Obsession is a blinding passion. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines obsession as “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling.” The Journal of Anxiety Disorders, a psychiatric publication, writes that “(obsessions) are associated with psychopathology domains in a manner comparable to general obsessive-compulsive symptoms.” The literature attributes the modern proliferation of political obsessions to the increased influence of disaggregated social media.
Obsessions, in short, make us into that moon-struck pimply teenager obsessed with the cruel redhead tease in his 10th grade class.
Political obsessions drive divisions within society, and even families, making dialogue impossible and often leading to violence. Politicians everywhere have exploited obsession as a powerful tool to control supporters. The leaders of the antebellum South and Adolf Hitler, among many others, exploited obsessive hatred of blacks and Jews, respectively, to grab power and then drove their people into disasters. In the United States, for example, obsessions with immigration, abortion, gender identity, guns, and racism, to mention the most viral, drive politics on both sides of the issues. The problem with obsession is that it prevents the obsessed from dealing rationally with the issues at hand.
The sociopathy of obsession prevents rational discussion of practical solutions to what are often real problems. Let’s take immigration. Decades of neglect by both parties have led us to a crisis of millions at our southern border clamoring to enter the United States. Instead of a rational discussion, we have degenerated into a shouting match over the ‘replacement theory’, a truly unhinged argument that a political party created the worldwide movement of millions of people in order to replace ‘real’, i.e., white, Americans or Europeans with (darker) foreigners. Obsession is infectious. The European Union almost fell apart five years ago over the influx of Syrian refugees into one EU country, Greece. Populist politicians almost wrecked the EU over the issue of how to deal with an influx less than 0.002% (i.e., one five hundredth) of its total population! Obsessions crippled policy making and led to stupidities such as barbed wire on internal EU boundaries, detention camps on small Greek islands to hold thousands in limbo, and the building of the Great Wall of America. These ‘solutions’ mostly benefited wannabe authoritarians in Europe while, in the United States, it made human smugglers and contractors filthy rich.
These measures have failed to stop uncontrolled immigration, just as jailing millions of Americans and financing Latin American drug wars have not made a dent in drug smuggling. In the case of narcotics, we failed to address the domestic drug addiction that makes us such a lucrative market and the failure of good governance in Latin America that makes growing coca the only means of economic survival.
We know why the United States and Europe are such magnets for migrants, whether political or economic. Both feature large, prosperous, and relatively stable countries enjoying the rule of law. More importantly, both share an enormous need for workers of all types to continue economic growth while our populations age. We ignore the failure of both the United States and the EU to deal with the collapse of governance around the world that unleashed the flood of migrants. It’s not easy and it would cost money, but resolving crises in regions pumping out migrants would save much more in terms of money, political stability, and human life.
We seem to have forgotten that millions of Europeans fled to the United States in the aftermath of World War II. Similarly, Northern Europeans seem to have forgotten the influx of millions of migrant workers from poorer southern European countries in the 1950’s. We ignore the fact that once the countries that sent the migrants stabilized and their economies improved, the post-WWII migration flow dried up to both the United States and northern Europe. More recently, Americans did not notice that the much-maligned NAFTA so improved the Mexican economy that more people migrated from the United States to Mexico rather than the other way around. The EU’s admission of ex-Warsaw Pact countries twenty years ago sent millions westward looking for jobs while the Euro crisis of 2010-2018 provoked an exodus of 500,000 Greeks. Now, Western Europe can’t find farm workers and the British National Health Service lacks doctors and nurses. Migration into Greece has also turned positive. Many young Greeks are returning, along with many Europeans (and even some Americans) taking up residence as ‘digital nomads’.
The United States has the financial, political, and even military muscle to address the collapse of governance in Central America’s turbulent Northern Triangle, (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) from whence most of today’s migrants flee. Our outrageous failure to help restore order in Haiti has sent thousands of Haitians fleeing to the United States. Such policies need money and good diplomacy up front, but we should not forget that the Marshall Plan in Europe paid back its huge investment thousandfold. Europe ignored the opportunities offered by the Arab Spring uprisings to nurture democracy and good governance across the other side of the Mediterranean. Europe’s failure to buttress Tunisia’s nascent democracy should shame every EU government. Now unscrupulous politicians in the United States and EU exploit the resentments directed at waves of immigrants.
Obsessions about immigration and so many other issues are collective mental illnesses guaranteeing that these problems will remain unresolved, to the delight of the politicians who exploit them. If more sober leaders across the political spectrum do not come together to address those issues reasonably, they will feed that obsession, which will inevitably lead to feeding hatred and violence. Is that the world we want for our children?