The little dust-up following Monday’s post was not, I’m afraid, this site’s finest hour, and I certainly take responsibility for doing a poor job as moderator. I had written the post during the day and evening Sunday, and put it up on Monday around lunchtime. There were a few responses early on, but I was ill-prepared for the onslaught on Tuesday, when over 80 comments — many of them long and bristling with links — poured in. I was at work, and was not in a position to keep up.
There are some topics that are so highly charged that whenever they come up, particularly in the blogosphere, interlocutors are driven by an irresistable repulsion toward one or the other pole — and it would be hard to think of a better example than the subject of race and immigration. The left sees those on the right as despicable racists, lacking the most basic human fellow-feeling, and the right sees those on the left as contemptible fools who, blinded to the documented realities of human nature by their pie-in-the-sky idealism, are deliberately complicit in the destruction of the West. Each side tends just to preach at and lecture the other, as was amply demonstrated here, and the tone usually starts off as what we might charitably call “confrontational”, and deteriorates from there. I think it is probably safe to say that in all of the terabytes of such “debates” that must, by now, be stored in the capacious indices of the Web, not a single mind has ever been changed.
I am susceptible to this also: I don’t like being talked down to, being sneered at, and having my words deliberately misinterpreted, and I certainly got more than a little prickly myself, and finished off on a nasty and sarcastic note. For that I apologize. This was the first time in the 1,243 posts I have written for this website that I have ever shut off comments, but the conversation had deteriorated, I thought, to the point of real ugliness. (It did not have to descend far, to get there, from where it began.) Almost none of our regular commenters were inclined to join in (many emailed me to explain why), and those who did, didn’t stay long. I was plainly a very poor host. I have never had to use comment-moderation here before, but it would have been appropriate in this case. Despite the ruinously unpleasant tone, though, there were many serious and important points brought out by many of the commenters.
I find myself in a sort of middle position on the issues we tried to discuss, which is, of course, an awkward place to be, as you don’t please anybody, and you get it from both sides. I’m going to sum up my own view, very, very briefly, once again, just for clarity’s sake. If you think I am a fool, that’s fine, and possibly you are right. You needn’t come rushing back in here right away to tell me, though; I heard you the first time.
America is founded on a core set of cultural principles that are essentially Western.
The country’s greatest strength has been that despite its heterogeneity it has managed to preserve these core principles more or less intact.
This has been possible because those who have come here from foreign shores have, until recently, generally assimilated successfully into the national culture — and for the most part gladly so.
One of the most important bonds of American cultural unity is our common English language. There is nothing so fundamentally disunifying as differences of language; without the shared metaphorical framework that a common language provides, real national solidarity is hopeless.
In the past 40 years or so there has been an enormous increase in immigration from cultures that are far from the Western root-stock of our own. When so many arrive at once from such distant destinations, the pressure to assimilate is weakened. The problem is made far, far worse by the “chain” effect by which relatives are admitted, and then their own relatives, without any regard to any criteria whatsoever. Meanwhile, porous borders have admitted an enormous, illegal, shadow population that adds enormously to the strain.
The problem has also been made worse, dangerously so, by the rise of radical multiculturalism as a political dogma of the Left. There is a perilous self-reinforcing effect: more multiculturalism leads to poorer assimilation, while poorer assimilation leads to more deeply entrenched multiculturalism.
Meanwhile, however, in many places in America, there is now far greater harmony, and far less antipathy, between racial groups than ever before. (Whether this is in fact true was a point of contention in Monday’s thread — and of course there is still far to go — but I think it is clearly, obviously the case.) That millions of white people would vote for a mixed-race president would have been inconceivable 50 years ago. A great many people feel that the hatred and mistrust that separated the races in America is truly beginning to dissolve, and that this election is occasion for real hope, and real joy. America has, after all, been a multiracial country since the earliest days, and the descendants of slaves and “coolies” have been here all along. They are as American as any white people are, and we can either learn to get along, to see each other as fellow human beings, and move forward together, or just keep on hating each other till the end of our days.
That this softening of antipathy has happened shows that it is possible: that the structure of human relations is affected by nurture as well as nature, that acculturation can actually make a difference. This is a hopeful fact, because were it otherwise we would be doomed, both within our borders and as one nation in a crowded and shrinking world, to endless misery and strife. (Of course, endless misery and strife might still be where the smart money goes, but at least there’s some evidence that there are other possibilities.) It also means that our attitude matters: if we approach each other with enmity and distrust, we will be repaid in the same coin. I don’t mind sounding corny here: hate begets hate, and love begets love. (If you are one of those who are fond of reminding us that Christianity is a pillar of Western culture, the idea, hopelessly naive though it may be, may sound vaguely familiar.)
But these unifying gains can easily be, and arguably are already being, swamped by a rising tide of unassimilated immigrants. The US is under no more obligation than any other nation on earth — most of which have extremely restrictive immigration policies — to admit citizens of other countries. In order to stabilize our fragile domestic gains we would do well, I think, to sharply restrict immigration, remove a great many who are already here illegally, and to admit only those — in very small numbers, for now at least — whom we think will be genuine assets, and who are seriously interested in joining our richly spiced, but essentially Western, culture.
How shall we determine who those people are? That’s a fair and important question, and I do not have a detailed answer. But there are a few obvious criteria that would make good starting points: familiarity with English, exceptional skills or aptitudes, and so forth. I expect we ought to be clever enough to develop some reliable profiling method; certainly anything would be an improvement over no criteria at all, which is essentially the situation at the moment. Failing that, a complete moratorium would be wiser than our present course.
I do not, however, think that race per se is the right criterion, for the reasons I outlined in Monday’s post.
These are essentially the same views I tried to explain in the original post and comments; it seemed, at least to some, that I had done a poor job of expressing them. If so, I hope this second try helps.
These is an extremely difficult topic. The stakes are very high, and the issues are fraught with enormous moral, political, and cultural significance. I have no doubt that all of those who have here expressed, even in anger and outrage, their opinions, have done so out of a genuine interest in finding the right course for America.
I won’t block comments to this post, but I will say: if you do decide to comment, please be thoughtful; please be civil. Do not lecture each other, and do not assume the worst of each other. Try to exchange ideas as if you were with friends or co-workers; as if you actually cared about preserving an amicable relationship. Try to learn as well as teach; don’t just try to score points. (I promise to do the same.) If that is too difficult, then please — I’m asking you nicely here — don’t comment at all. I will have very little opportunity over the next few days to join in, but I will do so as time permits.
If nobody wants to comment at all, that’s fine too. Maybe better, even.