Pushing The River

Recently, a close friend told me she felt like she was trying to push the river. It was the first and only time I can recall anyone using the phrase, and it has stuck with me since. It comes to mind when I hear people talk about protectionist policies intended to stem globalism and close borders. Since the invention of the wheel, globalism has been an unstoppable trend. Trying to impede it is trying to push the river.

So why might anyone want to close their borders or slow this process? The only answer can be fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of competition, fear of inadequacy, fear of anything or anyone that thinks or looks different than what one is familiar with. But living in fear isn’t living.

Posturing intended to indicate closure of borders and exclusion of outsiders is just that. It’s pandering to fear. Those proposing these actions are, at the same time, scheming and conniving to exploit those they would exclude. This too has been happening since the dawn of travel. Which is ironic.

If you know your history, you know that Europeans have been sailing around the world, putting down flags, and claiming rights to the property of other countries for centuries. That the people from those countries would eventually immigrate to the country that manipulated their governments and exploited their homelands is an eventuality. France and Great Britain put down their flags in Africa and the middle east a hundred years ago. Now people from those countries are fleeing to France and England. The United States created the banana republics seventy years ago. Now those people are fleeing to the US.

As a species, we are innately competitive, and we’re all motivated to trade with, sell to, and yes, exploit each other in our efforts to get ahead. When the local pond you’ve been doing this in gets too small, it’s a foregone conclusion that you will expand your efforts to other ponds. Near and eventually far. It’s a process that began thousands of years ago and has been building ever since. But that’s a good thing.

When ideas, goods, and genes are transported across borders, the best parts of one society are blended with the other. Yes, some of the other elements are blended in too, but the good will always outnumber and outweigh the bad. Diversity of thought and ideas invariably leads to better and better outcomes and resilience. It’s nature.

Again and again, history has shown some of our greatest achievements and finest moments stem from cooperation and trade across borders. Clearly exploitation and theft on the grandest of scales have also stemmed from this process. But again, the good has undeniably outweighed the bad, especially if the measuring stick is economic growth, cultural expansion, and a net gain in human prosperity.

The bad ideas and people that immigrate are no worse than the ones that are already here. And again, the good people and ideas far outnumber the bad. One might even argue that the adversity some those immigrants experience will lead to the greatest ideas and innovations of all.

Embrace cultural and ethnic diversity. Accept the bad with the good. Don’t be afraid. Stop trying to push the river. Let it flow.