I’m afraid I feel rather personally about the current immigration crises in the United States and Europe.
(Yes, we have a crisis in the United States as well, or at least, we have Presidential candidates with high poll numbers claiming that we do, and said candidates are threatening to enact draconian measures, including mass deportations.)
I take the matter quite personally because my own father was once a war refugee. Indeed, he was once a war refugee who, because he was a member of a non-Christian religion, was denied refuge in more or less every civilized part of the world. Seventy five years ago, of course, Jews were not considered particularly welcome even by countries that knew full well what was happening in Germany.
My father managed to save himself by ignoring laws that said that he wasn’t allowed to cross borders in the night without permission. Had it been up to many people, of course, he would have died instead, but he quite sensibly believed that he was under no moral obligation to pay attention to people who would have preferred him to remain where he was and die, and thus he formed his own immigration plan without the permission of the legal authorities at his destination.
(Of course, only this morning I read that Victor Orbán has complained that allowing Syrians into Europe would diminish the Christian character of the continent, the sort of claim I’ve heard before in different contexts, including from the political movement that forced my father to flee in the first place. This does bring to mind an ancient set of questions for adherents of Christianity, such as what sort of razor-wire walled internment camp designs Jesus would have favored, as well as whom Jesus would have deported. But I digress.)
For me, the question of immigration is, because of my family history, a very emotional one. None the less, I have given the matter a considerable amount of thought, and I believe that, although I care deeply about the issue, my position is still not an irrational one. Rather, I think that my family history simply allows me to put faces to the theoretical people who might be denied passage and die where they are, and thus gives me the ability to understand by example the human consequences of policies.
(Indeed, this is perhaps much the same thing that has happened for people who have viewed the the photographs of poor Aylan Kurdi, who drowned because even though his family had plenty of money to go from where they were to a place of safety, they had to give it to smugglers instead of to a reliable airline or ferry company. Seeing an individual face, hearing an individual name, makes it harder to ignore the consequences of a policy. But again, I digress.)
So, as I have said, I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I’ve come to a straightforward conclusion. Anyone proposing that immigration from one country to another be stopped through the use of coercive state violence is, morally speaking, doing the equivalent of proposing to beat on the hands of a drowning man desperately trying to climb out of the sea.
I claim that there is no more moral justification for preventing a man from Homs from traveling to your town, renting a house and then looking for work than there would be for preventing a man from within the borders of your supposed “nation state” from doing the same. I have scoured the literature on moral philosophy and failed to find any justification for the claim that a man born across an imaginary line has particularly different rights than a man born within it. I claim this is true regardless of whether the man from Homs seeks to rent the house next door because he is fleeing for his life or because he prefers the weather in your part of the world.
Indeed, the only way to stop a man from Homs from traveling to your town, renting an apartment from a willing owner, and taking a job from a willing employer, would seem to be to threaten to do violence or actually to do violence to that man. Which is to say, the only way to prevent him from moving would be the initiation of violence against an entirely peaceful person who has done nothing whatsoever to the people doing violence to him.
Therefore, not only would it seem that there is no moral justification for preventing such behavior, and not only would it seem churlish, but it would also seem that, if anything at all can be called immoral, then doing violence to a peaceful person who wants nothing more than to rent a house, find a job and live as everyone else does is immoral. Perhaps, of course, there is no such thing as right and wrong beyond personal whim, perhaps morals are not a real thing at all, but if morals are indeed a real thing and if morality means anything useful, then clearly such acts are immoral.
I know that some, perhaps even here on Samizdata, would suggest that immigrants are coming to the West to take advantage of our generous state welfare policies. If you believe that, then there is a trivial solution. I will in no way oppose the proposal that the law that opens the border should also specify that immigrants and even their children should not receive state benefits until they’ve lived in the country for ten, or twenty, or, who cares, make it a thousand years if you like. I don’t believe in the dole or state benefits of any sort to begin with, so I can’t consistently oppose denying people such benefits.
I have heard some others say “but they will vote and they are illiberal!”, and if you believe that, fine, deny them the right to vote — I’m an anarchist, and as I don’t believe in elections in the first place, I feel comfortable with denying the franchise to immigrants forever if you feel that is necessary for you to agree to open the border.
But, if you refuse to consider opening the border even if those coming are doing so with their own resources, are renting or buying homes with their own money, are not taking state benefits and are not voting for more collectivism, then I am afraid that I do have to look askance at your position.
Which is to say, your position was immoral in the first place, but if you refuse to reverse a completely immoral position even if the supposed “pragmatic” rationale for holding it vanishes, then perhaps your rationale is not only immoral but was also not held for pragmatic reasons in the first place.
I don’t usually find much to sympathise with over at the Bella Caledonia blog. This account by Jonathan Rowson, whose brother has been committed to a psychiatric ward, was an exception:
Smoking and the Forbidden Garden – a Dereliction of Sanity?
Defending the rights of the mentally ill to do something that harms them is not a popular cause, but this much needs to be said: preventing psychiatric patients from smoking on hospital grounds is inhumane.
I am responding to the situation in a particular ward in a hospital in NHS Grampian region. At the time of writing my forty year old brother Mark is there, as he has been before. He is surrounded by other adult patients, many of whom are thought disordered, dysfunctional, and up to their eye balls in medication. Mark has given me permission to write publicly about his situation, but he is not well enough to grasp the full context. I am taking the liberty of making the following case on his behalf.
Many psychiatric patients are habitual smokers, but at the moment they are strictly not allowed to smoke anywhere on hospital grounds. Smoking has been banned in hospital buildings for about a decade, but in the hospital in question secure gardens adjacent to the locked wards and smoking shelters within the general grounds of hospitals were available to smoke. This arrangement seemed to work until the authorities decreed that the shelters should be knocked down and the secure gardens should be smoke free. Some psychiatric patients, staff and visitors now face the mild stigma and hassle of having to escape the hospital to smoke, but if you are sectioned under the mental health act it’s not so simple. The hospital ward is your de-facto home, and also your de-facto prison, so where do you go?
The ruling is unenforceable. In fact most staff feel they have no choice but to turn a blind eye. Patients are now smoking in their rooms or in the bathrooms; anywhere where the staff can have plausible deniability of not seeing them. Alas, the collateral damage of this necessary open secret is that none of the patients can now go to the outdoor area assigned to the ward. The small secured gardens are the most humanising place on the ward and a vital source of fresh air, but they lie unused due to the risk, not that patients will smoke, but that they will be seen to be smoking, and get staff into trouble as a result.
Most of the comments are supportive, but not all. This one by Clive Scott was notable for its self-righteousness:
What about the employer’s responsibilities to provide a safe working environment for employees and the rights of non-smokers for wholesome air? It would be ridiculous to permit the mentally enfeebled to flout regulations for the common good simply because of their illness. Smoking is a disgusting foul habit and addiction and every step possible should be taken to eliminate it from society.
It would be nice if the world as a whole was a less awful place. The average country is, after all, a democratically elected kleptocracy with a desperately poor population. (For evidence, see India or Haiti or Nigeria or Honduras.)
However, sustained progress worldwide, at least if we’re going to run legal systems based on popular votes instead of more rational methods, depends on most of the world understanding basic economics. The recent rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in U.S. polling demonstrates that even the bulk of people in the U.S. have no understanding of the barest rudiments of economics.
H. L. Mencken once said “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” However, the argument of most statists, on both the left and the right, is that we are our brother’s keepers, that the better off are obligated to run the lives of those who are not so well off, and this includes the more educated running the lives of the less educated.
If you don’t believe me, look around you: we are told that people cannot be trusted to figure out on their own if they should take intoxicating substances or if they should save for retirement or how they should educate their children — all those decisions must be made by the intellectual elite via the state. This is meant quite literally. Drugs must not be legalized because people can’t make their own judgements about taking them, or so we are told. People in the U.S. may not be allowed to privately manage the 14% of their income that goes to government “pensions” — savings would be an awful idea, since they’d just be duped out of their cash by investment firms, so the state must handle that money for them via Social Security. Voucher systems where children go to private schools selected by their parents are unacceptable, only a state run public education system run by the teaching elite is acceptable.
We could go down the list, everything from negotiating salaries to deciding if they want to eat raw milk cheeses. If people were allowed to run their own lives, they would make bad choices, and so it is not merely right but necessary that others, among the elite, should make their choices for them.
So, the smarter must, according to statism, run the lives of the less intelligent and educated, but at the same time it is obvious that even most of the educated in developed countries are incapable of even understanding comparative advantage or supply and demand curves. They are, when it comes to economic education, mere children, unable to help themselves.
The inevitable conclusion, therefore, is that statist morality is not compatible with democracy, but only with a dictatorship run by libertarians.
Note that this isn’t the conclusion I would come to myself, as I don’t share this moral belief system. I don’t personally want to be the dictator — I have no interest in running everyone’s life. However, it is the conclusion that believers in the state, and especially believers in programs like Social Security and public education, must logically come to — applying that morality, a reasonable outcome can only be expected if I and my colleagues are made absolute rulers. Indeed, according to those moral claims, this is not merely a superior solution but is actually morally required.
And yes, I’m trolling you, but at the same time I’m completely serious about what the statist belief system implies.
The Royal Society for Public Health is suggesting that unusual, unhealthy or minority pursuits should be criminalised in order to set a good example to others. They want people to be arrested, fined and possibly even imprisoned for being poor role models. In a liberal society, the only appropriate response can be made with two words or two fingers.
– Chris Snowdon
Some decisions made for an infant are not easily undone. Circumcision, for instance. Hence the controversy on this blog. Or the decision of what language the child will hear first, and whether and when a second one is taught. This topic seems to generate similar anger for similar reasons.
My long post, a sequel to this one on how those who wish to preserve minority languages are self-destructively fixated on the use of force as the only possible means of doing so, is stalled. A line about how Welsh-speaking parents should be free to delay teaching their children English if they wish grew until it took over the post. I have cut off that part as one cuts off the end of a… worm. Let’s see if it can live independently and wriggle off into some new direction of its own.
We are libertarians, right? We defend fee-paying schools, religious schools, selective schools, single-sex schools, schools where the children do not have to attend lessons, “unschooling” and homeschooling. We do not wimp out from defending all these just because they may not be where we would choose to send our own children. Yes, I meant Islam. Islamic schools must be free to exist on the same grounds that Islamic speech must be free to exist. Compared to many of the controversial types of school above, the average Welsh, Maori, Irish Gaelic or Navajo medium school is beloved by all. I must say, I would prefer that no school were funded by force, i.e. by taxation, but that happy state is at present no more than a dream.
As for schools, so for languages. We defend everyone’s right to his or her own language and culture, this time joined by practically the entire developed world. It was not always so here in the UK, nor in the rest of the English speaking world, and even now there are many countries where minority languages are still suppressed covertly and overtly. In modern rich countries the boot is very slightly on the other foot, but by the standards of world oppression it’s not a big deal.
As for languages, so for passing on your language to your children. The idea that being bilingual confers a cognitive advantage is not utterly universal, but it is very widespread, and, for what it’s worth, intuitively makes sense to me. I have never met a bilingual who wished they were not one; I have met several people who lament that they could have been raised bilingually but were not. Fine for the kids, then… but maybe not so fine for the minority language. Bilingualism does not seem to be stable. “Half the world is bilingual,” say the enthusiasts. Yes, and half the world’s languages are in danger of dying out. Welsh, the minority language I know most about, is comparatively healthy with its half million plus speakers, but its trendline gently noses downwards. Every Welsh speaker also speaks English. That’s the trouble. There is this myth that when an English person comes into a pub all the locals start speaking Welsh. They don’t. On the contrary. I have lost the link for this*, but when I saw it I believed it instantly from personal observation: there is research to show that when a single person who only speaks English joins a Welsh-speaking social group every other person in the network switches to English, out of politeness. And then comes the internet, and pop music, and the TV, and the adverts, and the whole great wave of English… increasingly, Welsh-schooled or not, young people in Wales seem to be jumping in and enjoying the surf. Often they are sad later that they have let their Welsh go, but gone it has. The same pattern of decline applies to young speakers of other languages spoken in proximity to English.
Some might calculate that only way to ensure the survival of these languages is to increase the exit costs.
→ Continue reading: The morality of not teaching your child English
The Guardian reports:
Chimpanzees granted petition to hear ‘legal persons’ status in court
Wise’s argument in this case and others is that chimpanzees are intelligent, emotionally complex and self-aware enough to merit some basic human rights, such as the rights against illegal detainment and cruel treatment. They are “autonomous and self-determining”, in Wise’s words.
You can probably see why this post bears the “Self-ownership” tag. Many of the people arguing for legal personhood for animals are twerps like this one, who claims that she finds “discrimination on the grounds of species as distasteful as discrimination on the grounds of race or sex.”
However the arguments put forward by the Nonhuman Rights Project do not seem obviously wrongheaded to me. For instance they do discriminate on grounds of species, between higher and lower animals. This comes from their Q&A page:
Your first plaintiffs are chimpanzees, and you are also talking about elephants, whales and dolphins. What’s next after that? Dogs and pigs?
Our plaintiffs will be animals for whom there is clear scientific evidence of such complex cognitive abilities as self-awareness and autonomy. Currently that evidence exists for elephants, dolphins and whales, and all four species of great apes. So, for the foreseeable future, our plaintiffs are likely to come from these three groups.
Here is a fact I find disturbing to contemplate: some severely mentally disabled human beings are less intelligent than chimpanzees. If our society does start to act on that fact in its laws I hope and pray that it does so in the direction of granting more rights to animals, not taking rights away from disabled humans.
If you are an adult and want to work as a model in France, the French government will decide if the way you look is appropriate in their view. And if not, the people who hired you will be fined or jailed.
What you will notice is that it is all presented in terms of social conservatives and social liberals. It is about the competing rights of members of religious communities and members of sexual communities. And, depressingly, there isn’t a single even slightly libertarian voice in the debate. Everyone that speaks is (if I may use the word) a statist.
My own theory is that the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland that started in the late 1960s have less to do with religion, or even national identity, than they have to do with Northern Ireland’s endemic statism, or, to be precise, with the fact that pretty well everyone in Northern Ireland believes strongly in coercion and in the duty of the state to coerce people into doing what they believe is right – be it banning sex between two blokes, banning people paying for sex, banning people from discriminating against prods, papists or gays, and forcing people to pay for state education and healthcare.
– John Mann, commenting here on Samizdata.
Sex worker to launch legal challenge against NI prostitution ban
A sex worker is using European human rights legislation to try to overturn a new law in Northern Ireland that makes it illegal to pay for prostitutes.
Dublin-born law graduate Laura Lee is launching an unprecedented legal challenge that could go all the way to Strasbourg, against a human trafficking bill which includes banning the payment for sex among consenting adults.
The region is the only part of the UK where people can be convicted of paying for sex. The law, which was championed by Democratic Unionist peer and Stormont assembly member Lord Morrow, comes into effect on 1 June.
Lee said she will fund the case partly via crowdfunding on social media networks and from sex worker campaign groups across the world.
Lee, an Irish psychology graduate whose range of services include S&M and bondage, said she was also taking the legal challenge to thwart an attempt to introduce a similar law criminalising the consumers of sex in the Irish Republic.
An alliance of radical feminist groups and a number of nuns from Catholic religious orders are lobbying southern Irish political parties to pass a Nordic-style law outlawing the purchase of sex.
I have no stupid puns to make. This legal case is an important challenge to intolerable state intrusion. I wish Ms Lee the best of luck.
Plain packaging is an appalling intrusion into consumer choice and the operation of the free market.
– Nigel Farage
So, Rolling Stone magazine has rolled back on Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s University of Virginia gang rape story.
A typical reaction when that story first came out came from CNN Political commentator Sally Kohn: “Stop shaming victims in college rapes”. I quote:
Will Drew and UVA get off easily while Jackie’s life — and other college women like her — is shattered?
If UVA has any sense of moral rightness and wishes to remain a great university, it should conduct a thorough investigation into these and similar allegations and mete out appropriate punishment for the perpetuators [sic].
A more senior colleague might like to take Ms Kohn aside and teach her the proper meaning of two words, “allegations” and “perpetrators”. The spelling correction alone does not put right what is wrong with the way both of them combine in that last sentence.
A typical reaction now that the story has been semi-retracted came from Guardian columnist and Feministing founder Jessica Valenti. “I trust women,” she tweets. She disavows the idea that her choice to trust a person is made on the basis of any assessment of individual trustworthiness; she simply trusts the 50% of the human species who belong to the same group as she does. It is group loyalty. On the same grounds, given that she is white, she might as well say, “I trust white people.”
Kohn, Valenti and their like present themselves as the friends of rape victims. There is such a thing as toxic friendship. Before the retraction of the story, I read this account by Liz Seccuro in Time magazine. Ms Seccuro was raped, at the University of Virginia, at the same Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, thirty years ago in 1984. “Do you believe me?” she asks. The answer to that is yes. A man was convicted and jailed for her rape, though she says that there were others who escaped any punishment. But observe that I had to make it very clear that she really was raped. Because after the Duke University lacrosse team affair and this recent one, “rape at frat house” stories (including that of Jackie as described by Erdely, which will now be entirely dismissed by most even though some of it could still be true) provoke an involuntary twitch of doubt even in observers wishing to remain impartial.
Not that the feminists I’ve read on this story ever had any such wish. They said, very clearly, that unquestioning partiality was exactly what they wanted. “I trust women.” They said, as they have been saying for years now, that even the attempt to judge any rape claim on the evidence was to be a “rape apologist”, as Rachel Sklar was quoted as saying here, or was an instance of “rape denialism”, as Amanda Marcotte tweeted here, adding for good measure that it was equivalent to Holocaust denialism.
It is they who are the rape denialists. Or perhaps “deniers that rape matters” would put it better. If you don’t care whether or not a rape actually occurred, then you don’t care about rape. It is a tautology, and a separate point to the one about the trauma faced by real rape victims who seek justice being intensified by the additional scepticism with which their account will now be met. If you think that the moral force of a claim of rape cannot be diminished by evidence that it is false, then in the same act you believe that it cannot be added to by evidence that it is true.
What to make of this?
Shia LaBeouf: I was raped during performance art project
In an interview with Dazed, the actor says that a woman ‘whipped my legs for ten minutes and then stripped my clothing and proceeded to rape me’ during his silent performance art work #IAMSORRY
My question “what to make of this?” is a real one. There is a whole slew of issues involved in this story, ranging from the double standard surrounding female-on-male rape (or allegations of rape), to the extent to which silence can be taken to be consent (particularly the absence of any appeal to bystanders when they were present), and including issues of fairness to the woman accused of rape and to the spectators implicitly accused of indifference to it, and the propriety of staging such an event “starring” a person whom all sides admit has mental issues, which leads us to the politically-charged question of how far one should question the testimony of one who is or may be mentally incapable . . .
Frustratingly, the Guardian story gives much more detail on LaBeouf’s philosophy of art than on what actually happened. A follow-up story quotes his collaborators in the art project as saying they “put a stop to it” as soon as they became aware of it. No mention is made of force being used; apparently she did stop when told to.
So why didn’t Mr LaBeouf say a word to stop her himself? As far as I can make out his reason was because the point of his performance was that he should sit still and not react. On its own, “I could not object because it would have spoiled my artwork” appears ridiculous. Yet people do sometimes freeze when subjected to sexual assault in a public place; it is a common reaction when women are groped on trains, for instance. Then again, what might the woman say in her own defence if these charges were put to her? Was not the whole point of this famous artwork that Mr LaBeouf consented to being humiliated? What did the spectators think was going on? If, as seems to have been the case, his artistic collaborators held that this was something to which a stop should be put, why was no attempt made to arrest the woman? In general I reject the blanket assumption that a person initiating sexual activity must obtain explicit and ongoing verbal assent before continuing. Such an assumption would only apply to creatures not human; the vast majority of all voluntary sexual intercourse takes place without anything remotely resembling such a procedure. But the vast majority of all sexual intercourse does not take place between strangers in public during performance art.
My bewilderment is genuine. All serious comments are welcome, and I would not be surprised to see serious disagreement among the comments. I do not expect to delete remotely as high a proportion of comments as the Guardian moderators did to the comments to the account in the link, but will not hesitate to delete any of which I disapprove.