Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The “I” Word

One of the many faults of the mainstream press is their refusal to portray certain positions with the faintest shred of fairness or accuracy. In colloquial and cliched terms, the media is biased. This bias manifests itself in their exclusion from consideration any facts or viewpoints which do not conform to The Narrative.

This tendency is seldom more clear than on the subject of immigration. When discussing the issue, we are reminded of our “broken system”, “jobs Americans won't do”, “guest workers program”, as well as the general joys of vibrant diversity. The Narrative also precludes mentioning the dreaded “I” word when do to so might lead to hateful Crime Think.

I shall give two examples, both involving the state of California. I am too young to remember this, but there was, a time, evidently, when that state was a beacon of hope, and not the expensive, mismanaged mess it has become.  Anyway, the stories: the first discussed the crumbling infrastructure; the second, the ongoing drought. In neither story could I find a mention of the role played by millions of immigrants, many of them illegal. It would be foolhardy to blame a few million Mexicans for either problem, but the increase in population undoubtedly played a part and merits mentioning in the story.

Merely bringing this up is enough to be sentenced to wear a sanbenito, so strong is the choke hold that the media possesses. But the man who mentions such a connection is not revealing anything about his position on immigration; he is only noting the obvious. More people put more stress on roads as well as the water supply.

The Narrative exists to frame the bounds of acceptable discourse. By rendering any diversion from the talking points about magical immigrants heretical, the media renders a dignified discussion about the issue all but impossible. Which is, of course, the point.

Let us pretend that we wish to have such a discussion. The following points must be conceded. First, that a nation as wealthy as ours, and with generous welfare policies such as ours, must have an immigration policy. To allow everyone into the country would be suicidal. It would reduce this once proud nation to a bankrupt, third world basket case. Only a few fool economists actually recommend this outrageous position. Which is to say that either the keepers of The Narrative are horrible racist xenophobes, or else we have a position from which to start.

Second, a nation ought to prioritize the well-being of its citizens as against those of the world. The US military exists to protect us, not the people of any other country, unless it is in the interests of American citizens. So it should be with each and every program and preoccupation of the State. To this end, it is preposterous to suggest that at a time when the labor participation rate is the lowest it has been in decades, more cheap foreign labor should be imported. The government does not exist so that Mark Zuckerburg, Bill Gates, and other billionaires can purchase another yacht. Until average Americans are again becoming better off, to even talk about more immigration is not just insulting, it is treasonous.

Third, before we add another guest worker program, we need to understand those we have. It would be helpful if the media noted that guest worker programs already exist. John Derbyshire once tried to determine how many we had; he concluded that we had 12, or 20, depending on which count one used. As he further noted, why should we expect the next program to work if the others have failed?

We await sensible discourse on the subject of immigration. Perhaps next republic.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

On Divorce

Let's take a social problem, say, divorce. We know divorce is bad for children. We know it is bad for men. We know it is bad for women. We suspect that it is good for divorce attorneys. We know that it is, still, on the whole, bad for society. Hence, it would seem that it would be beneficial for society to try to minimize divorce. Yet there are a few factors that act against this impulse.

First, there is the appeal to anecdote. If, on the whole, divorce is known to be bad, people will nonetheless insist that they know someone who is better off after her divorce. Perhaps someone's Aunt Mable married a real low life who used to come home drunk and beat her and the children. Because divorce—or separation—may have been good for Aunt Mable, the argument by anecdote goes, we can make no qualitative judgments about divorce.

When one comes across evidence that bumps up against a blanket statement—and here, we extrapolate the anecdote into data—the correct thing is to alter the blanket statement, not toss it out altogether. Instead of: divorce is bad for wives, we may claim, divorce is bad for wives, except possibly for those who are beaten regularly by alcoholic husbands. But because we toss out the rule, rather than reformulate it, Aunt Mable causes us to invalidate the entire judgment. Social science is not physics; it speaks to general rules, true, for the most part, for a particular group of participants. The Law of Gravity brokers no exceptions; the Law of Divorce and Separation, plenty.

Second, the frequency of the incident, which impact the impetus to reform. Let us say that only a small portion of the populace, two percent, perhaps, is divorced. On the one hand, the infrequency of the occurrence means that the problem is comparatively insignificant. On the other, society can more easily move to ostracize the minority group.

This expression needs some unpacking. Our age, which prides itself on its tolerance—the veracity of which is a subject matter for another time—is fairly certain of two things. First, minority groups are to be praised. Second, ostracizing anyone is horrible. So to ostracize a minority group is the height of awfulness.

Of course, we do this all the time. Murderers are a distinct minority group. If all goes well, they are imprisoned, hopefully for life. This is a form of ostracism, though it is a good deal more besides. Now, I'm not in anyway comparing divorcees to murderers; I am simply pointing out that ostracizing a minority group is not, per se, illegitimate.

Thinking the matter over, it is almost impossible for a group that is not in the minority to be ostracized. If left handed individuals decided to ostracize right handers, the project would almost certainly fail. It is far more likely that right handed people could bring their power to bear against left handers than vice versa.

Once a group has reached, one will not say majority status, but some significant portion of the citizenry, it becomes harder to ostracize that group. After a few barbs from the left-handed, even the most maladroit right-handed individual will notice that he is not alone in his affliction. He will then either laugh it off, or turn the ostracism around.

We have not yet established the desirability of this strategy, merely some practical aspects of its application. Very briefly, we may dismiss the argument that ostracism does not work by reminding the reader of the American smoker. Whether or not he should have been shamed for his habit, there is no doubt he has been. Smoking has thus become less popular. At least some of the time, ostracism works.

Returning to our original example, so long as a small portion of the population was divorced, the majority could seek to exclude those who had worsened society through their divorces. In the case of our own country, that window has closed. For not only is close to half the population divorced, almost everyone knows someone who has been divorced. Even those of us who do not like divorce, who know how terrible it can be for all involved, will tend to soften when the potential subject of our ire is a close friend or a relative. Suddenly, every divorcee is another Aunt Mable. But society remains the worse all the same.

The takeaway, then, is to act before the prevalence of the problem renders effective action impossible. One waits, because there is always time, until there isn't. There is no scientific rule we can apply to know when to act. We can only know that waiting too long will prove disastrous. So it has been with our country and divorce. Fortunately, pendulums swing back—eventually.