Thursday, September 28, 2006

Breaking In

Today I received the following email from at least two people:

Let's say I break into your house

A lady wrote the best letter in the Editorials in ages!! It explains things better than all the baloney you hear on TV.

Recently large demonstrations have taken place across the country protesting the fact that Congress is finally addressing the issue of illegal immigration. Certain people are angry that the US might protect its own borders, might make it harder to sneak into this country and, once here, to stay indefinitely. Let me see if I correctly understand the thinking behind these protests.

Let's say I break into your house. Let's say that when you discover me in your house, you insist that I leave. But I say, "I've made all the beds and washed the dishes and did the laundry and swept the floors; I've done all the things you don't like to do. I'm hard-working and Honest (except for when I broke into your house). According to the protesters, not only must you let me stay, you must add me to your family's insurance plan, educate my kids, and provide Other benefits to me and to my family (my husband will do your yard work be cause he too is hard-working and honest, except for that breaking in part). If you try to call the police or force me out, I will call my friends who will picket your house carrying signs that proclaim my right to be there.

It's only fair, after all, because you have a nicer house than I do, and I'm just trying to better myself. I'm hard-working and honest, um, except for well, you know.

And what a deal it is for me!! I live in your house, contributing only a fraction of the cost of my keep, and there is nothing you can do about it without being accused of selfishness, prejudice and being an anti-housebreaker. Oh yeah, and I want you to learn my language so you can communicate with me.

Why can't people see how ridiculous this is?! Only in America....if you agree, pass it on (in English). Share it if you see the value of it as a good simile. If not blow it off along with your future Social Security funds.

I think that this message, like a lot of email forwards of this ilk, is misleading and panders to emotion. Why does it matter that this message seeks to engage emotion? Research has shown that too much of what passes for political dialogue in our nation today is a function of emotional reaction* rather than rational thinking.

Mr. Karl Rove has been an especially pernicious purveyor of this type of politics, employing a strategy that I've termed "Discredit, Distance, Dismiss". It is telling that the same kind of categorical dismissal of subjective experience that follows in emotionally reacting to political stimuli is also what is at work in racism (as I define it: a *system* of privilege based on phenotype).

Nevertheless, what the forwarded email does have going for it is the fact that it employed extended metaphor, of which I am a great fan. For that reason, I wish to engage the argument by extending the metaphor. Let's say that the first generation of intruders in the story go unnoticed (if we were to parallel reality, we might concede that we built the house around the "intruder" while coercing his "help" or brought him in as cheap labor...let's hear it for unchecked capitalism!)...and a second, maybe a third generation of "intruders" now occupy your home. They don't have a place to "go back to", they are in a very real sense "at home," though most people that live in the house in which they were born tell them that they don't belong. If you can be empathetic with the protagonists here, can you imagine any reason why you might feel for affection for the flag of a land you've never seen?

So now we have second or third generation "intruders" that have no place to go, and no real chance to advance in our society. Sure, there are opportunities to get a high school education, still fewer to get a college education, but then what? True story: a young woman finishes at the top of her high school class, engages in an intense Science curriculum at one of the state's flagship universities, and graduates with distinction. Despite her proven acumen, diligence, and work ethic, this young woman is unemployable because she cannot get a Social Security number, though Texas is the the only home she's ever known. Sure, she can elect to "get in line" and begin the legal process of naturalization (which seems like an oxymoron, given her situation) and in about thirty years she can finally claim to be a U.S. citizen. Even if her parents had started the process when she was born, she would still have to wait another decade to become a U.S. citizen.

The email correctly identifies that people are angry, but in classic "Discredit, Distance, Dismiss" fashion ascribes it's own reason and then argues against it (in systematic logic that's what's known as a "straw man" argument). What makes me angry is that millions of young people such as the one I described are not only being denied the "American Dream," regardless of the effort they make but that our government wants to classify them as felons for something over which they had no control. *Make no mistake*, no "liberal" that I know is making an argument against protecting the U.S. border; we definitely have a problem with illegal immigration, and I think it needs to be fixed so that immigrants to our country actually find this a land of opportunity. I also think that our efforts to keep people from crossing our border need to start long before they get there. We need to eliminate poverty and ameliorate the living conditions for those who find being an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. more favorable than being a legal citizen in their own country.

Finally, the email ends by cavalierly throwing Social Security down the drain if the illegal immigration problem isn't solved. This argument is perhaps the most disingenuous of all since payments from undocumented workers have propped up the system for decades. Giving Social Security payments to those who have paid in isn't pandering, it's the opposite of robbery.

By the way, my Spanish is really rusty. Anyone want to translate the email posted above so I can send it along? = )

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I'm Fixin' to...

I'm finally getting around to using this account that I created about two years ago.

In the interim, I've been an occasional contributor at IdeaPlay and a frequent reader (and sometime commentator) at The Scientific Activist and History Post . While these, along with CNN International Edition , , and The Eagle, have provided me with good opportunities to process and discuss current events, I find myself more and more interested in writing about these issues (alas, the good old days of dialogue at Texags are long-gone).

My interests span religion (specifically Eastern Orthodoxy), politics/social commentary, literature, hip hop, race studies, and giftedness/creativity. Accordingly, my posts will probably fall under one or more of these headings.

A final note about the title of the blog, "Fixin' a Hole...," is a reference to the Beatles' song by Paul McCartney. In the song, Paul describes what amounts to efforts to stay in "flow" (a concept described by Csikszentmihalyi). Borrowing that idea, these are the efforts that I'm making at reducing partisan, racist noise and creating conditions that are congenial to the pursuit of peace.

Please enjoy and comment as appropriate.