Thursday, April 13, 2006

Something There Is That Doesn't Love a Wall

I've been wondering of late how I became a racist reactionary fascist. Well, I mean I sort of know: it has something to do with thinking that people who come into the country illegally generally, y'know, shouldn't. Come in illegally that is. I was, among other things, informed by a guy on the teevee yesterday that the term 'illegal alien' is exactly as morally reprehensible as the N-word (a word, you'll note, that I can't even usually bring myself to mention, let alone use). I've got nothing against legal immigrants, and, truth be told, I'm almost always pleased to meet 'em. As far as I know, I'm not a bigot. As far as I know, I'm pretty much a radical anti-bigot.

I don't know what to do about the illegal immigrant problem. I don't even really understand it. But I'm concerned about it and I'm inclined to think that something probably kinda sorta ought to be done. I'm rather more concerned with doing something to slow illegal immigration in the future than I am about doing something about folks who are already here. Yes, I'm worried about rewarding people for breaking the law and all that, but in this case I guess I'm not currently inclined to be very worried about that, and not right now anyway.

Right now I'm sort of thinking about fixing the leak in general and about the fence issue in particular. Among people with whom I usually tend to agree, remarks about a fences, covertly referencing a fence along the Mexican border, have become a kind of punchline. "Maybe we should build a fence" seems to have come to mean something like "Maybe we should do something stupid, evil, and reactionary." Like "Maybe we should stone them," or "Maybe we should consult the Maleus Malificarum."

So here's my question. It's not: why is building a fence a bad idea? Nor why won't building a fence work? Nor anything like that. It's rather: why is building a fence evil and reactionary?

Is it that restricting illegal immigration is somehow intrinsically evil? Because that's not obvious to me. I mean, as I've said before, I'm perfectly willing to reform whatever's wrong with the rules governing legal immigration if they're unjust.

Is it something about the symbolism of a fence? Or a wall? If the same ends could be effected by legislation would that be non-evil/non-reactionary?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd say it's partly the associations (Berlin, Occupied territories -- not good), and partly that the advocates of a wall don't usually include the 49th parallel in their plans.

11:45 AM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

You're not, as I understand it, opposed to illegal immigration per se, but immigration. We could solve the much of the former problem in the same way we could solve much of our illegal drug problem.

Our economy and society are designed to encourage illegal immigration, so unless your solution is "let's fix our incentives and enforce laws against our powerful citizens to make it stick and if necessary create barriers; and let's raise our legal immigration quotas to provide the right number of workers, and reward their labor and taxes by letting them become citizens", you're (while not being xenophobic yourself) lining up beside the xenophobes, and naturally some people won't notice the difference.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

See, Republicans are against immigration reform because they're in bed with big business.

They're for immigration reform because they're racist.

And just by standing next to them, WS, you're indistinguishable from a xenophobe. Tough luck, man.

4:08 PM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

TVD, you seem to like standing next to straw men.

You can't always choose your company, but you can distinguish yourself from it. Not that many commenters on the right understand or admit this when the issue is an A.N.S.W.E.R.-organized march.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Accusing me of straw manning is a straw man. God, this stuff is so boring, rf.

When you wrote

you're (while not being xenophobic yourself) lining up beside the xenophobes, and naturally some people won't notice the difference.

Who did you mean by "some people?"

5:47 PM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

"God, this stuff is so boring, rf."

Then skip the tripe like "They're for immigration reform because they're racist."

"Some people" are people not good at making distinctions. You may not have noticed, but WS began the post by saying, "I've been wondering of late how I became a racist reactionary fascist." Apparently he's identified some people who think that of him.

7:13 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Who are those people, then?

And you must be so used to communicating by innuendo that you don't even notice your use of "xenophobe" implies precisely what I wrote.

For the record, most of those who are up in arms about illegal immigration think Mexicans (who are really the issue here, by numbers alone) are largely cool, hardworking people. It's the taxing of social services and the crime down by the border that rightfully disturb them.

(I happen to be a dove on immigration, and as I live in California, live with it. It doesn't upset me all that much, altho I'd like to see the flood stemmed. However, it should be possible to disagree with the hawks without sliming them morally as "xenophobes," as if it's impossible for their position to be a principled one.)

7:25 PM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

Wait, it's your contention that there aren't any xenophobes in the anti-immigration ranks? That's amusing.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Random Michelle K said...

Is it something about the symbolism of a fence? Or a wall? If the same ends could be effected by legislation would that be non-evil/non-reactionary?

When I hear that they want to build a wall, I think first of the wall in Berlin.

Then I think of the Great Wall in China. Which makes me think (rightly or wrongly) of xenophobia.

In both cases, the wall seemed to be a way to keep not just people from moving from one place to another, but also ideas. A wall seems to be such a permament structure, and one that speaks of isolation.

I freely admit that much of this comes from that fact that two of my grandparents are first generation Americans. The idea that they had of America--and imparted to my father--is of America as a place you came to escape poverty and oppression. So a big honking wall is almost antithetical to my idea of America.

Does that mean that I believe that we don't have a problem with immigration? No.

Does that mean that I think that those who want to limit immigration are reactionary racists? No.

I'm just saying that for me, yes, walls and fences have a negative symbolism.

And now, you'll have to excuse me as I ride off into the sunset singing "Don't Fence Me In"

8:15 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Of course there are xenophobes in the anti-immigration movement. Just as there are anti-American Marxists in A.N.S.W.E.R. leading the pro-immigtation marches.

They are low-hanging fruit, and have nothing to do with the issue. They are useful only for demonizing the other side.

A trap you aptly pointed out, then promptly fell into.

If you have an affirmative argument that isn't predicated on demonization, I'm all ears. As I said, I'm rather a dove on all this.

8:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems to me I remember WS saying he grew up on a farm, and I seem to remember his family are still in the business. If so, may I ask if they ever hired illegals? Seeing as how agriculture is one of the bigger employers of illegals, I would guess the probability is pretty high. 'round where I've been in the agricultural space, illegals are pretty much omnipresent. If they didn't use illegals, I'd be interested in precisely what the heck they farm and how on earth they pay for the high cost of red blooded, true blue American labor. Oh, and that I'm glad they're not in that boat.

But seriously... There's only one reason they're here. The fact that business wants them, and the fact that our government - and that includes the big bad republicans currently owning the place - is not just looking the other way, but giving the businesses a day warning on an ICE visit so the illegals have the day off is the reason we're in the boat we're in.

Oh, and let's not forget our free trade altar NAFTA, which gutted labor laws in Mexico which pretty much guarantee that Mexicans have a high incentive to get the heck across the border to those good old American businesses who will gladly hire them.

You don't like mutants, WS? Stop growing them in toxic waste. It'd be trivial to deal with this purely from the demand side - i.e. businesses. But they obviously don't want to.

What makes you a racist fascist? It's that you can't see this clear issue and instead focus on the people supplying the demand. You haven't a single thing to say about the businesses who are - after all - BREAKING THE LAW and just as big of criminals as your crowd wants to claim the illegals are. And this complete lack of perspective is what puts you squarely on the side of the assholes , if not the racist fascists (heck, even I don't believe you're a racist fascist).

10:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW, just kidding. You're just on the side of assholes, not really an asshole.

11:01 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Isn't that sweet, WS?

You're not a xenophobe, just indistinguishable from one. You're not really an asshole (at least in the footnotes), just this side of one.

You have built up moral capital. (Altho I maintain moral capital does not apply to the interaction between states, and evidently gets the individual precious little slack. I'd rather be gay and take my chances with Falwell.)

11:14 PM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

TVD: "A trap you aptly pointed out, then promptly fell into."

Your reading comprehension is just comically poor today. I don't think I can explain what I said in one-syllable words, so I'm going to suggest you try rereading what I wrote tomorrow.

12:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, put me down as someone who doesn't care that much about illegal immigration. Here are the reasons.

First, as alluded to by Anonymous, both the businesses that hire and the people that come here are breaking the law. To focus on the immirgrants (who in large part, but not all, tend to be darker skinned and therefore the targets of racist rhetoric) and not the corporations is indeed a sign of rather dubious choice when it comes to "law and order."

Immigrants have families and lives, corporations have officers, directors, and shareholders. Choose one, choose the other, or choose both to be outraged about. Choosing both is the intellectually honest choice. Few folks make that choice, and WS's initial post seems to target the people, not the companies. As rilkefan points out, this creates some uncomfortable bedfellows, be that fair or not. The fact is, a lot of racists and selectively "law and order" types tend to direct all attention towards illegal aliens, and not towards the lawbreakers that hire them.

I don't care because I don't labor under the illusion that we will force companies to pay a living wage to anyone, be they citizens or not. I don't care because I know that despite horrible working conditions and no legal recourse to our laws, many people come here because they can earn more and work safer than they could in their own countries. I don't care because I am so goddamn sick of solutions that involve punishing people.

I want a country where honest work is paid honestly and people can be guaranteed a socioeconomic floor above which they can be confident they will not fall. That system is not happening and will not happen until fundamental things change. Illegal immigration is not going to change until the structural deficiencies of our economic and social system change. In the meantime, it is an argument about scapegoating and blaming people who work hard, or want to work hard.

I don't like to play that game.

Finally, I don't want to live in a walled country. Just don't. Statue or liberty, stigma of Berlin, Israel, yadda yadda. Our country's ideals and shared beliefs are what will keep us strong and safe. The idea that yet another physical or legal barrier is going to protect us from something is delusional. Create, maintain, and judiciously guard freedoms...don't deny rights, opportunities, and dissent.

So it goes. This post wigged me out. "Why is building a fence evil and reactionary?" Building a fence isn't evil and reactionary. It is just plain fucking stupid. It panders to an idea of safety and "us" that does not and should not exist. We should not be about keeping people out. We should be about creating a society within our borders that is fair and where the rules are plain and that if you follow them, you shall be embraced.

Illegal aliens, as the world now stands, are in fact playing by the rules of the game, if not the law. We want them here, we need them here.

Except when we want to score cheap political points at their expense and deny the fact that they are human beings with all of the beauty and ugliness that all of us have within ourselves.

That is, every election cycle where the gay issue has become stale.

1:55 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I've often thought that one day I'll become as fed up with liberals as I am with conservatives. Not a day I'm looking forward to, mind you, but rather a day I anticipate with regret.

I gotta tell ya, Anonymous and Funkmeister, you guys are hastening that woeful day...

Look, why on Earth would you attribute to me a position that I've done nothing to welcome and many things to reject? I don't think I've ever said anything to indicate any love of corporations or greedy businessmen, and I have certainly not said anything to indicate that I'm against dealing with the illegal immigration problem at the business end (as it were). In fact, it's my preferred solution.

I mean look, guys, this kind of bullshit just pushes people like me into the arms of the other side. If you don't care about truth and fairness in argument, you MUST care about manufacturing new conservatives, no?

I also made it extremely clear that I wasn't asking whether it was a good solution or a bad one, I asked why it was inherently evil. You'll note that nobody here really addressed that but Michelle K.--who, note, I can always rely on for civility and level-headedness, even when she disagrees with me.

I mean this is really loathesome, and this is the kind of thing that drives people away from political movements--fail to toe the party line at every jot and tittle and you recieve screamed denunciations. I don't really care what you think about me or my character--fuck anyone who really thinks I'm a racist--but I'm just baffled at the irrationality and incivility of the responses.

And, incidentaly, no, we never hired illegal aliens on our farm. In fact, A, the very fact that you think its likely shows that you don't really know what you're talking about here. I guess you're thinking of one of those big corporate operations. Maybe your folks have one of those operations, but not mine.

Oh, and incidentally: If I put up a fence to keep people off of my property, I am not punishing them. Not anymore than I'm punishing people by locking the door to my house.

You put up this this shit all the time tvd? You're a more patient man than I.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Random Michelle K said...

Michelle K.--who, note, I can always rely on for civility and level-headedness, even when she disagrees with me.

Can I quote you on that?


I've never been called level-headed before, and I'm enjoying the feeling!

And I'm very curious what walls and fences symbolize for you, since you don't have those negative connotations that I do. (My most vivid memory of a wall was one I walked by regularly as a child. It was much higher than I was tall, and I was convinced that there was really interesting stuff on the other side. Thus, I was terribly frustrated that I couldn' SEE what was over there. But I was certain it was some sorty of secret faerie realm or magic garden. I'm sure that didn't help my opinion of walls.)

10:55 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yeah, see, the thing is I recognize the negative connotations/associations of a fence or wall...but I'm not willing to make important policy on the basis of such assocaitions. These considerations are just too weak.

To argue that we shouldn't have any walls because there have been bad walls is rather like arguing that we shouldn't have soldiers because there have been bad soldiers.

But remember: I'm in no way wedded to the fence idea. I just absolutely do not but the arguments--such as they are--against it.

And yeah--feel free to quote me :)
...though I'm not sure how much the endorsement of a reactionary racist xenophobe is worth...

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WS, I didn't call you a racist (and I am not saying that you said I called you a racist). I'm not sure anyone else did either, but if they did, they shouldn't have.

With that in mind, and given your chosen rhetorical stance, that is, people like me will drive you into the arms of the conservatives, it is fair to point out that some vocal people in favor of a fence or wall are incredibly ugly on the race relations front. If I have the power to drive you away, so too should they.

Claiming to have been tarred with the "reactionary racist xoenphobe" moniker smacks of your own personal war against the "war on Christianity" or some other nonsense. It is self-claimed victimhood, it has not been inflicted by others.

It appears we agree that addressing the business side of things is important as well, and although I did not accuse you of ignoring this dynamic, it was clearly not the subject of your post. As I said, the intellectually honest thing to do is address lawbreaking on both sides of the issue, but you are obviously not required to address all things in all posts.

I do think your question "Why is it inherently evil?" doesn't make a lot of sense. It is like asking "why is it inherently evil to mix salsa with peanut butter?" Evil is the wrong word. It isn't evil, it just isn't smart and makes no sense, at least from my point of view.

Your right to build a fence around your property is a personal property issue, while a national border is a public access issue. Ilegal vs. legal is a consideration. That said, I am not of the opinion that illegal immigrants are here to piss on my lawn. They more likely are here to mow it, in which case locking my gate so they can't get in is rather counterproductive. Now, how I should pay them and what their status as inhabitants of my lawn is is a different question, but one that can't take place if the borders are sealed.

Why is X inherently evil just is a bad question, the same way that Is Preemptive War ever Justified is a bad question in the context of Iraq. The answer to the abstract is used to inform the actual in ways that ignore the context and the real. It isn't helpful. So, my answer is that yes, it would be not smart to build a wall because such a decision would be the result of nativist rhetoric, economic blindness, and is akin to using a hammer when more sophisticated tools are available. There is nothing inherently evil about it. But intelligence and evil are two different things, and I think the former is a better question than the latter.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One last thing WS, building a fence is reactionary because of the history of our nation and the fact that immigrants, legal and otherwise, have always looked to us for hope and opportunity.

I can't remember who said it recently, but it was basically "The US has immigration problems, but we do immigration better than any other nation in the world." This needs to remain true, and there is always more room in the inn.

To say "enough" and close the doors is selfish, unproductive, and yes, reactionary. A fence is an answer to the wrong question and would justiably impugn our identity and culture as one that is more concerned about keeping others out than it is about how it treats people who are here and who want to come here. That, in my mind, qualifies as reactionary.

Have a good one.

1:10 PM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

A gigantic trophy.

DeLong on Derb.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Random Michelle K said...

To argue that we shouldn't have any walls because there have been bad walls is rather like arguing that we shouldn't have soldiers because there have been bad soldiers.

I'm not arguing that, (at least I don't think I am) I'm just wondering what kind of good walls, or good wall associations there are.

Or a different question: is building a fence in such a situation actually effective?

5:37 PM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

JFTR, I think the separation fence, or wall, or barrier that Israel has been building is a reasonable solution under the circumstances (though I might prefer it were closer to the Green Line in places), and my understanding is that it has been effective in reducing terror attacks. We're not in anything like Israel's situation though.

11:13 PM  

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