To reiterate: People are genetically biased against change, because change means potential danger. People are also genetically biased against acknowledging this bias, because they wish to see themselves as being able to cope with both change and danger. Put together, this means that when changes come, people are largely unprepared or underprepared.
Take this beyond the bias of the individual, and apply it to that of the group (s)he belongs to, the vantage point of a society, and you find the bias multiplies and becomes self-confirming. That is, the members of the group reinforce each other’s bias. When change comes in small and gradual steps, as it mostly does, this can be said to work relatively well. When it comes in large and sudden steps, trouble ensues.
This little bit of psychology 101 may seem redundant, but it is indispensable if we wish it to recognize the implications of Europe -and the entire world with it, in its slipstream- having already entered a period of change so profound it is impossible to predict what the impact will be. We can do a lot better at this than we do today, where so far the drivers of change, and indeed the changes themselves, are ignored and/or denied.
This ignorance and denial threatens to lead to a needless increase in nationalism, fascism, violence, misery, death and warfare. If we were to acknowledge that the change is inevitable, and prepare ourselves accordingly, much of this could be avoided.
There are two main engines of change that have started to transform the Europe we think we know.
First, a mass migration spearheaded by the flight of refugees from regions in the world which Europeans have actively helped descend into lethal chaos.
Second, an economic downturn the likes of which hasn’t been seen in 80 years or so (think Kondratieff cycle).
Negative ideas about refugees are already shaping everyday opinion and politics in many places, and this will be greatly exacerbated by the enormous economic depression that for now remains largely hidden behind desperate sleight-of-hands enacted by central bankers, politicians and media.
People, first in Europe, then globally, will need to learn to share what they have, and do with much less. This is not optional. The refugees won’t stop coming, and neither will the depression. It would be much better if people were prepared for this by those same central bankers, politicians and media, but the opposite is happening.
It’s not only individual people who are biased against change, societies are too, and that means so are those who ‘lead’ these societies. They are all motivated, consciously or not, to resist change, because their positions and their powers depend on things remaining -largely- the same.
‘Leaders’ in Brussels and various European capitals still operate on the assumption that the refugee stream is a fleeting phenomenon they can and must stop. In a sort of positive feedback loop with their populations, this idea is continuously reinforced.
This leads to today’s reality in which at least one baby drowns every single day (and more in the past few days) off the shores of Greece, on Europe’s borders, and easily ten times as many members of their families. Moreover, the count is accelerating fast. Weather forecasts for the coming week call for Beaufort 7 winds.
There’s no society, no civilization that allows such atrocities to happen, and is not subsequently down for the count, and bound to dissolve, crumble and disappear. Societies all need common values, based on minimum levels of humanity and compassion, just to survive. And they need a whole lot more if they wish to flourish. No such values, as we see on a daily basis, exist in Europe today.
And that means it has no future – at least not in its present EU structure. It doesn’t get simpler than that. Denied and ignored as the simple fact may have been from the start, it was always clear that the European Union, if it failed to solidly unify the continent, risked becoming a force for division. And it looks as if the first real crisis the union faces will be enough to generate that division. There’s no union in sight other than in name.
Scores of people still hail Angela Merkel for her role in the refugee crisis, but they should think again. Merkel demanded the protagonist role for herself and Germany in setting if not dictating the conditions in the Greek debt negotiations over the first half of 2015, but she’s nowhere to be seen in a leading role now.
Merkel, true, has opened German doors to refugees, but she has utterly failed in expanding any such policy to the EU as a whole. And since she’s the only recognized leader in the entire union, leaving people like Hollande and Juncker far behind, she must acknowledge responsibility if things go wrong. Being a leader doesn’t mean you get to cherry-pick your challenges, it’s a package deal. Merkel cannot today act as German leader only.
But as fast increasing numbers of refugees and their children are drowning in the Aegean, in an act of supreme cynicism Merkel last week went to China to sell Volkswagens and weapons, as well to talk about… human rights. That is to say, the human rights of Chinese people. Not those of the refugees making their way to Europe, who apparently don’t even have the right to safe passage.
It’s that safe passage that must be Europe’s first and main concern right now, not how to stop people from coming. There are many voices clamoring for the ‘Evros fence’, built by Greece three years ago on a stretch of land on its border with Turkey, to be opened, so the drownings stop.
This would seem to be a good first step to halt would should by now be labeled a refugee disaster, rather than crisis. But it’s a step that could have been taken months ago, and the fact that it hasn’t even after Merkel visited Turkey recently, doesn’t bode well. Tsipras is set to visit Turkey this week in the wake of Erdogan’s election victory yesterday, but Tsipras may not get the green light from Berlin to tear down the fence.
The best thing would perhaps be for ordinary people to organize themselves into a large group, 10,000+, travel to Evros, and tear down the fence themselves, rather than wait for politicians to do it. Perhaps the time to rely on others, politicians or otherwise, to do things, has passed.
The world has seen mass migrations before, numerous times, and Europe sure has had its share. The manner is which these migrations take place typically depends to a large extent on people’s human values and their willingness to share their wealth. What’s happening with Syrian refugees today bears some eery resemblances to the boats carrying Jewish refugees prior to WWII that were refused in many ports. Let’s not go there again.
Refugees almost always make a positive contribution to the country they resettle in, both economically and in other ways. We know that, just like we know many other things. But that doesn’t lead our reactions, fear does. And the more wealth people have, the more they seem to fear losing it.
I’ve quoted before how the German federal police warned Merkel at least 8 months ago that a million refugees would be at the country’s doorstep. And that nothing was done with this knowledge for about half a year, leaving Germany woefully unprepared when the warning turned out to be correct.
UN Geneva Director General Michael Moller puts the warning even further into the past; he says EU leaders were told about it at least two years ago.
Director-General of the United Nations office in Geneva, Denmark’s Michael Moller, expresses optimism that the agency’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) will help toward ending extreme poverty but he has no illusions about the refugee crisis[..]
“The crisis we have today, we knew it was going to happen. The leaders of Europe were told it was going to happen at least two years ago. So a little prevention and a little preparation in terms of the narrative to their voters would have gone a long way.”
“This very negative, xenophobic and frankly racist narrative that we’re seeing in many countries, including my own country – I don’t recognize my own country – is unacceptable [..] one of the things that I find very puzzling is that there’s some sort of global amnesia going on. In the early 80s we had pretty much the same problem in Southeast Asia, with much bigger numbers of boat people.
It took a while and then someone decided we must deal with it in a more rational way and they came up with a plan of action which was the product of an international conference where international solidarity kicked in in a much broader way than now. Then we put in place a whole series of measures in a way that minimized the pain and over seven years we resettled 2.5 million people. I don’t see why we can’t take a page or two or three out of that book. To me what’s happening isn’t a European problem, it’s an international problem.
[Washington] are evolving as well. First of all, the number [of refugees the US would accept] was 10,000 but now they’ve upped it to 100,000. I’ve talked to some of the politicians.
[..] looking at this crisis as an isolated incident doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. We are going to have more of these things and a lot worse. The moment climate refugee problems kick in we are going to be in real trouble, unless we sit down globally and figure out structures and ways to deal with this in the future. Not to reinvent the wheel every damn time that happens, but to rethink completely the humanitarian system, because I guarantee you that it will happen again.
The refugee disaster is only the first step in a long and multi-pronged process of profound change in the lives of all citizens of -formerly- rich countries. And if we collectively screw up step 1 as badly as we have and still do, what’s going to happen when our economies fall to pieces? When our alleged ‘financial security’ crumbles, our pensions, our benefits?
Are we going to blame it all on the refugees, and vote in right wing simpletons? Too many of us undoubtedly will. Whether there’s enough decency to counter that is a toss-up. What is not is that the numbers of refugees will keep rising at the same time that our economies keep sinking.
It’s up to us, wherever we live in the world, to find the best way to deal with it. We have a choice in how we react to these developments, not in whether they happen or not.