Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bush's Multiculturalist Immigration Policy


Border Illusions - New York Times

These are the people who say illegal border crossings must be stopped immediately, with military boots in the desert sand...America must send its overtaxed troops to the border right now, they say, so a swarm of ruthless, visa-less workers cannot bury our way of life under a relentless onslaught of hard work...The United States is not an Arab emirate. It does not ennoble our democratic experiment by importing a second-class society of worker bees who are vulnerable to exploitation and have little incentive to adopt our values. If there must be guest workers, there must also be a path so they, too, can seek citizenship if they choose. Mr. Bush last night specifically — and shamefully — urged that such a path be denied to temporary workers.

So here we have it: multiculturalism at work. The Bush plan, as the NYTimes editorial notes would not "put illegal workers on a path to assimilation and citizenship"--it would create an underclass of slaves and helots to do our dirty work who will always be separate and never equal, who will maintain their own culturally distinct communities in our midst, and be sent away before they have a chance to get uppity.

This should hardly be a surprise. Conservatives have always been multiculturalists: now they have their feet to the fire and have to come clean. Their worry isn't that immigrants will not assimilate but that they will.

On the May 1, the day of the immigrant boycott, there were crowds of immigrants, documented and undocumented, and their families surging through the streets, waving American flags and Mexican flags, singing the Star Spangled Banner in Spanish. Some people were outraged by the Mexican flags and the Spanish version of the National Anthem--which isn't particularly singable in any language. But give me a break--this is the old time religion. Every tacky mail order house features ethnic products, IKEA flies the Swedish flag, St. Patrick's Day is a national obsession and everyone claims to be at least a little bit Irish. Hispanic immigrants and their children are just doing what every other group of immigrants have done: being American.

So here is the conservative multiculturalist agenda: "We don't want you here if you won't assimilate, but we don't want you here if you do assimilate." Simple constructive dilemma.

I'm trying to remember--how long did Sparta last before the helots revolted? Maybe that's not an issue--we're in a better position to run the system than the Spartans were. But the costs will be the same: an expanding military and paramilitary controlling the border and policing the "guest workers." More broadly, it undermines all the rhetoric about our interest in exporting "freedom" and "democracy," promoting our values and our way of life. We don't want to let people in to our country or to our culture, and we have no interest in enabling them to get the material goods that make our way of life possible. We want their sweat and their oil.

11 comments:

Sanpete said...

You seem to be using the term "multiculturalism" in a way I'm not familiar with. What person normally associated with multicultural philosophy or policy expresses or implies the views you associate with multiculturalism here?

Citizenship and assimilation aren't the same thing in the context of multiculturalism. You can be a citizen and not assimilate culturally, and you can be a noncitizen and assimilate fairly well culturally. I think most multiculturalists favor citizenship for Mexican immigrants who come here and work, with minimal requirements for cultural assimilation, and broad tolerance and support for cultural differences among citizens and noncitizens alike.

H. E. said...

Read the NYTimes editorial that I linked--before it submerges behind the paywall.

The editorial writer notes that the alternative plan, that made provision for achieving citizenship would encourage assimilation and, by implication, that the Bush plan would discourage it. That seems right, even if it is possible to be an unassimilated citizen or an assimilated non-citizen.

I have no doubt that "most multiculturalists," who regard themselves as progressive, favor citizenship without major requirements for cultural assimilation and I agree citizenship without assimilation is better than non-citizenship without assimilation.

I'm responding however to conservative jingoist rhetoric suggesting that the problem with large-scale immigration is that we'll end up with large communities of unassimilated immigrants and their descendants who don't buy into the American Way of Life. Faced with mass demonstrations by Mexican-Americans who ARE assimilating, whose thoroughly American children will do Mexican in the same spirit that citizens of Lake Wobegon do Scandanavian, and whose grandchildren will likely be monolingual English-speaking unhyphenated Americans--they balk. And it all comes out in the wash--the problem isn't culture: it's color.

Multiculturalists to the left of us, multiculturalists to the right of us--the message is the same: preserve your ancestral culture, whether you like it or not; citizenship or not, we don't want you to join the mainstream.

Sanpete said...

That something discourages assimilation doesn't make it multiculturalist. Means matter, for one thing, especially in a case like this where the means (and motives) actually discourage some of the goals of multiculturalism. Conservative fears about lack of assimilation aren't multiculturalist; quite the opposite.

More to the point, multiculturalism isn't really about lack of assimilation. It's about preserving, promoting and respecting culture and cultural differences, with an eye to the value of those things to both those in and out of a culture. Multiculturalists aren't necessarily or characteristically against (voluntary) assimilation of various kinds--all the multiculturalists you hear about are well assimilated. They are characteristically anti-assimilationist, where "assimilationism" requires or encourages assimilation of a kind that violates or destroys other cultures, disregards the value of other cultures or otherwise conflicts with the goals of multiculturalism. Most multiculturalists encourage multicultural individuals, which necessarily involves going beyond any one culture one might be born into.

The message of mainstream multiculturalism as I understand it isn't to preserve your ancestral culture whether you like it or not, nor that those from other cultures shouldn't join the mainstream culture in various ways.

H. E. said...

My point is that you can't both have your cake and eat it. Policies that support cultural preservation and the persistence of cohesive ethnic communities for those who want to do ethnic raise the costs of exit for those who want to assimilate.

This may not be a big problem for whites. Grillo Pluralism and the Politics of Difference cites studies suggesting that white people, who can be as ethnic or assimilated as they choose and, within limits, pick their ethnic group. In one study a large minority of white subjects put down different ethnic affiliations from one year to the next. But it's a real problem for members of visible minorities who don't have that choice.

It's also a problem for Indians, for the Amish, and for members of other cohesive communities. To maintain these communities intact, cultural preservationists have to jack up the costs of exit. Janet Halley in 'Culture Constrains' arguing against Kymlicka notes that when, e.g. Indian tribes hold land in common to prevent individuals from selling or leasing property to non-Indians in the interests of preserving the community as an Indian community, they make it difficult for individuals who want to get out since they have no equity in their property. For the same reason, when the Amish, licensed by Yoder, pull their kids out of school after 8th grade they make it very difficult for kids to earn a decent living in the outside world and so discourage exit.

People, especially plain vanilla people who can be as ethnic or non-ethnic as they like, and aren't stuck on the reservation or on the farm, imagine that multiculturalism expands individual options. I'm suggesting that when multiculturalism is for real--not what Stanley Fish calls "boutique multiculturalism"--it constrains individuals who want to assimilate.

Sanpete said...

Some policies that support cultural preservation raise the costs of exit; some don't. Not all policies that would support cultural preservation are acceptable to multiculturalists, including for many the denial of citizenship for Mexican workers. Why do you consider the only "real" multiculturalism to be the most restrictive kind?

I'm not among those who imagine that beneficial group cohesion of whatever kind (this doesn't only apply to what we normally think of as cultures) can always be achieved without some level of coercion. Should individuals have the right to become political sovereigns over their real property (i.e. to set up mini nations no longer bound by US law)? In all cases the benefits and costs for all concerned must be weighed against each other.

Judging from Halley's summary of Kymlicka's views on the Indian reservation issue, he is willing to defend the costs to individual liberty. I don't understand the way she summarizes his argument, so I won't try to defend it. This is a grey area for multiculturalists. Some would rule out the Indian reservation arrangement, some would defend it. I would try to to weigh the costs to the individuals against the goods the aspects of the reservation system in question secure. I'd be interested in knowing your view of what the Indians should do with their reservations, if you have one. Should they just allow them to be pieced out and overwhelmed into extinction? I'm not sure that's the wrong answer, but I can see why many would hesitate. I'd be interested in a system that gives individual ownership but limits sale to others within the group. Still restrictive, but not as much. But again, this isn't something that multiculturalism as such has any clear doctrine on.

H. E. said...

By "multiculturalism" I mean the "salad bowl" model of a society where diverse ethnic groups maintaining their separate identities interact peacefully without coalescing--what Sen calls "plural monoculturalism"--see The Uses and Abuses of Multiculturalism and Identity and Violence. See also Richard Thompson Ford Racial Culture: A Critique and Anthony Appih Color Conscious.

Of course there's an empirical question of what people want, and of adjudicating between conflicting wants. And not everyone can get what they want. Without going into the long story, I am betting that all other things being equal most people prefer to assimilate. That isn't feasible for everyone so there are people that have a stake in preserving distinctive cultural communities. If you have an 8th grade education, haven't paid into social security and for all practical purposes can't make it in the outside world, you are going to have a serious interest in seeing to it that your Amish community survives--and so see to it that all the young people don't just bail. Some people simply have a taste for a distinctive way of life. But other people want out and my bet is that they're in the majority.

In addition, some cultures are just crumby--they impose constraints on the people who live in them. We can't assume that people normally like their cultures.

I don't know enough about Indians to know what most want all other things being equal. But I can make an educated guess: I would bet that all other things being equal most would prefer to leave the reservation. If that's so you bet I believe reservations should be "pieced out and overwhelmed into extinction"-- because that doesn't mean killing off Indians: it means giving individual Indians a fair shot at getting what they want. The rhetoric of "extinction" and "cultural genocide" is extremely misleading.

Sanpete said...

You treat the alternatives as binary, assimilation or cultural preservation. Most multiculturalists want some of both. I believe the usual multicultural ideal is to have something more like a hearty soup (not overcooked), where cultures do interact a great deal but also maintain some unique identity. Sen uses "multiculturalism" in a way compatible with that, reserving "plural monoculturalism" for the view he criticizes. Within that soup ideal there may be some room for smaller cultures that may wish to remain more apart, I suppose, but as you point out, that's not all that common in the West. It wouldn't work as the standard arrangement within a cohesive nation. If you wish to criticize plural monoculturalism, it will be less confusing to call it by that name, but keep in mind few multiculturalists will wish to defend it as the ideal. It's not what multiculturalism is about.

My rhetoric was of the extinction of reservations, not Indians. I doubt the majority of Indians that are on reservations want to leave. Many have left, and it appears not to be all that hard to do despite the costs. But I'm not sure, you could be right. What should be done if the majority wants to stay? Are the arrangements raising the costs of exit then OK? I assume the answer is some kind of qualified yes, since the same question applies to the costs the US puts on certain exit options, such as options to turn one's property into a fully sovereign state or to join it to another sovereign state (the cost of either of which would be war).

I do believe that most people like their own culture on the whole. This shows in how they behave, even the ones who leave geographically. Among the reasons for this are that tastes and values are largely formed by culture, and a culture most people within it dislike on the whole tends to fall apart. Most people are unhappy with some aspects of their culture but don't wish to leave it, at least not completely. One index of the strength of a culture is how many people who could leave it completely stick around to try to reform it.

A side note on race: the Publishers Weekly nugget about Color Consciousness mentions the idea that race fails as a biological construct. It astonishes me that this nonsense persists. That there is no unique group of genetic markers for race doesn't show that there isn't a sensible biological definition and basis for race. It only shows that people need to acquaint themselves with the idea of family resemblance and perhaps other subtle ways of categorizing things to characterize it well.

H. E. said...

The issue for Sen, and for me, is the extent to which a social arrangement expands or restricts individual choice. If some individuals want to club together on the basis of ascribed, immutable characteristics that's ok so long as it doesn't restrict choice by (1) generating what Appiah calls "scripts" for all who have those characteristics and pressure on them to join the club in the interests of "authenticity" and (2) by making race/ethnicity the most salient social characteristic according to which people are classified.

As far as exit costs, where most people want to remain in the community there's no reason to raise them. The motivation for jacking up exit costs is to keep people who would rather get out inside in order to preserve a community that might otherwise disintegrate.

As far as I can see most people don't like their cultures any more than they like their telephone numbers. Culture is just a given which, in the normal course of events people don't think about or try to change. When there is a conflict--when, e.g. immigrants are suspended between an ancestral culture and the surrounding mainstream culture then the chief issue is learning the ropes--which is like memorizing your new telephone number and getting the message out to all your friends that your number has changed, which is a hassle.

BTW Appiah isn't claiming that there aren't genetic markets for race but rather that they don't have the large-scale ramifications that are associated with the concept of race. As a biological classification, race isn't useful and informative in the way that sex or species are.

Sanpete said...

I think most multiculturalists will be fine with the second point about not making race the most salient characteristic by which people are classified (in general). The first point is more problematic, and I'm not sure I understand it. It seems to me that any cohesive group that exists for some purpose will have scripts, and pressures to stick to them. And that's a good thing in general, assuming the group has a good purpose.

I'm not as confident as you about groups with a majority that wants to remain not needing pressures to keep things together. I won't go into all the reasons, but will point to the example I've been using. Very few Americans want to leave the US, but it's nonetheless important to have strict and severe pressures to prevent people from taking their land out of the national system. This amounts to pressure on us to stay in the country. Factors to consider include situations in which the loss of a minority of members can have a disproportionate negative effect on the majority.

I really don't think culture and telephone number are very analogous. People generally do love things about their cultures very much, often including language and literature and other arts, entertainments, intellectual and other traditions (including philosophy, which is very much a matter of culture). And many of the things it doesn't occur to them to love they nonetheless miss when they're gone. Not like a phone number. You underestimate the value of culture, even to yourself. Culture isn't just the things you hated about New Jersey. It's also a lot of things you took with you when you left. A lot of things.

Thanks for the info on Appiah's view. That race isn't as useful a concept as sex and species would hardly justify the claim that "the notion of race fails as a biological construct," the claim I was reacting to. As far as I know those aren't Appiah's words, and he might not make that claim, but it's the kind of nonsense that is regularly spread around about the concept. I heard again on NPR in the last couple weeks that race has no biological basis, which I take it Appiah wouldn't say either, not without major qualification. I would expect the concept of race to do work similar in usefulness to that of variety or population or the like. It's a sometimes useful biological concept that has also had very important cultural ramifications, out of proportion to the biological significance.

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