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press 1 for xenophobia

I have been getting pretty interested in politics lately. I find myself thinking a lot about why different political groups support different things, what the historical motivations for those things has been, and why different coalitions between groups have formed. If I ever get a chance I'd like to try to make a post about how I see the different political groups and what kinds of things I associate with each.

As a part of this newfound interest, I decided to go read some of the platforms for different political parties. The most humorous thing I've found so far is on the Republican Party's website, describing their stance on National Security. Part of their stated platform is to "encourage" immigrants to learn English. Encourage is a pretty vague word, which could mean anything from something good (helping them adapt to our culture and be able to get along without being able to understand anyone), to something in between, to something really bad (forcing everyone to speak english, or forcing companies to only use english in any public interactions). While they probably mean something somewhere in between, they also included this music video right next to the text describing their platform, which indicates to *me* that they may mean something very bad by it. The name of the video is "Press 1 for English" and I find it incredibly scary and offensive:

(from http://www.gop.com/2008Platform/NationalSecurity.htm)

Basically, the singer in this music video is so outraged that she has to literally "lift her finger" to press the button "1" at the beginning of a message left by some company (who obviously has non-english speaking customers who are paying just as much as the english speaking customers to use the service) that instead of having to do this she would rather ask whole communities of people to stop speaking their native language and spend years learning to speak her language. I guess they don't usually have Native American languages on there anyway, but does she not remember that the English were immigrants originally too? They just expect the people who were living here first and still speaking their language to give it up and convert to the language of the imperialists? I guess I'm not surprised that they made the video, but I am outraged that the GOP decided to display it prominently on their website. What an awesome monument to American laziness and nationalism this song is... and how proud and boastful of our laziness we are! Again, I find it scary and offensive... but I also admit to finding it incredibly humorous and entertaining.

Oh, and one more interesting thing about this video... if you look closely at 3:08 minutes in, there is a giant American flag in the background, with a Christian cross superimposed behind the blue square where the white stars are. Hmmmm. Apparently, the immigrants should go ahead and learn our religion too, not just our language... is that going to be on the platform in another 4 years? I would suggest someone make a parody video called "Press 1 for Christian" but I'm too afraid that the Republicans will actually take it as a serious idea.



( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 15th, 2008 01:02 am (UTC)
Well, that was thoroughly vomit-inducing.
Dec. 15th, 2008 02:04 am (UTC)
Oh come on, it's made by idiots hicks, but to go to the opposite extreme is equally stupid.

If you want to know why political factions exist, you've provided a great example. Most problems have an optimal solution, and that solution is usually in between two other, more extreme, solutions.

In this case you have a basic problem - communication. The problem is as old as the human race, and it's not going away on its own anytime soon. You want to convey your thoughts and ideas to other people, but in order to do so you need to agree on a standard structure to help that task.

So, of course, now the problem arises - whose structure do we use? Say there are 5 people, and one wants everyone to whistle twice when they are hungry. Another one wants everyone to burp loudly, because that just makes more sense to signify food. But say 2 people can't whistle and 3 people can't burp, what then? Make them learn? Well, there's 3 people that can whistle, so why not make the other two learn to whistle? That's only fair, right?

Well, sure. If you have to choose one or the other. But they could always choose something that EVERYONE could do, like make a low grunt. Or maybe they could do both - of course, over time they would probably all default to using whichever one was easier and more utilitarian. But do people choose this option? Nah. People choose to bicker over these things.

That's usually how politics are. One group has their idea, and it's not the best idea in the world (but it addresses a real problem - so it isn't entirely stupid). Then, another group stupidly reacts in offense to the idea, and comes up with an equally stupid solution (mostly with the intentions of countering their newly created opponent). After that comes the entrenchment: both sides try to force the other side to see it their way, turning it into a battle in which the ends justify any and all means. And, in the process, they weed out anyone with any sense to see the ridiculousness of the situation (because they obviously don't understand how important this is!!!).

Of course, there is a paradox approaching here. If you don't see it coming yet... let me explain... you see, my solution for fixing this problem with politics is...

(I do look forward to what you have to say about politics and political history when you post more. Sounds interesting, but I don't have time... must stop procrastinating from studying for finals.)

Dec. 15th, 2008 03:00 am (UTC)
Agreed on the overreacting part... that does seem to be a major part of how these movements get started. But I think there is more to it than that. Different groups have different interests, and often it looks like they try to hide whatever their real reasons are for supporting things, and instead come up with justifications that everyone could agree with, or that sound like they would benefit everyone. It's amazing to listen to the different words people from these different political organizations use to describe things. And also the different way in which they'll interpret new facts.

I was just watching Bowling for Columbine and I noticed there is a segment where he points out that crime in a particular area has been going down, but gun ownership has been going up. His interpretation of this is that it's evidence that people are being irrationally scared by the media into buying guns, and that there is no correlation with the actual crime rates. But obviously, if a conservative were reporting the same facts, they would list them in the opposite order and say "gun ownership has gone up, and not surprisingly crime has gone down". Even though "and" is supposed to be commutative, just saying things in a different order can make people interpret it in a completely different way. The conservative would see the same facts as evidence that increased gun ownership reduces crime.

Edited at 2008-12-15 03:02 am (UTC)
Dec. 15th, 2008 08:23 am (UTC)
Wait a minute, what's the opposite extreme in this case? Saying that companies should be allowed to have whatever options they want on their phone help lines? That sounds like a relatively reasonable option to me.

I agree that in many cases there are extreme positions that are silly, and the right answer is somewhere in the middle, but I think people naively assume that this is the case in every situation, which is quite unwarranted. Sometimes one of the two "radical" positions really is right (atheism strikes me as a relevant example, though it might be tougher to come up with policy examples). And sometimes, the right thing is even way beyond one of the supposed extremes (consider debates about slavery, or women's rights, that were waged in the early 19th century - at least at some point, I think not even the most extreme abolitionists or suffragists thought that black people and women deserved full equality with men in all spheres of economic and political activity). And sometimes the right position is in some sort of direction that isn't suggested by either supposedly radical position.

I agree with you that sometimes this polarizations come about because one group just wants to differentiate themselves from the other, but I think that's an overly simplistic model for most political disagreements - I think most of them do at least have some kernel of rationality based on misunderstood facts or competing interests.
Dec. 15th, 2008 02:04 am (UTC)
she would rather ask whole communities of people to stop speaking their native language

no, i don't think it matters to her whether or not these communities continue to speak their own language. she just wants them to also know english. her beef isn't with the people though, it's with companies who accommodate them. i mean, you could turn it around and call people who refuse to learn english "lazy" too.

what i mean is that i'm sure she isn't complaining out of laziness. i think it's the principle behind it.

not that i agree or disagree with her.
Dec. 15th, 2008 02:39 am (UTC)

i don't think it matters to her whether or not these communities continue to speak their own language. she just wants them to also know english.

That part I have no problem with... they would obviously be able to live better lives if they knew english as well as their own language. But if that were all she's advocating, then why is *she* making the video rather than an immigrant? Obviously, her life would only be very minimally impacted from an immigrant learning english (she won't have to press 1 if they all do it).. whereas each immigrant who learns english would benefit a whole lot (they would be able to order food at a restaurant and know what they're getting, or explain to a police officer why they were speeding, etc. etc.). I suspect that just about anyone living in the US who doesn't speak english is making some kind of active attempt to learn it, and they don't need to be told why that is going to improve their life if they're living here. If I moved to China with some American friends and we all spoke English at home, we would obviously still try to learn Chinese as much as we could... and it would obviously be annoying if some Chinaman walked up to us and said "learn Chinese, this is the language of the land, you damn foreigners!" It's like "we're trying, okay!"

her beef isn't with the people though, it's with companies who accommodate them.

And this part is really where I have a problem with her. If she just wanted them to make more of an effort to learn english, that's one thing (although I'm pretty sure they are already doing it as best they can). But what it seems like she wants is for companies to ignore the market, which tells them that a sizeable fraction of their customer base prefers to correspond in spanish or another language, and that the amount of inconvenience for their native english speaking customers is comparatively minimal. What really scares me is it almost sounds like she wants the government's help in coming in and forcing these companies to make the *wrong* decision and to put her superficial needs above the real needs of people who have a difficult time understanding english and are still in the process of learning it (or temporarily visiting here).
Dec. 15th, 2008 04:42 am (UTC)
The LP platform should be a point of pride in my opinion:
Dec. 15th, 2008 06:45 am (UTC)
Wow. I don't identify as libertarian (attaching myself to ideologies makes me twitchy; it's a non-negotiable cognitive quirk), but I really really really love this and think it makes all kinds of sense:

our system offers no legal channel for anywhere near a sufficient number of peaceful, hardworking immigrants to legally enter the United States even temporarily to fill this growing gap. The predictable result is illegal immigration.

In response, we can spend billions more to beef up border patrols. We can erect hundreds of miles of ugly fence slicing through private property along the Rio Grande. We can raid more discount stores and chicken-processing plants from coast to coast. We can require all Americans to carry a national ID card and seek approval from a government computer before starting a new job.

Or we can change our immigration law to more closely conform to how millions of normal people actually live.

Crossing an international border to support your family and pursue dreams of a better life is not an inherently criminal act like rape or robbery. If it were, then most of us descend from criminals. As the people of Texas know well, the large majority of illegal immigrants are not bad people. They are people who value family, faith and hard work trying to live within a bad system.

When large numbers of otherwise decent people routinely violate a law, the law itself is probably the problem. To argue that illegal immigration is bad merely because it is illegal avoids the threshold question of whether we should prohibit this kind of immigration in the first place.

This all just seems so glaringly obvious. Is refreshing to read!
Dec. 15th, 2008 07:14 am (UTC)

This all just seems so glaringly obvious. Is refreshing to read!

Except that it only makes sense as long a there is zero welfare available for them. There are two general reasons why borders are closed. One of them is the welfare state... if we're handing out money like candy, of course people are going to jump over the fence to collect it. Which is why both the Democrats and the Republicans support at least partially closed borders. The libertarians are the only ones who are completely against welfare, so they are they only ones who don't have this reason to support closed borders. The Republicans have that reason, plus the whole xenophobia and racism thing to top it off, so they generally support very tight borders. The libertarians have an additional incentive to support open immigration, which is that it offers a very cheap labor force to exploit. If we get rid of welfare and abolish the minimum wage as well as all welfare, then we can get by paying immigrants much less and we could just fire a lot of the overpaid (in the sense of "above the free market rate") unskilled American workers. Which leads to another reason Democrats and Republicans both support closed borders... they both tend to whine more about American jobs going overseas than libertarians do. Libertarians are generally happy as long as there is some labor force to keep the capitalist machine running... and the cheaper the better :)
Dec. 15th, 2008 08:30 am (UTC)
There's a third reason for controls on immigration beyond just welfare (which really is nothing like "handing out money like candy") and xenophobia. There's also the fact that any sort of large exogenous shock to a system that's in a kind of equilibrium has a tendency to cause problems for it. Even if the steady-state that would eventually be achieved with completely open borders everywhere were the ideal (and even there I'm a bit skeptical, because, for instance, there are rightly rules in Australia preventing people from entering while carrying foreign plant matter and soil, given their history of invasive species destroying the native ecosystem), this doesn't mean that a move to immediately full open borders would be right - there would be a massive sudden spike in immigration, with the related spike in housing prices (increased demand) drop in wages (increased supply) and all the other effects that this would have, which would probably cause some sort of economic catastrophe.
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Dec. 15th, 2008 09:46 am (UTC)
The irony of this being that according to what I've read in A for American, which is about creating the American English dictionary, language in the US is steadily becoming more homogenized - towards English. People freak out about it more because of their own fears than because of any real data. When our country was founded it wasn't unusual for large metropolitan newspapers to be printed only in non-english languages. If you look at it in terms of percentages, as the country has grown far fewer people speak something other than English!
Dec. 15th, 2008 10:54 am (UTC)
this would be extremely laughable in Switzerland, where there are 4 official languages (and most people know English). that said, to become a citizen you do have to pass a minimal proficiency in one of the official languages AFAIK.
Dec. 15th, 2008 06:02 pm (UTC)
The history behind American politics is decidedly not something you would have been exposed to during schooling. It's been intentionally occluded.
Dec. 19th, 2008 12:28 pm (UTC)
Another point about the "voice prompt" is that our companies are becoming more and more global every day. Who's to say that the caller is even calling *from* the United States? Is she saying that the system should check her caller ID before offering her other language options, or that U.S. companies should never do business with foreign countries?
Dec. 20th, 2008 03:01 am (UTC)
Oh, good point! I'm surprised nobody else brought that up.

And I just remembered that Karen mentioned your facial recognition circuitry can be prone to a high error rate. Given that, and the fact that I radically change my appearance often, maybe I should mention that this is Jeff.

And if you have friends only entries, I would enjoy reading them if you don't mind adding me back.
( 40 comments — Leave a comment )


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