15 July 2014

More words, in furious languor.

There appears to be much going on signifying sound and fury in the world of late. But it is mostly empty.

We have an "immigration" crisis. Except we've had an immigration problem that needed to be addressed for 90 years. Ever since we started closing off our borders to foreign populations and placing onerous restrictions on how and when someone may become a citizen if they wished to live here and raise a family and do the things that human beings tend to do when they live and work and play in a place for a long time. They want to call it home. Like some relentless wheel, this just cycles around again and again as a new crop of nativist biases that either do not make a coherent philosophical point or are factually wrong. Fortunately, it appears there isn't actually a strong support for kicking millions of people out of the country who want to stay here somehow. Unfortunately nobody in Congress appears to be paying attention to that because there's a very loud and politically active group of people wandering around pretending we are being invaded and who does want to kick people out, and which nobody else wants to antagonize but doesn't want to be seen talking to either. Which leaves us within a middle ground position that even fewer people want (things like guest worker programmes).

All this tells me is that we haven't bothered to fix the existing immigration system, and what bills have been proposed primarily don't either. They focus entirely too much on borders and how people get in. That's not the "problem". The issue is how people can stay, if they would like to, and how difficult or onerous we make it to become a citizen, a problem for which I have seen no bill address in a serious way. Huge numbers of people who are residents illegally in the country came here in a perfectly legal way, as students, tourists, or workers and no amount of "border control" is likely to create an environment which catches them and restricts their presence. Large numbers more of people abroad probably would come here and stay if we had a simple system for allowing people to emigrate from their homes. The demands for armed troops on the borders have little resemblance to a solution to the problem. If anything that only amplifies the humanitarian problems by increasing the price and danger of migration across borders, and makes it more difficult for people to leave when they do come here for a temporary basis, thus further discouraging such behavior as say, seasonal labourers who migrate across borders following available work.

I am not all that impressed with liberal solutions either. They can't do very much without Congress acting, but I keep hearing "decriminalizing drugs" coming up. The likely reason for that term is that there's little or no public support for the legalisation of drugs other than marijuana. Decriminalizing, say, heroin does not destroy black markets of the drug, as a major flaw in this arrangement. That does construct the legal arrangement so the users of drugs are not punished (or sellers with small quantities), or at least are not sent to jail and prison, which is a great social victory in its own right. But it does nothing about the establishing of legal markets where sellers of these products can use the legal system for protection of property rights and to arbitrate grievances peacefully through the courts and other forms of mediation. Without that option, the violence remains a significant and sometimes essential component of the existing black markets for goods that are merely "decriminalized". Decriminalization would be better than arresting thousands of people for consensual vices, but it would not solve this problem of an illicit market with artificially inflated profit margins and through which there are considerable issues of gang violence in foreign countries (like the countries the current wave of children are fleeing). Legalisation of marijuana likewise may help some, if it occurs on a broader scale, but will not remove the problem. Consider that some clever Central American drug cartels have branched out into protection rackets for farms, for ordinary domestic crops as limes or avocados and this becomes an even more elaborate problem to disentangle than how our legal system treats the recreational ingestion of mind-altering chemicals as a means to reduce the violence.

And now for something completely different.
A brief digression to rant about (other) silly things.
- This would all be much easier, apparently, if we publicly expended time discussing genital naming conventions from 90 years ago. Fortunately, "Jerry" had already taken on a somewhat darker turn from a cheeky British affiliation as a nickname for evil Nazis or we could be at risk of a wave of named phallic features, similar to the wave of names from characters of popular fantasy novels (Khaleesi, Katniss, etc). Let's just move on. Penis jokes are not too hard.

- If someone else makes a movie about how humans only use 10% of their brains, we may want to consider an investigation if this is an actual problem that there are people employed in Hollywood who somehow only use 10% of their brains. I like science fiction, but the prospect of someone getting suddenly smarter relies on some tricks about consciousness that we don't yet have solid neuroscience to explain, or a mental disorder that is treated (depression being a common example). Honestly all being able to access 100% would mean (probably) isn't that someone would get instantly superhuman powers, but that they'd be aware of ordinarily sub-conscious processes like breathing or sensory perceptions that we filter out most of the time. Maybe memory recall would be better. And that in turn risks a lot of solipsism rather than someone running amok with god-like powers. I realize that people with superior mental recall and eidetic memories are perceived as "superhuman", or that people with very good perceptive abilities (excellent eyesight or distinguishing palettes for foods) are. But we don't need to make a superhero/supervillain movie to sell those and it probably isn't because they "use more of their brain."

A note on writing
- All writers are writing about themselves. A very good writer is writing in such a way that, while their reader will know this, has constructed an imaginative reality in which the reader may escape, or clever and well-supported arguments in which they may engage and nod or shake the head vigorously in agreement or anger. But writers are really writing to put down the words about themselves. What I believe a very good writer possesses is not necessarily a command of the language in which they compose words (though the well-placed 5 dollar word helps at times). Instead it is a command of perspective-taking that is possessed. Writers see things as best they can as someone else, be they a character or an interlocutor, and can better convince us that these others are the ones speaking to us on the page and not the man behind the curtains.

This is not the same as "If I were in his/her place". That's a weak sauce to pour over the question of what someone else would or should think. Anyone can do that and it requires no imagination. It is "If I were them in his/her place" that we're after. Assuming a new identity for a brief while, not presuming an identity for ourselves. History as a field of study requires this practice when done properly. It is this skill that it should instruct and impart and not the memorization of trivial dates and names assembled into the proper order.
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