Tuesday, November 7, 2023

More on the challenges of settlers

This is Joseph.

So as the current events in Israel/Gaza continue to be tragic, I do think that it is worth noting that the question of who "owns" land is rapidly and quickly very difficult. I have a great deal of sympathy for the notion that oppression is bad and that ongoing oppression is a serious problem, especially when it is coupled with human rights crimes. I also note the current international order is predicated on the idea that nation states should not expand with force (they do anyway, but we try to limit this as a good option). 

So lets look at an example of peace: Ireland. As recently as 1998 there had been a 30 year insurgency in Northern Ireland that killed around 3,500 people (in a region with 1.5 million inhabitants at the time), This was small potatoes compared to past events like this and this. And before you say much about the potato famine, something like 20% of the population of the island either dies or leaves while it is under British governance. It's not the only human rights atrocity of the age (look at central Europe during the 30 years war) or the colonization of North America). 

But somehow there are no calls for expelling people from Northern Ireland. There is a debate about the reunification of Ireland but no real evidence that this is a violent question but more of a political one because of the complications caused by Brexit. Yes, we have evolved to the point where armed uprising is over and there is no strong ideal of using bombs and bullets. 

The other question that is very pragmatic is how long land claims should exist for. It's not an easy question and it resists analysis. This is very important to political philosophy like Libertarianism, because if the starting wealth is not allocated justly then those who were unjustly deprived of wealth have complicated claims that are hard to address. John Locke is smarter, with the labor value of property. But that gives insight into historical contributions that are hard to address, especially as groups shift and merge over time. 

Some examples of complicated questions include:
  • Greek claims to Istanbul/Constantinople (1454 was a long time ago and the Byzantines who owned it at least partially assimilated)
  • Lenape claims to New York and surrounding areas (clear that they were hard done by, hard to see how to rectify this without a serious amount of harm to the current residents)
  • Should the Anglo-Saxons go back to Northern Europe? And how would you tell who they were and where they should be relocated to? 
  • Who inherits the Roman claim on North Africa? Or, if it is extinct, how and why?
  • Does Russia own Siberia? Or, by extension, America own Alaska?
  • What about Soviet era claims on Ukraine (or East Germany for that matter)
I could keep going all day. Migration, including violent migration, occurs as early as we have history. Bret Devereaux has a nice piece on Greek colonization that makes it clear that, at least in some cases, the locals were not happy to have a new city appear and steal the best local land:
At the same time, its clear that some colonies began with the subordination or more often violent expulsion of the local population in the region of settlement, while in others the steady inflow of migrants to a new colony created demands for land that in turn ended with violent expansion.

It is totally unclear how these claims might go back. Because if it is just a continuous identifiable group with a claim that at least some people hold up, then Istanbul is a live issue as is and there can be no end to these potential claims (try proving it wasn't held continuously by someone in the group). 

Now add in the problem of immigration. And not just modern states like America or Canada, but even ancient Rome had immigration. Are immigrants settlers? Uh, yes. Which rather complicates everything. After all, if the government of the day allowed settlers in legally, can that be reversed later? If so, how? 

So I think the example of the British Isles is the way to go. A society that respects the rights of the inhabitants and provides a just governance to all. Many ways that this can be done but liberal democracies seem to be a pretty reasonable and effective solution. But I think that "blood and soil" theories are a rabbit hole and end up in a very dark place. Instead, I would like to make the focus on ongoing oppression. The homelessness crisis among first nation in Canada is a disgrace and, unlike land claims, there is no barriers save government incompetence and racism to ending it today. 

Let's focus on making people's lives better and in finding constructive paths forward. 

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