Two subtle lessons from the “Your in America” Twitter bot

A while back, I had come across the Your in America bot. The bot locates instances of people tweeting complaints about immigrants and tourists in the United States not speaking English, where the tweets contain the grammatically incorrect phrase “your in America” (as explained here, it should be “you’re”).

The typical lesson that I suspect many people would draw from this is that the tweets are ironic: the authors of the tweets themselves don’t demonstrate good knowledge of English. Some might argue that such tweets demonstrate hypocrisy. I suspect that many people will look at these tweets and chuckle at their moral superiority to what they would consider the unsophisticated nativist right, a phenomenon I discussed here. While there’s some legitimacy to such a feeling of moral superiority, I think it’s not the main lesson to draw.

As I discussed in an earlier post, true tolerance, and true empathy, extend to the concerns of people who find the consequences of migration deeply unsettling. The people authoring the “Your in America” tweets are unsettled by an aspect of migration — the way it brings them in contact with people who are speaking a language they don’t understand — and this can be personally unsettling as well as impose business and operational costs. As such, this concern does not deserve to be mocked.

I draw two main lessons:

  1. Language proficiency has many levels, and different levels are necessary for different roles and goals
  2. Contempt and suspicion for outgroups is universal — but let’s not make it the basis of coercive policy

#1: Language proficiency has many levels

Familiarity with a language is not a binary feature. Different people need different levels of comfort with various languages. As an active blogger and writer who uses the English language quite extensively, I certainly need to be aware not merely of the distinction between your and you’re, but also subtler distinctions such as the distinction between the noun and verb forms of affect and effect. As somebody who deals with code and data and numbers in my day job and my side projects, I need to be fast at arithmetic operations and numerical estimation to a level most people don’t. On the other hand, I don’t need to be proficient at talking with a specific accent for maximum comprehensibility to a particular crowd. Nor do I need to have skill at giving great extempore speeches, because my work, side projects, and personal life don’t require such skills.

Those who say “your in America, learn to speak English!” do know English. They know English well enough to send out a tweet that makes some sense, even if it’s not grammatically perfect. Most likely, their day job and their personal interests don’t require a higher level of familiarity with the subtleties of the English language. This is fine — what matters is that they are good at their chosen job. Their failure to remember formal elementary or middle school grammar is neither here nor there.

Similarly, for many immigrants and tourists, the choice to not learn to speak the local language fluently may be the most rational choice given their goals and circumstances. First off, it’s hard to learn a new language fluently as an adult, and immigrants, particularly illegal immigrants, have a lot of things to worry about (such as finding a job while navigating the risk of deportation). Moreover, many of them have support structures that allow them to survive well through a very basic functioning knowledge of the local language. For instance, many of the Chinese immmigrants to the United States who enter unlawfully look for jobs in Chinatown’s kitchen network, where the need for English langauge familiarity is minimal. Similarly, if you’re an agricultural day laborer, you just need to know enough of the local language to understand the overall instructions — and even that requirement is mitigated by the presence of bilingual intermediaries who can work as supervisors.

I grew up in Delhi, the capital of India, where Hindi is the most common vernacular language. I pursued my undergraduate studies in Chennai, a city in South India where the vernacular is Tamil (my undergraduate education was purely in English, as is typical for post-secondary education in India). I tried mastering enough of the local language to be able to communicate in shops and restaurants, and I felt that spending more effort learning the language didn’t pass a cost-benefit analysis (I would have invested more if I had been confident I would stay in Chennai much longer). My refusal to learn the local language better was somewhat frustrating to me, and possibly both frustrating and offensive to some of the locals I met, though I did try to show that I was making a sincere effort to learn the local language. Similarly, for a two-month stay in Paris, I mastered a small set of French phrases and tried to get by with those. Again, I tried not to be openly offensive — I’d start out trying to use French phrases and then switch to English if the other person seemed willing to accept that — but I probably offended and irritated a number of people inadvertently. I can empathize with the frustrations of people who can’t understand the stuff those around them are saying in a foreign language, while also understanding that for many immigrants and tourists it’s simply not realistic to spend too many of one’s resources mastering the local language.

[For a more detailed treatment, see my co-blogger Nathan’s blog post on the linguistic externalities of open borders.]

#2: Contempt and suspicion for outgroups is universal — but let’s not make it the basis of coercive policy

Another important lesson is that contempt is a human universal. While much of the concern behind the “Your in America” tweets is driven by genuine difficulty communicating and understanding across linguistic barriers, some of the tweeters are expressing their superiority over, and contempt for, the non-English-speaking migrants. Similarly, the more linguistically sophisticated people can express their moral superiority by chuckling at the linguistic incompetence and hypocrisy of the tweeters. And some might argue that my blog post is my own way of expressing contempt for these linguistically sophisticated people’s smug self-satisfaction.

It’s not uncommon for people on the East Coast to express contempt for what they consider the backward ways of the Bible Belt, just as it’s not uncommon for people in Texas or Arizona to speak with contempt of the backward ways of migrants. There is some mutual contempt between Americans and Canadians, between the British and the French, and between many many other ethnic, national, and racial groups. In some cases, this contempt is grounded in legitimate concerns. In other cases, it’s grounded in essentially contestable moral differences. And often it’s just plain old in-group bias.

Ultimately, I think the way to move forward is not to try to definitively vanquish or substantially reduce these attitudes, but rather, to create a strong presumption against the use of coercive methods to enforce such preferences (cf. my post on tolerance and the libertarian case for open borders). That, I think, is a goal that can reasonably be accomplished in the medium term. As I discussed in my post on South-South migration and the “natural state”, the history of migration has combined a fair degree of freedom of movement with openly intolerant and prejudiced attitudes (see also my speculation on why immigration to the US was freer in the 19th century, or John Lee’s post on the similarities between current attitudes to Hispanic immigration and attitudes to past waves of migration). I agree that we should also critique the ugliest manifestations of intolerance and contempt. I’d like to push for a world where people openly argue and debate how certain approaches are better than others, rather than snidely belittling others. But this isn’t a simple switch, since it counters deeply ingrained human instincts. In that sense, I both agree and disagree with the view put forth in this interesting article on Ferguson, immigration, and ‘us vs them’.

I discussed some of the ideas of this post in an Open Borders Action Group post.

One thought on “Two subtle lessons from the “Your in America” Twitter bot”

  1. Part 2: Endless Immigration into America: The Muslim Aberrant Connection
    By Frosty Wooldridge

    Part 2: Muslim worldview totally incompatible with Western thought.

    As you read this series, it dawns on you that your country, the United States of America, cannot and will not survive the next added 100,000,000 (million) legal immigrants for a variety of reasons.

    Your quality of life and standard of living, and most certainly your children’s futures must decline with the sheer numbers. They face horrific consequences from overcrowded cities and degraded living conditions from A to Z.

    But the one aspect of mass immigration that few understand grows more ominous daily: immigrants from the Middle East and Africa carry with them a religion that expects to dominate the world—Islam. Its leaders remain dogged in their pursuit of world domination by Islam.

    Let’s hear what astute men of history said about Islam:

    Winston Churchill (1874-1965): “How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as His absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities.

    “But the influence of the religion paralyzes the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith.”

    Today, with seven million Muslims inhabiting America, they fled their lands where freedom of speech, religion, press, dress, lifestyle; sexual choice and life-mate choice stand against every aspect of the Koran. Yet, their leaders, when gaining more power via population, will vote Sharia Law into place in America. It’s already occurring in Europe, Canada and Australia.

    No amount of enlightenment or education can dissuade Muslims from their prime directive: “Convert or kill all non-believers, especially the Jews.” That’s the bedrock quote right out of the Koran. It hasn’t changed in 1,400 years since their illiterate; beast of a barbarian prophet waged his insanity onto the people of the Middle East.

    Islam remains a 6th century barbaric religion-economic system that allows no choice for women and very few choices for men. Islam instigates more terror in the world today than ever before in the history of humanity.

    Today, seven million Muslims within America possess diametrically opposing cultures and a religion that counters everything in American culture and America’s Judeo-Christian ethos. What happens when their numbers reach 20 million, 30 million and beyond?

    Answer: they will press for Sharia Law, outlaw women’s rights and the U.S. Constitution wherever their numbers gain dominance at the voting booth. In other words, they will create Caliphates or separate countries within our country where they degrade women’s rights to less than a dog’s, religious choice, free speech and all the rest.

    France and the United Kingdom already suffer 70 “no go zones” where Muslims dominate the cities. And, they can’t do a thing about it. Here in America, we already allow over 30 jihad compounds where Islamists train for jihad against us. Why can’t we stop them? Answer: private property.

    John Quincy Adams (1761-1848): “In the seventh century of the Christian era, a wandering Arab of the linage of Hagar, the Egyptian, combining the powers of transcendent genius, with the preternatural energy of a fanatic, and fraudulent spirit of an imposter, proclaimed himself as a messenger from Heaven, and spread desolation and delusion over an extensive portion of the earth.

    “He poisoned the sources of human felicity at the fountain, by degrading the condition of the female sex, and the allowance of polygamy; and he declared undistinguishing and exterminating war, as a part of his religion, against all the rest of mankind. The essence of his doctrine was violence and lust: to exalt the brutal over the spiritual part of human nature. While the merciless and dissolute dogmas of the false prophet shall furnish motives to human action, there can never be peace upon earth, and good will towards men.”

    These men of history understood Islam. They watched its treachery and violence.

    How in the heck do we expect to survive such a virulent religion within our own body politic? Right now, our “closet Muslim” leader in the White House hired 10 Muslim aides who speak to him daily on how they can expand Islam in America. Muslim immigrants chain-migrate into the USA by the thousands monthly.

    Mind you, Islamic worldview cannot and will not ever integrate with the American Way of Life or our national ethos. It hasn’t in any country it’s ever settled.

    Today in America, we feature beheadings, behandings, female genital mutilation, honor killings and gay bashing. We face loss of Christmas, Easter and Halloween celebrations because our celebrations might offend Muslims.

    The one thing you can count upon: Muslims keep crowding out European-Americans in our cities and communities. We Americans seem to be timid and cowards in the face of Islam’s invasion of our country. Everybody suffers cowardice to speak up. Not the Muslims. They press wherever they can gain a foothold.

    It can’t and won’t end well, and proves President Teddy Roosevelt’s prescient words:

    “The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, or preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.”

    Again, consider 100,000,000 (million) legal immigrants from 140 different failed countries landing on America’s shores—sporting 140 different worldviews.

    Expect sociological consequences that will make Ferguson, Missouri with the Brown-Wilson killing along with the Garner killing in New York City—look like kindergarten class parties.

    As a society, we race point blank into history’s carnage, history’s self-inflicted suicide, history’s worst chapter where a Constitutional Republic destroyed itself by the apathy and stupidity of its leaders and citizens.

    If we fail to stop all Muslim immigration as well as all third world immigration, we face a definite ending spoken by Teddy Roosevelt over 100 years ago.

    I hope this series drives you to action for your kids.

    In a five minute astoundingly simple yet brilliant video, “Immigration, Poverty, and Gum Balls”, Roy Beck, director of http://www.numbersusa.ORG, graphically illustrates the impact of overpopulation. Take five minutes to see for yourself:

    “Immigration by the numbers—off the chart” by Roy Beck
    This 10 minute demonstration shows Americans the results of unending mass immigration on the quality of life and sustainability for future generations: in a few words, “Mind boggling!”

    Most Americans, Canadians, Europeans or Australians along with their elected leaders—fail to understand their predicament: a self-inflected victimization-date with destiny.
    What you can do to start a national discussion:
    Write the following media programs to interview speakers on what we face if we add another 138 million people: Many experts can speak on this demographic nightmare: Dave Gardner at ; Dr. Jack Alpert at ; Bromwell Ault at ; Former Governor Richard D. Lamm of Colorado; Roy Beck director a , Mr. K.C. McAlpin at ; Joanne Wideman ; Dan Stein ; David Paxson ; Edward C. Hartman . Dr. Diana Hull,
    Additionally, I will speak on any TV or radio show in the country with excellent articulation and acumen. If not now, then who and when?
    Charlie Rose:
    Leslie Stahl or Steve Croft:
    Robert Siegel at Talk of the Nation:
    Matt Lauer at NBC Today Show:
    Terri Gross at NPR
    Megyn Kelley at Fox News
    O’Reilly at Fox News
    Steve Inskeep at NPR

    Take action by joining for free:
    America: ; ; ;
    United Kingdom:
    Australia: Sustainable Population Australia
    Part 3: Cultural chaos of divergent worldviews
    Frosty Wooldridge, six continent world bicycle traveler, Canada to Mexico summer 2014, 2,200 miles, 100,000 vertical feet of climbing:

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