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Letter: We’ve all been migrants at some point

Migrants crowd an inflatable dinghy off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea, as a dinghy from the Italian financial guard approaches to tell them the coast guard is on the way Wednesday, April 22. Hundreds of migrants are missing and feared drowned in recent days.
Migrants crowd an inflatable dinghy off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea, as a dinghy from the Italian financial guard approaches to tell them the coast guard is on the way. Hundreds of migrants have drowned in recent years, trying to find safe refuge. — AP file photo

In the 1960s, Robert Ardrey published his “Territorial Imperative.” Konrad Lorenz’s “On Aggression” also appeared, and caused some serious soul-searching. Both of these books offered the conclusion that humans, like other animals, instinctively defend the territory which supports their basic needs. Today’s migration crisis illustrates just how strong that “imperative” remains, and how fiercely we try to defend what we regard as our sovereign space.

In the U.S.A. and in parts of Europe, migrants are seen, and treated, as dangerous invaders, and efforts are made to deny them entry.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s insistence on a bricks and mortar wall, and his “Zero Tolerance” policy that leads to the internment of children in camps resembling the Guantanamo Bay prison, is a clear instance of instinctive fear of the Outsider.

Mediterranean countries are pursuing similar responses to migrants from the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. It is not hard to understand the instinctive urge to repel incomers, but it is also important to recall that we humans are more than an instinct-driven animal.

Those of us who see ourselves first as humans, then as nations or towns, tend to welcome migrants because we feel a sense of solidarity with them. We recognize that nobody arrived where they are today without migrating at some time in their history.

In what I call the Garden of Eden evolutionary advance, we discovered that we have the power to follow our instinct or to depart from it. I think we are the only animal that can refuse to protect our own offspring, or to sacrifice our own life to help another of our species. (I’m sure this is not a purely human ability, but is constantly used by us.) This ability to govern our instinct confers on us the possibility of doing good, and of doing evil.

Virtue and vice; sin and sacrifice: in a word, morality. Many of us have opted to follow our instinct to guard our territory from incomers, and others have chosen to welcome them.

And we all feel certain that we’ve made the right choice.

However, migration is not going to stop. If anything, it will increase, as our climate changes and vast areas of the Earth’s surface become unable to support human life. Desertification is one “push-factor,” as is political, economic and cultural oppression. Unless we are willing to greet them with machine-gun fire at our borders, migrants will keep on coming.

Those of us who see ourselves first as humans, then as nations or towns, tend to welcome migrants because we feel a sense of solidarity with them. We recognize that nobody arrived where they are today without migrating at some time in their history.

According to Ardrey’s “African Genesis,” we all originated in Southern Africa, and moved, slowly and for many different reasons, to where we are now. And we all may have to migrate again, as our industrial success leads to environmental degradation. If we could just accept that we are all responsible for each other, rather than loyal just to a nation or a flag, or a language, or a style of clothing, or a skin-pigmentation, or a preference for certain foods, maybe we might make some progress. Maybe we might get beyond the instinct to reject, and consciously choose to accept our fellow-humans who need our support. Surely it can’t be beyond our capacity?

Ed Healy

Marystown

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