Thursday, November 5, 2009

Immigrants, Structuralists, and Post-Structuralists

Yankees won last night — and not the Latin American authoritarians, at least according to our audience vote after the Debate at Lolita Bar. Courtney Love was not there despite her previously-noted love for Chavez, but if she got too deeply involved with him, he might end up heroin-addicted and suicidal anyway.

One irony of which I was reminded during the debate, though the topic did not arise, is that some of the same people most opposed to Latin American leftist rulers are the people most opposed to immigration from Latin America. That’s not a completely inconsistent position — some of them explicitly worry about Latino immigrants bringing socialist ideas and habits with them. However, they’d do well to remember that the immigrants are at least people who are trying to move away from dysfunctional states — and this month of all months, the twentieth anniversary of the collapse of European Communism, they do well to remember that what brought Communism down was mass emigration (initially from East Germany, which quickly went from hemorrhaging citizens to no longer existing — and that process is very valuable).

Don’t try to tell immigration-paranoiac, demagogue, and economic ignoramus Lou Dobbs that, though. I see (as noted by George Fishman) that Dobbs has recently taken time away from bashing Mexicans to bash my old boss John Stossel, calling him a “self-important ass” for criticizing Dobbs’ anti-immigration views.


A tad more sensitive in dealing with critics and other cultures was the late Claude Levi-Strauss, the anthropologist who, by arguing (somewhat like Jung) that certain recurring tropes and mental patterns can be found in cultures around the world, strongly suggested that there really is a human nature, and its diverse cultural forms in some important ways analogous to each other — not just arbitrary, dissimilar codes and rituals whimsically altered by ideology, as some of his later, stranger critics would suggest, post-structuralists to his structuralism.

I’ve often thought — as the post-structuralists certainly have — that there’s something rather conservative, in our age, simply about asserting that there’s a human nature deeper than ideology. Levi-Strauss becomes useful, then, in much the same way that Durkheim, father of sociology (one of whose book titles was imitated, as an homage, by Levi-Strauss), can be a conservative force if properly understood (as Camille Paglia has said), since his functionalism was rooted in the idea that social patterns are not arbitrary but rather tend to serve some useful purpose.

The post-structuralists, by contrast, seemed bent on using such obfuscatory language that the reader is too addled to remember whether useful social codes and traditions exist or not. Back in college, I found a copy of the awful deconstructionist book Image/Music/Text by Roland Barthes and threatened to keep printing convoluted sentences from it in the campus humor publication each week until someone claimed the book.

It turned out to belong to one of my fellow comedy writers, Canadian linguistics major Adam Frank (who went on to date the only person ever to tell me I was useless and boring as a friend, come to think of it), who when he reclaimed it said that I was acting irresponsibly by mocking the ornate deconstructive sentences full of phrases like “metonymic signifier” and “hermeneutic calendar” because one could as easily mock complex sentences from a physics text. The crucial difference was that I contended physics language ultimately refers back to empirical reality, whereas Frank contended that words simply refer back to more words, that a “a tree” is simply the words that come after “tree” in a dictionary definition.


That position is as insane and corrosive today as it was then (its relativism, like that of Third Wave feminism, encouraging not intellectual humility but pseudo-rationalistic, prima facie political assertions meant to trump empirical reality) — but today, I no longer feel obligated to present a long argument explaining why it’s insane. Instead, let’s just read this one sentence (noted by my economist friend Maria Paganelli) that’s a pretty good reminder that Continental philosophy leads nowhere, slowly:

Indeed dialectical critical realism may be seen under the aspect of Foucauldian strategic reversal — of the unholy trinity of Parmenidean/Platonic/Aristotelean provenance; of the Cartesian-Lockean-Humean-Kantian paradigm, of foundationalisms (in practice, fideistic found-ationalisms) and irrationalisms (in practice, capricious exercises of the will-to-power or some other ideologically and/or psycho-somatically buried source) new and old alike; of the primordial failing of western philosophy, ontological monovalence, and its close ally, the epistemic fallacy with its ontic dual; of the analytic problematic laid down by Plato, which Hegel served only to replicate in his actualist monovalent analytic reinstatement in transfigurative reconciling dialectical connection, while in his hubristic claims for absolute idealism he inaugurated the Comtean, Kierkegaardian and Nietzschean eclipses of reason, replicating the fundaments of positivism through its transmutation route to the superidealism of a Baudrillard.

–Roy Bhaskar in Plato etc: The Problems of Philosophy and Their Resolution (Verso, 1994)

I’m not even saying that sentence is false. I’m just saying you wasted a precious minute or two of your life. Sorry.


I recall being a teenager — probably around the time the Leo Strauss-influenced book The Closing of the American Mind came out — and hearing about both Straussians and structuralists for the first time, and thus briefly being confused and thinking they were the same thing (Leo Strauss, Levi-Strauss, etc.). Frankly, it’d be really interesting if they were. After all, the Straussians often rail against post-structuralists for ignoring deeper, unshakable truths that our short-lived ideologies mask — and so do structuralists. The Strausses almost fit together. One could be a Straussian Levi-Straussian.

Similarly, someone who thought that the useful sociological structures analyzed by Durkheim were a vindication of the underlying value of tradition might be a Burkeheimian. Fusionist philosophy by pun! Worked for James Joyce.


Gerard said...

The difference being that the people in the GDR were emigrating from another part of their own country, which was only divided because of the illogical division of boundaries that occurred in Europe during the denouement of World War II, which-it should be noted-no one inside of Germany consented to, or was even consulted about. That being said, there is an enormous cultural chasm between those from the East and the West in unified Germany-and to a much greater extent, and with more linguistic barriers, between those living in the DPRK and South Korea-which could be compared to the differences that exist between people of two distinct nation-states.

I think a more apt example would be the sub-Saharan migrants who attempt to enter the European Union by utilizing a campaign of (largely) non-violent coercion, a la The Camp of the Saints.

Immigration’s Grisly Edge

As for the assertion that would-be immigrants from Latin American nations that have undergone Marxist revolutions are potentially more assimilable. I would agree, but only insofar as the first waves of immigrants from these countries-specifically, Cuba and Venezuela-come from the class whose properties have been expropriated by the new, leftist regimes and who pose political problems in the newly created political dynamic.

However, what you forget is that the vast majority of these people are economic migrants, first and foremost. An Aymara refugee from the outskirts of La Paz can be eager to enter the United States in order to profit from this nation’s economic bounty, while still holding tribal values that, while sufficient for his society, are completely and wholly incompatible with those of a 21st century American citizen.

The problem-well, one of the main problems-with marrying economic liberalization, free trade, and globalization to completely open borders is that individuals are not simply units of economic productivity that you can arbitrarily transfer from one society to another without adverse consequences. They have cultural prejudices, religious beliefs and tribal loyalties that have been inherited and reified over the course of many generations, to say nothing of the millions of dollars in social welfare subsidies that accompany each immigrant-and through our misguided family reunification policies, his or her extended family-and continue to be paid out for the rest of his or her life.

For me, one of the best-although not the only-argument against massive, unrestricted immigration is that it rests upon a completely Utopian, unrealistic premise. The idea that thousands of individual ethnic cantons can flourish, speaking dozens of different languages, while at the same time the United States retains the essential nature that attracted people to its shores in the first place, is absurd, IMHO. Even if there was an institutional desire to help immigrants assimilate-which no longer exists-the sheer scale and nature of post-1965 immigration makes that impossible.

Todd Seavey said...

As always, you make some excellent points and display an admirable command of the details.

For more comments on Lou Dobbs specifically, by the way, see the thread under my 11/6/09 entry:

Tatyana said...

remember that the immigrants are at least people who are trying to move away from dysfunctional states

Another point against this argument, in addition to Gerard’s, is an example of hundreds of thousands of Muslims who left their countries and moved – either to EU, or to US, and as far as I know, are given preference by our State department during immigration and citizenship acquisition process, compared to Europeans and Australians.

The majority lives in isolated enclaves – and not because somebody evil imposed on them the ghetto rule – no, their isolation is voluntary. Either in outskirts of British cities and towns, or in Dearborn, MI (or in Queens or in my own neighborhood, Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, to site a local example). The muslimization (parallel and opposite to gentrification) starts with one-two innocent and exotic businesses, like Lebanese restaurants or Egyptian barbershop. In 3 years whole blocks have not an English shop sign in them, cafes are filled, during daytime, with male customers smoking hukkahs, and a single male tenant who rents 2 adjacent apartments with 3 adult females and 7 children in residence (who are all on welfare as “single moms”) becomes the norm.

They have imported their traditional values and way of life – and the worst part, they brought Islam with them, the worst world-wide plague ever -and they have no intention to part with it. They didn’t emigrated like Eastern Europeans and refugees from IndoChina did – namely, running away, they were running to, conquering the weak-minded gyaurs by striking them (us) into our weakest spot, our Achilles’ heel – our mercy, our charity, and our compassion.

As the wise American idioms have it – laughing all the way to the bank.