That truth should be silent I had almost forgot.
Antony and Cleopatra, Act 1, Scene 2
February 14, 2017
Immigration and ideas
By RONALD N. NEFF
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If the entire United States magically became a free-market anarchism overnight, would it be overrun by Muslims, Chinese, and Mexicans the next day?
Just as, if the Federal Reserve magically disappeared, the financial structure of the United States would be plunged into chaos, and everyone (not you, of course, but everyone else) would start issuing his own worthless money.
It's a good thing, then, that we live in a world where change doesn't happen magically, where change takes place and can only take place over time. And where the existence of time presupposes the existence of change.
I have written before that a free-market society without a government has a natural protection against the problems attendant on immigration, and that that protection is called property rights and the right of association. In a society where men own their own property and are permitted to choose with whom they will share their time and their wealth, there is no immigration problem.
I would ask anyone who doubts it whether he locks the doors to his home and garage, and whether he considers that to be adequate protection of his personal property. For a handful of purposes, even that much is not necessary. For most purposes, it will do. In some circumstances it is not sufficient; more serious measures are necessary. And in some circumstances, there is no such thing as adequate protection, and no measures will suffice.
Most people are comfortable leaving their hat and coat unattended in a library. Some are comfortable leaving them unattended even at a restaurant. Hardly anyone would be comfortable leaving a purse or wallet. And probably no one would leave his smart phone behind and unlocked anywhere.
The simple fact is that most of what we wish to protect in this vale of tears is protected by the way other people think. When I am at my local McDonald's and I order a breakfast bagel at 11:30 am, and the little girl behind the counter tells me that bagels are not available after 10:30, what protects her from my reaching across the counter and smashing her in the face?
Unless she is trained in the martial arts or is extraordinarily agile, nothing. Nothing except her innocent belief in the dominant ways that people will behave in her society. Nothing except my sense that it is wrong to go smashing little girls in the face just because ... well, at all. She may be protected from savage pummeling by the fact that any number of people will rush to her aid, but what will impel that? Again, nothing. Nothing except the idea that most people share that violence is in general a pretty bad thing, and that the innocent and helpless and relatively weak should be protected from it.
What protects her is not public policy. What protects her is not who won the most recent election. What protects her is not even the Glock that the regular customer over in the corner carries concealed beneath his jacket. What protects her is mightier than all of them; it is an idea.
The same girl, somewhat small, a little chubby, probably a little weak, maybe not very bright, can ride a bus or subway without fear of being raped like some schoolgirl in a Japanese porn video. People just don't do those things. The idea does not even occur to most of them.
And when we see such little girls being molested, punched, or even robbed, we know that some fissure in society has appeared a fissure of the mind. Someone in the society is somehow not thinking the way we expect him to think. He has ideas that do not fit in. They are an eruption of discord, the mental and societal equivalent of a rupture in the tectonic plates. We have only three ways to be protected from such a person: change his ideas, restrain him, or kill him. The first one works only long before his idea-fissure has appeared. The second works only if it exists in the form of self-restraint, as part of his make-up, as it were some massive giant straining to hold the plates in place while temblors would split them. Otherwise the second, like the third, can work only after the fissure has already opened up.
If no one comes to the girl's aid, we know that an even greater idea-fissure has opened, and that our world is bereft of massive giants. If afterwards people argue that after all, little girls should not travel alone on buses and subways, and if they do, what happens to them is their own fault (which some may say because they do not wish to offend her attackers), we know that yet a greater idea-fissure has opened. And if such fissures become commonplaces, the society itself has ceased to be human and is in collapse. It is no longer a society painted by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, but has become a nightmare painted by Jackson Pollock. It has ceased to be an impromptu composed by Bach and has become a horror composed by Ned Rorem.
In other words, as should be obvious, we are surrounded by ideas, and they govern our own choices and those others make. If we want to prevent the country from being overrun by Muslims, Chinese, or Mexicans, the only means of doing it politically is to restrain them or kill them. Each is a form of warmaking because both require that some people do what they do not wish to do, and those who want them to do it have eschewed persuasion and enticement as tools. But there is an even worse flaw in the political solution: unless you hold political power, your ideas are irrelevant. The exercise of political power means that some must accept the choices of others, whether they wish to or not.
In an interview he gave to Life magazine, Boris Pasternak said of Soviet bureaucrats, "They don't ask much of you. They only want you to hate the things you love and to love the things you despise." What was true of Soviet bureaucrats is true of everyone who resorts to force. But that is less than half of it. They also want you to embrace what you disbelieve and deny what you do believe. And to pay them to make you do it.
Those who want "tougher laws" or who want to build a wall should have learned by now that they cannot depend solely on political power. In the "sanctuary city" movement, what we see is how weak political power can be if a large number of people simply refuse to cooperate with the enforcement of legal commands. And any wall built by one administration can be torn down by the next. "Tougher laws" passed or enforced by one administration can be repealed or ignored by another.
So one way or another, it is only ideas that will regulate the flow of immigration. If you are one of those who think that free immigration is a welcome development, your vision of what life should be like can be realized only if there are sufficiently many who share your ideas. And we see, do we not, that "sufficiently many" does not mean "all of them." It does not even have to mean "most of them."
If you are one of those who think that free immigration creates problems for society, your vision of what life should be like can be realized only if there are sufficiently many who share your ideas. Walls will not protect your vision. Tough laws will not protect it. Even the restoration of real property rights and the right of association will not protect it. If "sufficiently many" of your neighbors think differently, you will live in the society their choices create.
It does your vision of the good society no good to keep immigrants off your property if nearly everyone around you welcomes them. It does your vision of the good society no good if you open your gates while nearly everyone else closes his.
If you want to prevent your society from being overrun by Muslims, Chinese, or Mexicans, you will have to get other people to change their mind. "Sufficiently many," in fact. If that undertaking is simply too difficult, if there is no time for that solution, then there is no solution. If the solution that will work is blocked or not undertaken, no other solution will do its job.
Change takes time. It may be that force can buy time. But the only price for time anyone has ever found requires that someone's ideas be subordinated to others'. The only way to buy time is to steal it, and in the world of politics, if you are not in power, it will be stolen from you. Ω
February 14, 2017
Published in 2017 by WTM Enterprises.
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