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Monday, 25 March 2013

Migration: Emigration, Immigration and King Canute

Inertia is a state unknown in both the natural and cultural worlds. All things change, none stay the same. No one and no organisation can stop the world changing. Maybe temporarily; maybe partially - but in reality, change is inevitable.

In order to disabuse his fawning courtiers as to his power, King Canute commanded the waves to retreat. No modern politician would dare show such modesty - or irony.

There are two very good examples of unstoppable change.

The first is language change, which goes on continuously between generations and within cultures. Much of the change is unnoticed as it happens. This is particularly true of sound change - intonation and pronunciation are things which only specialists can describe. After the event, they can show how the pronunciation of  the English place name Heathrow has changed and they can pretty much explain it by the growth of the airport, which - to put it very simply - has Americanised the pronunciation.

Meaning change, grammatical change and spelling changes escape our attention until the change is accomplished. In English written forms Roumania and Rumania no longer really exist; they have changed over to Romania. When did it happen? Who noticed?

France's Academie Fran├žaise is King Canute without the irony or the modesty. They really think that they can stop French from changing. It's no more than a childish fantasy and their organisation no more than a silly little club where grown men put on funny hats.

The other good example of unstoppable change is migration in both its major forms.

First, there is the migration of those who are well-resourced and intent on looting or settling (and the two are inter-connected). Success depends merely on selecting the right destination - one where the indigenous inhabitants can't resist your weapons, your deceit or your diseases. From the Conquest of the Incas to the Zionist colonization of Palestine it has always worked.

Second, there is the migration of the desperate poor and the ambitious poor, seeking a chance in a new place where they will be at the bottom of society. Many perish on the journey there, many get turned away, some always get through. Even modern countries are unable to seal their borders. Maybe you think North Korea achieves it, but it doesn't. In a country like that, some border guards will be bribeable and some too lazy to look very far for those intent on escape.

Mr David Cameron, another King Canute without irony or modesty, thinks he can achieve what North Korea can't. Or at least he thinks he can be as good at sealing the borders as his Interior Minister, Mrs Theresa May (who isn't very good at all). Even if they put on funny hats, they have no chance. Enough poor and desperate and ambitious people want to get into the UK for some of them to succeed. Some people are going to come here, whether you like it or not. Get over it.

In the  recent past - no more than a few centuries - migration (combined with people trafficking) has transformed the face of the Americas and Australasia. It consequences are still being played out.

In the very recent past - no more than a few decades - migration has changed the face of France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Israel and (as a result of migration from Mexico) the USA.

And these are only cases where everyone will know what I am talking about. There are dozens of other cultures and societies which have been transformed by migration in the past 50 or 100 years. If you think you can call a halt to it all, think again.

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