What Makes A Country?

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A loose definition might start with “an aggregation of people sharing some or all of the same culture: language, religion, values, arts, music, sports, political organization, history, etc.” In other words, a country consists of people with a shared culture. Not everyone shares everything identically or completely, but there is a general commonality of beliefs and preferences. When such a group of people lives in a defined area under an accepted government (not necessarily a democracy) that is recognized by most of the rest of the world, it officially becomes a country.

A country has borders. Without borders, a culturally distinct group would merely be nomads or gypsies. Within its borders, a government is expected to provide both internal and external security for its citizens.

This naturally raises the questions of cross-border access and treatment of foreigners. What are a country’s legal and moral rights to deny access to outsiders or control their behavior when inside?

Before we get to those questions, it should be noted that countries with two distinct languages or religions often have problems of dominance. Even peaceful Canada has a French-speaking province that has occasionally proved problematic. Whatever benefits bilingualism may bring the country, the need for everything to be produced in two languages is inherently more complicated and expensive. When antagonistic religions are thrown into the mix, chaos is often the result. Think Muslims-Hindus in India, Shias-Sunnis in the Arab world, Chinese-Malays in Indonesia, and countries with large unassimilated indigenous populations like Bolivia.

There are counter-examples like Australia and Switzerland, of course. However, the key is assimilation. In recent years, France has tried to absorb a great many Muslims. The problem is they do not want to assimilate. They want the benefits of living in France, but they want to maintain their own separate culture. In many countries with large Arab populations, they want Sharia law to be equal to or superior to the laws of the country. The more a country gives in to such demands, the more it finds that the real goal is to change the culture of the nation to that of Muslim culture.

Australia has been the most outspoken in asserting its policy. If you want to live in Australia, be an Australian. If you think you are going to change Australia into something like your former country, go back there. In the 1500s, Christian missionaries went to Japan. They not only tried to turn the Japanese into Christians, but they also meddled in politics and tried to change Japanese culture. The Government responded by outlawing Christianity and crucifying a lot of Christians.

The United States has always been unusually welcoming of strangers. If you come to America legally and strive to become an American, embracing its culture (even while preserving some of the more positive characteristics of your previous culture), you are likely to fit in and do as well as your talents permit.

America likes to call itself a melting pot. This is true, but only where newcomers try to fit in. In 1960 I went to graduate school in Austin, Texas. Initially, I was just a “damnyankee”. There were no problems until I was invited to attend Southern Baptist church meetings. Everyone was very nice and very encouraging. But when it became apparent that I was not interested in becoming a member, I was clearly an outsider thereafter. There was no overt discrimination, but I felt less “inclusivity” than before.

There is nothing wrong with being an outsider, but it does not justify nasty behavior. However, not being “inside” can easily lead to wrongful exclusion. When someone has voluntarily chosen to be an outsider, he has less validity to a claim of being excluded from insider activities. When I was a young man, I was employed by an actuarial firm that operated in a very collegial fashion. At some point, we hired an Orthodox Jewish actuary. He was competent and did satisfactory work, but he held himself apart from the rest of us, as is often the case with the Orthodox. This was despite repeated attempts to include him in various activities and involve him in team projects. Eventually, we gave up. His work life must have been very lonely, but that was his choice. After a year or so, he departed, probably feeling underappreciated.

The Apostles of diversity and inclusivity completely miss the reality of the importance of fitting in. Personally, I do not care about the color of someone’s skin, their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, accent, etc. If we have enough things in common to form a relationship, the superficial things are (or should be) immaterial.

On the other hand, if someone chooses to emphasize differences, then I am less likely to try to build a relationship, especially if they are insistent that their way is the right way and mine is either wrong or is evidence of racism or some other “ism”.  I have friendships with people as diverse as Indians and Italians, Japanese and Chileans. My criteria are intelligence, integrity, and no exaggerated sense of self-importance.

OK, That is just me. What about countries? It seems to me that if a recognized country chooses to exclude “others” from its boundaries, that is its right, regardless of reasons. It may choose for moral or practical reasons to admit foreigners, but it is at its discretion as to numbers, characteristics, requirements, etc. If they are to have some or all of the privileges of citizenship, then why not require them to learn the language? Without it, they will always be several steps behind. Government funding for teaching English as a second language makes more sense than many welfare handouts to foreigners.

I think we should discourage ethnic enclaves. Shipping a boatload of Somalis to Minnesota may give them some comfort over the short term, but it discourages their fitting into the American culture and values, and in some cases leads to enough political power to send representatives to Washington whose focus is on deconstructing our culture and replacing it with that of another people.

I am not picking on Somali’s. I don’t think I have ever met one. The United States clearly needs immigrants, as our birth rate is below the replacement level. Plainly stated, without immigrants, our social safety net will collapse because there will be an insufficient number of workers to support those receiving benefits.

The question of what immigrants to admit (and on what basis) is largely political. One of the major problems in Israel is that unrestricted immigration by Arabs would eventually lead to an Arab majority and a Jewish minority. Do the Israelis have a right to preserve what is a Jewish theocracy from those who would prefer a Muslim theocracy? Personally, I answer in the affirmative. I think the Jews have a right to maintain the culture and country they have created. It has nothing to do with not liking Muslims. The question that needs to be asked is where do the outsiders get a right to change the culture that is in place? It wouldn’t make any difference if it were militant Buddhists or Baptists seeking to overturn the existing way of life of the country.

Again, speaking personally, I am greatly opposed to theocracies for many reasons. But if the Jews in Israel want a theocracy, it is their country. If Muslims in Arab countries want to live under Sharia law, that is their right, however much we may find it distasteful.  The international community of nations has the right and the duty to protest if the government of a theocracy systematically persecutes non-believers. But if a government mistreats its own citizens (or a segment thereof), as for example the Taliban in Afghanistan, that is the problem of the citizens of that country to sort out. The same can be said of Iran, North Korea, Russia, etc. It is not the job of the U.S. to overthrow governments simply because we are opposed to aspects of their cultures we find repugnant. But others will disagree. Some want the U.S. to be like the old Cavalry heroically charging over the hill; others see the U.S. as having a moral duty to mold the whole world into some ideal image that even we do not live up to.

But what about back home? Where do immigrants derive the right to the benefits of living in this country? Some would argue that those fleeing persecution have a moral right, with no exceptions. Surely, there are limits to the sacrifices citizens may be asked to make in order to relieve the suffering of others. This seems more a matter of individual morals and consciences than a purely political question.

While most people are willing to help the persecuted, I question whether anyone has the right to demand access to a friendlier country simply because things are very bad at home. Everyone desires a better life, but how does that create a right to live in a more prosperous country? Where there is real persecution in the home country, there is also the question of whose responsibility it is to change things, and under what circumstances? It is dreadful that Muslim countries treat women so abominably, but it only becomes someone else’s problem to solve under the theory that the world is merely a global village, an air-headed concept concocted by dreamers.

In Aristophanes’ great play, Lysistrata, the women of ancient Greece got their men to stop their ruinous fighting by denying them sex. I wonder if that play has ever been performed in Arabic? The idea that women are always helpless in the face of more powerful males is exaggerated. Modern examples of women dominating men stretch from Margaret Thatcher to Nancy Pelosi. I believe it is a mistake to always task men with saving women in every situation. Women demanding both equality and protection from those they claim equality with just doesn’t compute. I am not talking about stopping a man who is beating his wife. That is different from sending troops because the men in one culture don’t treat their women as equals. Afghan women surely have the right to a better life, but Americans don’t have an obligation to provide it.

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