Sanitation technician

Today David Brooks tries to erase any subtlety from the immigration question. The real conflict is between educated globe-trotting elites and local Nascar types. In case you thought that’s the usual silly dichotomy, you’d be right. This time, however, he finds a way to contradict himself and patronize both groups of the dichotomy.

>The conventional view is that an angry band of conservative activists driven by nativism and economic insecurity is killing immigration reform. But this view is wrong in almost every respect.

Three paragraphs of general assertions lead to the following conclusion:

>What’s shaping the immigration debate is something altogether deeper and more interesting. And if you want to understand what it is, start with education. Between 1960 and 1980, the share of Americans enrolled in higher education exploded. The U.S. became the first nation in history with a mass educated class. The members of this class differed from each other in a thousand ways, but they tended to share a cosmopolitan approach to the world. They celebrated cultural diversity and saw ethnocentrism as a sign of backwardness.

No attempt is made to support that claim with any research. Broad, unsupported generalizations–even in the context of a 750 word column–don’t deserve anyone’s serious consideration. If you can’t even point to the right kind of source for that evidence, you probably shouldn’t write it in a newspaper.

Here’s the dichotomy. First, the smart, elite types:

>Liberal members of the educated class celebrated the cultural individualism of the 1960s. Conservative members celebrated the economic individualism of the 1980s. But they all celebrated individualism. They all valued diversity and embraced a sense of national identity that rested on openness and global integration.

Now the yokels:

>This cultural offensive created a silent backlash among people who were not so enamored of rampant individualism, and who were worried that all this diversity would destroy the ancient ties of community and social solidarity. Members of this class came to feel that America’s identity and culture were under threat from people who didn’t understand what made America united and distinct.

But they’re not driven by nativism–they only feel that the ancient ties of solidarity and community of their native culture is under threat from outsiders.

6 thoughts on “Sanitation technician”

  1. For a moment (in the introduction), I thought you had made a mistake in the header. Surely, this could not be a column of David Brooks. His typical egregious false dichotomies are always punctuated by two linguistically of-putting categories (in this case we have nativists and racists), and proceeds, in vain, to craft an argument. Yet in the beginning it looked like the author had recognized that the over-generalizations (the stuff of these dichotomies), did not properly describe the real immigration debate. No, it was about something more. I was sure that the author was going to proceed to discuss the shades of support/dissent on either side, and speak to the concerns by actually addressing the content of the bill. Instead we get new arbitrary categories (liberal members of the educated class, etc), for a nice summary of the 60s and 80s. By going back to history to explain the reason behind America’s position on this bill, he is trying to argue that the basis for this position has something to do with age old attitudes and prejudices. No, now that couldn’t vibe with racism and nativism. As usual, no substantive discussion of the pitfalls of the bill that might be fueling dissent, no, just another ridiculous dichotomy.

  2. Not sure I see a logical problem here. Brooks seems to be reporting the correlation of one’s position on immigration with educational level. More education means greater openness to living alongside people from other cultures. Less education means less openness to living alongside people from other cultures. But, then he seems to claim that this is the result of some sort of profound “philosophical” difference (which, mind you, isn’t “ideological”) that has resulted as the less educated have reflected upon the cosmopolitan philosophical position of the more educated.

    OK, I suppose. As you point out, this seems to be a distinction that doesn’t maybe hold up under scrutiny. (Which side would “Blut und Boden” fit under?) But, at worst Brooks might be seen to be impose a “rational reconstruction” on this position. If the correlation holds, however, I don’t see the logical problem. Maybe not particularly argued for, but. . ..

  3. I think you\’re right about one crucial thing.

    But first these observations. In the first place, the picture he paints is complete fantasy (and he doesn\’t even bother gesturing at the existence of evidence for it). And it grossly oversimplifies the kinds of issues involved in immigration as representative of one of two positions. While he does correlate the position with education level, he also correlates it with one of two attitudes towards individualism. Pro-individualist liberals and conservatives favor immigration (for the authentic food, I suppose), community minded people fear it (for nativist reasons).

    This is what I think you\’re right about. This is the false dichotomy of a slightly different variety. It\’s the kind that poorly represents the issues at hand, but from which no fallacious inference is drawn, at least explicitly. Perhaps he means to suggest one, but in this case it\’s hard to see what that would be.

    I think however there still remains the contradiction problem–or perhaps it\’s rather more a question of equivocation (masking a contradiction). He claims the one group isn\’t motivated by nativism, but then he describes it precisely in those terms–they\’re afraid of the damage to the \”community\” that immigrants could cause. This is another way of saying one\’s attitude towards one\’s native culture explains one\’s position on immigration.

    More fundamentally, however, the issue here ought to be another one anyway. At this point in the immigration debate people can be trusted to have views in isolation from specious sociological analysis. It would be well that Brooks talk about the many well articulated arguments for and against the recent bill, rather than explain the unconscious circumstances of one\’s allegiances.

  4. I see your point, but, in this case I think he can reasonably claim that he is explaining an aspect of the public debate by an interesting correlation between educational level and views on immigration. He is doing arm-chair or book-report sociology, not policy work.

    I don’t think the lesson he draws from this is plausible–why not conclude that we need to better educate people? And certainly the “feeling” that immigrants won’t respect what makes the U.S. unique need not be dignified with the label “philosophical.” I’d suspect it’s more a rationalization for a gut aversion, but I’d just be armchair psychologizing. . ..

    But, yeah, he seems to be trying to give “nativism” a respectable gloss of paint. It isn’t a prejudice that makes some people believe that immigrants don’t respect what is distinctive in U.S., it’s a philosophical position!

  5. “He claims the one group isn’t motivated by nativism, but then he describes it precisely in those terms–their afraid of the damage to the “community” that immigrants could cause.”

    I see a problem with Brook’s understand the sociology of nativism.

  6. Ah, accidently hit the submit comment button. Please disregard the above comment.

    “He claims the one group isn’t motivated by nativism, but then he describes it precisely in those terms–their afraid of the damage to the “community” that immigrants could cause.”

    Which is why I don’t see how he can avoid a false dichotomy here. He prefaces his comments with the dismissal of the ‘liberal’ notion that those who are against immigration reform aren’t nativist. Then he proceeds to try to demonstrate how the position is actually founded on something substantial. Yet, all we get is another, perhaps more subtle, definition of nativism. He’s regurgitating the very dichotomy that he initially rejected as oversimplified.

    There is a more egregious problem, though with this comment. Who is really against immigration reform anyway? The more problematic dichotomy involves the reduction of the current bill’s dissenters into pro immigration reform and anti-immigration reform. He cites a poll which demonstrates that the majority of Americans do not support the current immigration bill to suggest that most Americans do not support immigration reform. Surely there are some Americans who refuse to allow immigrants any path to citizenship. But, instead of spending most of his column space defending the validity of this position (not familiar with American virtues..), we could start with his conclusion that most Americans are against immigration reform. Most Americans are simply against this bill in its current form. Its not the only way to reform immigration, and one could certainly not be a silly nativist and still support immigration reform. Many people, both liberals and conservatives, have problems with the content of the bill. Some don’t like the merit system or the fact that in order to apply for citizenship, an illegal immigrant must first return to his home nation. Those are all plausible reasons to dislike the bill, but still favor comprehensive immigration reform. For all we know, the people who are really silly nativists might represent a small fraction of the populace. He is ultimately guilty of oversimplifying people’s attitudes toward immigration reform. The dichotomy lies in his pro/anti immigration categories.

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