Were we always this selfish?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. A few months ago, in the staff room and on Facebook, people marvelled at how desperate these ‘migrants’ were to get to Britain, that they were prepared to risk their lives. And yet their imaginations could only conceive that this desperation is born from greed; ‘It’s because they’ll get benefits, isn’t it? And we don’t even look after our own.’ I find this thinking staggering. It’s like English people regard anyone non-white-British to be a different breed. I don’t know anyone who would risk their lives to get to a country where they are entitled to about £40 a week in benefits, especially since that £40 won’t go as far here as it would in their homeland, especially when the price of such ‘benefit’ is to be forbidden to work for a year and to be forced to report to centres on a regular basis, like some kind of criminal. And yet people find it perfectly plausible that foreign people would do this, more so than the idea that they are running from death, rape, persecution or torture.

My English peers seem to me a very strange breed; we take great pride in our part in wars few of us remember, a war against facism, a war where we took in a persecuted refugee population despite being in pretty dire economic state.  Yet the people who are proudest of this are the ones who condemn most strongly any move to help the desperate and persecuted today.

There’s a chilling reason why Save The Children’s viral video had to imagine the things which happen to children in Syria and Palestine and the Yemen happening to an English child. It should not have taken the image of another child; a real, Syrian, dead child, to get people to care. Even now I hear people worrying that we’re going to let terrorists into Britain along with the asylum seekers, and yet no one seems to care that these people have been subjected to terror on a daily basis. That in many countries, people still are.

This isn’t a particularly hopeful blog post I know.  But it’s a rant I’ve wanted to have for a while now.

At least not everyone is selfish. I’ve been heartened by the images I’ve seen of people’s support for refugees on social media. And a marvellous lady I know, who survived conscription and a world war before she was even old enough to vote holds no grudges against bearers of other passports — on the contrary, her wish is for peace. I sometimes wish I could ask her if people were always this selfish, but I think I don’t want to know the answer. I like to believe this is simply a low point for humanity — surely from here, things can only get better.


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