Here Thar Be Monsters!

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5.7.16

You Will Be Assimilated

For centuries, the Dayak people of Borneo ate dirt when they got sick.  Not just any dirt, mind you, but a specific soil found near river banks.  It worked for many common ailments and infections.

In the 1950s, a group of researchers funded by Eli Lily came through.  They had heard about this practice and figured there was something worth looking into.  Ultimately, they discovered a substance called Vancomycin, produced by a microbe in the soil.  Vancomycin went on to become one of the most-used antibiotics in history, and joined a class of antibiotics that didn't cause allergic responses like the penicillin-type compounds.

Bottom line?  Immigration is not necessarily a bad thing.

In our daily lives, we become so accustomed to certain habits and practices, that we don't see the greater picture.  We eat dirt because it makes us feel better, but we don't put that in the context of the Universe at large.  Sometimes, it can benefit a great number of people to have a third party look at our habits and find the benefits and drawbacks of what we are doing.

It is very common for companies to hire outside "efficiency experts" and "consultants" to come in and take a look at the corporate culture.  In a closed group of people, certain bad habits get institutionalized, while certain good habits get overlooked, and which may be a valuable asset to the company.

A good consultant blends into the corporate culture, learns the relationships and practices of the operation, compares them to a database of outside best practices, and makes recommendations to improve the flow of information.

If done right, a good consultant can improve the efficiency and productivity of a company by pointing out detrimental rituals and highlighting beneficial practices.

In the same way, an immigrant can bring fresh life to a culture.  By assimilating into the extant culture and comparing it to their own, they can install new ways of looking at things and point out habits that are holding back the whole.

A good immigrant can also bring a new wave of enthusiasm and a fresh perspective that the locals have lost.  The immigrant's drive to fit in and create a new life can spark new fire under the local folks and start a wave of innovation and renewed joy.

When I moved to Indonesia, I brought two things from my Texas culture: my native gregariousness and Thanksgiving.  I did not force anything on anyone.  Instead, I dove in an learned the culture and language.  I assimilated with the extant culture and learned what motivates people and what they hold dear here.

My native personality allowed me to integrate easily with people.  I enjoyed their company and appreciated the things they taught me.  I even remember who and where I learned certain aspects of Indonesian culture and language.

As for Thanksgiving, I didn't tell people they had to follow my tradition.  Instead, I cooked my ethnic food and invited family and friends to join in the celebration.  Out of curiosity, they asked why we have this tradition, and when I explained the it, they gladly adopted the annual tradition - as long as I did al the cooking.  I modified it to include local cuisine and my wife came to enjoy the whole preparation and gathering aspects of it.

At the top of this page, I included a scan of a sign my grandfather gave to me.  It is a reminder of what my ancestors went through when they emigrated to America.  Not only have my ancestral people integrated into the American culture, they have made significant contributions to the culture.  Just witness the dozens of famous St. Patrick's Day parades and the traditional eating of cabbage and corned beef, not to mention new potatoes in butter with green onions.  And where would the world be without Guiness?

A good immigrant assimilates and adds to the local culture.  After a time, he may be able to demonstrate certain short-comings that could be improved, and may bring traditions that fit nicely into the new culture and both are enhanced by it.

The bad immigrant seeks to replace the extant culture.  Without assimilating or integrating, he seeks to destroy what is already there in favor of his home culture.  At best, this is a form of invasion, and at worst, it destroys something rare and valuable.  Witness the European colonization of North and South America.  In the end, the immigrants destroyed entire civilizations and replaced it with their own, for better or worse.

In the worst possible instance, large numbers of "refugees" are willingly or forcefully brought into a culture.  There is no good outcome here.  On the one hand, the invaders overcome and replace the extant culture, and in the worst case, are gathered into ghettos and relegated to second-class members of society.  In neither case is there something of value created.  All is destruction and corruption.

The Dayak did not benefit from their discovery, although it may never have reached the outside world without the invasion of Eli Lily.  On the one hand, a people did not know what they had and it took an outside party to bring it to wider attention.  On the other hand, the invader did not assimilate nor offer to enrich the host society for their native custom.  In both cases, the extant culture lost, and even more, the greater civilization might have received even more benefits, had the Dayak been properly compensated and their culture brought to wider attention.  As it is, they are simply being overrun and most of the world has no idea who they are.

There is nothing wrong with immigration if it is done correctly.  In the best case, it creates a synthesis of cultures that can benefit and enrich everyone.    Done wrong, though, immigration will destroy the host and corrupt the invader.  There is no good outcome.

Something to think about on this lovely winter day in the Southern Hemisphere.  There is a long-term benefit to good immigration, as long as those who participate follow the laws and culture of the host.  it is not the host who must change, but the immigrant.

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