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Immigration and the Culture Wars December 11, 2007

Posted by Dwight and Lynn Furrow in Culture, Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy.

Reuben Navarette argues that opposition to immigration is not really about jobs or border security. It is about culture.

“It’s the perception that the country is becoming more Hispanic, that Spanish is replacing English, that Hispanic immigrants are weakening American identity, and that Main Street is turning into Little Mexico. A leader of the vigilante Minuteman movement moronically called it the “colonization” of the United States.This sort of rhetoric is all about fear — that those who thrive in the dominant culture are losing their primacy, that the mainstream is being polluted by foreigners, and that our children are going to live in a world where they’re going to have to work a lot harder to keep up.”

Unfortunately, I think Navarette is spot on. The culture wars have always been about the perceived loss of a particular vision of American culture and the immigration controversy promises to fit comfortably into that interminable controversy over values that seems to have no end in sight.

There is an important philosophical issue that underlies this controversy. Philosopher Thom Brooks, in commenting on a recent paper by Samuel Scheffler, observes that:

“In essence, Scheffler’s argument is that what is of value about culture is not culture itself, but certain values that may (or may not) be present in a given culture. The suggestion is that rather than honour claims from culture, we should honour claims from values: “culture” should then drop from view.”

If Scheffler is right then, given that immigrants exhibit the values Americans are alleged to admire–hard work, family, religion, yearning for freedom etc.–it is hard to see why the influence of immigrant culture would induce a sense of loss on the part of the host communities. The values are not undermined; they persist in new cultural forms.

But I suspect Scheffler is not entirely right about this. Part of our attachment to culture is not attachment to a certain set of values. Rather, it is attachment to very particular persons, artifacts, practices, and narratives of one’s culture. It is  particular expressions of cultural patterns that matters most–the new, imported forms of expression don’t count. Hence, the sense of loss.

For we cosmopolitans, it is easy to find aesthetic value in new forms of cultural expression. But some folks do not find cosmopolitanism attractive. This fact does not augur well for putting the culture wars to rest.



1. Thea - December 13, 2007

I don’t think that this is about culture per se. It is an issue of attachment, though. Attachment to a little artifact called fair skin.

Mexican values are very much in line with American values. They were colonized by Europeans, too, after all. Yet, the same people opposed to taking in Mexico’s tired and poor would never be so worried about Canadians mass emigrating or about little Hollands popping up all over the place.

2. Cyrus Ghahremani - December 18, 2007

Conversing with border police during a recent trip to Mexico, one officer snapped, “Do you realize we are being…invaded??”

Hispanic culture is already prevalent in the USA – at least here in California – and increased immigration and population will only affect things statistically at this point. Thea is suggesting that further complaint is a race issue and I agree. That said, I also agree that Navarette’s commentary on American xenophobia is spot-on. Bigots are using the border issue as an opportunity to legitimize their racism – such sentiment, shared by the aforementioned minutemen and border police, is just a sugar-coated tirade of white supremacist rhetoric.


Hispanic integration has already begun, culturally. Tightening the tourniquet between the US and Mexico will only escalate existing tensions. These patriots that are unwilling to understand or interact with another race, even if they are neighbors, should review and live up to their constitution.

3. Moriae - December 24, 2007

I was thinking that Ms. Rosenstand’s ideas on ethics may very well apply here. Being a ‘philosophical blog’ we should be careful what we assume. In Mr. Cyrus Ghahremani’s comments I was waiting for something to persuade me, but I’m afraid there was not. There were many ‘assertions’ but no attempt to demonstrate why they were valid. You see, what sets people apart are not their opinions, rather it is the evidence they use to support the opinions they do have. In that way they show respect for people whose opinions may be different because they may be unaware of the information YOU have. So sharing such information is crucual to gaining respect, and if well presented, perhaps persuade people over to your views. This we can call the ‘ethics of persuasion.’ But in the assertions I read I found no respect or evidence that might persuade someone with different feelings about it to say to themselves, “Geez, I didn’t think of that.” The unpersuasive element to Mr. Cyrus Ghahremani’s assertions is easy to identify: The logic of it all was illusive. I have little doubt (but no evidence) that all racists are against further immigration, but are all people who are against further immigation really racists? I doubt it. I know many hispanics who are themselves appalled by the current situation. You see, there are many thousands of people waiting to legally immigrate to this country and have had to wait countless years for approval. It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine that one thing blocking their approval is the feeling that there are already too many people here at this point, be they legal or not. But I think many Americans feel that people using our laws, doing the required paperwork, waiting through the process, are the kind of people we want as fellow countrymen. It isn’t racist feelings being played out but a sense of inherent fairness being felt. Meaning the illegals don’t seem to be doing any process ‘fairly’ when compared to people who are seemingly trying to be as ‘fair’ about it as they can. So if you asked the average American who they might cite as the people using the constitution as it was intended to be used, wouldn’t it be the very people who use it as the people who wrote the laws meant them to be used? It’s fairness, not racism.

4. Forrest Noble - December 24, 2007

OK Moriae,

From my point of view, I believe individual opinions and perspectives are valuable for each person providing they also can show respect for other’s perspectives. If one’s cultural perspective provides an individual with happiness, then I see no reason why he should change providing he is happy, follows the laws of the land, and has respect for other’s ideas.

I think it is human nature to relish the cultural identity of one’s youth. Most would prefer that these ideas, appearances, and values would not change. They look at “outsiders” with other values as strange.

Those more sophisticated might travel the world to find foreign cultures, governmental systems, beliefs, appearances, natural beauty, friendliness, altruism, and characteristics of a location and of a society, the cost of living, etc.– that are most pleasing to them. If they can afford it they might move there. Hispanics on the other hand are generally people that don’t have this opportunity. If they see the opportunity for a much better life in a foreign land, in an unfamiliar culture, they will take the chance.

All Hispanics are Mexicans to many whites, and whites are mostly all gringos to many Hispanics– both words having a negative connotation culturally.

Each person should change themselves, and their belief systems if they need to for their happiness’s sake, but should be tolerant of others who are trying to make a better life for themselves and their family legally, and who also have equal regards for other races and cultures—why not?

Maybe I could turn my back if a thousand Hispanics swam across the Rio Grand—but ten Million? Maybe not.—oh well, these are the complexities of cultural living. That’s my 2 cents.———- again Moriae happy holidays to you, as well as one and all!!

Your friend forrest

5. Moriae - December 24, 2007

Well Forrest I do not so much object to the ‘spirit’ of your ideas–they are fine– but there is something about the ‘letter’ of them that does trouble me. I still can’t shake the idea that there are some ideas that are just bad, whether they are legal or not, and whether they hurt anyone or not.

There seems to be an annoying American habit to confound two kinds of ‘rights,’ legal and moral. To wit: we have a legal, and constitutional ‘right’ to believe whatever we want to believe, whether it happens to be right or wrong. You can believe that God hates gays, you can believe that God hates anything you are personally against, and that may not in any way ‘hurt’ anyone in our temporal world because they may simply be unaware that you have such beliefs.

But as William Clifford always maintained there is never anything ‘private’ about a belief, it always has an effect on others, if for no other reason that it makes you liable to obtain even more bad ideas that may eventually HAVE that bad effect on others. Once you begin to make excuses for bad ideas you are simply setting yourself up for more of their kind. Believing that God will reward you with the innocent lives of 72 other women is a curiously self-centered idea, and for centuries it had no effect on the West, but now it does and this effect is not even contained in the West. But I see no reason why such ideas be they ‘legal,’ or ‘constitutional’ beliefs should have any claim to any ‘moral respect’ from me. Before I can bestow ‘respect’ on an idea I must first be convinced of the integrity of the person holding that idea. It was at this point I felt troubled by the ideas being proffered on this site.

It was the use of the term ‘race’ in such a cavalier way that caught my eye. The very thoughtful book of Niall Ferguson, The War of the World, goes to great length showing that despite the fact that ‘race’ has no scientific foundation whatsoever, people LIKE to think in terms of ‘race’ constantly. The reason for it is simple: it serves their interests and ends to do so. It’s a quirk of history that a group called La Raza objects to white racism. I certainly do too, but when people without a sense of irony try to influence other people without a sense of irony as well, you get the makings of tragedy— obviously unintended tragedy, but it will be a tragedy nevertheless. Because once one side is cavalier with its crucial terms, that will signal the other side to be as cavalier as they like too.

This is why I mentioned an ‘ethics’ needed to persuade people. One must simply come to terms with the fact that most people simply do not accept the ideas and notions we may have. Now unless you begin with the belief (and this will end the conversation) that others differ with us for the simple reason that they are stupid (or racist), then the only option is for them to grant the possibility that others may differ with us because they are thinking of something we are NOT thinking of. And in this way we must insist and allow others to check our crucial points WE SEE, and also agree to look at THEIR POINTS that we may not have seriously considered as yet too. This is the only way ‘reason’ can ever prevail. I am not really sanguine about the prospects because ‘reason’ is an uphill fight all the way, but the vast majority of humans prefer downhill efforts.

You see, once you mentioned ‘happiness’ as an allowable goal you’ve already set the incline on a downward angle. I don’t expect the truth about anything to be pleasant or agreeable. The book “War Before Civilization” showed the many mass graves throughout North and South America (many containing several thousands) were dug long before Columbus ever got the idea to come west. We know it was murder for the simple reason that without exception these graves contained no women of fertile age, 14-30. Reason and (increasing)knowledge are setting up human pride for a great fall. I think it should suit us to prefer modest ends and keep our pride in check.

Happiness is a fool’s object in life. Having a conscience about what you believe may not make you happy, but it will garner you respect and may allow your neighbors to sleep in their beds more secure. It may be our neighbor’s conscience that will allow us to open our presents tomorrow morning rather than having to call 911 as some predicably will.

Merry Christmas to all, and pray that your neighbor has a soul.

6. Forrest Noble - December 25, 2007


It’s a good prayer above if you think your neighbor would go to heaven, otherwise you might be praying for his appointment with the fires of Hell.

In your ideas, Moriae, I see a lot of “good and bad, right and wrong”. Since I am an atheist, educated as a mathematician/ engineer my thinking usually never entertains absolutes– just probabilities. This would probably be the right thing to do to achieve a certain objective. This may not be a good idea because this might happen, it’s more risky etc. In this would of my thinking, there only are grays, no black and whites. Some possibilities seem more likely and others less likely.

Everybody has different opinions of what’s good and bad, right or wrong. On the other hand, true or false is a different concept if you’re talking about the past– statements can often be verified as generally true or generally false– not based upon opinion but based upon a mutually agreed upon authority.

This illegal immigrant problem also exists in many, if not most, other parts of the world. Wherever it occurs there are cultural clashes as well as antipathy because of the illegal’s methods and unmanageable population influxes of foreigners that often compete for jobs and other opportunities. This of course causes resentment by many. From my perspective there is no clear correct answer to solve the problem– just deal with the illegals that are already here and spend the money to make it very difficult for all known illegal methods of entry. Remember, most prosperous countries face this same problem– we’re not alone. Even when the immegrations are legal they are often put down as inferior by the existing populous–such was the plight of the large influxes of Irish, Sweedish, Puerto Ricans–or resented because of their cultural differences–like the Mexicans, Jews, Chinese, Koreans, etc.

That’s my opinion, your friend forrest–Merry Christmas

7. Moriae - December 26, 2007

Forrest, I will confess, as you suggest, to being something of a ‘moralist.’ I do think some thing are just plain wrong, and for that matter, some things are right. But I’m not moralistic: I don’t claim to have a monopoly on what is or isn’t good, nor would I even suggest that I’ve found much of either to share for that matter. Yet to my mind the ‘good’ suggests a ‘process’ that is adopted as a constituent of one’s character. It involves (in part) of knowing how much there is to know about the world and marrying that with a realization of the impossibility of having that knowledge. In this way we notice that man always has to act “in the lurch” as it were. This results ultimately (if applied properly) in a humble or ‘modest’ appreciation of the tools we have to determine what we should or shouldn’t do.

To my mind the plague of man centers on most people’s staggering Presumption. It is ‘presumption’ that kills, that claims the right to act on its beliefs, that becomes indifferent the calamities it causes. To a degree I think this is Ms. Rosenstand’s point about the crucial role (and very Jewish) of ‘intentions.’ But I must confess that I’m also a bit leery of intentions as well. To wit: if the ‘intentions’ we use are the result of insufficient knowledge our inadequate ponderings, then the mischief we may cause may be unlimited (witness Iraq). Nietzsche was one too to warn us about the effects of ‘intentions.’

As you should see I’m not terribly sanguine about the well-trodden observation that many people have to variety of notions (or opinions) about what is good/bad. That most people have put little to no thought on why they do believe the things they believe makes the observation pretty near useless. I would think the object of philosophy is to disabuse people of many of their favorite ideas, largely by discrediting them. Considering the general lunacy of most beliefs people testify to, it shouldn’t tax the abilities of even the most modest philosophers to accomplish this. It should begin now, because the day after tomorrow may be too late.

8. Moriae - December 26, 2007

A little piece of Christmas optimism from the Grinch: a few hours ago I was at the Vistor’s Center at the Civil War battlefield of Chancellorsville, Virginia. I perused their bookstore and viewed their many exhibits. I knew Stonewall Jackson was shot (by one of his own men) only some yards away from the Center, so I went up to the main desk to hawk-eye the many maps they had there to choose my best route there. As I was looking at one map in particular (to focus on the trail I’d use to find the Jackson site in the lite rain falling), one of the park rangers came out and asked if I needed help. I said I didn’t, but we quickly picked-up a conversation about Lee’s tactics as I continued to take up details from the maps layed-out. I began my remarks by mentioning just how shrewed Robert E. Lee was being outnumbered and out-equiped and nevertheless always being able to outmaneuver the Yankees from Fredricksburg, to Chancellorsville, then to The Wilderness and finally to Spotsylvania (all of these sites within mere miles of each other). I mentioned how much ‘nerve’ served Lee and how it kept the Yankees unbalanced.

He went on and described in detail his own high estimation of Robert E. Lee and and what made the Rebels so techincally good. You know how easy it is to note when you’ve touched on a subject dear to the heart of someone, and he was very animated about it. I enjoyed his knowledge, easy manner, and his profound wish to be of help to me. Being the day after Christmas, and also a rainy day to boot, kept the visitors to the Center limited to me alone. So I studied that map ceaselessly because I knew once in the rain I would be hoofing it big time to limit how wet I became. I hadn’t looked up once as I perused these maps. I had a ball cap on too and right up to that second I couldn’t have told you a thing about (besides the voice) the Park employee speaking to me.

As I began to leave the table I raised my head for the first time to thank him for his help. And it was only at that instant I realized how a Southern, Virginian, American black man was the man who had been so helpful to me and delighted in sharing his knowledge and love of the meaningful tragedy that took place all around this center in 1963.

It made me reflect on a wonderful element in our country that contrasts deeply with other kinds of examples like these in other countries (try going to Verdun and get a decent word about Germans there!). We don’t take sides here, but we learn and respect the errors and judgments of our past that make possible the kind of life we have now. It’s such an irony of American life now that the area of our country most proud to fly ‘the stars and stripes’ is the South. It was brutal but necessary. But in retrospect its necessity made us who we are. And witnessing an American black man accepting as part of his own heritage the Southern cause was humbling.

9. Forrest Noble - December 26, 2007

Moriae, to try to change people’s cherished opinions is often futile and not worth the effort unless it’s your own children or someone who might have a chance of seriously listening to another opinion.

The day after tomorrow is not too late. I think there are 6 more days until the New Year–when obscure profits of doom contend that the beginning of the end will begin in 08. As for me I resolve, that for 08, one year straight, I will make a concerted effort to make nothing but well-thought-out decisions of action– but it’s not 08 yet so I still have time for arbitrary and hedonistic behaviors to end the year properly. lol

Seriously, my oldest grown son spends a lot of time thinking. He has not read any of the classical works of philosophy, to my knowledge, but one of his perspectives that he asserts which I generally agree with– is that everyone has knowledge or interesting perspectives that can be learned through conversation– for those who are good listeners.

One of the tasks that I’ve given myself– is to advise others as to perspectives, characteristics, behaviors, habits, etc. which it seems to me that the person has– which do not provide happiness or other lasting benefits for that person , and/ or that may be detrimental to that person, or in their relationships with others. Such subjects are very sensitive and it is not often when conversational invitations provide for these opportunities to show alternative perspectives.

My approach is generally– “that it may not be in your best interest in the long run. What do you think?” or — “in our brief conversation may I suggest my opinion as to an idea or approach that might help you?”. After their answer I can usually give them some humbly-spoken advice as to other possibilities– such as– more pro-active behaviors such as goal setting, more optimistic way(s) of thinking, alternative opinions, etc.

all for know, Have a happy and prosperous new year Moriae– and to any/ all others the same– every new day begins one’s possibilities, upon resolve, for the coming year.– I remember that from somewhere.

your friend forrest

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