Guest post: Every last one of us here today is the descendant of “immigrants”

Originally a comment by Maureen Brian on Whether nationalism is really the fever and liberalism the normal condition.

Sorry, John, but you can’t understand the present without understanding how we got here. The British Archipelago is at the edge of a vast continent which stretches from Japan to the Atlantic coast of Europe. It has a temperate climate and is endowed with a variety of natural resources.

Therefore it is a place that people might want to get to. It is also a place where it would be inevitable that the natural movements of people would have to stop, regroup and develop the technologies to move further because no-one arrived here who was able to walk on water, let alone do it for three thousand miles to get to the next place which was similarly endowed with the means of survival, the Americas.

So, at the end of the last ice age when the whole place had been covered in several kilometres thick of ice, say 10,000 years ago, there were no inhabitants at all. Every last one of us here today is the descendant of “immigrants” the first of whom crossed the land bridge between England and what is now France and the Low Countries to hunt during the summer and later to settle as the climate improved. Among those peoples were the ones who brought us agriculture, which was not developed here, linked us into trade routes across the continents, brought new materials and new technologies.

Some have theorised that all of this may be why we industrialised first but that’s a whole library of books you’d never read so let us move on.

I have no idea where you are on the planet but i’m pretty sure you can’t prove that all your ancestors were within a day’s walk from there even 1,000 years ago. I have evidence of one strand of my ancestry in a particular place, where I don’t live now, dating back to 937 CE, but that is about as far back as anyone can go unless you are part of a royal family in a literate society. I repeat, we are all immigrants. We all descend from species which arose in the Rift Valley of eastern Africa and we all moved about.

You seem to misunderstand the entire system for dealing with the new people arriving. Refugees, a term with a legal definition, and asylum seekers are housed, sometimes in pretty grotty conditions, and get just over £30 a week which is not even subsistence. Now some get their paperwork sorted out quickly but others stay in that limbo for up to 10 years. They hate it but are all agreed that it’s better than being dead.

The sudden arrival of much greater numbers of people seeking work, which almost all find, does of course put stresses and strains on the system. Sometimes their appearance causes a small war e.g.Darfur but this is not inevitable or usual. Besides, it’s what we pay governments to manage, though some do it better than others.

If you have evidence and can give me a link to it of vast numbers of people arriving here, claiming every known benefit and staying that way for years then let me, let us all see it. More common, as it has been for centuries, is that those who were here earlier exploit, underpay and abuse the newcomers.

Among the ones I’ve known personally are a couple of doctors, a high-powered lawyer with a sideline in journalism and a professor of physics. What we should worry about is that so few of them get to work at the level of which they are capable, often because of racial and religious prejudice. We should also worry, surely, about the fact that so many people are displaced now because of continued imperialist wars. The Chilcot Report is due out in a couple of weeks – see that for why many of those moving right now are Iraqis and Syrians.

You sneer at me for seeking to understand what is going on and wave the spectre of the far right at me. I’m glad I have enough grasp of history and of human beings not to be fooled by the appalling guff they talk and to resist the violence which they actively promote. I’m glad I have the sense to know that fascism and its little brothers were never defeated by agreeing with them, something you seem only too willing to do.

There are times when you can’t beat having long conversations with people who have numbers tattooed on their inner arms and veterans of the International Brigades. You’ll have to find another source, though, because those opportunities are almost gone.

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