By Aaron the Humanist
In this article, Aaron looks at the fundamental elements that make a country a country, asking what binds us together, what makes us different from those on the other side of the line, and why it matters. Aaron is our Design and Layout Editor.
As one species living on this planet, we coexist in a shared space with millions of other species. Homo sapiens has spread out across the vast expanse of the blue planet we call home. Our presence here has resulted in changes to the landscape as we shape it to meet our needs and aspirations. When individuals with a shared vision collaborate effectively, they form collectives—be they clans, tribes, groups, or societies—which gradually grow to the point where they acquire a unique identity, symbolized by a flag and defined boundaries.
But not all humans share the same vision, and diverse ways of life give rise to distinct sets of values and rules. When human groups come to a consensus in following a particular direction, their collective efforts can result in remarkable achievements, whether in the fields of energy, water infrastructure, transportation networks, or community construction. None of these accomplishments occur by chance – they demand significant dedication from those who are working together. This dedication encompasses not only the financial commitment to develop the land and construct the necessary infrastructure but also the hands-on skills of those involved.
When a particular human group has harnessed land and managed local resources, it often seeks to preserve and protect its achievements. This preservation is typically achieved by the drawing of lines on a map. The essence of a country is defined by its citizens. Ideally, in a democratic nation, they collectively influence the direction it takes and the routes it follows to reach its goals.
The investment in resources, effort, time, and money involved in building a nation belongs to its citizens, and it's their prerogative to decide whether to extend an invitation to outsiders to share in its prosperity, protection, and resources. While some advocate for open borders, it's crucial to acknowledge that not all countries are presently meeting the needs of those who have contributed to them. Allowing newcomers immediate access to all benefits can lead to feelings of exclusion and unfairness among long-standing citizens.
This often results in newcomers feeling unwelcome, while those who have invested in their society and worked to create it find themselves struggling for housing, medical care, and resources, all the while being expected to fund new arrivals. In such instances, it's evident that something has gone awry.
Human rights principles sometimes come into conflict with this perspective. Human rights conventions often prioritise those outside a country fleeing war, violence, persecution, or other significant dangers in their home nation. There can be an assumption that the host country has an abundance of resources and can offer shelter, protection, and comfort to an unlimited number of those in need.
In an ideal scenario, resources would be limitless, and all those who qualify for acceptance under a nation's refugee laws could be accommodated. However, this raises the question of whether to prioritise giving shelter to everyone or to give priority to those already within the nation's borders, who have invested in the nation and need assistance.
In a democratic system, it seems reasonable that those who have contributed to and are part of the nation should have a say in determining the country's direction and the extent of assistance it provides to those in need. It's about balancing the principles of compassion and fairness with the rights and responsibilities of those who have a stake in the nation's well-being.
I've encountered diverse viewpoints on border control. Some advocate for a temporary tightening of borders and a freeze on immigration to allow time to address existing challenges. They believe in prioritizing the needs of those already within the country. Conversely, there are those who advocate for completely open borders without any limits. They are willing to pursue extensive development, such as creating homes from Penzance to Dover, to accommodate all those in need, regardless of the impact on the natural environment or the nation's existing infrastructure. Their focus is primarily on providing shelter for anyone in need, even if it means altering the landscape significantly, sometimes at the expense of the nation's existing identity and resources.
This spectrum of perspectives reflects the complex and multifaceted nature of immigration and border policies, where finding a balance between compassion and the preservation of national identity and resources remains a central challenge.
“We've only built on 8% of the country – we've got plenty of space!”
Advocates for open borders sometimes claim "We've only built on 8% of the country – we've got plenty of space!" But this overlooks critical factors like agricultural sustainability, flood management, water resources, and energy. It raises concerns about the environmental and infrastructure implications of rapid population growth. One key issue is the perception that managing to accommodate a specific number of immigrants today resolves the issue. But it doesn't, because there's always the next wave of people waiting to come in. This can lead to continued urban expansion into green spaces and the need to identify additional areas for development.
The experiences of European Union countries with open-door immigration policies have illustrated some of the challenges. Germany and Scandinavia have faced difficulties when large numbers of newcomers with different values and cultures arrive rapidly, creating cultural and social tensions. Integrating newcomers into existing communities can be smoother when the transition is gradual, allowing time for adjustment. However, when too many people arrive at once and form isolated sub-cultures, it can lead to feelings of displacement among long-standing residents.
The lines on a map typically remain stable over the long term, usually changing only in response to conflict or war. However, the people living within those boundaries can evolve culturally over time, adopting different values, beliefs, and goals. The key to successful management lies in controlling the speed of these transitions and ensuring that the indigenous population has a voice and willingly participates in the process. Without this, there's a risk of a perceived invasion of new ideologies and ideas that could potentially undermine social cohesion. Balancing the needs and concerns of both newcomers and long-standing residents is a complex challenge that requires thoughtful consideration and management.