I am guilty of often being a moral absolutist – an ideologue. I try to avoid it, but it’s a failing of mine. I often mentally frame arguments in “all or nothing” terms, and sometimes that can lead me away from positive solutions. As an example: It’s my natural inclination to be opposed to keyhole solutions such as that of immigrants paying an up-front cost to immigrate that is paid back after a certain period. In my mind, such a cost has the potential to be prohibitive to the very poorest people of the world, who are those who stand to gain the most by coming to a first-world country and most harmed by not being able to.
Since I so strongly believe that freedom of movement is an inalienable right, such half-measures strike me as weak compromises. However, that’s my flaw. The keyhole solution outlined above, while it may have a number of negatives when compared to open borders, is none the less vastly and absolutely better than our current situation. There’s no reason for me to oppose it, other than my tendency to make the perfect the enemy of the good.
While we’re on the subject of my flaws, we might as well bring up another that you’ll find to be directly related – pride. I am too proud by far in many areas of my life. I am the kind of person who often loses out on getting things I actually want because I am unable to humble myself to get them. And worse than my own pride is the fact that I tend to project pride onto others – for example, if a law were passed tomorrow that said anyone could immigrate to America as long as the would-be immigrant bowed in reverence before some icon of the country – whether it be the current President, the flag, some statue, doesn’t matter – I would oppose this with every fiber of my being. I would find it a disgusting, dehumanizing law. However, anyone who could swallow their pride and just ignore the display as the petty thing it was would find that their life was much improved – after all, what’s a little genuflection if it means the rest of your life can be lived in the first world? But again, such is my flaw.
However, I am attempting to correct these flaws – or at least compensate for them. I am trying to grow as a person, and so I am trying to open my eyes to potential solutions that my flaws might otherwise prohibit. And in so doing, I’ve come to think about victim-blaming.
Ask most people, and they’ll tell you victim-blaming is a horrible thing to do. Blaming a woman for getting raped, a black man for getting wrongfully arrested, or a foreigner for not being allowed to immigrate and you’re seen as uncompassionate at best, hateful and bigoted at worst. But isn’t that just the sin of pride all over again? What if there really was something that the woman could have done to avoid her fate, the black man to avoid the arrest, and the foreigner to make immigration easier? Is it wrong to theorize about what the victim might do differently, if the end result is fewer rapes, fewer wrongful arrests, and more immigration?
I’ll avoid the specifics on the other example topics, but what if there was something that foreigners could do to make allowing them to immigrate more politically viable? Even if it was something humiliating or demeaning, something that would infuriate anyone with even an ounce of pride? Just as a hypothetical: Imagine that there was a small town in a third-world country where almost everyone wanted to emigrate to America. And imagine that as part of their campaign for acceptance, they turned their whole town into a mock-suburbia; they wore American-style clothes, ate American-style food, baked apple pie and played baseball, spoke English exclusively and maybe even learned to
fake a Midwestern drawl. Imagine that they renamed their streets after American presidents, got rid of all of their religious materials (except Christian, of course), said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, and even wore makeup to disguise their skin tone. Now if you’ve managed to read this far without the bile rising to the back of your throat, imagine this: Imagine it worked. Imagine that their efforts, perhaps chronicled by some journalist, so swayed the American populace that American leaders allowed the whole town to emigrate to America. Despite the demeaning trial they went through, they now get to live their lives in a safer, more prosperous environment. They get what they wanted.
What then? If it worked, would we encourage others to copy their efforts? We could say, “well, they shouldn’t have to do that!” And I agree – they shouldn’t. To the core of me, such an act would disgust me. But isn’t that just the pride talking? Shouldn’t we care more about the end result, if the end result is something much better than the trials to get there?
If the answer is yes, let’s look at perhaps a more realistic application of the idea. What if those that wanted to emigrate to America (or any other country, for that matter) signed a Pledge, a formal (if legally meaningless) document where they swear to uphold the ideals of whatever country they wish to enter; to be productive and not draw on social services; to learn the language and speak it exclusively; to adhere to the mores and cultural norms of their new homeland. Such a document is meaningless in terms of legal fact – but such symbols have always held power over the minds of men. If you think signing a non-legally-binding document where you promise to enforce certain rules on yourself is absurd, remember that the entire American government is predicated on such an absurd idea. And such ideas, no matter how absurd, can sway people.
Such a pledge might be demeaning, and in a just world no one would have to sign it in order to move to a new country. But could it work – or at the very least, could it help? That’s the real question we should be asking.