7 Rules for Migrants

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Many of us move throughout our lives, some frequently. Sometimes we don’t have much choice about the timing or the destination, but in a great majority of cases we choose to change our home to improve our lives. We move from one country to another, one state or city to another, or from city to countryside (or the other way) for a better job, better lifestyle, more and better opportunities, safer and more peaceful life. Sometimes that change between the old and the new can be quite vast; it was for me when I left communist Poland for democratic, capitalist Australia. It is greater still for a Nigerian or Pakistani farmer moving to New York or London. Even when not as dramatic the difference is still noticeable – otherwise we wouldn’t move. It’s a story as old as humanity, made easier and cheaper by the progress in communication and transport. It took my great-grandfather weeks to get from Stanislawow in Galicia to Chicago; nowadays a better life is often just a drive or a flight away. The motivations and the expectations, however, the drives and the dreams, the pulls and the pushes remain the same.

Migration – international, interstate, intrastate – is almost always a boon for the migrant. It’s often good for the recipient location too. Whether or not it is is a complicated calculus of costs and benefits, both on the individual level and in general. Both as a migrant myself and now a long-term resident of a country which attracts large numbers of migrants, I know there are ways to increase the odds the migration is a win for everyone concerned. But I lied – I don’t have 7 rules for migrants. Perhaps I could if I thought more about, but I’m not sure whether it would add much to the one rule I have, because it’s a big one and I think the most crucial one. It’s so crucial, I’m going to take the unprecedented step of using capitals on my blog:

LEAVE YOUR SHIT BEHIND

That’s it. Four words only.

Whether you’re moving ten thousand or only 50 kilometres away, remember why you are moving: you want to upgrade your life. You are moving from a worse place to a better place. And in most cases there are reasons why a particular place is better or worse than other. It’s not an accident or a magic; a whole range of political, economic, social and cultural institutions, traditions, habits, policies and behaviours shape our environment and influence our lives. In effect you’re moving from a location where these institutions, traditions, habits, policies and behaviours don’t make the best life possible for you (and often many others) to another locations where a different set of institutions, traditions, habits, policies and behavious do work for most people and hopefully will do for you too.

So leave your old shit behind. Pack your bags with what you need but don’t take with you the old modes of thinking. Don’t try to use them in the new environment; they haven’t worked in your old home – that’s why you’ve left – and they won’t work in your new one, except to make it worse, which defeats the whole point of moving in the first place.  This is as true whether you are moving from Romania or Namibia to Australia, from California to Texas, or from a big bad city to a peaceful country town, and whether you’re seeking better jobs and more money, less crime, corruption and pollution, more comfortable life and better education for your children, an opportunity to open a business, enjoy more freedom and autonomy, or simply live free of fear and danger.  Leave behind everything that made the old (so often) an unattractive and unlivable shithole and embrace the new – which works. Leave the failed policies behind, leave behind all the socialisms, fascisms, statisms, feudalisms, clannisms, tribalisms, obscurantisms. Most migrants, of course, understand this simple proposition, which is why their migration ends up benefiting them and their new country/state/locality.* But – and I can’t stress it enough – if you don’t get it, don’t come. It’s that simple. I want you here to add to, not subtract from the whole.

Leave your shit behind, otherwise you are turning your new home in the same sort of a shithole you escaped from in search of better life. Now repeat it seven times after me.

* that optimistic generalisation is not uncontentious: even putting cultural matters aside, research suggests “migrants bring a substantial portion of their attitudes toward markets, trust, and social safety nets with them from their home country”, that these attitudes persist, and they influence the politics of their new home.

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