Why I Don’t Worry About Immigration

Aard regular Phil often expresses worry about the effects of immigration. This has reached the point where I’ve decided to collect a few points to explain why I am not worried. Phil recently even claimed that when I say I’m not worried, I create more support for anti-immigration movements. This makes no sense to me. I know a lot of fear-and-hate voters are poorly educated, but I don’t think they’re all stupid.

So here’s why I don’t worry about immigration.

  • I have lived for 21 years (and counting) on a multicultural 1970s housing estate and seen very few problems.
  • My first wife was a second-generation immigrant from Finland and my second wife is an immigrant from China.
  • I know loads of immigrants personally. Just my weekly gaming group includes 1st and 2nd generation immigrants from Venezuela, Iran, Israel, Russia and the Netherlands. My nearest neighbours include people from Turkey, Poland, Finland, Pakistan and Serbia.
  • My next-door neighbours are a housing unit for single Middle-eastern male refugees who have been given asylum and are learning Swedish. They are not causing any trouble. (Nor for that matter is the housing unit for autism-spectrum youth next door to them.)
  • I have met a lot of Middle-eastern and Central Asian refugees, even had a few over for lunch, and they seem like nice people.
  • About 1% of old-timey Swedes get convicted for crimes. About 2% of immigrants in Sweden get convicted for crimes. Two much stronger predictors for crime are being male and being poor, but even among poor men in Sweden, the vast majority are honest.
  • Immigrants buy stuff, pay taxes, start companies and create jobs. Many even arrive with university degrees for which Sweden pays nothing.
  • Immigration, crucially, counteracts Sweden’s Japan-like tendency to a process of demographic collapse. Regardless of ethnic origin, living in Sweden causes people to make babies at way below the replacement rate.
  • I enjoy the cultural diversity that 60 years of high-volume immigration has given to Swedish society.
  • Any problems that immigration causes Sweden, in addition to the important positives listed above, pale when compared to the problems that cause people to migrate. I am a cosmopolitan humanist. I don’t think suffering is OK as long as it stays outside the Swedish border.

Viking Imagery Contested On Pizza Box

A buddy & colleague of mine took this picture in an Eslöv pizza place, commenting drily that it’s a fine example of how the cultural heritage can be used. We’ve got Thor’s hammer, we’ve got two cartoon Vikings, we’ve got Swedish flags, and note the three yellow crowns on a blue background: the arms of the Kingdom of Sweden, a strong nationalist statement.

Rural Eslöv municipality is one of the anti-immigration Swedish Hate Party’s strongholds, with 22% of the vote in the last election. Vikings and Scandinavian Paganism are of course much beloved by the extreme Right, and stylewise the logo’s design is straight out of white supremacy iconography.

But, but, but. Naples’ priceless gift to world cuisine, the pizza, was completely unknown in Sweden before the 1960s. And Pizzeria Viking, as is the rule with Swedish pizza places, is owned and staffed by non-Italian immigrants. The proprietor Idris Husein is from Mardin in Turkish Kurdistan, not far from Diyarbakır. Mr. Husein and his family has been running restaurants in Sweden för 20 years. And when I look at their company logo, I get the feeling that they have a both a fine sense of humour and a keen eye for political imagery.

A Fee For Metal Detector Permits Would Be Highly Damaging

From 2014 on, Swedish metal detectorists have had to report all finds datable to before 1850 to the authorities. I have recently shown in a note in Fornvännen that this rule came about by mistake, and that it has broken the County Archaeologist system. It takes hours for a county heritage administrator to process one metal detector permit. It also takes only a few hours for a detectorist to find a copper coin from the 1840s, which voids her/his permit for that site. S/he then applies for a new permit, which means that the pile of unprocessed permit applications on each administrator’s desk grows exponentially.

My suggestion for how this problem should be solved is to move the cutoff date from 1850 to 1719. This is a useful year for coins: the year after Carolus XII died and the year before Frederick I ascended to the throne. No research is ever done into small finds from after 1719 that are found in ploughsoil. We do not need to collect them.

The National Heritage Board has now suggested another solution: placing a hefty filing fee on applications for metal detector permits, regardless of whether a permit is eventually granted or not. I think this would be an extremely bad solution. It would probably radically cut down on the number of permit applications, but it would also have the following highly damaging consequences.

  • Metal detecting would go underground.
  • Detectorists would be alienated from contact with heritage management and archaeological research.
  • Detectorists who made important archaeological finds without a permit wouldn’t dare report them to the authorities.
  • Fewer archaeological discoveries would be made.
  • Heritage would become less accessible to the citizens who own it.
  • Legal metal detecting would become golf: only accessible to rich people.

The 1850 rule for small finds is silly, it came about inadvertently and it needs to be changed. The way to correct the mistake is not to place an artificial hurdle in the way of law-abiding detectorists, creating a system kludge to treat a symptom of the underlying problem. The problem is in the law that took effect in 2014. Let’s change that law.

Fornvännen’s Gender Stats Are Pretty Good

Today I proof-read the annual index for Fornvännen, the archaeology journal I co-edit. And I took the opportunity to look at our gender stats for full-length papers. There are 16 of these in this year’s four issues. Only 31% have female first authors. An additional 31% have a male first author and at least one female author. So women are involved as authors in 62% of this year’s full-length papers. That seems reasonably fair since several papers have only one author, so it would be impossible for each gender to be involved in all of them.

But you might wonder what a female author does to the chance of getting a full-length paper into Fornvännen. So I looked at the stats for March 2014 to now (because it takes 8-9 months from submission to publication). During this period 32% of full-length papers written by men were turned down. Only 9% of full-length papers written by women were turned down. (Here a paper co-written by two women counts as 1 paper by women and a paper co-written by one woman and one man counts as 0.5 paper by women and 0.5 by men.)

This means that although women are submitting fewer papers than men do to Fornvännen, when they do submit they have a greater chance of getting published. This suggests that either Fornvännen has a pro-female bias, or that women are less likely than men to submit poor work. Given what patriarchy does do female self-confidence, I feel pretty safe in assuming that the latter is the case.

Been Driving Refugees

In the past couple of months Sweden has started to receive large numbers of refugees from Syria, Iraq and a few other war-torn Middle-eastern countries. The ones who claim the right of political asylum are adequately cared for by the immigration authorities. But many don’t claim that right. They may have more or less accurate information about other countries that offer better chances, so when they get off the train at Stockholm Central Station, they’re basically tourists in the eyes of the law. And the municipality hasn’t been able to care for them. Instead a major volunteer movement has sprouted, working to offer transit refugees food, housing, clothes, medical care and legal advice. To give an idea of how big this is, the main Facebook group for these volunteers has 16,400 members.

I don’t read much news and I’m not much of an activist. So I’ve joined the volunteer ranks late, being motivated particularly by the realisation that for several weeks the biggest housing establishment for transit refugees has been in my home municipality, right across the street from the County Museum and the community arts centre. It looks like a refugee camp in a hangar-like techno club. Because that’s what it is.

I know of course in abstract that Sweden receives a healthy number of refugees per capita et annum. And I live in a cosmopolitan suburb where many of my neighbours must have come here once as refugees. But wealthy conservative-governed Nacka municipality is hardly involved at all in the initial care of them as they arrive. So seeing tired and confused people with big bags and nowhere to go is big news to me. It’s as if world history has suddenly showed up in my back yard after half a lifetime of political complacency. It’s been over 200 years since the Kingdom of Sweden was in a state of war. And I find that volunteering at a refugee centre beats the hell out of spending your evenings reading a humdrum e-book.

For the past few days I’ve mainly served as a driver, making good use of what years of geocaching around Stockholm has taught me about finding my way around. And I’ve rediscovered the joy of working together with new acquaintances for a common project, like we used to for much more playful purposes in the Tolkien Society.

So many new impressions.

  • The refugees are mostly young or middle-aged men.
  • They travel in small groups which do not like to get separated.
  • They’re in good physical shape and seem relieved to have reached Sweden.
  • Young Swedified second-generation immigrants of both genders form a major part of the volunteer effort.
  • The big Sunnite mosque in central Stockholm is also housing lots of people.
  • The little Shiite mosque in Alby offered to help and was asked to cook dinner for 200 people. They delivered dinner for 350. One young guy explained to me, “We’re Shiites, this is our thing: we like to cook lots of food for pilgrims several times a year.”
  • Most have no clear idea about where to go. Many follow an apparently outdated rumour that says Finland has accommodating laws, but they aren’t allowed on the ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki. So they take the train all the way to Haparanda at the far end of the Gulf of Botnia and walk across the Torne river bridge to Finland.
  • One guy asked me about the relative merits of Sweden and Ireland (!?) as countries of asylum. One volunteer told me his twelve-year-old nephew had been asked for similar advice by a refugee.
  • One guy had spent seven years making pizza in Berlin and spoke way better German than I do.
  • And though my own input into the relief effort has been quite modest, I am very proud of how my fellow stockholmers are responding. They’re donating time, money and goods, and they’re making a big impression on the refugees. I’ve lost count of the recent arrivals who have told me in broken English that they think Sweden is a great country.
  • But don’t donate flavoured teabags. Syrians and Iraqis are sensible people who recognise that tea is one plant and that it should not be adulterated with feckin’ flower petals.

Here’s good advice on how people in Stockholm can help.

Medical Marijuana Policies Are Kind Of Childish

Medical marijuana is just a backward strategy to get recreational marijuana legalised. It’s like the potheads twenty years ago who would praise hemp’s excellent properties as a fibre and fuel source. They didn’t care about any other fibre crops. It was a transparent ruse.

A medical intervention’s legality should be pushed by worldwide medical consensus, not by a regional cultural predisposition to enjoy the compound’s recreational use. Medical marijuana is a non-issue in European medicine.

That said, I believe the enormous public money put into the customs, legal and punitive systems to combat marijuana is pretty much thrown into the sea. A society with legal hard liquor will not have much comparative trouble with legal cannabis. Legalise it, tax it and put the money into alcoholism prevention & rehabilitation, I say.

So, USA: your medical marijuana policies are kind of childish. You’re transparently not promoting them because of any greater medical insight than the rest of the world has. You’re promoting them because you have a century-long solid cultural tradition to smoke weed recreationally. Just own it, OK?

This outburst was inspired by the current episode of the excellent Planet Money podcast from NPR.

Role-Playing Debate Exercise On Burial Archaeology

I did a fun exercise with my Umeå archaeology freshmen Monday: a role-playing debate about the ethics of burial archaeology. The framework was a hearing at the Ministry of Culture regarding a planned revision of the Ancient Monuments Law.

I assigned randomised groups of up to 4 students roles as archaeologists, neopagans, the Swedish Church, a housing development firm, Satanists, Saami nationalists and recently arrived Syrian Orthodox Turks. Each group got a slip of paper telling them what their opinions were about burial archaeology, above-ground curation of human remains and reburial. I also indicated to each group a few other groups that they liked or disliked. Then they got 20 minutes to prepare their best arguments for why Swedish law should reflect the opinions I’d told them that they in particular had.

The whole thing went great. One Syrian Orthodox student happily role-played a Satanist, and a neopagan student proved quite persuasive as a Syrian Orthodox representative. I played the Ministry moderator, and often had to ask participants to stop making disparaging remarks about each other’s religious beliefs. We concluded that apparently not one single group shared the archaeologists’ priorities on the issues. Afterwards the students immediately demanded another exercise like this one.

Don’t Blame The Tea-Bagger 13% On Me

The Sweden Democrats (SD) is a racist populist party that got 13% of the vote in the recent Swedish parliamentary election. They got into Parliament four years ago at the expense of the Labour Party. This time around they more than doubled their support at the expense of the Conservative Party, who lost a precarious hold on government to Labour and the Greens.

The 87% of the country who didn’t vote for the racists are asking how the fuck this could happen. A common and, to my mind, convincing explanation starts from the demography of the SD voters. Sweden has low unemployment, high general education and a largely urban or suburban settlement pattern. (A large-scale movement of people from the countryside to the cities has been going on for two centuries.) Yet SD voters display high unemployment, low education and a rural settlement pattern. In US terms, they’re Tea-baggers. They’re voting for SD not because they’re necessarily all that hostile to foreigners, but because they are marginalised and don’t feel that the mainstream parties are paying enough attention to their needs. The SD offers to solve their problems by keeping the foreigners out, and SD voters aren’t well-educated enough to understand that immigration reform wouldn’t actually make any practical difference to their particular problems. They’d still be unemployed, uneducated and rural, but the village kebab place would close.

The established political parties clearly haven’t successfully manipulated the SD voter demographic. Ahem, I mean, “catered to”. But the thing is, 87% of Swedish voters, the people who have all the social and economic clout outside the polling station, voted for explicitly multiculturalist parties. All across Parliament, from the Former Commies all the way over to the Christian Democrats. Courting the racist vote would lose you the country’s majority demographic along with the support of the moneyed and educated power structure. The electoral districts in Stockholm where SD got the least votes are also the ones where Leftie parties got the least votes: solidly Conservative neighbourhoods with old money.

In the Swedish media, there’s this idea that employed educated urban Swedes are somehow to blame for the marginalisation that led to the SD’s success, simply by being privileged. I don’t agree. It’s true that we don’t pay any mind to the characteristic SD voter demographic. But why should we? It’s a mutual subcultural lack of interest and proximity.

My own tribe, the Nerds, probably has an even higher voter turnout than the already respectable national average of 86%. And we don’t vote SD. Just look at this past Saturday’s game night at my place. There was the maths professor, the philosophy lecturer and the PhD candidate in informatics. We’ve been brainy since Kindergarten and see no reason to apologise for ourselves. Elitist? No, this is just the way we turned out. One of the guys has an immigrant dad, another has just moved to Sweden with his wife and started a family here. We had tea that came here in my brother-in-law’s suitcase from China, while my Chinese wife pottered about with her second degree or maybe it was the novel she’s translating into Swedish.

I’d be happy to invite a friendly SD voter to game night, and I’m sure he’d refrain politely from racist pronouncements. But I honestly don’t know where to find one. And I’m afraid he’d find my tribe frighteningly alien.

Sigfrid Steinberg: “Only Teach Such People To Read Who Will Like Good Books”

I’ve been reading a 1974 edition of Sigfrid Steinberg’s 1955 classic Five Hundred Years Of Printing. Overall I’ve found it interesting and instructive, with a fine touch of sarcastic humour. But I came across a few paragraphs on the value of universal literacy that are so alien to me that I almost had to rub my eyes.

Compulsory and free education on the elementary-school level was achieved, at least on paper, in most civilized countries in the course of the nineteenth century … At the same time … there is the basic question of the purpose of educating the masses. What use is the knowledge of reading if it is applied to worthless or even debasing trash? (Ch. III:6, pp. 324-325)

In the society where me and my kids grew up, literacy is seen as an inalienable human right. The question is never “Should we let these people learn how to read”, but “How can we help people who are being denied this basic right”. To me, an aesthetic relativist, it’s breath-takingly naïve of Steinberg to complain that people use this literacy to read stuff he doesn’t approve of. They didn’t ask for your opinion, man, and somebody did teach you to read despite not knowing what your taste would be like.

He goes on with doom and gloom that is incomprehensible 60 years later:

The utilitarians were confident that improved education would result in greater fitness for coping with the economic and technical advances of the time: liberal politicians predicted from it a better preparation for good citizenship and a growth of international understanding. We know the results. ‘The penalty of universal literacy’, as a writer in The Times Literary Supplement put it (30 October 1953), may well be our ‘moving into an age when everyone will know how to read but none will turn his knowledge to good purpose’. (Ch. III:6, pp. 325)

What was the problem to these people’s minds in the early 50s!?

Beyond the rights of the individual, universal literacy is of course a requisite for a functioning democracy. Just as we don’t let people drive without a licence, we can’t give everybody among ourselves the parliamentary vote unless we also ensure that we’ll all make a reasonably informed choice. (Political TV advertising should of course be illegal. For shame, USA.)

But the man is aware of this point and, inconsistently, seems to support it – unless he assumes an anti-democratic reader. Having told us that only people who share his taste should be allowed to learn to read, on the same page he goes on:

The transformation of the newspaper into an instrument of mass-information and mass-education, into the voice … of democracy, is the major contribution of the United States of America to the history of the printed word. (Ch. III:6, pp. 325-326)

I guess there’s a reason why Sigfrid Steinberg is remembered as an historian of the book business and not as a political thinker.