to the flowering of their own societies, but to the globalization of the generous genius of Western civilization.
Second, today’s desired destinations are full up, unlike the vast tracts of emptiness that drew population to places like Australia, Canada, the United States and Argentina beginning in the 17th century and continuing throughout the 20th. Although large areas of today’s destinations are “depopulated” by Third World urban standards, they already teem as “colorfully” as the people who live there wish them to.
Last, people now emigrate as much to be kept alive by rich societies as to find work. Salvadorans trying to get to El Norte, for instance, are better informed about U.S. government programs for health, education and welfare than are native-born Americans. They are drawn here by them, and it would be unnatural if they were not.
By contrast, European immigrants to the “empty” continents encountered no safety net and precious few “jobs” in the modern sense of an employer offering specific paid positions. Often there was no work unless you invested, invented, created and drummed it up yourself.
There was no infrastructure unless you built it yourself; no welfare, no food stamps, no universal free education, no unemployment or health insurance, no disability, no workers’ comp, no Social Security. The dread “poorhouse” was the best you could hope for.
Now the global frontier is closed; the Wild West of the entire world is past. So what are those faced with futurelessness to do?
Population movements have historically functioned as a safety valve, easing the growing pains of nations and expelling “ungovernable” elements before they could coalesce to unbalance the status quo. Yet despite the open valve of emigration throughout the 18th and 19th centuries more than 43 million people quit Europe between 1770 and 1914 it was an age of revolutions: first the French, inspired by the brilliant rhetoric, ideals and success of the Americans in throwing off the dead hand of hereditary monarchy, then the Greeks, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Belgians, the French again (and again), the Germans, the Hungarians, the Italians, the Poles, the Russians.
Today, however, population flight allows dysfunctional, kleptocratic regimes to remain in power decade after decade, as all who have the wit or will to oppose them get the hell out Cuba, Haiti, Mexico, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Algeria, the Philippines, Vietnam, China. After their enemies, these regimes then export their hard-core poor for the West to take care of.
For this is now apparently our function: We are the adults of the world, caring for masses of hapless childlike asylum-seekers, economic and political and social refugees, immigrants legal and illegal, as well as entire hapless childlike nations that have not yet physically landed on our shores with hands outstretched.
The West specifically, the European, Canadian, Australian and American men whose inventions like the piano, representative democracy, pasteurization, vaccination, antiseptics, antibiotics, electrification, engines, generators, suspension bridges, “Lord of the Rings,” the antislavery movement, the doctrine of Free Will, computers, opera, the theory of evolution, stainless steel, asphalt roads, telephones, photography, refrigeration, indoor plumbing, the movies, insecticide and the skyscraper have made the world infinitely better for its billions of inhabitants constitutes a Head Start program for the entire planet.
As with the version tried with “underprivileged” kids in the U.S., performance improves during the intensive initial effort, but once the program’s over, the improvements fade away.
People in the West used to understand how unprecedented and unique their achievements were. To pick up on a new idea is one thing; to conceive a new idea is another thing entirely. Anyone can be taught how to drive a car, but only a few dozen Western men had what it took to design, build and perfect the automobile.
This is a difference of kind, not of degree. Objectively speaking, one Albert Schweitzer is “worth” all his patients put together but of course that’s not at all how men like Dr. Schweitzer are wont to view their fellow human beings.
Hoping that demography is destiny, the races of the human race are now engaged in a different kind of race: reproduction.
Hispanics boast of reconquering California and the Southwest through numbers alone. The Palestinians speak openly of “Arabizing” Israel with their “population bomb.” “Greater Albania” is on the move throughout the Balkans, parlaying the “greatness” of numbers into domination of Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia.
The same race is on in Kashmir and a hundred other places. Only the West is failing to weaponize population growth.
The ancient Romans imploded demographically, and Rome fell long ago. Yet the Eternal City still stands, and much of Roman civilization lives on in our minds and hearts. So it is possible to believe that we too, like Tolkien’s Aragorn, “will not let the White City fall.”
Marian Kester Coombs is a freelance writer.