Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dissecting the Immigration Debate

To me the immigration issue is both fascinating and extremely important for this country, and really for everyone in the world. The widespread immigration of people coming from lower-income areas to higher-income areas affects the entire world whether this be country to country immigration or rural to urban immigration within countries. So what the US is dealing with is just one of the many expressions of this that are going on everywhere, which to me makes it even more interesting.

But I want to look specifically at the debate on this issue, and the arguments used both by Democrats and Republicans, and I want to think specifically about the voters rather than the politicians - incidentally I am not sure which is more difficult - understanding the opinion of millions of Democrats and Republican voters, or understanding the opinion of a single Democrat or Republican candidate.

What is so fascinating about this debate is that it has layers that transcend party lines. For Democratic voters, the party is sympathetic to the most recent addition to our diverse "nation of immigrants." This would favor less detention and deportation and less crack-downs given the sympathy for the predicament that illegals are in. On the other hand they are a party that represents workers, and thus may have constituents that are worried about job security in light of a large increase in the labor supply - and an increase of workers who are more eager to work for lower wages. Speaking of wages, Democratic voters might not be as upset about the employment of illegal workers per se, but would be very upset if that employment means that the employer is paying less than minimum wage. This would favor more crackdowns on employers and may or may not lead to more detention and deportation.

Republicans I think are the opposite of the above. They are less sympathetic to illegals since they are not playing by the rules. I see Republican voters as highly respectful of the law and the rules of the game, moreso than Democrats. So this would favor more crackdowns, detentions etc. However Republicans are also the party of business and of employers, which means a reluctance to crack down on employers to root out illegals. This might apply more to the politicians than the voters however.

I am not sure whether the debate and the arguments thrown around are dictated by the media or by the presidential candidates, theoretically the media and the candidates are supposed to represent the views of the voters and advocate them, although it's hard to know who is influencing who. Take people like Lou Dobbs and Tom Tancredo. Democrats see these guys and then assume that all Republicans are alarmist about terrorism, the deterioration of American culture, and American workers losing their jobs to illegal and legal immigrants alike. Actually I would like to hear from a conservative or a Republican on this one. Do you agree with or identify with the arguments made by Lou Dobbs? Or is it more the respect for the law and the rules of the game that is behind most Republicans' "tougher" stance on the immigration issue?

Hopefully this post served to bring out only some of the nuances, maybe the surface nuances on this debate, and also served to illustrate why it is so hard to make progress on this front.

Don't Get Your Neurons in a Bunch

For some reason or accumulation of coincidences, I have been hearing a lot about scientific studies that attempt to explain individual behavior and predilections at the atomic level. The NYTimes reported a study on undecided voters and how their brains were stimulated by photos and videos of the candidates. And apparently there is a growing concern, now that we've mapped the Human Genome (a project which initially hoped to show how similar we all are), there are reports which prove that different races and ethnic groups are, in fact, not created equal. I tend to shrug these findings off. They are intriguing studies, to say the least, but they remain lacking, in my eyes -- for in science's desire to master the inner cosmos of our minds, it blinds itself to the actuality that in the end, we still reserve the power to lead ourselves to our fates, or at least be led by the world around us.

Hamlet once said, "There is a divinity that doth shape our ends/Rough hew them as we will." Now Hamlet, unfortunately was a character in a play and subject to the whims of his author/creator -- or in his words -- "a divinity". Luckily for us non-fictional heroes and heroins, we remain to a degree the authors of our own narratives. This is not to disregard the lot we are born into or the trials we face along the way through no fault of our own. What I'm trying to say is that our genetic makeup is not to us what Hamlet's "divinity" was to him. Each of us can overachieve or fall short of expectations (based on looks, intelligence, wealth, etc.); identical twins have free will to be a odds with one another. Or, in other words, a clone by any other name could turn out to be a completely different me. In fact, I might not like the guy altogether (personal note: my clone's a real jerk).

So, whether the controversial arguments in a book like The Bell Curve prove true -- and it turns out that East Asians are smarter than the rest of us, from a genetic standpoint -- it will end up being because they have a much better education system that they will bump us out of the number one slot. Whether I'm supposed to be attracted to a certain type of woman, I might end up with what could only objectively be called a dog, because the woman might be hilarious, or maybe I was just really vulnerable when we first met and my standards had gone way way down and I hadn't had steady work for a while and didn't feel good about that...

Basically, I don't like people telling me how it is, or worse, how I am supposed to be. And no matter what geographical and ethnic backgrounds we come from, or genetic schisms that divide us, we still retain the right to choose to be our own selves, each trying to shape our own ends together.