Majd Alsado


immigration is not normal

25 Feb 2024 • 7 min read


Modern-day immigration is not normal and carries with it a series of understated complexities and consequences.

In this article, I’d like to explore this topic and examine some of the impacts it can have on an individual’s well-being and cultural identity.

Humans and Migration

To begin exploring this idea, we start at the very beginning of our relationship with migration. Humans and migration date back to when sapiens first left Africa around 100,000 years ago. Of course, these early migratory journeys differed significantly from what we observe today.

Sapiens migrate from Africa

Initially, people moved within their broader groups or tribes, travelling by foot over familiar terrain and never venturing far in a single generation.

Throughout most of history, we see similar migratory patterns through ancient, classical, or medieval times. We migrated together, and slowly.

This allowed for the culture and body of knowledge of the collective to remain intact, and adapt sustainably over time.

Age of Discovery

This all changed, however, by the Age of Discovery. The steamship revolutionized migration for humans and allowed us to leave entire continents behind, by ourselves, through one relatively short journey.

Furthermore, this period also saw new motivations for migration. It was no longer about sheer survival or escaping natural disasters. People now immigrated for better opportunities and prosperity and left behind their tribes and culture.

This is a critical shift with implications unforeseen by the migrant, which will challenge their well-being, health, and potential for evolutionary success. Let’s explore this through an example.

The Case of the Bedouin Immigrant

Syrian Bedouin

Let’s consider the case of a Bedouin nomad from the Syrian Desert who at the turn of the 19th century, frustrated by the lack of opportunity, decided to detach from his tribe and familiar land to take a chance on the newly founded land of opportunity, America.

Remember that every surviving member of his tribe up to this point is a direct descendent and product of thousands of years of inherited, time-tested knowledge and wisdom which has allowed his bloodline to survive and thrive within the specific characteristics of their environment.

Never before has this direct line of knowledge been so quickly disrupted and made obsolete, then after they decided to immigrate and leave everything behind.

By moving away from the areas in which a person, their parents, and ancestors have evolved and thrived in, to new unknown areas vastly different from their own, much of the ancestral knowledge (which is highly dependent on location and environment) is made obsolete and lost without their awareness.

So what of this “ancestral knowledge”?

Passing down knowledge

It is easy to dismiss passed-down knowledge and wisdom when the Internet gives us instant access to human knowledge at our fingertips.

However, this knowledge passed down from your grandparents is vastly more valuable for you as an individual, than anything you can find on Google.


Ancestral knowledge has undergone the most stringent scrutiny possible, the test of time.

As Nassim Nicholas Taleb puts it in Antifragile,

“If you hear advice from a grandmother or elders, odds are that it works 90 percent of the time. On the other hand, in part because of scientism and academic prostitution, in part because the world is hard if you read anything by psychologists and behavioural scientists, odds are that it works at less than 10 percent.”

Beyond the fact that this knowledge has withstood the test of time, this knowledge is also uniquely important because it includes the context of your genetics, tendencies, and environment. Losing this wealth of knowledge is a significant loss that the internet cannot replace.

Generalization of Knowledge

Traditional Healer

We must also recognize that the information readily available online or imparted in Western education largely stems from Eurocentric sources. These can be different or not aligned with the experiences of people from a non-European ethnicity.

This discrepancy is becoming more apparent in fields like medicine, where an expanding body of research suggests ethnic backgrounds can have a significant impact on the application of medicine.

Back to the Bedouin

So when our Bedouin Immigrant decided to disrupt his existing life, he detached himself from the trusted body of knowledge that had allowed his bloodline to live and thrive up until this point and made his potential success dependent on this compatibility with the American way of life.

Accessing medicine

Now, when the immigrant is faced with a health problem or a stressful event, there is no tribe elder to turn to who can explain what they’re feeling and why. There is no one with the repository of knowledge for the best way that his people have typically dealt with that problem.

At best, they can try to find local experts in his new environment to consult on this issue, however, it’s easy to imagine the many ways that this could go wrong. Due to biological and hereditary differences, the advice received may not work, or worse yet, it might even harm them (consider a severe allergy to traditional medicine, for example).

Not being able to find the right help tailored to their needs can lead to alienation from the people around them and poorer health outcomes.

The Shared Experience of Immigrants


Growing up, I felt lucky to have full plasticity to dictate how I’d like to lead my life. I was setting a new example for our generation in a new society. But there is more to it than meets the eye. Growing up with this idea adds a stressor that you constantly feel.

You are constantly bombarded by noise on how to “best lead your life”, and which values to hold. While this is the case for most growing adults, as an immigrant you often don’t have the same “filter” to help distill the signal and what best aligns with your frame of mind, to the noise of information.

On one hand, it is liberating to have so many different ways to lead and place value in your life. On the other hand, paralysis by analysis is very real when the options are endless, and the choice is unclear. This dilemma often leads you to experience higher levels of anxiety while going about your life and making decisions.

Immigrants also often face a silent struggle of having to adapt to a Western system that prioritizes a certain set of values and devalues others.

This shift forces them to depend on a body of knowledge and a value system that may not align with their innate understanding of the world, ultimately resulting in a loss of confidence.

As they grapple with finding their place and establishing their identity within a new society, the incompatibility between their cultural identity, the societal values of their host country, or even their biological predispositions can create profound existential dilemmas.

Personally, I often wonder what it would have been like if I had lived in a village with people who share my cultural beliefs and values.

What would it be like to be around those who understood my thinking and personal beliefs, and how much simpler would it make navigating the jungle of life?

Immigration in the Modern World

World-wide Immigration

Immigration has become normalized and increasingly popular in the past couple of centuries, possibly due to globalization and the rise of the internet. In 2022 alone, an estimated 6.1 million people took that journey, and it seems we now believe it is normal to move across vast distances and start life in a new environment, with little to no consideration of how it may affect our body and mind.

Globalization makes us feel that the world is smaller than it is and that we have somehow evolved past our mental and biological limitations to be able to move and thrive anywhere.

In the short term, this can be difficult for the individual. In the long term, it can be catastrophic for their evolutionary success.

As much as we don’t like to admit it, our needs are specific to our evolution and biological context.

There is no general medical treatment that heals everyone. There is no one diet which works for all.

It all depends on your environment and background.

When this information is lost or made obsolete by drastic migration, it has unforeseen downstream effects which pose a dangerous threat to the evolutionary success, and the potential of the immigrant humans who are now starting on a new, dramatically different path to survival, without their ancestral wisdom to help them steer the boat.

So what?

Does this mean we all need to stop immigrating? I don’t think so. But we do need to recognize the various downstream effects that come as a result of immigration.

We need to find ways to work through them acknowledging that modern-day immigration is a new and unnatural phenomenon.

As immigrants, we need to make sure we understand the consequences of leaving for a new world beyond the initial “grass is greener” effect.

When we do decide to immigrate, we also need to ensure we have a framework on how we will preserve the wisdom and knowledge we each bring. Participating in activities such as community storytelling and engaging with cultural hubs could help here.

At the same time, host countries should also re-examine their immigration policies to ensure they are sustainable in the long term. States, such as Canada, often leverage immigration for short-term economic gain with little consideration for the individual and culture coming in.

This creates instability over the long term if ignored. Perhaps exploring more sustainable integration models such as establishing cultural hubs or backing community initiatives could help here. These efforts would not only aid the immigrants but also serve to enhance the host societies’ cultural richness.

Tree of Learning

I hope this leads us one step closer to understanding what we’re feeling, how we got here, and where we’re going.

I started exploring this topic after a discussion with some friends. The more I dug into this idea, the more I realized the absolute breadth of the topic.

There are many more avenues to explore. Here are some interesting avenues to dig into for the reader’s enjoyment.

Further reading: