Talking straight about shithole countries


Trump is in trouble for using unpresidential and undiplomatic but very Trumpian language:

President Trump on Thursday balked at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and African countries, demanding to know at a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than people from places like Norway, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.

Lots of predictable outrage and pearl-clutching, but some good points too:

I long for the time when people in power used dignified language as well as the time when confidential conversations didn’t use to get routinely leaked to the media on the same day. Oh, who am I kidding. Everyone who knows anything about politics knows that near-nigh everyone, on all sides of politics, constantly uses language and express sentiments in private that would make the average journalist blush and faint – if the average journalist wasn’t exactly the same. If gentility ever existed in these male-dominated, testosterone-charged environments we have lost it a long time ago, and haven’t regained it yet despite the civilising influx of women, who by the way, in my experience, tend to behave pretty much the same as men (why that is so is an interesting topic but not for this post).

Let’s be honest now: shithole countries exist.

This is pretty much why migration happens in the first place: people want to leave their shithole countries and move to much better ones.

Most people don’t want to live in shithole countries. They would rather live somewhere else if they could. Hardly anyone wants to move to a shithole county, a lot of people want to move out.

Saying that a country is shithole is not an automatic reflection on people who live there; if it were so, the proper term would be “shithole nations”.

Countries can be shithole for many reasons: because of the violence (war, civil war, political oppression, rampant crime), because of bad government (corruption, mismanagement, socialism), because of bad institutions (social, political, religious, economic), which keep people poor and oppressed, and so on, or any combination of these factors. Misery loves company.

People who live in shithole countries are only responsible for the shithole state of their countries if they support the factors that make their countries shithole: violence, bad government, and bad institutions.

The shithole status has nothing to do with race – there are shithole countries on every continent, inhabited by people of all skin colours.

Consider this: North Korea – a shithole that you would have to be clinically insane to want to live in; South Korea – not a shithole, actually a pretty good country in most regards. Both inhabited by the same people, the Koreans. It’s not the ethnicity that makes for shitholeness, but, in this case, the political and economic institutions and arrangements practiced on the either side of the 38th parallel.

Pretty much every communist country that ever existed was a shithole country. This means I myself was born in a shithole country, the communist Poland of the 1980s. The population was white, European and overwhelmingly Christian. The country was shithole not because of the majority of its people or any lack of aesthetic qualities, but because the government was shithole: it deprived people of freedom and opportunities, retarded the economic growth, and ruined the environment.

But herein lies the good news: the shithole status doesn’t have to be permanent; in fact, quite often, it is transitory. The country that was shithole yesterday might not be so today, because the factors that made it shithole in the first place have changed: it is now peaceful and safe, the government is better, and the institutions have evolved.

It’s not necessarily an easy process, particularly when there are ingrained cultural and religious reasons for being shithole. But being shithole is never inevitable.

Our contemporary reluctance to see and talk about shitholeness is only partly caused by our politeness – the desire not to hurt anyone’s feelings, as laudable as that is when not taken to extremes, as it unfortunately is. The reluctance is largely an outgrowth of the intellectual prominence of concepts like cultural relativity, and moral and political equivalence. If you believe that all cultures, religions, and political and economic systems are by and large equal and equally worthy, it is clearly not possible to judge and criticise anyone for anything.

In reality, most people outside of the sociology and anthropology faculties, particularly if they read and travel a bit, know that relativity and equivalence are a sheer and unadulterated bullshit. Some cultures, some religions, some political systems are better – and some are worse – at generating happiness and fulfilment for their people (or under any other metric you choose to use to measure a good life).

But the consequences of shitholeness for your country’s immigration policy are an entirely different matter, as Ben Shapiro, amongst others, reminds us:

People are individuals and should be treated as such. This is a basic classical liberal belief. On the other hand, seeing everyone as a member of a group or category they belong to, whether by birth or by choice, without accounting for individual differences or variations within that group or category, is the basic attitude of the left, which, amongst other things, animates today’s identity politics.

There is no right to immigrate. Every country has a right to control its borders and choose whom it admits and on what conditions. I firmly believe that this should be decided on case-by-case basis, and based on individual circumstances of the applicant. I also believe that apart from a distinct humanitarian intake, those migrants should be prioritised who have the best chance to integrate into and contribute to the host country. And as Shapiro writes, quite often it’s the people from shithole countries who can do it the best.

Neither the United States nor Australia can accommodate everyone who would want to immigrate and live there. Only a small number of lucky people can be granted this privilege. Ultimately, we should be hoping not that we can take in more and more people from shithole countries – this is only a band aid solution for the world’s many problems – but that people in shithouse countries eventually are able to get their shit together (so to speak) so that their countries cease to be shithouse. Then everyone wins.