Migration and Suffering

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This post was written in February 2020 but I left it sitting as a draft until now. I’m trying to get more involved with my blog again so I’m going back through old drafts these days.

I was thinking about Buddhism and Stoicism and how these philosophies might apply to current events, and after reasoning it out, I came to some conclusions that make sense, but aren’t exactly comfortable. Essentially, I focused on the idea that it’s not possible to solve all suffering immediately, so a “middle way” should be found that allows for the most good while making progress towards better solutions. Or, in other words, accept reality while striving towards ideals.

I’ve done a fair amount of reading about both, and I know more about Buddhism than Stoicism, but I don’t claim to be an expert in either. I group them together, because a lot of the ideas in both philosophies tend to overlap.

Buddhism certainly talks about doing the least amount of harm possible, to limit the amount of negative karma that you carry with you into your next life, but when we’re talking about an issue like restricted immigration in the United States, or unrestricted immigration, I think you have to look at the levels of harm caused by both positions.

On the one hand, restricting immigration causes harm to those people who are denied entry, possibly, because they would be forced to face whatever drove them to migrate to the United States in the first place. On the other hand, unrestricted immigration to the United States would also cause harm, a greater harm, because the negative ramifications of that policy would be much greater.

As a nation, the United States doesn’t really have a cohesive national narrative or national myth that binds us all together. We are a nation of multiple groups of ethnicities and religions all competing with each other for limited resources within a system that promotes competition and allows for great suffering for those on the losing end of social and legal policies. Unrestricted immigration would add to the suffering of those on the bottom rungs of society by creating more competition for resources among “low-skill” laborers. Arguably, the scarcity of resources in the United States is artificial, but that issue would need to be corrected before, not after, adding more people to the population. The mere fact of the scarcity of resources being artificial wouldn’t change the fact that people would struggle to make ends meet and would suffer as a result of these policies being implemented in the wrong order.

Unrestricted immigration would also strengthen existing divisions within the nation, both political and cultural. The United States needs time to develop a national character and a common narrative that serves as the foundation for our aspirations and ideals as a nation. By adding a large amount of new immigrants to the population, the country weakens itself from within and guarantees that the population remains fractured and easily controlled by the government and its corporate backers.

A weakened United States could also have international ramifications. The United States currently serves as a buffer for many smaller nations in the world that would be invaded and essentially destroyed culturally and ethnically by other nations who are hungry for resources. China’s destruction of Tibet and their attempts to take over Africa is one example. Russia’s current desire (this post was written in February 2020 but not published until now) to invade Ukraine is another good example. You could say that the fact that these events have already happened or are happening now means a strong United States isn’t really a deterrent, but I would say it’s because the United States is already declining due to internal divisions that would only be exacerbated by essentially not having borders.

I’m not arguing for a unitary State like China, where there’s no such thing as a dissenting opinion that isn’t State-approved. I’m saying that we need to correct our current system to take care of the people that are already citizens and take the time to build a common national identity by limiting the amount of in-migration to a reasonable amount. I’m not naive enough to think that the United States government is some sort of bastion of goodness, but I think the existence of the United States acts as a barrier against greater suffering, so we need the United States to be united and strong.

In other words, I’m in favor of balance, of accepting the reality of the situation and understanding that we can’t stop all suffering, and the way to stop the most suffering is not always the most obvious choice.

March 2023 update: ironically, Canada is implementing stronger policies against illegal immigration to stop the flow of migrants into their country. I mention this, because for a long time, liberals in the United States pointed to Canada’s supposed laxer attitude towards immigration as a role model to be followed, ignoring the fact that even then Canada has a merit-based immigration system.

I think there should be limits and incumbent responsibilities for people who want to immigrate here. I don’t think it should be a free for all. For example, make immigrants serve in the military as a path to citizenship. You really want to be here? Show it. Serve the country. Even kindness has to have limits.


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