Thinking about large affairs

John Kizer

Twenty-five years ago, I wrote a novel entitled “The Family Farm.” It was a philosophical and political allegory of the history of the past century. The analogy which I used in my book was that each “family farm” represented one of the countries of the world. My belief was, and is, that human nature is the same among the great, as it is among the common people, whom we encounter daily. Oh, the great, the movers and shakers of the world, are often brighter, though not always. They are sometimes kinder, sometimes more ruthless, than our friends and neighbors. In a sense, international and national events are but local events writ large. What goes on locally is going on nationally, just affecting more people and involving much larger sums of money. Local affairs are but a microcosm of national and international affairs.

If this be true, then the events on the large stage of the world can be made more manageable, and more understandable, by converting them into a scale which we can understand. For example, if we have spent $5.6 trillion fighting wars in the Middle East over the past 18 years — as the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University calculates — that number is difficult to process. However, if we divide 5.6 trillion by the 93.6 million taxpayers, then our war adventures have cost each taxpayer roughly $60,000. We can break down every expense at the federal level, or even the state expenditures, which are too large really to comprehend; and if we do so, we get a better feel for whether or not these costs are worth it to us.

It is not economic affairs alone which can be analyzed in this same way. The conflicts and alliances among nations do not differ materially from the conflicts and alliances among families. It is much easier to think of how to resolve a personal matter than how to resolve a matter of international affairs, for we resolve personal matters every day. It is very simplifying to think of how we would solve a similar problem in our own lives, in comparison to thinking about countries and peoples with whom we have never been in any contact.

Let us take the immigration problem facing the Western world. If we think of our nation as being our property, our “family farm,” then it is easier to relate to the real problem occurring internationally. Put in local terms, we are the people living in a wealthy neighborhood, and people from the slums are knocking on our door demanding entry. They claim, and perhaps rightly so, that they are in danger in their neighborhoods, areas of high crime and poverty. They are fearful of staying there. All of us can read in any newspaper of the crime problems on the south side of Chicago, of the Linden area of Columbus, of the drug-infested small towns of Appalachia, and sympathize with these poor souls. We know we wouldn’t want to live where they must live either. Donald Trump described the countries these migrants are fleeing in the most vulgar of terms. Yet we know in our hearts that many of us would feel the same way about the slums and housing projects of America, even if we expressed it less vulgarly. There is, after all, a reason the migrants want to leave.

So what do we do? We have a homeless person, or perhaps people from one of the “projects” knocking on our door demanding, in the name of human mercy, that we admit them and let them live with us.

However sympathetic we may feel toward their plight, we know that if we do so, we are putting our own families at risk, that the whole culture of our family and way of life is likely to be affected if we take these people into our household.

The solution which our and other societies have found in the small — the small which is a microcosm of the world — is to create institutions where these poor indigents, those in danger, can be cared for. We have homeless shelters, battered women’s shelters, etc. Traditionally, there were mental hospitals and children’s homes which took care of those who were in great need. In other words, our solution was not to move the needy into our own homes, which might risk our lives and our culture, but to establish a separate place for them to live, a place which we fund and supervise, like a mission.

This seems to me to be the rational solution to the international migrant problem. It is a fine thing for the rich nations of the world, the rich people of the world, to care for the less fortunate. What is needed is some kind of agreement among the rich nations to establish a place for the migrants to live so that they may be cared for and live in safety, free from starvation. This will be a place separate from the wealthy nations, just as a mission is separate from the homes of the people who provide the funds supporting it. This is a solution which has worked historically at the local level and has been proved effective. Letting the people fleeing the slums into our personal residences has not worked, and letting the migrants fleeing the poor countries of the world into our “home” will not work either. We need to establish a new land where these people can safely live and be fed, analogous to our homeless and battered women’s shelters.

John Kizer

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