Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Native Americans set up office of naturalization and immigration

The confederation of North American Native tribes announced today that they have set up an office of naturalization and immigration effective immediately. The chairperson of this office announced that the confederation had determined that not accepting applications for legal immigrant status from European immigrants, beginning in 1492, had been a serious error. The chairperson said "We had no sense of owning the land, if anything we felt the land owned us. Therefore, we never felt entitled to rule on whether European immigrants were here legally or illegally. It has long been abundantly clear that Europeans had no hesitation in believing that they 'owned' the land, therefore that they had the right to decide who could live here legally, or even live, period. We have determined that we must, with great reluctance, act as if we own the land (though deep down we don't believe that for a minute) and start a process by which European immigrants can apply for legal immigrant status on the land that they call "North America".
The chairperson said that there is a great deal of resentment among the people of the confederation because of how vastly they are outnumbered by possibly "illegal" European immigrants. He said "I hear all the time how we have lost our culture as a result of this uncontrolled European immigration, that it must be stopped and reversed by any means necessary". Some of the more resentful people are even advocating "racial profiling" of people with so-called "white skin", detention and possible deportation of those found to be without documentation from the confederation office of immigration and naturalization. "I believe in a more moderate policy" he declared. "We will begin accepting applications immediately and will process them as quickly as possible, seeking to avoid a long period of anxiety for those with European ancestry, and we will do everything we can to avoid breaking up families. I warn the more hot headed among my people that we will not tolerate midnight raids on the homes of people suspected of being undocumented European immigrants." The chairperson also declared that decisions would be made on a "fair" basis, having to do with respect shown to the land by the applicant for permanent residency or citizenship status. "In that respect, our criteria will be quite different from those used by Europeans" declared the chairperson. "We have concluded that what the European immigrants call "development" has led to an unsustainable situation, in which the air, water, and soil of our beloved land is being rendered unusable by future generations. This, too, lends urgency to our effort to ensure that the welfare of all, of current and future generations, is ensured by our decisions as to who will be considered "legal" custodians of the land."
The embassies of England, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, and other European countries had no immediate comment. Some have speculated that given the current low birth rates in these countries, that a reverse flow of people from North American to Europe may not be unwelcome.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Let's reclaim the words "power" and "privilege"

"Power" from the same root as "poder" in Spanish, or "potere" in Italian, refers simply to ability or capacity. How is it that this word has so often come to refer to a very specific kind of ability, the ability to dominate others politically and economically? It is telling that we collapse ability per se into domination, as if one were either dominant or submissive, enabled to dominate or disabled. We forget the paradox or contradiction: that the possession of political and economic power, at the expense of the "disempowered", creates the need to devote an enormous amount of time and energy to preserving and defending that power, thus disempowering the "powerful" in many ways. Anxiety about the envy and hostility of others can come to preoccupy the "powerful" to the point of obsession. On the national level, consider how quickly the fall of the Soviet Union, leading to the ascension of the US as the sole "superpower" in the world, has devolved into an obsession with national security, a preoccupation with threats from small groups of individuals who can quite easily terrorize most of the population of a "superpower" the likes of which the planet has never seen. Then again, consider the preoccupation with "communism" and "socialism", the idea that wealth might be "redistributed", or the fear of immigrants taking US jobs, that terrorizes so many citizens of the wealthiest nation on earth.
Then consider the word "privilege". The root of this word come from the Latin words for "private" and "law", i.e. a law that applies to a private person. In time, this word came to mean special rights and immunities granted to a person by virtue of his or her position or office, by law. This background seems to suggest a special status that not everyone can have. In the contemporary world, the word has come to mean, narrowly, political and economic privilege, the special right to control others and to have access to material goods. But there are other possible contexts in which the word can be used. In a religious context, privilege can refer to the special access to God or to spiritual states conferred on priests. Spiritually based value systems tend to emphasize humility, charity, selflessness. But we have a hard time holding onto forms of privilege other than political and/or economic privilege. Ironically, the privilege of carrying forward the institutions built on these values sometimes becomes the springboard for a cynical disregard and undermining of those values. All too often, spiritual privilege has been perverted into the worldly sorts of privilege that allow people to exploit economically or even sexually those who are dependent on them for spiritual or religious services. Economic and political privilege, too, like power, is jealously and vigilantly guarded, with the subliminal knowledge that such privilege is always temporary and tenuous. We can see all around us that economic privilege leads to a ceaseless seeking for more, no matter how much one already has. Economic privilege can become the dubious privilege of being chained to a rat race, a ceaseless effort to keep up with the Joneses, or a step ahead of the tax man.
It is time to reclaim these words, thereby remembering that there are many things we might want to have the power to do, the privilege of doing, if we were free of insatiable and competitive acquisitiveness and the need to control others. Love and the need to control others are incompatible; we need to remember the power and privilege of love, of community, of time to reflect, of freedom from the domination of things and status and prestige. As Bob Dylan said "When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose". The more you have, the more you have to lose.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Taxpayer or worker?

Most people here in the US are taxpayers AND workers. Who would have thought there could be a conflict? Yet, when it comes to public employee labor unions, many people have come to see only the taxpayer perspective, i.e. they're trying to take more of my money. The other side of the story, i.e. I and my fellow workers need to be paid fairly for the work we do, is often lost. Of course, more of us are taxpayers than are public sector employees, so more of us will be taxed to pay for public employee salary and benefit upgrades than will benefit directly from them. So the logic of supporting only what benefits me and my family works against support for public employee unions. One doesn't have to extend one's horizon too far to realize that when labor unions are weakened, all workers suffer. But that point is, or can seem to be, a little less immediate. Plus people in the US have a long-standing and deep distrust of government (even as they accept Medicare and Social Security), and labor unions evoke shades of socialism, if not the dreaded "C" word. The result is that many people have a visceral feeling that government is there to take their money and regulate their lives, while corporations, which do exactly that, get a free pass.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Obama and the right wing

Barack Obama began his Presidency with the wish to transcend divisive partisanship, to establish dialogues that would bring people together. Instead, his efforts to build consensus seem to have yielded only increased acrimony.
From one point of view, one might say that Obama's openness is read as weakness by those who operate with a dominant-submissive, zero-sum world view. Cheney and others in the Bush administration believed that Al Qaeda and the Taliban, for example, only understand the language of violence, and of course that belief was fully reciprocated by Al Qaeda and the Taliban. In that respect, the two sides spoke each others' language.
Obama speaks the language of dialogue and mutual respect, so we have a confusion of tongues. What happens next is unpredictable and will require creativity to find a way past the impasse. If Obama plays hard ball like the right wingers, he will have become them and nothing will have changed as he meant it to. If he continues as he has been, his stance will continue to be read as weakness, and thus provocative of further bullying. Can Obama find a way to resist the invitation to join those who believe the only kind of power comes from the barrel of a gun, while finding a new way to be powerful? Stay tuned.