We are driven by our instincts. Nothing else drives us. If our rational minds can modify our instincts on some occasions and then we learn retrospectively that it’s been wise, so much the better. But first, if you also want to understand situations such as the one we have now with a long and gathering tide of humans from Asia and Africa making for Europe, cherchez l’instinct.
Thee are two instincts involved. The one that is very visible and elicited by the media is that of compassion — the urge to help. It arouses our instinct for altruism. The three year-old boy washed up on a Turkish beach a week or so ago aroused a compassion in each of us and created a tsunami all round Europe which totally changed attitudes to Syrian refugees — about whom, previously, Europeans cared scarcely a jot except to pay a few pennies to buy tents for them in refugee camps.
Less visible is the instinct of territorial protection. In hunter-gatherer times, the protection of our immediate food sources. In modern times, the protection of our jobs and incomes. Outside the professionals — who usually protect their own jobs very well indeed — most working people become fearful when too many strangers enter the scene and might possibly take their jobs. Far less articulate than the professionals — in this case in the media and in politics — most protective instincts are slower to express themselves but, being more numerous than the professionals, are more powerful when they do. In their own way, they are acting no differently from the professionals themselves when they are concerned about their own jobs.
Media people and the politicians are used to manipulating people. That’s their job, and that’s what we expect and what we pay them for, but there are always limits to what they can achieve. This morning, Angela Merkel has said that the compassion plan of refugee quotas around the countries of Europe is not going as well as it might. Angela Merkel is already re-calibrating. She needs to re-calibrate a lot more yet in order to understand the majority of the electorate better than she has done so far.