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Hard Choices?

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler

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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  June 23, 2014

The New York Times editors seem to think that if they tell enough sob stories about illegal immigrants in their ongoing sentimental series “The Way North,” that the national debate will turn into a giant pity party and the nirvana of a human peaceable kingdom will come true, with no consequences — except for more interesting cuisine in states that formerly subsisted on Salisbury steak and pie.

The New York Times, like just about every other institution in the progressive orbit, has surrendered its collective brain to a morass of feelings, longings, and promptings that leads ever deeper into a wasteland of dishonesty. As a long-time registered Democrat who started voting in the year of Watergate, I resent being taken for a ride to the place where anything goes and nothing matters. And especially where nothing matters less than clear thinking and straight talk.

We could start with the practice — especially popular on National Public Radio — by which illegal immigrants are called “undocumented,” as if some unjust bureaucratic mistake was made in their journey across the border and to blame them for it amounts to persecution. It is really too obvious to belabor, except to say that the cumulative effect of such programmatic lying, day after day, will eventually discredit the basic principles of social justice, if it hasn’t already.

The popular story is that America was built by immigrants and that therefore everything about immigration is good and leads to a more successful society. This narrative is so devoid of historical context that it should embarrass anyone beyond a second-grade education. In fact, the surplus populations of industrializing European countries were off-loaded onto a more sparsely-populated New World that also happened to be in the throes of rapid industrialization (including industrial farming), offered a lot of cheap land under plain terms, and held a bonanza of untapped resource wealth in everything from timber to iron ore.

A few things that progressives leave out of the story these days: immigration was rigorously controlled at its ports of entry, and particularly at the height of immigration between the 1880s and the 1920s. A lot of people may have been pouring in from foreign lands, but they were carefully scrutinized on the way in, and not a few were sent back. Secondarily, these immigrants were required to assimilate into a recognizable common culture. There was no handwringing over the question of whether children from Italy or Lithuania should have to learn how to read, write, and speak in the English language. A strong consensus required it of them, and it must be fair to say that most of them were eager to enter that new common culture. We also conveniently forget that immigration quotas were severely restricted in 1924, not out of meanness, as the sentimentalists would suppose, but because the public and its representatives correctly apprehended that the situation had changed in some of its obvious particulars, requiring a consensus about limits.

In the 21st century, The USA is no longer sparsely populated, except in the regions that are typically hostile to settlement anywhere else in the world — places where there is no water, or too hot, or too cold, or too swampy. North America is a settled continent at a moment in history when virtually every nation including the USA can be fairly considered over-populated. It is also too obvious to belabor the point that fossil fuels have produced an algae bloom of human reproduction and that, whether we like it or not, the decline of fossil fuel is certain to lead to a decrease in human population. The question is how disorderly and cruel that journey might be if we don’t make the management of contraction a supreme political priority. And managing the movement of people into this country is a necessary part of that.

Currently, progressive America is pretending that the conditions of the 19th century still prevail here — boundless material resources and land for the taking — and that we can happily accommodate the overflow from our equally overpopulated neighbors, Mexico and the countries of Central America, any way they can manage to get here. The sentimental approach as represented by The New York Times, is exactly what will prevent the kind of hard choices that national leadership is faced with. Both established political parties could founder on this issue.

It’s rather funny that the presumptive Democratic nominee for president in 2016 titled her current book Hard Choices, because that is the chief pretense of the party she represents. The last thing Hillary wants to do is take a stand on anything, other than her entitlement to live in the White House.

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

 

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