Creative Destruction

May 26, 2006

Damn Those Rigid Goalposts

Filed under: Politics — Tuomas @ 3:47 pm

It was not too long ago that the lefty blogosphere mocked the conservatives and everyone else who suggested that the fact that many mexican immigrants lack the opportunity or inclination to learn English when they come to America, and that this is a bad thing for the US.

Sally commented:

The overwhelming majority of immigrants to the U.S. would like to speak English, because it’s a prerequisite for full inclusion in the society. It’s just a myth that immigrants walk around contemptuously scoffing at English and planning to raise their kids to be monolingual Polish speakers who are confined to tiny Polish-American enclaves.

I'm happy to hear that immigrants want to become part of the society they are immigrating to.

Now, about discussing that possible measure which establishes English language symbolically as national or common and unifying language of the United States… [edited slightly]
Considering that we are told that it is supposedly just a stupid myth that some immigrants are opposed to learning English (my personal opinion that it is mostly about some identity politics afficienados just being PC about the "importance" of Spanish to the "Latin community", wanting the mexican illegal immigrant to remain the unskilled, underpaid labor force that they are, plus the fringe of the said community), one would think that such measure would not meet mocking and ridicule from the progressives.

Surprisingly, they do mock the measure.

Now, I personally don't have much invested in this issue, but it seems to me something as simple as: "Independent Nations have a right to control who becomes a citizen" is being unnecessarily vilified in the immigration debate. I am personally open (if anyone does not know by now, I am not an American but a Finn, and Finland does not have that much immigrants) to the idea of more immigrants, provided their value system isn't radically different, and they contribute positively to the society (not a given). But this needs to be done democratically, instead of amnesty towards criminals. Nowadays, the chant is "we want a world without borders". Of course, few really believe that, or apply it equally (world, in that instance, really means the US and first world countries). After all, very few leftists hold the flippant position of "illegal, schmillegal, borders, schmorders!" When it comes to Israeli settlements on the West Bank.

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18 Comments »

  1. I’m happy to hear that immigrants want to become part of the society they are immigrating to.

    This is news to nobody except those who have issues with the national origin of the latest wave of immigrants.

    An “English pwnz0rs!!11!!!” bill is not going to have any effect on whether immigrants do or don’t choose to learn English. Lefties object because it’s quite plainly a reactionary and useless fuck-you to Mexican and Central American immigrants.

    Comment by mythago — May 26, 2006 @ 5:49 pm | Reply

  2. Lefties object because it’s quite plainly a reactionary and useless fuck-you to Mexican and Central American immigrants.

    Eh, quite plainly, you say? It isn’t it plain to everyone, methinks. I wonder why lefties think that Mexican and Central American immigrants are so fragile/temperamental that they will be hugely oppressed by something that the immigrants supposedly wanted to do anyway.

    Comment by Tuomas — May 26, 2006 @ 5:57 pm | Reply

  3. I don’t think it’s fair to call “moving goalposts” because not every lefty in the world agrees on every nuance of every policy question. There’s no rule saying that all lefties (or all conservatives, for that matter) must agree with each other about everything in every detail.

    There are times when the “moving goalposts” critique is fair; for instance, if the two statements being compared were made by the same person, or by representatives of the same organization (e.g., two different speakers for a presidental administration or a formal political party). But this is not such an instance, so your criticism here is not reasonable.

    Considering that we are told that it is supposedly just a stupid myth that some immigrants are opposed to learning English (my personal opinion that it is mostly about some identity politics afficienados just being PC about the “importance” of Spanish to the “Latin community”, wanting the mexican illegal immigrant to remain the unskilled, underpaid labor force that they are, plus the fringe of the said community), one would think that such measure would not meet mocking and ridicule from the progressives.

    I really hope “Creative Destruction” will be a place where we could avoid assuming that people on the other side of the political aisle were Evil and acted from bad motives; but no. You accuse some lefties of “wanting the mexican illegal immigrant to remain the unskilled, underpaid labor force that they are.” This is a pretty serious accusation; can you provide any evidence to support this? You certainly haven’t in this post.

    Do you sincerely believe that people who disagree with your politics are coming from such an evil, bad-intentioned place; or is it just that you don’t want to have disagreements in which people treat each other with even the smallest degree of respect and civility?

    Many of your posts and comments here contain little digs at the left like the above. These comments of your are not serious policy discussions; instead, they are expressions of contempt for disagreement and for “the other side.” (This attitude exists among some leftists too, I admit). Instead of treating leftists with contempt, why not attempt to make this blog a place of respectful engagement with people who disagree with you?

    Regarding this legislation:

    If the only question was “what will make immigrants speak English,” I’d find the proposed symbolic legislation ridiculous, because immigrant populations learn English by themselves over time, and a law like this does nothing. You might as well pass a law saying that gravity should pull Americans in the ground’s direction, for all the good it does.

    However, that’s not the only question. There’s also the question of whether or not symbolic legislation like this carries with it an implication that those who do not speak English are lesser Americans, and lesser citizens, than those who do. If so, that’s a legitimate grounds for objection to this law, even for people who (like me) know that all immigrant populations learn English over time.

    Comment by Ampersand — May 26, 2006 @ 6:05 pm | Reply

  4. After all, very few leftists hold the flippant position of “illegal, schmillegal, borders, schmorders!” When it comes to Israeli settlements on the West Bank.

    Has any leftists been saying that the borders should be open to Mexicans heading north, but closed (or, at the very least, subject to severe restrictions) to Americans heading south? If so, then your analogy holds water. Otherwise, it doesn’t.

    Israel’s supreme court just ruled that even Palestinians who marry Israelis cannot immigrate to Israel. To claim that the situation leftists object to in Israel and Palestine in any way represents “open borders” shows a severe misunderstanding of the situation there.

    Comment by Ampersand — May 26, 2006 @ 6:21 pm | Reply

  5. But this is not such an instance, so your criticism here is not reasonable.

    Is it not? Your comment here contains the claim that all immigrant populations will learn English, yet you are worried that this law will make those who do not speak English will be made less Americans (considering many of them in fact, are not Americans, thus not citizens at all, this is an odd concern, as such law, if worded correctly, could leave room for pluralism when it comes to treatment of Native Americans etc. while recognizing a cultural heritage within America)

    Basically you are telling me that this law is not necessary because the concern is ridiculous, yet the opposition is strong. Why is that?

    Perhaps this was generalization, but I am suspicious of the fact that there is such an odd combination of viewpoints — that the concern for English language is just ridiculous yet a measure to help it is hateful by definition.

    You accuse some lefties of “wanting the mexican illegal immigrant to remain the unskilled, underpaid labor force that they are.”

    Hmm, I’m actually glad you pointed that out, since come to think of it, this is more descriptive IMO of those on the Right on supporting illegal immigration and non-integration (and thus cheap labor), than of the leftist position.

    Perhaps there are those on the left who do act out of those motives, but I guess most leftist simply are motivated by other things (like political gain, which motivates all political people), but I think this may very well be the outcome of those policies.

    Instead of treating leftists with contempt, why not attempt to make this blog a place of respectful engagement with people who disagree with you?

    *Sigh*

    Well, I suppose there is no harm in trying, disillusioned as I may be with the modern left.

    Comment by Tuomas — May 26, 2006 @ 6:28 pm | Reply

  6. Your comment here contains the claim that all immigrant populations will learn English, yet you are worried that this law will make those who do not speak English will be made less Americans…

    There’s a difference between populations and individuals. Immigrant populations to the US always learn English. Individual immigrants don’t always learn English, and those that do, may take years to learn. Some people are just better at acquiring second languages than others.

    …(considering many of them in fact, are not Americans, thus not citizens at all, this is an odd concern…

    It’s not an odd concern at all, because “many” is not the same as “all.”

    Comment by Ampersand — May 26, 2006 @ 6:32 pm | Reply

  7. There’s a difference between populations and individuals. Immigrant populations to the US always learn English. Individual immigrants don’t always learn English, and those that do, may take years to learn. Some people are just better at acquiring second languages than others.

    Yes, that’s true, but I don’t think the harm done to those inviduals is significant. If I were to move to, say, Japan, I don’t know how well I could learn the language (I started English quite early, thus my comprehensible skill in it).

    Perhaps I could learn it. I don’t think this (would I feel as Japanese, I probably never would) would have to have any effect on the policy of Japan regarding language.

    Or, to put it in another way, if the immigrant does not like, the immigrant does not have to immigrate in the first place.

    I generally dislike the “Don’t like this country? Leave.” -argument when it is used against lefties residing under a right-wing ruling party or vice versa, but towards immigrants, I fail to see the problem. Lot of countries out there, and if one is leaving one’s own country, then it is not too much to ask to choose a suitable one.

    Comment by Tuomas — May 26, 2006 @ 7:00 pm | Reply

  8. Has any leftists been saying that the borders should be open to Mexicans heading north, but closed (or, at the very least, subject to severe restrictions) to Americans heading south? If so, then your analogy holds water. Otherwise, it doesn’t.

    The leftists who want America to have open borders to Mexico can not directly influence the Mexican policy, unless they support interventionism to the issue.

    I wonder, if Mexico is as tolerant towards immigrants? I don't hear for a push towards openness of borders in third and second world countries — only lot about the fact that it is supposedly a "human right" for a third worlder to immigrate to Europe or a Mexican to immigrate to the US regardless whether the country in question wants to grant access.

    The whole point is that there's nothing wrong about being for more open borders, but there is a problem when people do so dishonestly and undemocratically, by preventing borders from being enforced and granting amnesty to illegals.

    To claim that the situation leftists object to in Israel and Palestine in any way represents “open borders” shows a severe misunderstanding of the situation there.

    Oh, come on. I do not claim any understanding of the precise situation, I am simply noting that people who hold the classic "it's their (=palestinians) land" simplistic view do not have any moral ground whatsoever to claim about being for world without borders.

    Memes being entangled, it is my experience that these views do correlate, though there are exceptions.

    [edited for clarity]

    Comment by Tuomas — May 26, 2006 @ 7:30 pm | Reply

  9. I wonder why lefties think that Mexican and Central American immigrants are so fragile/temperamental

    I wonder why you apparently didn’t read my post. The whole idiocy of the “English r00lz” bill is that it will have zero effect on Mexican and Central American immigrants. The ones who want to learn English (the majority, as you are apparently the last to learn) were going to anyway; the ones who weren’t, aren’t going to hop to just because the Congress passed a resolution.

    So, then, what is the point of the resolution, if it has no practical effect? It’s an ineffectual middle finger to people who are not native English speakers. That’s it.

    Well, I suppose there is no harm in trying

    If nothing else, it will make you appear to be a logical, intelligent thinker, instead of a mindless cheerleader for the Right.

    Comment by mythago — May 26, 2006 @ 8:24 pm | Reply

  10. Yes, that’s true, but I don’t think the harm done to those inviduals is significant.

    Since the proposed law does no good whatsoever, even a minor harm is reason enough to oppose the law.

    (Plus, I think that laws designed to do nothing from a policy perspective, but which nonetheless cost taxpayer dollars and congressional work-hours to pass, are harmful regardless of what they say. They waste money and time, and if they are well-received and praised then they will encourage Congress to pass yet more empty laws, wasting still more time and more money).

    Or, to put it in another way, if the immigrant does not like, the immigrant does not have to immigrate in the first place.

    Yes, they don’t have to come here. But do we really want to drive them away?

    The US is not Japan; our history is full of non-English speaker immigrants, and we’ve done well for it. Not all of my ancestors spoke English when they came here, but I reject the idea that they therefore should not have been allowed to come. They were hard workers, they contributed to the economy, and their children and children’s children spoke English like the natives they were. And, despite the predictions of the anti-immigrants of their day, they (or their kids) did assimilate, and they didn’t destroy the economy.

    * * *

    I am simply noting that people who hold the classic “it’s their (=palestinians) land” simplistic view do not have any moral ground whatsoever to claim about being for world without borders.

    Memes being entangled, it is my experience that these views do correlate, though there are exceptions.

    “It is my experience that….” is the weak argument used by those who have done nothing but present strawmen to knock down, and who are unable to support anything they say with actual citations.

    It’s easy to criticize the right-wing stereotype of the anti-Israel poster with a “Israel out of Palestine” sign in his hand and no brain in his head. But it’s also shallow and meaningless.

    Besides, you seem to be assuming that the only left position on Israel is “Israel out of Palestine.” (Or if you acknowledge other left positions, you haven’t mentioned it). Are you really so positive that the few people who say “we want a world without borders” aren’t also the people calling for a one-state solution (that is, that Israel and the occupied territories should become a single state, with citizen rights for all)?

    Comment by Ampersand — May 26, 2006 @ 8:32 pm | Reply

  11. The ones who want to learn English (the majority, as you are apparently the last to learn) were going to anyway; the ones who weren’t, aren’t going to hop to just because the Congress passed a resolution. So, then, what is the point of the resolution, if it has no practical effect?

    It has a practical effect. It lays the groundwork for the cultural-political shift that lets the second group you mention become more aware of the fact that they aren’t welcome.

    Comment by Robert — May 26, 2006 @ 10:56 pm | Reply

  12. Mythago:

    I wonder why you apparently didn’t read my post.

    Apologies, looking back, I did generalize from something you hadn’t written.

    If nothing else, it will make you appear to be a logical, intelligent thinker, instead of a mindless cheerleader for the Right.

    Ho hum. What’s that about holding the opposing side contemptible? It seems to me that there is tendency for both sides to consider one’s own allies inviduals while the other side is a mindless legion or a hivemind. For you and Amp to lecture on this, while claiming that the “anti-immigrants” of today are completely analogous to Know Nothings etc (in denial of their racism). and the fact that legitimate concerns for national security and incentive systems are dismissed outright as mere smokescreens, is somewhat shallow.

    Of course, this does not completely justify me doing the exactly same, but it does seem to me that many people are simply refusing to discuss this issue instead of going for the “U just hate brown people/mexicans!” -angle. Which you just did.

    Which is exactly the pattern that opposition to this law proposal is following. If only op-ed writers of L.A Times would just claim that this is an ineffectual resolution, or there are practical problems (and perhaps offering alternatives), but no. It just has to be about hatred towards the nativity of the current immigrants.

    Not all of my ancestors spoke English when they came here, but I reject the idea that they therefore should not have been allowed to come. They were hard workers, they contributed to the economy, and their children and children’s children spoke English like the natives they were.

    I reject that idea too (and I have not endorsed it) what is enough is that immigrants display willingness to learn, and this is in no way compromised by stating out that the U.S is an English-speaking country.

    And, despite the predictions of the anti-immigrants of their day, they (or their kids) did assimilate, and they didn’t destroy the economy.

    Because they were wrong then, other people who hold (on the surface) similar sentiments are wrong?

    Besides, you seem to be assuming that the only left position on Israel is “Israel out of Palestine.” (Or if you acknowledge other left positions, you haven’t mentioned it).

    Hmm, in simplified terms, there are four general viewpoints on this issue on the left (and my criticism (marked with c:):

    1) The stereotypical simplified noble savages view, that does not acknowledge Israel.
    c: Do I need to?

    2) International solution, something similar to original 1948 borders and U.N mandate to Jerusalem.
    c: A system where one side originally rejects this and gambles on war isn’t fair if that side does not suffer from any adverse consequences. Also, U.N is untrustworthy and biased against Israel, simply by virtue of having more states with Muslim majority.

    3) Israel and the palestinians coming to agreement.
    c: This is what most people wish. However, the tendency among leftists is to ignorantly believe or dishonestly claim that Israel has been the obstacle to this, which is simply not true.

    4) One state solution, with citizen rights for all:
    C: Do the Isrealis want this? I suspect the answer is often “no”, because Isrealis have legitimate concerns over what will happen when palestinians (who just voted for Hamas, a terrorist organization) get majority in elections. Quite simply, the demographics could very well make the Israelis second class citizens. This is IMO nice in theory, but a possible catastrophe in practice.

    Comment by Tuomas — May 27, 2006 @ 7:42 am | Reply

  13. and the fact that legitimate concerns for national security and incentive systems are dismissed outright

    Please point out where I have dismissed legitimate concerns about security, and while you’re at it, explain how an “English is primary” law is pertinent to national security.

    I thought we were discussing the English-only bill; you seem to be using it, again, as a platform to wail about the hive-mind of the foolish Left.

    Comment by mythago — May 27, 2006 @ 3:56 pm | Reply

  14. Please point out where I have dismissed legitimate concerns about security, and while you’re at it, explain how an “English is primary” law is pertinent to national security.

    I thought we were discussing the English-only bill; you seem to be using it, again, as a platform to wail about the hive-mind of the foolish Left.

    Ok, sorry.

    Your argument against the “English-only” -bill is that it isn’t necessary because immigrants do want to learn English (and I agree, most probably do, contrary to your assertions about what I think), but saying that English is important is an insult?

    Comment by Tuomas — May 28, 2006 @ 3:25 pm | Reply

  15. What is the goal of passing a measure that merely says that English is ‘our national language’ or ‘is important’? To inform immigrants that they ought to speak English, as if they didn’t already know that or desire to?

    Comment by mythago — May 31, 2006 @ 12:00 am | Reply

  16. To establish that it is prescriptively normative to (learn to) speak English, not merely pragmatically wise.

    Comment by Robert — May 31, 2006 @ 12:04 am | Reply

  17. Again, that pretends such a norm doesn’t exist, or that we need a law to establish it.

    And please don’t clamor with anecdotes about immigrants who refuse to speak anything other than Spanish. In my grandparents’ generation (and farther back) there were plenty of people who refused to speak anything other than Yiddish, listened only to Yiddish radio and read Yiddish newspapers, and so on.

    Comment by mythago — June 2, 2006 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

  18. Again, that pretends such a norm doesn’t exist, or that we need a law to establish it.

    OK, perhaps you can explain it for me. If you agree that there’s a prescriptive norm that we expect people to learn English, what’s the basis of it?

    If your answer is “because everybody else speaks English”, that’s not prescriptive. That’s descriptive; if every Anglo snuffed it tomorrow and was replaced by sturdy Chinese immigrants, the descriptive norm would be that the US was a Mandarin-speaking nation.

    In my grandparents’ generation (and farther back) there were plenty of people who refused to speak anything other than Yiddish, listened only to Yiddish radio and read Yiddish newspapers, and so on.

    Those unacclimated Jewish immigrants were elderly. Anybody who came here young learned English; even the elderly livinging in the yiddischebubble expected their children and grandchildren to acclimate. There wasn’t a group decision to refuse to assimilate as part of an irredentist cultural movement, and you know that.

    Comment by Robert — June 2, 2006 @ 7:26 pm | Reply


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