Overcome your evolutionary fear of immigration

It seems to be an instinctive aspect of human nature to distrust outsiders and anyone who doesn’t look like us.  This probably made sense from an evolutionary point of view.  When our ancient ancestors bumped into a group of strangers, conflict most often ensued.  Humans learnt to trust people who looked similar and to be suspicious of those who didn’t.  But we have moved on from our cave dwelling past, we are quite capable of rising above our evolutionary dispositions.

The writer of this recent article shares his concerns about immigration.  His conclusion: immigration “is not making New Zealand a more pleasant place to live”.  Moreover, in a sinister turn of events, it seems that unchecked immigration threatens to impede our children from enjoying the wonderful lifestyle we currently enjoy.

Won’t somebody think of the children!

The writer cites a couple of reasons why immigration could hurt New Zealand.

Firstly, due to rampant immigration, our population is growing ‘rapidly’, in fact the rate of growth is described as ‘astonishing’.

Well, what does the data say?  In the short-term, figures from Statistics New Zealand estimate population growth to be approximately 1.4 – 1.8% per year.  This is a reasonably high growth rate by some standards, but similar to comparable countries, such as Australia.

In the longer-term, due to a rapidly ageing population, growth is going to slow significantly, to below one percent per year.  New Zealand’s immigration policies are hardly letting in floods of migrants and, in any event, we need them.

The baby-boomers are approaching retirement in the near future – heaping a massive burden on our superannuation system.

There will be fewer of the working-age paying taxes to fund the greater cost of retirement income.  The Superannuation Fund and other retirement schemes will hopefully provide support.  But increasing the number of working age people in the country will also ease the burden.   As the writer points out in his anti-immigration piece – the birth rate is only just above replacement level.   We need immigrants, especially working-age immigrants.

Secondly, the writer points out that 25% of all New Zealanders were born overseas, and 40% of Aucklanders are not Kiwi born.  Auckland is bursting at the seams and apparently – according to the writer – the foreigners are to blame for this imminent rupture.

Admittedly, Auckland does have some problems.  Not least of all is the failure of decision makers to ensure infrastructure and housing supply kept up with demand.  There is also a wider issue in New Zealand where other parts of the country, for whatever reason, are not viewed as attractive locations for young (and old) workers.  Internal migration to Auckland is as much of an issue as immigration.

What was the writers point, again? Oh yes, I think we find the real issue a little further down the page where he informs us: “People naturally feel uncomfortable when they find themselves increasingly surrounded by people who look different and speak a different language”.

There it is, the age-old evolutionary instinct, people who look different to us cannot be trusted.

This begs the question: would it help those naturally uncomfortable feeling Kiwis if the immigrants looked a little more – you know – New Zealandy?   (Would that mean accepting only white looking immigrants, or could they look Māori too?).

The concerned writer also reveals – according to him – the public’s anxiety that immigrants don’t integrate well and may not share our values.  Now, which values are those again?  I didn’t receive the memo outlining New Zealand’s uniform doctrine.  One wonders how we Kiwis have managed to end up in debates on a number of issues such as euthanasia, marriage equality, politics and religion when we all share the same values.

Where the writer is surely correct is in his concern that the views he outlines might be perceived as xenophobic.

Instead of succumbing to our base insecurities and fear of outsiders, perhaps we could consider the more positive impact of immigration.

Immigrants provide richness and depth to our culture.  Not only do our newest arrivals bring their much-needed skills and work-force participation, they also bring different perspectives and life experiences.  Diversity prevents our national dialogue from becoming a mono-view echo chamber.  Immigrants also bring a great deal of vibrancy, colour, wonderful food, interesting music and excellent art – just to name a few positive outcomes.

Most new arrivals come here in search of a better life.  They want to make a fist of it and enjoy the freedoms Kiwis hold dear.  The beauty of a liberal democracy is that it can accommodate different ethnicities, cultures, political views and religions.  The only ‘value’ needed to fit into this society is a respect for the principles of liberalism, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion (and non-religion), rule of law, civil rights, democracy and separation of religion from the state.  A liberal democracy welcomes different perspectives and beliefs and accepts disagreement and criticism, as long as the fundamental rights of others are respected.

Continued immigration is absolutely vital for New Zealanders to enjoy, and improve, the current standard of living and rich cultural diversity we enjoy.  So, welcome to the country all you visitors and new New Zealanders.  Enjoy your life wherever you decide to settle down.  Bear in mind it doesn’t have to be Auckland.  I hope you will embrace the freedoms that this little slice of paradise has to offer.

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