Coming up to the 2015 General Election, the inflammatory rhetoric of UKIP is a worrying feature of the complex political scene in the UK.
It’s always been complex, of course…
Well, we have had politicians who have expanded the suffrage and decriminalised homosexuality.
But unfortunately, there have also been extreme figures like Nick Griffin and John Tyndall.
And as we speak, the self-consciously carnivalesque “cheeky-chappie, salt of the earth, business class hero” mask of UKIP is already slipping.
Yes, more foolish and unduly provocative comments are involuntarily slipping out of the mouths those who (if you believe all you read on Twitter) are the poor, persecuted ideological hipsters of UKIP.
Still, unpersuasive appeals to postmodern irony or to the high ethical imperative of spicing up the sober-betweeded Gradgrind’s paradise of Westminster can only get you so far. For, sooner or later, the cash value of the ideas needs to be assessed.
And I’m afraid the cash value of these ideas can be expressed by another phrase which, like “cash value” itself, is associated with the philosophy of pragmatism:
“Truth is what works.”
Yes, it certainly seems that for UKIP, ideological shallowness is not an insuperable barrier to getting a hearing; though how much of a hearing, remains to be seen.
Still, I’m going to assume that some individuals may be wavering. There’s an old notion that convincing those who are not yet strongly convinced either way is the best strategy.
So, I think it’s worth talking about the superficially profound observation that immigration is not “good or bad in itself.”
Sadly, this apparently sagely proverb merely strikes me as trivially true. If it means:
“Immigration hasn’t turned the UK into an idyllic and carnivalesque heterotopia of Bhangra dancing, underground reggae and other cultural artefacts which serve the self-conscious racist as ready-to-hand evidence that he or she is not technically a bigot…”
Then I agree that Heaven and Earth have not yet switched places to the sound of glorious Condorcet trumpets and joyful Comtean Hallelujahs. However, this strikes me as a rather odd strawman argument.
Similarly, if it means:
“Immigration isn’t a mortal peril that will plunge the UK into eternal neolithic barbarism and servitude…”
Then I also agree. But if that’s all it takes to not be a racist with regards to immigration, that’s a pretty low bar…
By the way, on a similar note, did you know:
1. Not all sexism is the domain of pimps and wife-beaters?
- Not all homophobes go around throwing acid in people’s faces?
Not all racism is committed by jackbooted football hooligans who dress in hoods and burn crosses?
I could go on, but I think there are some people who still don’t get it. And for my part, I also don’t deny that immigration is not one-sidedly “good” or “bad,” as though context were unimportant. But that phrase can only mean one of two things.
Either one speaks of the so-called “good immigrants” who are from country X, religion Y, culture Z, who are not sexist, racist, religiously intolerant, homophobic and so the list goes on endlessly…
And one then divides these cleanly and neatly from the supposedly “bad immigrants.”
Or, one acknowledges that the ambivalence, the lack of a clear value judgment, goes all the way down.
One cannot simply, as Marx accused Proudhon of doing with regards to capitalism, choose to keep the good side (sic) and abolish the bad side (sic).
For, it’s certainly true that immigration isn’t a golden ticket to a peppermint wonderland of a lost and future Eden; but then very few people, if any, are claiming that it is.
And it’s also true that immigration isn’t a disaster of Tolkienesque proportions; but so what?
None of that justifies the assumption that the prejudices to which “Proudhonesque” people naively or cynically appeal are ones which cut neatly across religious, national or “cultural” lines.
And no amount of waving reams of statistics from opinion polls in my face is going to change the fact that statistics never speak for themselves; statistics alone can never tell one what to do.
And that’s aside from all the messy challenges and pitfalls involved in conducting rigorous and scientific data collection.
I don’t mean to trivialise the seriousness of the topic of discussion.
Yes, there are problems with the UK immigration system.
Yes, the fears of those who say there is Darwinian competition for jobs in the area where they live should be taken seriously.
Yes, immigration legislation and enforcement often has been imperfect.
Yes, it’s not “wrong” to discuss whether skills sets or other economic criteria (instead of racist criteria) might be legitimate or viable.
But it’s precisely because these matters are important, that I don’t appreciate the inflammatory rhetoric of UKIP; as well as the more equivocal form of speaking which hedges on two meanings of “complex.”
So, if you ever hear anyone say “but immigration is complex…” well, you can ask them about their friend Mr Proudhon.
Try it. I actually don’t know what they are going to say.
But if you see their face drop…
Well, I’m sure you’ll know why.
Finally, on the off chance that anyone should actually care (I don’t), I will say that I am not citing Marx as an infallible authority, but as a historical figure who had some interesting things to say. Some of these things may be nonsense, others may be worth taking into serious consideration.
But then again, if all that can be said in criticism of my argument is that it references Marx, and that I am therefore self-evidently a “Cultural Marxist” (so-called)…
Then, that probably says more about such a fastidious critic than it does about me. 😉