2013-07-05

If Anti-Immigration Isn't Racism, Then Someone Make An Argument For It That Isn't Racist

Simon Grey provides what I consider to be the classic racist (forgive me, Simon) argument against open borders:
Any honest person, in answering these questions, would have to come to the conclusions that a) there are differences between America and Mexico and b) some of those differences are cultural.  Moreover, the solution(s) to Mexico’s apparent cultural deficiencies are not easily forthcoming (eg. ending government corruption in Mexico in, say, 10 years would be a miracle unto itself).
Everyone in their right mind agrees with Simon's (a) and (b), but Grey has failed to include his point (c), which is both implied and taken for granted. If Grey had stated his point (c), it would read something like this: (c) These cultural deficiencies are the primary reason Mexicans want to immigrate to the United States. I could further elaborate on a few implied points about that, but they are not necessary for me to make my point.

To wit: Let's say there are cultural differences between the two countries, but the major reason why Mexicans want to immigrate to the United States is because a natural disaster has wiped out most of their homeland. (Think of the many Pakistani emigrants, for example, who fled across borders when their homes were flooded in 2010.) In that case, everyone agrees with Grey's (a) and (b), and yet neither of those facts informs the immigration issue whatsoever.

Tellingly, Grey counts "government corruption" as a cultural deficiency, which perhaps it is, but certainly one that the United States shares. (If his claim is that the US government is merely less corrupt than the Mexican government, I would love to see some evidence for this claim.)

Thus, this tendency to believe that the "cultural differences" that exist between nations are predominantly bad among nations experiencing emigration, and predominantly good among nations experiencing immigration is a fundamentally ethnocentric belief. (And most of us agree that ethnocentrism is racism - feel free to disagree in the comments.)

This idea implies that those countries which have the highest rates of immigration must be culturally superior. It also implies that any American who immigrates to, say, Singapore does so because he or she feels that Singapore is culturally superior to the United States. Or how about people who retire in Panama to enjoy the nice weather and attractive scenery. Are they counting Panama as culturally preferable to the United States? Would anyone ever seriously make claims of this kind?

I'm not suggesting that no one ever immigrates for this reason, but to hear Simon Grey tell it (or Sonic Charmer, or any of the people either of them link to on immigration issues), it is the major factor. In truth, this concept is all in their heads. They see the United States as having cultural advantages to Mexico, thus they believe that all or most of the reasons people immigrate from Mexico are rooted in culture.

White Man's Burden, anyone?

Am I suggesting that there are no cultural reasons for disparate national incomes whatsoever? Of course not. There are many diverse reasons why people choose to leave one nation behind in order to build a new life in another country. Most predominantly, those reasons are economic, not cultural, hence we observe that many immigrants come to the United States yet still maintain strong cultural ties to their homeland.

There is another reason why Mexicans come to the United States and not, say, France. (For all I know, Grey may also believe that France is culturally inferior to the United States, but for the moment let's appeal to Grey's foot note, which states "The general point of this point will stand if you substitute any other country name in place of either 'Mexico' or 'America.'" The reason is that immigration restrictions are higher in France. They are also higher in the United Kingdom, in Singapore, in Germany, and in most other wealthy, culturally dominant nations.

See, emigrants follow the money, but only so far as they can actually follow it. US immigration policy - as closed as it is - is relatively open on a national scale, so "Mexicans" immigrate "here," rather than "there." This fact seriously undermines Grey's cultural superiority narrative because it reveals that one of the primary factors determining human migratory patterns have more to do with legal structure than cultural anything. I suspect the reason Simon Grey fails to pick up on this is because has never actually attempted to emigrate anywhere. Others have.

But to the anti-immigration bloggers out there, every difference is a cultural one. There is no other imaginable explanation. Every conceivable reason why Tamerlan Tsarnaev ended up in Boston instead of Berlin relates to the cultural superiority of the United States.

This is a complete and utter cognitive failure.

Grey provides a view even further into the void:
First, some open-borders libertarians are simply reformed progressives; they defend a sort of anarchist definition of freedom, but still hew to an essentially progressive worldview, one that accepts basic progressive tenets.  Thus, they accept cultural relativism, and must therefore deny that culture (and perhaps even race/genetics) has any bearing on any differences whatsoever, and therefore defend open borders since it doesn’t offend their moral sensibilities.  These people are basically SWPLs without the corresponding desire to “help” the less fortunate.
There can't be more to economic disparity than culture, no, it's just that our moral sensibilities are offended. That is a mighty large slack variable.

But forget about the weakness of his theory. To the likes of Simon Grey and Sonic Charmer, those of us who disagree with him also belong to a different culture, an "essentially progressive" one. If you don't automatically think that economic hardship is caused by cultural disparity, then you're one of "them," the ones who "accept cultural relativism" and who "deny that culture... and perhaps even race/genetics" has any bearing on differences whatsoever.

In other words, culture either tells the whole story, or you're one of those dumb people who thinks it makes no difference whatsoever. Incredibly, Grey caps off his dissection of the issue by remarking that for those who disagree with him, "nuance and broadness is not exactly their strong suit." Very rich, Mr. Grey.

I would like to believe that such ideas aren't just tribalism and racism. But if they aren't, then they need to be justified on something other than racist terms. Jumping willy-nilly from "there are cultural differences" to "and that's why Mexicans move to the United States" is at best sloppy and poorly reasoned. But at worst, it's racism.