Friday, September 22, 2017

Dream On

Representative Nancy Pelosi is drawing fire for appearing to be ready to compromise with President Trump and congressional  Republicans on immigration reform. The undocumented protestors are demanding that the laws of what is effectively a foreign nation be altered to suit their desires, and are protesting Representative Pelosi not because she disagrees with their ultimate goals, but because, as a person who will actually have to do the work of making immigration reform happen, she refuses to take a hard line that she has no leverage to buttress. Rather she is dealing with reality as it currently is, and not what an idealized (and perhaps ideological) reality would look like.

While this is unlikely to become a public relations faux pas on the level of people marching for immigration reform under the flags of their home nations from some years ago, it's unlikely to help their case. Whether or not the Dreamers, or anyone else from (mainly) Latin America, have a right to a life in the United States is not settled law. And if there is one thing that tends to rankle American Conservatives, it's treating issues as settled before they're done arguing them. And given that it's Conservatives who are the most opposed to the presence of people in the country illegally, they're likely to see the protests as simple lawlessness (aided and abetted by Democratic politicians looking for more voters).

The Dreamer's main issue is that they aren't in a position to demand anything. Whether they understand things that way or not, they're supplicants in this process. They lack the direct ability to punish anyone because although they may be sympathetic figures, they're non-voters by definition (and by law - and it's a safe bet that somewhere, there's a Republican operative who would like nothing better than to catch a Dreamer or ten engaged in voter fraud). That pretty much reduces their leverage to their ability to get other people to vote as they request, and it's unlikely that they could muster enough support to do in Minority Leader Pelosi on their own. Therefore, despite how just they understand their cause to be, they're in something of a bad position - feeling the need to advocate strongly on their own behalf, yet facing limits as to what they can actually do. After all, a sufficiently motivated Republican caucus in the House of Representatives can effectively deep-six the conversion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals into federal law. And given that the likelihood that the Trump Administration would defend the law in court is effectively zero, encoding it into law is more or less the only way it survives at the federal level. Representative Pelosi is not in a position to force the Republicans into concessions on this, they have a better hand than she does. While the very fact that some sort of compromise is even being considered is significant, it's not indicative of a groundswell of support for the sort of immigration regime that the protestors seem to want. They might not have to care about that, but if Representative Pelosi is going to have anything to show for this when it's all said and done, she can't afford not to care.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Why would [a mixed-race woman, Jane Manning James]—who is clearly full of incredible intelligence, skills, and perseverance—throw her lot in with a community that would not have her as a member?
When Mormons Aspired to Be a ‘White and Delightsome’ People
Because sometimes, that’s the only community to throw your lot in with.

Implicit in the question of why Jame Manning James would chose to stay with an early Mormon community that refused to see her as equal to them is the idea that she could simply have left, and found another (presumably Black) community that would have taken her in as an equal. Part of it is easy, as Max Perry Mueller notes in the interview. Answering his own question, he notes that Ms. James was a devout believer in Mormonism. And given this, the idea that she was willing to tolerate second-class status to be a part of the community that practiced it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

But that wasn’t the first thing that crossed my mind when I read the question. At one point in the book, according to Emma Green, Mr. Mueller quotes Ms. James as saying: “I’m white with the exception of the color of my skin.” And it’s worth noting that in the Black American community today, there are no positive words used to describe that state. “Oreo” is the one I suspect most often used today, but “confused” or even “brainwashed” were popular alternatives when I was young. And just as the modern Black community takes exception to people who are “Black on the outside, but White on the inside,” even if they are mixed-race, it wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Black communities back then shared at least some of that prejudice. And so it’s entirely possible that after a certain point, there wasn’t another accessible and accepting community for Ms. James to throw her lot in with, a state of affairs that we don’t often think about in the modern world.

Monday, September 18, 2017


So I was having a discussion with some acquaintances, and the topic of taxation came up. Namely the idea of taxation as a sort of "repayment" to "society" for the perceived benefits of the advantages that society as a whole confers on an individual, sometimes, it seems by merely existing. Interestingly (if tangentially) enough, this case society as a whole as selfish, in that it doesn't provide advantages as a gift, but rather as an investment, and it expects handsome returns from those who parley those advantages into high income and wealth. As often happens with such discussions, the tend to meander, and when the topic of tax benefits for marriage came up, the center of the discussion shifted into the realm of expectations around marriage, and who is allowed to have them. And this is where I began to note an interesting disconnect. Someone had mentioned that their parents had attempted to guilt them into being granted a veto over potential marriage partners by noting the debt that the child had incurred to said parents for the advantages that had been conferred on them over the years. And the consensus of the group was that was a highly inappropriate way for family to act. As the discussion went on, it broadened, and we talked about the expectations that any number of groups to which a person may belong might have for them. And throughout, the general consensus was that none of them had the right to demand repayment for perceived advantage conferred.

Sometime later (I don't claim to be a particularly quick study), it occurred to me that, in effect, the group had concluded that while it was appropriate for society, in this case, the nation as represented by government (or, perhaps more simply, the State) to note advantages of membership over non-membership and extract payment for same, regardless of whether or not any given individual sees and understands a certain advantage in their lives, that one's racial, ethnic, religious or neighborhood community is not granted this same privilege.

Of course, there are substantial differences between a government of any given jurisdiction and the community formed by other people who trace their national origin to the same place that you do. But there does not strike me as any substantive difference between "society" saying to an individual "you have the things that you have, not (solely) because of any personal merit, but because of the assistance that we have given you; and whether you requested (or even acknowledge) that assistance or not, there is a price to paid for having benefited from it," and any recognized community that individual may belong to saying the same thing. Of course, to remain with the topics of discussion I noted before, money and one's choice of significant other are not the same thing, but that doesn't, in and of itself, prevent seeing the requests as similar. Each institution sees itself as a creditor to the individual for services rendered, expects payment for said services and had no intention of taking "I didn't ask you to do anything for me," as an answer.

Without diving too deeply into speculation about what other people may or may not be thinking, I would guess that it's a difference in the way that people understand freedom and obligation - and what obligations that others are entitled to ask of us. Society is justified in demanding resources from us, and staking steps to enforce that demand, in a way that other groups are not justified to demand that we be a resource. Interestingly, I suspect that people who take issue with the idea of involuntary (depending, I suppose, on how one defines "voluntary") taxation would say that it makes the individual into a social resource and that society is no more entitled to demand that an individual be a resource than anyone else is.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

How To Think Of Me

One thing that I've heard people complain about is that some other person(s) have attributed some feeling that the complainant says that they do not hold. Usually this is something negative, like contempt, hatred or jealousy, but it covers a wide gamut. But attributions, such as "you think I'm stupid," for instance, at not much different than a lot of other supposedly descriptive statements that offer much more insight into the person making the statement, than the thing allegedly being described. In this sense, demanding that someone see you as you wish to be seen is a request to replace their understanding of their circumstances with one's own.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Leveling Off

I was listening to an episode of The Atlantic's fledgling podcast, Radio Atlantic. In this episode, Ask Not What Your Robots Can Do For You, Editor-in-Chief, Jeffrey Goldberg makes the point, more than once, if I remember correctly, that the political class is unwilling to level with the American public about the eventual effects of growing workplace automation.

But it occurs to me that in a lot of ways, the public is like the stereotypical demanding manager; the one who says: "Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions." And that creates a problem for the political class. Because it means that simply saying to the public: "You're just going to have to accept that the people who own the robots and the software that are going to perform your jobs in the future are going to make more money at your expense." And in that case, there will always be a person who will come along and say: "I will stop that from happening." And even if that person offers no other workable details on how they plan to do this, that shred of a solution may well be enough to propel them into office. At which point, they will have no incentive to retract their earlier promise, and "level" with the public.