Migration and Suffering

Photo by Enric Cruz Lu00f3pez on

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.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

A grilled cheese sandwich made with American cheese.

It was the first thing I learned how to cook, standing at my grandmother’s stove on 14th Street in Manhattan, and it’s still one of my favorite meals.

It’s simple, made with just two buttered pieces of bread and American cheese. It’s quick, ready in about 10 minutes. It’s filling, able to stand in for a full meal. And, most important, it’s delicious!

It’s perfect for any time of day, but makes a great a late night snack while watching TV or gaming.

An unfinished post about COVID-19 from April 1, 2020

This is something that I started writing on April 1st of 2020 but never turned into a full post. I think it was shortly after this that I started working full time for the 2020 Census and I got sidetracked. It’s nothing unusual, but still interesting to see what I was thinking about back then, during the height of the pandemic in New York City. Unsurprisingly, I was concerned about toilet paper.

Coronavirus Journal: Day 28 – Impact areas and hoarding in the city

People in poorer neighborhoods are being harder hit, but they’re also less likely to hoard.

Cheap toilet paper in stock. Everything isn’t being immediately wiped out. It’s amazing, because this area is one of the harder hit areas of the city. It’s an area where people are still boarding the train every day to head to work because they work in essential services. They’re being infected in the trains.

I live in one of the hardest hit areas in the city and the country for COVID-19 and I think it’s because most of the people that live in this area work in industries that kept going during the pandemic, so close contact in public transportation and at work kept transmission rates high.

According to current CDC data, transmission, hospitalizations, and deaths are down, despite people mostly giving up on masking and the lack of interest in booster shots. I imagine the numbers are trending downward because more people are developing some level of immunity. I’d also read previously that viruses tend to evolve into less lethal forms to ensure their own survival as well, so maybe that has something to do with it.

I have a feeling COVID-19 is going to be around for the long-haul now, like other serious illnesses. We’re going to have to figure out how to mentally accommodate that knowledge while we get back to living our lives.

Using Plain Language, Politics, and Abstaining When Appropriate

But sometimes it’s really hard to not say something, isn’t it? Especially when you’re in a group and you want to contribute something to the conversation to indicate that you’re participating, so you just throw some random comment out there and, a moment later, you realize that what you said sounded out of place, or worse, derails the conversation. Or is that just an introvert problem?

I suppose you could apply this quote to a lot of political speeches too, now that I think about it. Overly verbose language and long winded nonsense where the person doesn’t really commit to anything or say anything concrete. The whole point of the speech is to give the appearance of competency and “getting things done”.

Maybe that’s the bedrock of modern American politics though. Nothing ever gets done. I mean, look at today. We had the Daylight Savings Time adjustment again because Congress won’t do even something simple that a majority of people would appreciate. I know I’d appreciate not having to get up what is essentially an hour early tomorrow, because I know I won’t fall asleep on time tonight.

I was looking at the list of courses available on Joint Knowledge Online, an education site for military and government employees, called (iirc) “Using Plain Language”. I think I’m going to enroll in it. When you’re in the Army, you’re encouraged to use basic, plain English so as many people as possible understand what you’re saying. I’m not in the Army anymore, but I can see how the course would be helpful to me. I still interact with the public, after all, and in New York City quite a few people only have a basic English proficiency because they’re still learning.

Caught by the Willis Ave Swing Bridge

Two weeks ago, I was on my way home when I realized that the Willis Avenue Bridge between Manhattan and the Bronx is built to let ships through. It actually rotates on a central post, which is even more interesting than a drawbridge, and as annoyed as I was by the added travel time, at least I got to see something worthwhile.

An NYPD Highway Patrol (car 5525)

You see, I was already upset because I got caught in traffic on I-287 West in Brooklyn and I was 45 minutes behind on my trip home. I was very upset because I found out that the reason traffic was backed up and 45 minutes was added to my commute was because there was an NYPD Highway Patrol officer parked across two lanes of traffic… for nothing. No accident, no debris in the road. Nothing. He was just sitting there to sit there. Like a jackass.

Anyway, as I went up the ramp from the FDR to the bridge, I hit standstill traffic. Then I noticed the flashing lights and the crossing gates dropping into place to block traffic on both sides of the river. Gas is expensive and I figured I might as well utilize the opportunity to see something new (to me) and interesting, so I parked, walked over to the side of the ramp and watched for a while.

The Willis Ave Bridge rotating.

There was a small group of pedestrians and cyclists further up, gathering at the gates. I also noticed workers in orange vests on both ends of the bridge, as well as leaning out of a door in the central support structure below the bridge.

The barge being repositioned to be pushed through the gap.

The bridge rotated and a barge was moved through the opening with the help of a tug boat. Looking down from the on ramp, I saw that there was quite a bit of construction going on. I wonder what that’s all about, but I think it must have something to do with an extension of the Greenway around the island for jogging, cycling, and recreation. The city has been working on that project for quite a few years and one day I want to do a full circuit of the perimeter of the island. Not that I’ve ridden my bike any time recently, but one day.

A look south at the construction along the waterfront. The arm of the Triborough Bridge that connects with Manhattan is visible in the background.

I was still aggravated at the lost time, but at least I had a new experience to show for it. Most of the time, traffic in New York City is bogged down because of bad drivers that cause accidents, or broken down vehicles, which is more forgivable. But it seems so pointless sometimes, spending hours in traffic. At least there are audiobooks.