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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Immigration Policy: A Floating vs. Integrated Approach (excerpted from prior post)

The following is excerpted from my longer post on out-of-context thinking and rationalism, Objectivists Disintegrating?:    


PART 3

Contextual Principles Related to the Immigration Debate

In a recent immigration post where I criticized Dr. Harry Binswanger's open-borders position and argued for a an objective policy of immigration restriction, I claimed the main reason that the immigration debate has metastasized into a full blown intellectual battle is the lack of contextualized thinking with regard to the government's role in protecting individual rights in the context of a sovereign nation. 

1) Immigration Policy: Out-Of-Context, Rationalistic Approach

I have observed that most advocates of the "right to immigrate" argument start with an out-of-context, rationalistic assertion of individual rights from which they proceed to deduce conclusions. "Everyone has rights" they will begin, "and therefore, any immigrant should be able to immigrate here freely at any time for any reason."  This argument commits the fallacy of context-dropping on a massive scale, and more fundamentally, it fails to grasp that the concept of individual rights exists within a broader philosophical framework.  

If you take this rationalistic approach to upholding rights, consider how you would answer the following questions. Readers of this blog likely uphold freedom of production and trade, so should a private company have the right to sell advanced military technology or weapons to North Korea or Iran? Private property owners have the right to voluntarily trade and meet with other individuals, but can a private property owner bring in foreign nationals who carry a deadly virus?  Can a private property owner bring in and house thousands of communists who wish to overthrow the government - even assuming they don't have weapons on them right now? Could a private property owner who owns ocean frontage allow an enemy nation to dock its nuclear submarine fleet and board its military personnel? What if a group of property owners decide to import fifty million Islamic radicals who seek to take over local jurisdictions and impose Sharia law?  Should we allow China, India, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, Somalia, and Syria to relocate half of their populations to the United States if they so choose?

2) Practical Consequences of Non-Contextual Thinking Method in Immigration Debate

In the case where rights are asserted as a floating abstraction, one cannot answer the questions I posed except in a way that ends with bizarre and contradictory conclusions.  "People have the right to movement," utters the out-of-context rationalist, "so anyone can come here at any time without restriction."  "People have the freedom to produce and trade," says the rationalist, "so anyone can sell anything to anybody, even to dangerous enemies."  Well, what if they have disease?  What if they are criminals?  What if fifty million third world migrants wish to come to a state that has three million people with the goal of imposing Sharia law?  Is that fair to your neighbor citizens?   

When faced with these types of questions, the rationalist, sensing something wrong, will often revert to a contradictory position where they advocate some minimal restrictions for "disease or criminal record."  But, if you drop the context of citizenship and sovereignty, how can that position square even with their floating notion of rights?  If their position is "everyone has the same rights" then how could they justify stopping someone with disease?  After all, can an American citizen be stopped or deported for disease?  Can an American with a criminal record be deported?  On the other hand, if you do support the idea of immigration restrictions, in principle, then how can you assail or smear a fellow proponent of immigration restrictions who may just have a different standard of restriction than you?  

Again, not only does this contradictory position amount to an admission of the need for immigration restrictions, but, such restrictions imply the need for a means of enforcement, a border with controls!  You cannot say "I don't believe in any border control" but, at the same time, claim, "I want to keep out diseased terrorists." How?! 

Consider another example of rationalistic context-dropping. Often the open border advocate asks, "if a person peacefully immigrates which right of yours is violated?"  Note that the question smuggles in the assumption that all immigration is peaceful. Of course, the entire question revolves around what is peaceful immigration and what is not. Screening is needed precisely to ensure that all prospective immigrants are, in fact, peaceful.

3) Immigration Policy: An Inductive, Contextualized Approach\

Of course, those who simply hold the "people have rights" principle as a floating abstraction either cannot answer these questions, or must answer them in a way that flies in the face of common sense.  Instead, let's consider the question inductively, i.e., let's ask what facts give rise to the concept of government and sovereignty in the first place so we can apply the concept in practical situations and easily answer the questions posed above.

Individuals possess rights, by virtue of being human, but the fact is that individuals must take specific actions in order to protect those rights in a social context.  Rights are not respected out of thin air by some mystical universal tribunal.  People must create and sustain the actual means through which they attempt to protect the rights to which they are entitled.

When a group of property owners and individuals agree to form a government to protect each other's rights and provide for the common defense, they create a sovereign "nation" by virtue of that agreement (like the thirteen colonies did under the U.S. Constitution).  They grant the government certain enumerated powers, and that particular government is created by and for those particular people - the citizens.  That particular government can take many different forms but, in essence, it is the framework by which those particular people choose to protect their rights.

Those people and their government are a sovereign nation, and one of the primary functions for which individuals voluntarily create a government in the first place is to protect themselves, collectively, from foreign threats or invasion.   Therefore, they freely elect and grant power to government to represent them in order to deal with laws, treaties, and military affairs as it pertains to foreign nations or foreign nationals. The threats and various conflicts stemming from foreign relations can take different forms and a foreign policy must be defined and implemented, to fairly and objectively deal with foreign threats while respecting the rights of their own citizens.

Note the flow here.  It starts with property owners and citizens seeking to protect their rights by forming a government within their lands.  The people, through their representative government, then look out at the world and say "how do we protect ourselves from the rest of the world's bad guys (who are not part of our nation), while dealing beneficially with good guys?"

4) Practical Consequences of Contextual Thinking Method in Immigration Debate

Now consider the answer to the original questions from the perspective of an integrated, contextual understanding of individual rights. 

Recall, the whole reason for setting up a government is to provide the citizens an agency of self-defense against domestic criminals and foreign invaders, the latter being the subject of immigration.  The need to define and implement policies to protect citizens from foreign invasion is the purview of the elected government and its foreign policy. 

One of the primary functions of the national government is the protection of the country from foreign threats.  When immigration is rightly seen as part of our nation's foreign policy, it becomes obvious that to advocate protecting ourselves from enemies abroad based on rational foreign policy concerns, while not concerning ourselves with potential enemies crossing our own border, is a wild contradiction.  Both aspects of defense are crucial and complementary.

I discuss immigration specifically in this context here (all of my immigration posts are linked here).  In those posts, I define "threat" in the foreign policy context, and stress the necessity to identify such threats contextually since the nature of any given threat changes over time.  Any nation, group, or individual that has both motive to destroy us (e.g., communists, Islamists, etc.) and the means to accomplish it, constitutes a real threat.  Consequently, a reasonable and desirable goal of foreign policy is to identify objectively hostile ideologies which serve as motives for attack, and to assess other nations' or groups' military ability to achieve an attack. That is the job of the defense and intelligence agencies.

In discussing this issue, one must consider the fact that immigration can change the very composition of the electorate and thus change or overthrow the very institutions empowered to protect its citizens, and so occupies a special category which overrules purely economic considerations.  As I did in my post, one must consider the types of threats contextually in different parts of the world over time, the issue of mass migration versus individual migration (which involves aggregate vs. individual considerations), cultural assimilation, the context of the modern mixed-economy, and so on.  Additionally, this issue should be explored not only with these facts in mind, but integrated with facts from our nation's history and founding which further inform the discussion.

Such an approach was taken by Dr. Peikoff, in a podcast from several years ago, where he advocated for restricted immigration due the fact that third world migrants stand to empower the left further if they get the vote.  This is exactly the type of real world threat that should be considered by the citizens of a country in directing its own government to protecting the existence of their government. 

Failing to consider these facts and conditions and asserting something to the effect of "people have rights therefore open borders" is a complete breach of rational epistemology.  To further compound the error by leveling charges of bigotry or xenophobia at rational opponents, involves an even more egregious and vicious default.  Yet, this is exactly what has happened within the Objectivist movement.    

4 comments:

Peter Smith said...

This feels like deja vu because I swear I've read and responded to something very similar to this post on this very blog before.
Basically you are dropping context in order to try and find justification for regulating non-rights violating action like mere immigration while accusing those making the correct arguments of dropping the context.

""Everyone has rights" they will begin, "and therefore, any immigrant should be able to immigrate here freely at any time for any reason." This argument commits the fallacy of context-dropping on a massive scale"
No it doesn't. That's the correct argument. Let me rephrase it for you: individual rights only apply in the context of politics and if you are not violating anyone's rights, like if you're just immigrating somewhere, for example, then you should be free to do so with no state coercion.
This doesn't mean immigrants have the right to commit any crimes (rights violations), just like because you can run a private enterprise doesn't mean you can knowingly sell weapons to NK or import diseased people. How did you ever get this confused about the very basics?

Immigration, just like running a private business and free association in and of themselves are not rights violations and people should be free to do these things. That doesn't mean these people are free to commit crimes, which would require actual rights to be violated.

Basically immigration is the biggest non-issue in political history. Conservatives have gone all in on it because they are politically illiterate, religious leftists and have no idea what's going on.

Objectivists should know better.

The Rat Cap said...

Peter Smith,

As usual, your comment represents such an utter disregard and lack of comprehension of what I wrote, that I hesitate to dignify it with a response. I would suggest you re-read the articles I've written, but, of course, I don't think it would matter in the slightest. You're the poster child for the type of context-dropping, rationalistic mentality to which I'm referring.

For others new to this blog, let me only point out two glaring problems that are typical of this type of argument. You say "like if you're just immigrating somewhere, for example, then you should be free to do so with no state coercion." Really? So you recognize no border whatsoever? Anyone, literally anyone, can cross a sovereign border at any time for any reason? So, if 500 million people showed up on the border or 5 billion, just let them in because they have the "right?!" Free people do not have the right to defend their own border - a border voluntarily created by virtue of their joint agreement to provide for a common defense (their government)? Do you not recognize the principle of self-defense, a significant tenet of Objectivist political theory and, uh, common sense? "State coercion" applies to the initiation of violence, not self-defense. I don't think the most dyed-in-the-wool anarchist would advocate such a position.

You say, "Basically immigration is the biggest non-issue in political history. Conservatives have gone all in on it because they are politically illiterate, religious leftists and have no idea what's going on."

To someone such as yourself who doesn't recognize the principle of sovereignty and who does not consider the implications of such a position, it's fully consistent that you would see it as a non-issue, just as a communist who doesn't recognize private property would regard "theft" as a non-issue, or a psychopathic serial killer would regard "murder" as a non-issue. For proof of your preposterous claim, which I refute thoroughly in all my articles, you offer only a smear - that I am a "politically illiterate religious leftist" who has no idea "what's going on." Well, if you are the representative for Objectivism and this is your case, God help them.

Peter Smith said...

"As usual, your comment represents such an utter disregard and lack of comprehension of what I wrote, that I hesitate to dignify it with a response"
Yea you said that last time but you're just projecting your own total confusion over what is a simple issue onto me.

"You're the poster child for the type of context-dropping, rationalistic mentality to which I'm referring. "
You're just saying objectivist sounding phrases which you don't actually understand. What context do you think I dropped? If you could say to me, "Peter we've just declared war on Iran and Saudi Arabia and for the duration we will shut down our borders to anyone from the Middle East" then yes, you could say I've dropped context. But that's not the case. There is no foreign policy plan to deal with terrorism. Just statists using the threat of terrorism to justify expanding rights violating government further. Like I said, the only one actually dropping/evading the context of the situation is you.

"So you recognize no border whatsoever?"
No, I just don't recognize it as some magical place where the government suddenly gets to violate rights. Certainly not without some temporary situation requiring it to do so like a declaration of war against somebody. Look, you travel to work every day without having to be stopped for papers don't you? This should be the same if you were travelling to work across a border between two countries.

"So, if 500 million people showed up on the border or 5 billion, just let them in because they have the "right?!""
That's not an example of "immigration". Not even you know what you're describing there. Perhaps you're confusing refugees with immigrants, but these are two very different issues. This is part of the problem of discussing immigration, all those who feel as strongly as you do about it don't seem to have a clear picture of what you think you're actually fighting for or against.

"it's fully consistent that you would see it as a non-issue, just as a communist who doesn't recognize private property would regard "theft""
It's the other way around. I don't play essay-long word games to try and justify violating rights. Don't project you're similarities to communists onto me.

"To someone such as yourself who doesn't recognize the principle of sovereignty"
Again you're the one who doesn't recognize the "principle of sovereignty" because you are arguing for rights violations.

"For proof of your preposterous claim, which I refute thoroughly in all my articles, you offer only a smear - that I am a "politically illiterate religious leftist" who has no idea "what's going on.""
That was directed at conservatives not you, but yes you don't understand basic objectivist concepts because you're trying to reverse engineer a position you've already decided on to fit objectivism, instead of finding the correct objectivist position on the issue by being principled.

Peter Smith said...

I've been thinking about how to properly actually explain what you've gotten so very wrong and here's what I've got:
You know how in the normal, day-to-day course of business we don't have random police checkpoints all over the place stopping everyone? Why not? Is it because we've all "dropped the context" of crime? No, it's because it would be a gross violation of peoples rights. Now in the event that there is a man-hunt, the police would announce the situation, setup road blocks and stop everyone randomly checking their ID's, etc for the duration of the crisis. This would all be temporary and end once the crisis is over.
The same thing at the borders. During the normal day-to-day state of affairs there should be no hassling of anyone, but in the event we declare war or there's some disease outbreak then it would make sense to setup checkpoints or even close the border for the duration of the crisis.

Now, just because in crisis situations the government can rightly do these things, it doesn't mean that they can do them IN ALL situations.

So what we have is anti-immigrant people like you are dropping any context in which the kind of regulations you are calling for can be justified and rationalizing this away by pretending you're fighting terrorism. You are then writing on your blog accusing others of doing exactly what you have done in terms of context dropping and rationalization.