Understanding 'nativism' will help us end it (?)
The writer below, lawyer Michael Bradley, makes the procrustean Leftist assumption that all men are equal. Procrustes was a landlord in Greek mythology who had only one size bed in his hostelry. So if someone was too tall to fit into the available beds, Procrustes would cut off enough of the visitor's legs to fit the visitor to the bed. He was the ultimate "one size fits all" man -- but not in a good way. So Bradley makes the assumption that all immigrants are equal and that they will all fit in well to the existing society eventually.
But what if he is wrong about that? Most of the previous waves of immigrants that have ended up as more or less undifferentiated members of the Australian melting pot have, for instance, all claimed a loyalty to the risen LORD. Might not an allegiance to Allah produce a very different result? Might not Muslims be an exception to the rule? Or do all groups whatever have to fit into a single procrustean bed?
Some major groups such as Hindus and Han Chinese fit in perfectly well without any Christian background but that is surely a contingent matter. Most importantly, their religions don't preach hostility to other faiths. Additionally, both groups are very business-oriented and studious and consequently tend to do well economically. So they have a strong positive connection to Australia and no negative push.
But Muslims are not like that. Any reading of the Koran will tell you that Muslims are commanded to be hostile to non-Muslims. And, additionally, Muslims tend to be economically unsuccessful and welfare dependent. So they lack the positive attributes that have caused other immigrants to adapt peacefully and successfully to Australian life.
So could we possibly entertain the thought that opposition to Muslims in our society is perfectly rational? When many Muslims make clear their hatred for us and some of them physically attack us, might we not reasonably be dissatisfied with that? Might we not reasonably think that Australia would be better off without adherents of that religion?
So lawyer Bradley relies on a questionable proposition. But if the equality of all migrants is questionable, Bradley makes another large assumption below that is demonstrably wrong. He asserts that attitudes to the ingroup and the outgroup march in tandem. You are only hostile to the outgroup because you have an exaggerated veneration for your own group.
That's also a popular theory among Leftist psychologists. They even embody it in a word: "ethnocentrism". It is however a testable theory and in my 20 years as an academic psychologist and survey researcher I tested it repeatedly. I included in my questionnaires groups of questions ("scales") designed to measure both attitude to the ingroup and attitude to the outgroup. I had the results of such studies published in the academic journals. See e.g. here and here. And there is an independent finding that mirrors mine here.
On all occasions I found no trace of the expected relationship. In statistician-speak I found that attitude to the ingroup and attitude towards the outgroup were "orthogonal". And orthogonality precludes causation. So despite his attempt at moderation, Bradley is simply wrong.
And, equally interesting, I found that there was often little relationship between attitudes to different outgroups. A person (say) who disliked blacks would often (say) have nothing against Jews. More specficially a man who disliked groups on the basis of their perceived poor hygeine would be unbothered by other groups who had no reputation for deficient hygeine. Different people are bothered by different things and if something that bothers them is prominent in a particular group, they will dislike that group.
So attitude to outgroups is not some monolithic kneejerk response to "otherness" but rather something with a rational basis. And it seems to me that dislike of Muslims falls into that category. I know of no proof to the contrary. Nobody attempts to prove it, in fact. "Islamophobia" is an article of faith. A phobia is an irrational fear but fear of Muslims has clear rational grounds. There are daily reports of them blowing up and otherwise killing people. Is there any reason why that does not matter?
The clue is in the name: Reclaim Australia. It's poignant, emotive, speaking of something lost. We're in one of those moments now, when the fear of loss underpinning all anti-immigration movements comes to the surface.
I'm going to avoid the usual loaded terminology: racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia. Instead, I'll use a neutral term to describe popular national movements against outsiders: nativism.
I'm not so interested in name-calling as I am in exploring what causes these perennial outbursts against demographic minorities - noting that the divisions are not always racial or ethnic.
This point in a sense supports one of the nativists' standard defences - that their opposition to the targeted minority is not racist. That is, they do not object to the outsiders because of their race (or religion). The concern is not their defining label, but the behaviours which that label predetermines.
The list of excluded minorities is endless: Romany, Baha'i, Asians, Africans; in every country on Earth, at various points of history those already there have objected to the arrival of others. If you listen carefully today, you can hear in Australia complaints being raised about the incompatible cultural behaviours of recent immigrants from mainland China.
As always, this is self-described not as racism, but as self-defence. The one feature that every successive group of immigrants has shared, from the first Chinese arrivals in the gold rush, through the Italians, Greeks, Lebanese, Vietnamese, Muslims and Africans, to the latest Chinese from China, is the accusation that they threaten our national values. Not because they're inherently bad people, but because there's something inherent in their background, whether ethnic, national or religious, which just doesn't fit.
Pauline Hanson's seemingly permanent exasperation is worthy of deeper analysis than it tends to receive. She says "I'm not racist" often, with conviction. She explained her position with clarity in 2010, when she was selling her home in Queensland and told the media that she would refuse to sell it to a Muslim buyer. Her reason:
"Because I don't believe that they are compatible with our way of life, our culture. And I think we are going to have problems with them in this country further down the track"
Nativists would call Hanson prescient. The current rumblings from Reclaim Australia, the more radical United Patriots Front and nascent political parties such as the Australian Liberty Alliance, echo (in their view) exactly what she warned. Their expressed concern is to protect Australia; their method is to exclude those who don't fit in.
Nativism is a deceptively simple ideology.
It starts with the very human desire to belong. Nobody likes to be on the outer. In the quest for a sense of belonging, we easily attach ourselves to group identifiers - a football team, the cool kids at school, religion, race, nationality - and equally easily ignore that they are artificial constructs. It makes no more sense to seek to define a group of people as "Australian" than it does to distinguish Queenslanders from Victorians, or Jordanians from Iraqis. They're all accidents of history, geography and demography.
Nativist movements have always ultimately collapsed under the weight of their own contradictions.
Reclaim Australia has, to some extent, claimed legitimacy by co-opting Indigenous Australians under its banner, along with some Asian Australians. It doesn't take a lot of thought to see the difficulty of claiming a prior entitlement to Australian soil when, one way or another, your own presence here displaced a culture with tens of thousands of years of incumbency. Whatever the quintessential "Australian" values and way of life the nativists believe they are protecting might be, they sure wouldn't have been recognisable to the Indigenous population of 1788.
Since nativism is really at its core about belonging (it just defines itself by the exclusion of others), it's no surprise that it tends to attract those whose personal sense of belonging is most fragile: the poor, less educated, unemployed, socially isolated, the alienated and disenfranchised. People who feel most keenly that they are on the outer in society are the most vulnerable to the simplistic pull of nativism - the idea that they are among the true chosen keepers of the faith, called upon to protect what we have created from those who would tear it down.
Today's victims of nativism in Australia are Muslims. There may be some violence, perhaps quite bad, before this current surge inevitably subsides. It, like all its forebears, is the final howl of impotent rage from a subset of society whose inchoate fear of change is only a reflection of how unattached to society it really feels.
These people's anger, irrational and misdirected as it is, is real. We can understand it, reject it and try to cure it, without the name-calling.