Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Birds of a feather. Thoughts on free association and (forced) inclusion.

As a former chicken keeper I can attest to the fact that birds of a feather do indeed flock together. So do humans, though the colour of feathers or in this case skin does not have to be the defining factor. 

This has nothing to do with bigotry, with prejudice against people who are less like us.
It has to do with the way in which we are all living Ven diagrams. We are all both unique individuals AND members of various groups. The overlap of the various circles that 
symbolise groups is precisely what helps to define us as individuals.

There is comfort and ease in connecting with people who share several of our overlaps.
I am an immigrant. I have lived  in Canada since 1969 and loved the place from the start. 
And yet. I was 25 when we came from the Netherlands, so my formative years were spent there. I have no desire to live in a Dutch ghetto, but when I meet a fellow immigrant from 
that country there is a connection, even if we otherwise have little in common.
This is not a value judgment, it just is.

Then there is the eternal dance between the sexes, half courtship, half battle. There is a relaxation that happens in a room of just women.  I assume the same holds true for men and others. 

The socially acceptable dogma of our woke times is all inclusion, all the time. 
Unfortunately that principle can conflict with the right to free association, the right to form a club.
The whole idea of a club is letting some people in and leaving others out, so the members have a space in which to feel at home and deal with issues that they have in common only with each other.

This can be harmless or not, depending on other factors.
A club of left handed plumbers is not likely to have its door being pounded down by irate right handed plumbers demanding inclusion. 

However, a country club refusing membership to anyone who is not white is another matter.
One’s immediate reaction is to desire a law forcing the club to open its doors. 

But wait. 

Does the law also mean that the Vietnamese club down the road is forced to accept all wannabe members, including some old vets who developed a fondness for Pho in the seventies?

This is not a simple dilemma. Be careful with demanding laws, they may turn against you.




Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Moulting snakes on the path. Another therapy metaphor.

When people are in ‘therapy mode’, a time of introspection and inner work, they may go through an equivalent of moulting. As a snake sheds an old skin that has got too tight, old identity is cast aside while a new one is being forged. 

Earlier I wrote about my distaste for too much therapy, for endless focus on the hole in the donut of life. Since disclaimers are often missed in the hurried reading that happens these days, let me repeat that I recognise  there may be a time for therapy. I just do not like to see people get stuck there. 

I do not like seeing people take on the mantle of victimhood as identity. 
It is ultimately disabling, but that is another topic.

To get back to the metaphor, there is a period when the old skin/ identity no  longer fits, but the new one is not quite ready. The snake is temporarily naked and extremely vulnerable. 

Meanwhile, the rest of the world keeps turning.
People walk by the place where the naked snake is trying to regenerate, accidentally scuffing sand or pebbles as they go about their ordinary business. To the snake every grain of sand feels like a rock, deliberately hurled to attack per*.  

Let’s call the person undergoing therapy  Snake and persons in snake’s life Walkers. 
Honesty moment: my only experience with the world of therapy is the role of  Walker. These remarks are based on  observations of friends and in particular a close friend, now deceased, who got stuck in therapy mode, obsessed with the hole in the donut. 

Both Snake and Walkers may do better if they keep some things in mind.

Walkers may want to tread carefully around Snake for a while, knowing that the loved is going through a tough time of vulnerability, allowing a safe space for the new identity to form, honouring Snake’s requests for specific language, avoiding triggers, and so on. 

Meanwhile Snake’s therapist may do well to remind Snake that the world does not revolve around per’s needs.  If Snake wants to maintain relationships per at some point has to recognise that the Walkers in per’s life are only fellow humans muddling through. IMHO a good therapist would help Snake to gain perspective, count some blessings,  and see interactions from both sides. 



*Per. 
Short for Person. Gender neutral pronoun pioneered by Marge Piercy in her  1976 sci fi novel Woman at the edge of Time. I like the idea of a gender neutral pronoun, but the use of They as singular grates on my  nerves. I am linguistically sensitive. 




Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Review: “Unsheltered” by Barbara Kingsolver

A new book by a favourite author is always a treat. I had an audio credit from Kobo, so I did not even have to wait for the library or the paperback. So far so good. 


I love Barbara Kingsolver, both as an author and as a human being. She is one of the few writers whose books I will reread. Her writing is beautiful and often lyrical. From the very beginning her books have been about more than just characters unfolding in private life. In the words of the author herself: 


“My interest is human behaviour, and the complex ways we do or don’t come 

to terms with ourselves, our societies, and our habitats.” (From an interview in Psychology Today)


I like that. These days I have little interest in fiction that ignores economic and historical reality. The intersection between the individual and the collective is what holds my attention. 


First, a word about the voice performance. This is an important factor in an audio version.  Barbara Kingsolver reads her own work. Her voice is pleasant, her reading OK, but she is no actor. In particular the voice she gives to the 19th century botanist Mary Treat, a real historic character, is a hesitating whine that does not jibe with the feisty non conformist that the book portrays.


Otherwise the novel is off to a promising start. 

The family at the heart of the story has fallen on hard times, in spite of being well educated and spending decades doing all the right things. Mom Willa used to be a successful writer for magazines. Those things in print with the glossy ads that you bought every week, remember them? Her magazine has folded. Dad Iano is an academic who has been chasing tenure from one college to another.  When he finally achieves security the college itself closes on him.  Dad lands an entry level job in Philadelphia at the same time that Mom inherits a crumbling Victorian house in Vineland, New Jersey. The couple relocates to Vineland, a town with an interesting history. They are already encumbered with Iano’s ailing father, a bitter Greek immigrant. In short order they are joined by their college drop out daughter and the newborn baby of their son. Four generations, one entry level job, five dependents.


Next chapter: Moving-in day in the same location by a different family but more than a century earlier. Newly married Thatcher Greenwood has accepted a job as science teacher in the Vineland School. His family consists of his wife Rose, her widowed mother and her teenage sister. Looking across the street Thatcher observes the scandalous sight of a middle aged woman lying prone in the grass, apparently studying something.

She turns out to be Mary Treat, a real historical figure. Mary was a self taught botanist who corresponded with the great scientists of her day including Charles Darwin. From then on chapters on the lives of the two families alternate. 


I found this structure irritating. Until we get to the very end, when 21 century Willa develops a fascination with Mary Treat, the only overlap between the two strands is concern for the house. One just gets into one story line and is then whisked away to the other. 


Barbara Kingsolver often uses her novels as a platform from which to hold forth on topics dear to her heart. It works better some times than others. In this novel it works in the chapters set in the nineteenth century. The reader learns effortlessly about the history of Vineland, the biologist Mary Treat, the resistance to the teachings of science and the flora of the Jersey Pine barrens. Kingsolver is at her warm, lyrical best when she describes natural wonders.


I felt irritated by the same ploy in the twenty-first century. The characters feel one dimensional and mere tools for expounding on the horrors of declining capitalism. Barbara, I love you. Next time you want to write some articles, just do it, you don’t have to build a novel around them.






Some more reflections on collective guilt.

Why did it take me so long to figure this one out? 

That whole thing of  people of colour (I dislike that expression but never mind) telling us pinko whites that we are all racists, and us liberals denying it, and then that makes us even more guilty somehow? And even worse, the final upshot of all this über 'wokeness' is that we feel less comfortable with anyone other than people like ourselves, which is precisely what we don’t want, because we want to be able to just see people as individuals, right?

It finally dawned on me that both sides are right, they are just using different definitions of the loaded term.

If I vehemently declare that I am not a racist, I am using the narrow definition, as formulated in an earlier post: Racism is a philosophy that considers certain groups of people inferior to others, and wants to organise society to reflect and reinforce that inferiority. 

When someone accuses all people of privilege of unconscious racism, they are using a wider definition. They are talking of the way we go through daily life, coming from our own experience, not recognising the many ways in which we are lucky. 

When we are blessed with a functioning pair of legs we do not think of the lack of wheelchair access every time we step over a curb. Does that make us “ableist”? (Another jargon word I thoroughly dislike.)
I say it does for instance if the issue comes up in a municipal election, and we vote against creating more accessibility because it will raise taxes. Otherwise, we are just being human.

I can approach a police officer without fear because my experience has led me to see the force as a helpful part of my community. This is privilege, yes. I should be aware of that and I am. But imho it does not make me racist, unless I support a police officer who has wrongly targeted a POC. And so on. 

The question of reparation for historical wrongs is a separate topic. First this.

The first duty of privilege is to recognise itself. Privilege needs to acknowledge that it has benefited from a long history of  oppression. Privilege needs to acknowledge that it owes as much  to luck as to merit. 

That, I am willing to do. Calling myself all kinds of -ist or -phobe and going through life groveling in apology for crimes I had nothing to do with I am not. 








Thursday, November 1, 2018

Review: The line becomes a river: dispatches from the border by Francisco Cantú.

Every now and then one comes across a book that one wants to put into the hands of every politician, every citizen with a hint of influence. “The line becomes a river” by Francisco Cantú  is such a book. 


Well written, thought provoking and heart wrenching, it is the story of the son of a Mexican American mother who becomes a border guard, then an advocate for a paperless Mexican friend.


The author’s mother grew up in the USA and needed half a lifetime to get over feeling ashamed of being Mexican. She was a park ranger near the Mexican border. The border, he writes, is in his blood. 


During his years as a border guard he enjoys the camaraderie with fellow agents and the thrills of an active job in the great outdoors, but is deeply affected by the human tragedies he witnesses. The desert is hell. Migrants who cannot keep up with a group are left behind to die of thirst and exposure. Even if they manage to make it across the border migrants may be held prisoner in drop off houses for ransom by family in the USA. Every hardening of the border tightens the grip of organised crime. Francisco tries to provide small acts of kindness wherever he can. At least he speaks the language and knows the culture. Eventually the stress becomes too much and he quits.


The last part of the book concerns the tragic case of one Mexican family. Diego Martinez has lived in the USA for thirty years, since he was 11 years old. He is an exemplary citizen, member of a church, loving husband and father of three boys ranging from 8 to 15. He quit drinking when his first son was born. He has never been in trouble with the law. His employer says he is the best worker she ever had. At some point he goes to Mexico to be with his dying mother. Returning proves to be a nightmare. He makes it across the border but is caught. In spite of a good lawyer and the passionate pleas of his family, employer, church community and friends his application for leniency is denied and he is deported. At one point the wife receives phone calls asking her for ransom money. She pays up, but there is still no sign of her husband. The blackmail had been a hoax. The story ends with mr. Martinez still in limbo, still in Mexico near the border, still determined to make it home to his family no matter what the cost. 


Shortly before reading this book I had listened to a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell, part of his Revisionist History series. Highly recommended by the way. Gladwell makes the point that migration patterns changed in recent history. Back when crossing the Mexican American border was easier Mexicans, especially young men, would go to El Norte for a few months to work, then go back home. Families mostly stayed in Mexico. Once crossing the border became costly both in terms of money and danger it made more sense to stay put in the USA and to eventually smuggle the family in as well. Present policies mainly benefit organised crime.



Wednesday, September 26, 2018

100 % right is never an option

Many of the world’s greatest horrors have occurred because some group or visionary was aiming for perfection. No ideological side has a monopoly on this. This is not a left or right, religious or secular ideology thing.  We have had the Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution’s Terror, the Holodomor, the famine due to forced collectivisation in Ukraine, the cultural revolution in China, the killing fields in Cambodia, the horrors of the Taliban and Islamic State.  All had their share of horror, all were aiming for a perfect society with no deviation from the ideal allowed. 

There is a tendency, especially in the USA but spilling over into culturally related countries, to aim for ‘zero tolerance’ of certain evils. Sexual harassment, spousal or child abuse, bullying and offensive language for example. Guess what. It won’t work. Life happens in shades of grey, not in clear contrasts of black and white.

Now please do not mistake this for endorsement of sexual harassment, domestic violence, bullying, racial slurs or other evils. I am against them, OK?  Sadly it looks like we have to spell such things out these days. Critiquing the excesses of a thing is not the same as critiquing the thing. 

My objection is to policies of zero tolerance. When the slightest infraction is pounced upon by overzealous enforcers of an ideal an old tyranny is being replaced by a new one. Repeat:  Scale  has to be taken into account. A mild summer breeze and a devastating hurricane are both wind. 
Are they the same? Careful with that continuum argument.

The area of child rearing for instance is rife with dilemmas. Poor North American  parents!
Somehow they are expected to protect their children from all possible harm, emotional or physical and deal with conflicting advice from an army of experts with or without credentials. Somehow Western culture went from “spare the rod and spoil the child” and “children must be seen but not heard” to worrying the tender little psyches will shatter if they ever hear the word NO, or have to concede that competitions have both losers and winners.
In some cases child protective services get called in when children are allowed a level of freedom that was normal not long ago. There is no consensus, no proverbial village.

When a tragedy occurs, as is inevitable in the human condition, the finger pointing starts. 
People don’t like to admit that life is precarious and we are not in control. They like to believe that the tragedy that befell the neighbour could not possibly happen to them, because they themselves would never ....whatever.  When our firstborn died the day after birth of a congenital malformation our hippie friends were eager to blame my modest intake of coffee, a substance they avoided. Meanwhile the glowing beauty of someone’s toddler was credited to the fact he had been conceived on acid. I kid you not.

Then there is the realm of politics. Somehow we expect the Powers That Be to keep us safe from zealots and madmen, yet not infringe on our privacy.  We expect a social safety net but hate to pay taxes.  We expect safety standards for food, water  and construction but get frustrated by red tape.  In all these areas finding balance is key. 

Anyway, getting it 100% right is not an option. 
But here is what we can do: we can decide in which direction to make our mistakes. 

I resolve to make my mistakes in the direction of openness over closeness, love over discipline, individual freedom over the obsessive search for safety, and free expression over ever shifting notions of political correctness.


Friday, September 14, 2018

The Doughnut theory of life. A brief reflection on psychotherapy.

With all respect to mrs Gump, life does not resemble a box of chocolates. Life is more like a doughnut. What makes a piece of bakery a doughnut? The hole in the middle. 

This post owes much to the rich symbolic language of astrology, perhaps the oldest form of psychology. Readers familiar with astrology will recognise Saturn. Every human life has a basic lack, an area of insecurity, a place where things do not  flow effortlessly. Nobody, even the person with the most charmed life, gets it all. Such is the human condition. 

Jane has security and a happy family but suffers from ill health. Peter  has been blessed with a robust constitution, makes a good living with enjoyable work, but suffers from loneliness.  Paul lives perpetually on the edge of financial ruin with all the stress that entails. Mary has a good life now but is haunted by demons from earlier trauma. John seemingly has it all but can find no meaning to life, feels hollow inside and takes to drugs. And so on in endless variations. That place of lack is the hole in the doughnut.
That is all obvious and what does it  have to do with psychotherapy?

Disclaimer first. I am content with my life and have never felt the need for therapy.  I have no right to judge people who benefit from it and that is not the intention here. This critical reflection refers to excess.  
I have been preoccupied with questions of scale and balance lately, perhaps in reaction to the increasing polarisation of public discourse. Criticising the excess of a thing is not the same as criticising the thing itself.  It appears one has to spell that out. 

It seems to me that, like many good things, therapy can be overdone. People can get stuck in it. This is where the doughnut hole comes in. 
“Know thyself “ has been sound advice for a long time. Knowing oneself requires a good look at the troubled place within. We all have one. But therapy can get people to spend too much time looking at the hole in the doughnut of life. The client may end up identifying with the hole, spending precious time and life energy mapping the exact shape and size of the hole, socialising with people with similar holes, feeling  misunderstood by anyone whose inner empty spot has another shape. 

Yes,  the inner void demands to be acknowledged. There may be a time for therapy, and a time to gain support from others with a similar life wound.

 But after a good look at the doughnut hole I would rather focus on the cake. 








Thursday, March 8, 2018

On the importance of defining terms

Communication between people or groups can be tricky at the best of times, but it becomes near impossible if each party has a different idea of the meaning of a term.

Take the word socialism. 
When I hear it I think "Norway", a democratic society with high taxes but a huge social safety net, overall a good quality of life, and the freedom to protest or change government if so desired.
If you think "Soviet Union", a totalitarian government with no room for dissent, we can hardly have a meaningful conversation till we clear that up.

A while ago I expressed my frustration with women who brag about how strong they are, how they do not fit into traditional roles, while insisting "I am not a feminist".
Meanwhile their life has been made possible by decades, nay centuries! of struggle by feminists.

It turns out we have different definitions of the term.

My involvement with feminism, such as it was, dates from the sixties and seventies. I had been ahead of the curve thanks to the influence of my mother and to Simone de Beauvoir, who I devoured at age 18. When the larger movement burst forth I was already married to a man who shared my egalitarian ideals, at least in theory. I never went to meetings or organised protests. I just read the books, subscribed to magazines big and small, and talked with friends. Feminism infused my thinking and I felt myself to be part of the movement. Back then I occasionally felt a twinge of unease at some of the more extreme utterances, but figured that every movement has its fringe.

When I say "feminism" I mean humanism. I think of extending basic rights to 52% of the population. I think of true partnership, of Marlo Thomas singing "Free to be You and Me." I think of the early twentieth century writer Rebecca West who said: "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat."

I stopped reading the magazines and did not pay much attention in the eighties. I was busy raising children and chickens. I got tired of seeing the broad based movement devolve into hair splitting and squabbling over what we now call identity politics. Apparently that only got worse.

On Facebook I expressed frustration with free strong women saying "I am not a feminist". This led to this input by a friend of my daughter's generation.

"When I was in college, the feminist thought was combative. It ranged from "restrict that job or position to females only" to actual publications that direct women how to sabotage their male cohorts in order to advance yourself. All of that hit me as horrifically wrong and I would also say, "No, I'm not a feminist."

Now I see! If one's experience is with a bunch of humorless strident fanatics aiming for revenge and waiting to pounce on the slightest politically incorrect utterance, I can understand why one would wish to avoid both the association and the label. The friend again:
"Years later I can say I'm not THAT kind of feminist. It's about balance and equality, not excluding one gender to benefit the other."

Amen to that. Let's end this with a shout out to all the excellent men out there who truly support equality.






Wednesday, January 31, 2018

On sproinking, old warriors and turbulence.

The world today is full of people who have had good reasons for being mad as hell for a long time, and they are not taking it anymore.

This is a good thing. We still have a long way to go before this planet resembles the peaceful, egalitarian paradise depicted in Star Trek, The Next Generation. We had to wait for TGN. In J.T. Kirk's days a woman could not become captain of a star ship. (An episode was devoted to portraying a woman who resented that fact as a monster who lost Jim's love by denying her own feminine nature.)  I will never give up the hope we might get there one day. Right now the chance doesn't look great but let's leave that for another time. 

This post is about the trouble that arises because progress for social justice is made unevenly. Let's take being gay, or generally queer, as an example. Please don't get me started on the PC list of initials, and substitute your own oppressed group of choice.

In liberal cities like Vancouver, Toronto or San Francisco it is quite In to be Out. In some circles a regular man or woman may be expected to identify as 'cis'. The photo below is Canada's Prime Minister at the Toronto Pride parade. I love that picture, but does this look like oppression?
But wait! Before we declare this particular struggle won, imagine being the gay son of a conservative family belonging to a fundamentalist church. You love your family and your community but you can no longer deny your nature. Coming out takes courage. It may mean tough choices. A while back I was reading about Hutterites. According to their website a gay Hutterite faces three options: a deep dark closet, a lonely life of celibacy, or leaving the life giving community.
Meanwhile being outed in Uganda or Saudi Arabia can get you killed. See what I mean about uneven progress?

A metaphor. 
Think of the energy of an oppressed group as a coiled spiral, like a Jack in the Box. What happens when the lid that kept Jack down is removed? SPROINK! Don't stand too close, you will be hit in the face. I coined sproinking as a verb, to describe the energy of freshly liberated groups. Think also of the over the top zeal of the freshly converted. People tend to mellow out after a while. The SPROINK! energy is exhilarating for the members of the group, but may be bewildering, threatening or just irritating for others.  


Then there are the Old Warriors. The age refers more to the battle than to the soldiers. This is the folks splitting hairs and looking for microaggressions after a movement has been largely successful. They may overlap with sproinkers.

I am reflecting on this in the winter of 2018. The media have been buzzing with the news of one mighty man after another falling from grace due to past sexual misconduct. 
I did a blog on this topic a few years ago during one such scandal concerning a popular CBC man. Much of it is still relevant.

This vague term "sexual misconduct" can be used for a wide variety of misbehaviors. |

Should withholding job opportunities unless sexual favours are granted really be on the same page  as a drunken grope at the office Christmas party? 

While it is high time the former is taken seriously, I would like to think that the latter can be dealt with on the spot with a slap and a firm DON'T. I recognise I have been lucky in my personal experience and may be hopelessly naive as a result. I also recognise we are looking at the slippery slope. The drunken grope may be evidence of a toxic climate in which blackmail is possible. Many small acts can add up to a climate of intimidation. When does one make a fuss? And then there is the real danger that even the proverbial slap can have repercussions. I just stumbled upon this.
http://www.upworthy.com/actor-rose-marie-shamed-her-harasser-in-1954-and-paid-dearly-for-it?c=ufb2

Margaret Atwood wrote a much discussed article in the Globe and Mail that I posted to Facebook with the comment: "I fear rule by mob, even if the mob consists of my kind of people. I fear orthodoxy and dogma, even if they originate in a philosophy I subscribe to."

I also worry about throwing out precious babies with the bathwater.
Yes, we need history books to include the stories that have been previously ignored. But I would hate to see the canon of Western civilisation tossed out because the texts were written by rich white men. In their time they were the only ones with the leisure to study and reflect.

More on the whole group/individual thing in the next post, but just this: When  previously disadvantaged groups finally get a measure of justice, there is always a danger that relatively harmless individuals of the previously privileged group get a rough deal. 

Here in Canada we just had a tragedy involving the shooting of a young First Nations man by a white farmer. The behaviour of the police who went to the young man's home to inform the bereaved family is without excuse. Racism is real. 

The white farmer who shot the young man was acquitted by the all white jury. At first glance it seemed like a clear cut case of outrageous racism. My first reaction was to post an item on it with the comment that this was Canada's equivalent to the Trevor Martin case and sign "Justice for Colten" petitions. Google Colten Boushie. 

But then my conservative friend Ken "buzzsaw" Cyr sent me some articles published in conservative sources that questioned the simple narrative of "drunk native kid blameless victim, white farmer guilty racist." It was not that simple. For the record, these articles were written by First Nations people. I finally told myself the world will keep turning if I do not have a firm opinion on the matter.

I am just hoping we can make social change without creating fresh victims in the process. I worry about a mentality where the end justifies the means. I hope more of us can keep a relatively cool head, keep trying to separate truth from falsehood, and continue to think independently instead of following a herd, any herd. 

Related posts:
http://reflectionsrants.blogspot.ca/2017/03/defining-isms.html
http://reflectionsrants.blogspot.ca/2015/01/some-thoughts-on-collective-guilt-and.html
http://reflectionsrants.blogspot.ca/2014/10/he-says-she-says-searching-for-truth.html
http://reflectionsrants.blogspot.ca/2014/03/on-evils-of-thinking-in-binaries-and.html














Monday, December 18, 2017

On immigration and mayonnaise.

Once upon a time, in a house on the border of Murcia and Almeria, a woman named Catalina Andreu showed me how to make mayonnaise. First, you make your base. Vinegar, egg, salt, maybe mustard and or garlic. Then comes the tricky part: incorporating the oil. This has to be done in a slow trickle while stirring vigorously. Add too much at once and the oil goes one way, the vinegar base the other and they are both useless. Her words. I remember her saying "un lado, otro lado." These people were smart peasant farmers who knew how to stretch our rudimentary Spanish by simplifying their language.

Now, with our modern kitchen blenders the cure for a failing mayonnaise is simple. Stop adding oil for a moment, then give the works a vigorous buzz. The oil will incorporate, everything becomes smooth and you can resume trickling more oil.


Mayonnaise seems to me the perfect metaphor for the dilemmas surrounding immigration. When too many newcomers pour into an established society at once, integration becomes more difficult. Any harmonious society has a certain degree of cohesion, a baseline of common mores and values. 


I am not saying that there should not be people at the fringes, those are usually the more interesting ones. The ones on the edge, the pockets of 'others'  keep a society from stagnating. But there has to be a centre to be a fringe of. Without a central mass we get mere chaos. Think of the endlessly warring city states of Renaissance Italy that inspired the peace loving Machiavelli to write his cynical instructions for a successful ruler. 


Ideally the receiving society should be able to slow down the flood of incomers until the previous wave of immigrants has made itself at home. Stop adding more oil. Let Time, that great blender, do its magic. In the recent (post indigenous holocaust) history of North America this has happened many times over. Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans have all been looked at askance until they became established. In the present day Vancouver, B.C. is adjusting to becoming an Asian city.


Unfortunately slowing down the flow is not always possible. In times of upheaval due to wars and natural disasters desperate people will continue to flood into safer places.

This phenomenon is as old as humanity. History lesson from Dutch elementary school, where we had to learn dates by heart. They stuck. The year 400 read: "The Great Migration. Our country inhabited by Frisians, Franks and Saxons." The word for the migration, "volksverhuizing", literally "people's move" w.as the same as that used for a move from one apartment to the next. My childish imagination pictured an orderly procession of horse drawn U hauls. While much attention was given to Attila the Hun, the driving force behind all those tribes moving West, not much was said about the experience of the people in place when the Frisians, Franks and Saxons who became our collective forebears showed up. 

Receiving societies face horrible dilemmas no matter how they respond. Most people are decent at heart and want to rescue the fleeing stranger. But when a trickle of individual families becomes a flood that threatens to overwhelm the host society things become tricky.


I have no easy answers. Overall, I prefer being opening and welcoming to closing the gate behind me now that I am in. 

However, on this topic as on so many others we need to be able to hold frank conversations without immediately ranging ourselves in ideological camps. We need to stop cherry picking stories that confirm our chosen viewpoint and ignoring the other ones. People of any group are a mixed bag.

Can we please admit that both xenophobia AND  large sudden influxes of newcomers are a problem? Can we please listen when the people in the neighborhoods where many newcomers settle run into problems without dismissing them as racists? We have seen what happens when people feel dismissed. It is not a pretty picture.


Can we please admit that there is a danger that our cherished social safety nets might become overwhelmed? Of course the funding of social safety nets is a complex issue in its own right, but let's not get side tracked.


Racism is present and real. Racial profiling by police is disgusting. So is seeing a possible rental disappear the moment a person of colour (I hate that expression) appears for a look. Boo! Hiss! 


But think of the social and psychological problems faced by returning veterans from the host society. Now look at an influx of large numbers of traumatised young men from a culture that gives them a sense of entitlement. Thinking of Europe here. Could that just possibly cause some problems? Can we please ask that question without being labeled anything?


Repeat. I have no easy answers. But I do know that finding the best possible answers has to start with asking questions, including  tough and unpopular ones.