Tag Archives: debating tactics

The Use of Race As An Argumentative Tactic

Advocates of immigration reform occasionally feel tempted to use accusation of racism as an argumentative tactic. Most recently Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Attorney General Eric Holder, and other high ranking Democrats have suggested that the reason their Republican counterparts oppose immigration reform is due to the race of most migrants.

There is certainly a subset of open border opponents that could be classified as racists and oppose open grounds either due to a belief that migrants taint their superior race or that racial homogeneity is itself desirable and  migrants pose a danger to this. Even if this is the case calling out our opponents as racists is counterproductive.

Accusing opponents of racism is a poor argumentative strategy because it antagonizes them. More importantly this strategy antagonizes those who were previously sympathetic but who identify with open border opponents. In the current immigration debate in the United States it causes pro-reform Republicans to defend their peers out of political tribalism. Open border advocates in the US are reminded that several leading Republicans support immigration reform including: the Bush family, Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham, Governor Rick Perry, and many others. Using race as an argumentative tactic could very well cost us these allies.

In an earlier post Vipul Naik discusses similar points to these and elaborates on why accusations of racism make for poor argumentation. I agree with Naik that accusing open border opponents of racism directly is poor strategy, but leading your opponent to reveal themselves as racists might be good strategy if done properly.

In argumentation one is considered to have conceded a point to their opponent if they do not attempt to refute claims made. As such, while I do not favor directly calling our opponents racist, I do not believe we should implicitly concede to them that migrants and natives are significantly different from one another culturally.  A better tactic would be to emphasize that migrants aren’t significantly different from the native population and that it is the burden of our opponents to prove otherwise.

For example I personally advocate that the largest current migrant group to the United States, Hispanics, are ‘westerners’ and that the perceived differences between Hispanics and natives are smaller than they first appear. I use the term ‘westerner’ here to refer to a set of cultural pillars that are associated with Western Europe and those nations that have been influenced by the region through colonialism or other forms of prolonged cultural exchange. This includes the Americas, Australia, and certain regions of Africa and Asia such as South Africa and Japan respectively.

The United States views itself primarily as a ‘western’ nation, but what is considered ‘western’ and who is considered ‘western’ varies throughout time. There was a time when the Irish, Germans, and other Europeans weren’t seen as westerners and only Christian Anglo-Saxons from the United Kingdom and their American descendants fit the bill.  Jews weren’t considered westerners even if their ancestry was firmly entrenched in the US or the United Kingdom, but today they too are considered westerners.

The definition of ‘westerner’ has since changed and will continue to change but today the major prerequisites are:

As I often remind friends who are skeptical about open borders, Hispanics are primarily Christian and speak a European language (Spanish, Portuguese, or English) as a native tongue. Hispanics all come from countries where republicanism is the norm. Mexico and Brazil both experimented with monarchies in their early histories, but have long since been staunch republics. The only extant monarchies in the Americas are Canada and the Anglo Caribbean.  A Queen of Jamaica exists, but no Hispanic country recognizes a monarch over them.

United States popular culture prevails throughout Latin America. Fidel Castro once remarked that Mexican children knew Disney characters better than their own history. The comment offended Mexican officials but it was made with merit. No one in my extended family, most of whom were born and raised in Mexico, know that Mexico was ruled by Emperor Maximilian during the early 19th century. They can easily list Disney characters and keep up with the latest American fads though. In my family’s defense the 2010 Civics Report Card released by the US Department of  Education showed that US residents weren’t that well versed in civics. Arguably this shared disdain for civics with their northern cousins is another example of how Hispanics are a western people.

Hispanics are westerners  as far as religion, politics, linguistics, and popular culture are concern. I further argue that the third largest current migrant groups in the United States, Indians, are also westerners.

The Indian subcontinent was invaded and colonized extensively by European powers beginning in the 16th century. British Raj reached its peak during the 19th and 20th centuries. The Indian subcontinent was ruled by European powers for nearly half a millennium and only recently did it gain independence in the form of various polities, the largest being the Union of India. By no means should this post be taken to mean that European colonization of the Indian continent was morally right. However it cannot be denied that it changed the subcontinent and left it western character.

Politically India is the world’s largest democracy, a title that it has openly embraced. The last vestiges of India’s attachment to monarchy were severed in 1950 when a republic was proclaimed.

India today has twenty two official languages and several more with varying degrees of recognition. The working language of the Indian Union however is English with 350 million speakers, most of whom speak it as a second language. Hindi, the official language of the Union, has a larger amount of speakers at 422 million. Despite this English enjoys a preferential status as it is a neutral language that doesn’t favor any linguistic group and facilitates trade abroad.

Knowledge and use of English among Indian migrants in the US is greater still. According to the US Census’ 2012 American Community Survey approximately 80% of Indians in the US speak English ‘very well’. This is superior to the Mexican community’s 68% or Argentine’s 74%. These results shouldn’t be surprising as migrants self-select and those most likely to migrate and settle in the United States long term are those most likely to already have a deposition to become western.

The only measure by which Indians fail to qualify as westerners is in terms of religion. Arguably this is the least important qualifier as Judeo-Christianity is being challenged by secularism for dominance in the west. Linguistically English still enjoys a favorable position in India proper and among Indian migrants in the US. It is extremely doubtful that India will be trading its democracy for a new Mughal Empire anytime soon. As a matter of fact India is currently engaging in an five-week national election consisting of 814 million voters.

None of this should be misunderstood to mean that there are not differences among the world’s cultures. My point here is that we should emphasize similarities instead of differences when discussing immigration policy. As an argumentative tactic we should force our opponents to elaborate on what they mean by cultural differences and fight them for every inch. If they claim that Hispanics are different because they speak Spanish instead of English let us ask if they have similar views in regards to Germans. Germans are the United States’ largest ancestry group in no small part due to massive migration and various German languages still persist to this day, including Pennsylvania Dutch among the Amish people. If our opponents claim their concern is that Hispanics are primarily Catholics, ask them if they have similar views towards the Irish or ask them to elaborate on which sect of Christianity they believe the United States should adopt. Mormon?

It is well possible that our opponents will retort that they would have opposed both German and Irish migration. This is okay. If our opponents do this they will isolate those of German and Irish descent who might otherwise have been inclined to listen to them.  Ultimately the goal of public debate is not to convince an opponent but to persuade the minds of those yet undecided or who are on the fence.

Asking an opponent to elaborate on how migrants and natives are different culturally is a good tactic when an immigration debate moves away from economics and towards culture as it causes opponents to attempt to get specific without offending natives who fail to meet the prerequisites for being considered western. In comparison calling our opponents racist ends the conversation or isolates those who might otherwise be sympathetic to open borders.

When using this tactic one should attempt to make it clear that they don’t necessarily support basing migration policy on whether a group is western or not. Co-blogger Chris Hendrix has addressed this issue previously. The purpose of this tactic is to get your opponent to expend energy on detailing on what grounds migrants are different from natives culturally and to hopefully have him isolate himself.

Finally, when using this argumentative tactic one should not forget to make the economic case for open borders. Immigration debates tend to start off discussing the economics of immigration. If the open borders advocate makes a strong economic case then the debate will move onto more abstract reasons for opposing open borders, including the above concerns of cultural differences between migrants and natives. If the debate takes this turn then using the above tactic can be useful. However if the open border advocate fails to make a compelling economic case then he should not move onto other areas. This tactic should be used to supplement, not substitute, the economic case for open borders.

Open borders advocates: guilty of the “not as bad as” fallacy?

RationalWiki‘s page on not as bad as describes it as a form of the moral equivalence fallacy:

There are a few different reasons someone will want to pull a “not as bad as” comparison. Consider a generic argument about something, A, and the reasoning below:

B happened, and is worse than A.
Therefore A is justified.

This is the most blatantly fallacious form of the argument and is a hindsight version of the “not as bad as” argument that states past actions can legitimise current actions. The existence of a worse atrocity in the past, however, does not actually justify anything – it merely points out that there have been similar things in the past. People who use this as a justification may be well aware that it’s logically fallacious, and use it purely as rhetoric, or as a distraction.

Open borders advocates often critique restrictionists using arguments like the master race critique from Bryan Caplan: they critique restrictionists for being unduly obsessed with the plight of the poor in the developed world, whose poverty is not as bad as the poverty of poor people in other parts of the world, or the poverty of poor people historically. Are open borders advocates committing the “not as bad as” fallacy, by trivializing, ignoring, and justifying inaction regarding the plight of the poor in the developed world, just because others have it worse?

I don’t think so. If it were the case that open borders advocates are shrugging off the harms to poor natives from immigration citing that things were worse for others, without noting any offsetting benefits to others, then this would be an example of the fallacy. However, in addition to their moral arguments, open borders advocates explicitly note their belief that open borders generate more benefits, particularly for people who may be much poorer than the poor in the developed world — in other words, poor people that the egalitarian or worldwide Rawlsian should be more concerned about. The harm wrought to poor natives is thus inextricably linked to the benefit to poorer non-natives; the inextricable link between these is what makes this a non-fallacy.

RationalWiki agrees later in the page that there is a valid form of the argument that is not fallacious, but adds further caveats:

Action B is worse than action A.
Therefore action A is the right thing to do.

This is perhaps the most valid comparison that can be drawn if discussing two courses of action that can be taken, but like most “not as bad as” arguments potentially suffers from the fallacies of the false dichotomy and argument from adverse consequences. If the argument is about ranking things from bad to worse then it’s fine; but you cannot justify A by citing only B because the two may not have anything to do with each other. This is common if Secret Option C is actually the best, but someone wants to make a red herring to avoid anyone spotting its existence.

Again, in this case, open borders advocates have proposed for consideration various versions of “Secret Option C” that could be win-win for all parties — namely, keyhole solutions such as immigration tariffs, guest worker programs, and my co-blogger Nathan Smith‘s elaborate DRITI scheme. This does not mean that all open borders advocates sign on to these keyhole solutions as truly necessary; often their signing on is in a spirit of compromise. For instance, here’s what my co-blogger John Lee said in a comment on his own post:

Thanks Nathan. I think we agree on what’s probably the best achievable policy reform for now (immigration tariffs), but I am inclined to disagree with your moral preference for Pareto-improving policies here, as well as your characterisation of them as merely “a little unfair”. I think immigration tariffs would be a massive improvement, but remain a distant second-best policy (from a moral standpoint) to true open borders. I used to consider immigration tariffs the best policy here, but have been convinced by the economic evidence that I was placing far too much weight on natives’ welfare, and far too little on migrants’ welfare. (This change in my beliefs is something I plan to write more on, so I won’t elaborate too much on it here.)

But even here, John Lee is not dismissing the harms to natives, but rather, weighing these against the gains to non-natives as well as moral considerations in coming to his conclusion that, in fact, not having immigration tariffs would be his preferred solution, if indeed that were politically feasible.

So, as a factual matter, I don’t think that open borders advocates are committing the “not as bad as” fallacy.

However, I think that the rhetoric of open borders advocates can sometimes sound exceedingly blase towards the plight of their fellow natives. Continue reading “Open borders advocates: guilty of the “not as bad as” fallacy?” »

What do open borders advocates really want?

How do we translate the cause of open borders into specific policy recommendations? The range of policies entailed by “looser border controls” is wide — and the range of policies which might be mistakenly attached to the “open borders” idea is even wider. It is important to be clear on definitions when we discuss the idea of open borders, lest we waste time on proposals which few actually support.

Before I continue, note that I speak only for myself; not for Vipul, not for Nathan, and not for any other advocate of open borders, even though we all support greater immigration. In fact, immigration supporter Tyler Cowen declares himself opposed to open borders, even though I suspect under my definition of “open borders”, he may be one of our greatest advocates.

It is crucial to be clear about what “open borders” really means in terms of end goals. Being vague about the meaning of “open borders” makes it easy for restrictionists to attack straw men, while ignoring the strongest arguments for open borders. So when I seek open borders, here is what I want: people to be able to cross international borders at will, insofar as this is administratively practical.

Continue reading “What do open borders advocates really want?” »

Stereotyping restrictionists and invoking disgust reactions

I’ve blogged in the past about accusations of racism in the immigration debate and how they may detract from substantive debate. In that earlier blog post, I concentrated on the reports that the Southern Poverty Law Center prepared on the “racist” and “white nationalist” agendas behind a number of prominent restrictionist groups such as VDARE, CIS, FAIR, and NumbersUSA. While this kind of digging around is SPLC’s job (and they seem to not shy of exposing real and potential hate groups of all races, cultures, and belief systems, as is evident from their website), I expressed the view that advocates of open borders would do better to concentrate on the actual citizenist arguments made by restrictionists and ignore these hidden agendas. I wish to elaborate on that theme.

Here are some examples. An article titled The Unwanted: Immigration and Nativism in America by Peter Schrag (the full article is a 12-page PDF, the link goes to its cover page) says:

It’s hardly news that the complaints of our latter-day nativists and immigration restrictionists—from Sam Huntington to Rush Limbaugh, from FAIR to V-DARE—resonate with the nativist arguments of some three centuries of American history. Often, as most of us should know, the immigrants who were demeaned by one generation were the parents and grandparents of the successes of the next generation. Perhaps, not paradoxically, many of them, or their children and grandchildren, later joined those who attacked and disparaged the next arrivals, or would-be arrivals, with the same vehemence that had been leveled against them or their forebears.


Tanton’s organizations were also the primary generators of the millions of faxes and e‐mails that were major elements in the defeat of the comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2007. In Congress, both were accomplished with the threat of filibusters, and by putting the immigrants’ face on the often inchoate economic and social anxieties—the flight of jobs overseas, the crisis in health care, the tightening housing market, the growing income gaps between the very rich and the middle class, and the shrinking return from rising productivity to labor—that might otherwise have been directed at their real causes.

Here also there was broad precedence in the economic and social turmoil arising in the new industrial, urban America at the turn of the twentieth century. The descriptions of Mexicans taking jobs away from American workers, renting houses meant for small families, crowding them with 12 or 14 people and jamming up their driveways with junk cars, echoed the rhetoric of 1900 about inferior people brought in as scabs, crowding tenements, bringing disease, crime and anarchy, now become terrorism, who would endanger the nation and lower living standards to what the progressive sociologist Edward A. Ross a century ago would have called their own “pigsty mode of life.”

In the age of Obama, the overt, nearly ubiquitous racialism of the Victorian era, like eugenic science, is largely passé and certainly no longer respectable. Eugenic sterilization is gone. The race‐based national origins immigration quotas of the 1924 Johnson‐Reed immigration act have been formally repealed. But the restrictionists’ arguments echo, often to an astonishing degree, the theories and warnings of their nativist forbears of the past century and a half.

This article of the Immigration Policy Center is not an isolated instance. The introduction of Jason Riley’s Let Them In has this passage:

Steve King, a congressman from Iowa, compares Mexican aliens to livestock. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado congressman who sports T-shirts announcing that AMERICA IS FULL, says Hispanic immigrants have turned Miami into a “Third World Country.” And Don Goldwater, nephew of conservative icon Barry Goldwater, and an unsuccessful candidate for governor in Arizona, has called for interring illegal immigrants in concentration camps and pressing them into forced labor building a wall across the southern U.S. border.

A little later, Riley writes:

Nativists warn that the brown influx from Mexico is soiling our Anglo-American cultural fabric, damaging our social mores, and facilitating a U.S. identity crisis. Anti-immigrant screeds with hysterial titles like Invasion by Michelle Malkin and State of Emergency by Pat Buchanan have become best-sellers. Tomes by serious academics like Samuel Huntington and Victor Davis Hanson make the same arguments using bigger words and giving the cruder polemicists some intellectual cover.

Now, my thoughts.

I think proponents of open borders are correct in pointing out that a number of restrictionists craft their arguments in a manner as to invoke disgust reactions against immigrants and to bolster anti-immigrant sentiment. Continue reading “Stereotyping restrictionists and invoking disgust reactions” »

Accusations of racism in the immigration debate

One of the tactics that many people on the pro-immigration side of the immigration debate adopt is to point out the unsavory “racist” and “eugenicist” associations that some immigration restrictionists have, or might have. I’m going to argue here that focusing on these associations, whether or not they are true, does not do much to advance the case for open borders, and detracts from the substantive debates. Continue reading “Accusations of racism in the immigration debate” »