Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Nation of Immigrants

The debates over immigration are nothing new. The arguments have been around almost as long as there has been an independent country. In theory, they go something like this:

"Sure, we want people to come here. But we only want the good people, the people who have education and skills, who will contribute to our society and not drag it down, and who will assimilate into our culture. We should control who comes into the country."

Well, at least that's what they say. But the true driving sentiment is more like this:

"I don't want to compete in a job market with people willing to take a tenth of what I'm paid. I have a God-given right to my current lifestyle and standard of living and anything that threatens it is bad. Don't talk to me about the virtues of a free and open market -- I deserve to make this wage, because I was born here, and they don't, because they were born over there."

In general, I think everyone generally agrees with the theory and everyone is arguing over the underlying practice. I just wish everyone would stop acting like they were arguing over principle and acknowledge they are arguing over whose ox is getting gored.

I never understood trade protectionism, especially the anti-immigration kind. "We deserve good jobs at a living wage," say the workers. But . . . who said you had a right to a particular standard of living? Where is that written in the Constitution? What, exactly, made you think you had a right to live as you do? I mean, I love my lifestyle and I'm no more willing than anyone else to give it up . . . but at least I acknowledge that what I have is a blessing and a freak chance, not some divinely assigned right.

"Oh, yeah, right, but it's not your ox getting gored here," they might say. "You're not the one losing your job over this." But in the last few years, the programmers in Bangalore starting putting programmers like me out of jobs. I, too, am in a position of competing with people who will work for a tenth of what I do. Nobody is invulnerable to the global market.

What I find even more remarkable is that nobody who is carping about how these new workers are going to destroy their employment options seems to notice that these Mexican immigrants are thrilled to freaking death to work for the wages they find here. Poverty is in the eye of the beholder, and American eyes are dulled to what they really have. The fact that 95% of the world lives with vastly less than we do, and that even our poor are insanely wealthy by world standards, is simply unfathomable to the American mind. There is some little circuit in our brains that says, "Yeah, but that's them. I'm not some Ethiopean with a belly out to here, or a Chinese in sweat shop. I'm an American, for God's sake. These things don't happen to me." And somehow, our sense of privileged specialness never gets tested for rationality or sanity.



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