In Defense of Nativism

In the world of demographics, there are few kinds of people who can fairly be excused of nativism.  One of these kinds is the person who is about to move somewhere else.

Nearly everyone else who asks to be excused from the accusation is a coward or a liar, because almost nobody else in the Western world is interested in having the place where he lives completely change.  Any other matters of differences in nativism are matters of degree.  The "conservative" nativist wants to keep America American, which is another way of saying he wants its color to be whiter and its heritage spiritually English.  The "liberal" nativist wants to keep Seattle gay and leftist, which is why he complains about an influx of Amazon employees who work hard and steal our women.  When he isn't complaining about our women being stolen, he's worried about our local businesses being overwhelmed by national and international competitors.

If Seattle's nativists were alone, we could leave the matter altogether, but Portland has nativists too – backward ones, who claim they want to keep Portland weird, without realizing that being weird means bucking local norms (even if the norms are Portland's).  And the Seattle nativists are a really peculiar kind of native: the kind who lament their cities being bought up by hardworking and upwardly mobile tech implants, and are indifferent to their cities being occupied by hordes of African immigrants on welfare.  They want Seattle to be weird, but only insofar as it isn't too comfortable for conservatives.  They're okay with painting pan-African flags on the sidewalks and horrified by the tide of wealthy Californians.

What this proves more than anything else is that everyone has an ideal for the place he'd like to live, and if the place where he wants to live comes anywhere near his ideal, he is terrified of someone ruining it.  We agree with Portland in that there isn't anything more natural.  In a democratic republic, a change in demographics means not only a change in art, in the vibes and manners and ethics that make any place distinguished from another, but in the quality of our government.  And if we agree that there are such things as good governments and art and vibes and manners and ethics, we can agree that we prefer them over the bad.  And we agree that if anyone is likely to ruin our little world, it is the people who are responsible for making everywhere else.

The unfair labeling of right-wingers as the only nativists and of nativism as something evil is one of the greatest tragedies of the past century.  To love your countrymen even for the way they look isn't a shame; to shame them for their preferences, when you live in one of the only civilizations worth moving to, is.  If loving America the way it is is a crime, then so is loving Portland.  If change is never to be feared, then the people who claim to be fearless ought to give up their right of making changes.

To love something – to love anything so much that you can't bear to see it be any different – may be completely hopeless.  In a world in which change is the only possibility, it may even be stupid.  But if it is hopelessly stupid, it is hopelessly and stupidly romantic.  If we want to see anything change for the better, then we love and deserve love from the objects of our affection.  If the desire to change something is indifferent (or to put it another way, if its only ideal is diversity), then it can safely be said that we're incapable of loving it at all, for love is anything but unbiased.  The fact that we love white people and American ideas isn't a testimony to our depravity any more than loving our homes and our wives, and it certainly isn't any more a testimony to our depravity than loving Portland for its weirdness.  To sin is to love diversity indiscriminately, and be careless about how diversity affects your neighbors.  It's to say the Syrian and Somalian have every right to change our country for themselves, and the American has no right to keep it the same.

It is true that nativism can manifest itself in jealousy and protectiveness – almost as true as jealousy and protectiveness manifest themselves in having a family.  Our problem isn't so much that we love our countries; it is that we don't love America or foreigners enough to turn the best kinds of foreigners into Americans.  To some this kind of preferential nativism comes across as rudeness, but what they forget is that rudeness is as essential to our existence as kindness.  We might even say that our kindness is rudeness itself, because kindness is a decision, and decisions are exclusive of every other possible option.  The important thing isn't so much that we avoid rudeness and exclusivity altogether; it is when we apply them, and to whom.    

To not let anyone in your property is the only proof of its being yours, and to let specific people in is the only proof of your having a brain.  The fact that we had preferences yesterday may be a sign of our grandparents' sin, but it is even more a sign of their ownership – and even more than this, a condemnation of our current stupidity.  The question of nativism is not so much a matter of wickedness.  It is a matter of whether we love anything about our country at all, and whether we are allowed to own it.

Jeremy Egerer is the editor of the troublesome philosophical website known as Letters to Hannah, and he welcomes followers on Twitter and Facebook.