Monday, August 22, 2005


This is a beautiful story, the kind of thing that you wish you could have made up. The baddies get their comeuppance and the poor prosper. It's like a liberal fable.

In a few days, England will take on Australia at cricket. I will be wildly excited (yes, it can happen even when you're watching cricket) because this is the great rivalry in the sport, and my nation can finally prove itself the best. Do I feel a dissonance in cheering another country against the one that is my home? Not really. It's just sport. As it happens, I always take a side when I watch any sport. I can't enjoy a game without rooting for someone. I think that is why I cheer England.

It can't be any particular love for the country. Although I'm happy to be English -- it has major advantages that we take for granted -- I don't feel proud of it. How silly. I didn't choose it and I didn't make it.

It has a way of life that I enjoy -- some of which I enjoy. Sometimes I have qualms that when things change, that will change and it won't be the same. But somehow, my enjoyment of living in the UK (or Australia, where these arguments about migrants are pursued with much more force) doesn't increase or diminish very much.

Many argue that allowing migrants to settle in your home diminishes your own life or that of your children. The argument boils down to a sadness that your children cannot live the life you led. And yet, most of us strive to give our children "better" lives than we had. We are aiming at different and yet we complain that things don't stay the same. (And I'm prone to it, just as anyone else is. I came to Australia because it was better for my kids, but I miss my home and the good things about it.)

I'm not going to discuss the "contribution" of migrants to a country. It's a sterile road to wander down, far too close to "look, even darkies have something to offer".

The truth is, you take it or leave it. We all take or leave what we want and don't want. And the tectonics of taking it and leaving it make the places we live in what they are. My neighbours might rise at dawn to worship Allah (actually, I wish they would; instead, they rise at ten to worship Jay-Z). In a hundred and fifty years, so might my descendants. My "way of life" could be gone altogether. Is that sad? No! A hundred and fifty years ago, my people's way of life was to live from potato to potato in a bog somewhere outside Sligo.

After all, they are just lines on a map, which divide people who are, all in all, the same under the skin. What makes a person American is not the shared values of a people (what exactly would they be? What values are shared by warmongering breadheads such as Ann Coulter and bleeding hearts such as Mike Moore? Well, of course, there are some. America is remarkably homogenous culturally from what I can see. But at the same time, many of those "values" are simply concomitants of affluence and literacy, and are shared by most other Westerners) but having been born within the lines that delineate the nation (ignoring for the sake of rhetoric those born of US parents in foreign places etc). Get born in Calexico, you're American. Get born in Mexicali, tough shit. Yes, the centuries of takings and leavings that have preceded you will tend to define those places because they tend to define the people in them. But fundamentally all there is between us is a line.

The unfamiliar is frightening (and yet the news receives huge ratings) and change doesn't always seem beneficial before it happens (and despite the bullshit that we are fed by the market-worshippers, it's not always so great afterwards). But we can take it or leave it, just as we always have. My forebears took passage for England and left the bog, took the tolerance and humanism of Liverpool and left the dark religion of rural Sligo. And people will continue to try to leave poverty and take their place in the affluent West, and it will continue to be true that our only bar to that is an insistence that being born in Calexico is an entitlement and being born in Mexicali a damnation, unless we can see that they are just lines on maps and we can take them or leave them just the same, and will be no worse off, and maybe one day better, for doing so.


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