Some 60,000 years ago the "first humans" left the African continent, moving into Europe and Asia, eventually replacing already established populations such as those of
the Neandertals. How many were there? Adam and Eve? And their children? A few thousand? Perhaps as many as 50,000? But there were not 7 billion of them, the present human population of the earth.
It is clear that man has more than survived. From a few thousand to billions of us in just 50,000 years. In fact, if the numbers of us were the only measure, one would have to say that the human species was one great success story.
Those who worry about man’s survival are perhaps really worried about the earth’s, if not survival, at least its continued ability to support billions and billions of us, especially if those billions were to double during the next fifty years, as they did, actually more than doubled, during the past fifty years. Those who study these things tell us that this won’t happen, and that by 2050 the world’s population will have crested at 10 billion.
This is our history. It ought to be a part of the common knowledge of us all. We ought to rejoice in the fact that never before have we known so much about where we have come from, although never before has there been so much that we clearly do not yet know.
But most have resisted the knowledge of our past, that deep history of man’s journey so far on this earth, and instead are more and more preoccupied with the immediate past, a shallow history of families and nations. Most go on believing stories of the past that science has clearly shown to be at best myths of our origins and not historical accounts of what came before.
Our being taken up with the immediate past of families and nations prevents us from putting our present problems into an historical context where they might eventually be lessened if not fully resolved.
Education is such a problem. Instead of looking at how past human groups successfully integrated their young into their adult lives we look only to reform if not fix the broken pieces of a system that is more and more failing us and our children.
Immigration is such a problem. Instead of seeing this as a world-wide phenomenon, not merely a local problem, and not essentially different from the movement of Africans into Europe and Asia some 60000 years ago, nations see the problem as one of inadequate barriers placed between them to slow if not stop the flow of their people.
The movement of peoples into more advantageous climes is much more fundamental to man’s life on this earth than the separation of peoples into nations. Yet because we don’t accept what science has told us about the nature of the human species, about how we are much more all the same than all different, we go on making everything of our differences, which as a rule are only skin or culture deep.
Francis A. Walker, in 1896, at the time president of MIT, had this to say about immigration: "Within the decade between 1880 and 1890 five and a quarter millions of foreigners entered our ports! No nation in human history ever undertook to deal with such masses of alien population. That man must be a sentimentalist and an optimist beyond all bounds of reason who believes that we can take such a load upon the national stomach without a failure of assimilation, and without great danger to the health and life of the nation. For one, I believe it is time that we should take a rest, and give our social, political, and industrial system some chance to recuperate. The problems which so sternly confront us to-day are serious enough without being complicated and aggravated by the addition of some millions of Hungarians, Bohemians, Poles, south Italians, and Russian Jews." (Atlantic Monthly, June 1896)
Sound familiar? You will agree, it does. And that’s a tragedy in itself. For over 100 years later, in June of 2007, politicians of all stripes were saying very similar things about immigration, and thereby blocking what might have become a liberalization of our immigration policies.
There is a difference between now and 100 years ago. We now separate between those who have the right to come here and those who don’t, between legals and illegals. It would be interesting to know when immigrants to our country gained the designation illegal. It certainly wasn’t in the time of the first settlers to Jamestown and Plymouth. Nor was it during the floods of immigrants from Ireland and Germany during the second half of the 19th. century. I don’t think Francis Walker even used the term illegal, that which is the pet of the anti-immigrant talk show host today.
Was the term coined to keep citizens from our close "friend" and neighbor, Mexico, from crossing the Rio Grande? If it was it didn’t work, because the Mexicans, no less than the Africans 50000 years ago, needed to move to where there were greater life possibilities, and so they moved, and are still moving and will keep on moving in spite of the nation that would put a barrier in their way.
Why don’t we welcome those that want to come here with open arms? It’s not as if we are increasing the world’s population by taking them in. They only take up one place on the earth there or here. This is the other side of the debate, that many have defended, the side that I am on.
In that same Atlantic publication, but in 1983, 87 years after Francis Walker’s "Restricting Immigration" essay, James Fallows suggests that "the reality is in fact the opposite [from what Walker then and Tancredo now supposed] because immigration tends to select for those who are especially resilient, adaptable, and hardworking, immigrants being probably more of a boon to this country than a burden."
If he had been writing 50000 years ago Mr. Fallows would have probably said the same thing about the Africans leaving the continent to bring new life to Europe and Asia.