Friday, March 31, 2006

Scofflaws

We had lunch yesterday, Bush--in glamorous Beverly Hills!--with a friend who also helps us keep our financial house in order. Actually, he's as much of a therapist as anything, because it's the old hangups and patterns that stand between us and a sense of comfort with what money is all about, and how to use it. As I've mentioned before, I myself was brought up in England during World War II, and the mantra in those days was "waste not, want not." There were severe shortages of everything, including food, and waste was the greatest sin imaginable. My father, too, was earning less than a pittance as a country priest, and my mother's favorite expression still resonates for me: "But... that costs the earth!"

Old thought patterns die hard, as you probably know, so those attitudes continue to pervade my own relationship with money and possessions. You don't deserve to get what you don't absolutely need. And once you have it, well, you don't just chuck it away when it wears out a bit and needs fixing. I can't begin to guess the amount of hours my mother spent darning socks for the family. Consequently, I have a lot of trouble adjusting to a society in which obsolesence is built in to everything we buy, and where much of it is simply designed to be disposable.

But that's not what I set out to write about this morning. I was planning to talk a bit about our lunch-time conversation. Our friend is, let's say, a tad more to the right in his political leanings than myself, and it's always good to have that conversation with someone who fairly radically disagrees with you. He calls himself "a numbers man" because he understands the numbers in a way I myself could never hope to. But I think he's probably undervaluing himself if he believes he's just about the numbers, because our conversation had to do not only with politics and his view of the economic outlook of this country and the world, but also--and primarily, really--to do with basic philosophy and ethics.

I have to tell you, Bush, that this friend of ours nurses a healthy, even angry disregard for politicians of all stripes--including, I regret to have to tell you, your good self. The main topic of the day was immigration, which is not surprising, given that it seems to be what's on the national table at the moment. I hope I don't misrepresent him when I say that he rejects the argument that illegal immigrants are bringing economic value with them when they cross the border, or that they're performing work that Americans won't do. He suggests that Americans would be glad to take those jobs if the wages were boosted in proportion to the public and corporate money that is spent on servicing the social needs of those same immigrants. He is not happy that the money he pays in taxes is used for such things as food stamps and medical services for those who break the law--a deed for which they should not be rewarded by allowing them to jump the line which many thousands of others patiently join in their desire to enter the country legally. He presents, in other words, a deeply-felt moral was well as a realistic financial argument.

The fact of the matter, Bush, is that I can't dispute much of what our friend has to say. It is undeniably a complex problem, which resists easy answers. My own points were two-fold. First, as I have mentioned elsewhere in these journals, illegal immigration is happening not only here in the United States but throughout the world, in good part as a result of unchecked population growth. People are simply desperate to make ends meet, to provide for their families, to better the circumstances of their lives. Whole populations are on the move because we humans have created a world in which the distinction between the haves and the have-nots is increasingly painful and consequential for the latter. They can hardly be blamed for seeking so desperately some share in the well-being that the rest of us enjoy. Immigration laws, in the light of this world-wide movement, are pitifully inadequate to address the need for rational controls.

My second point addressed a different cultural issue--the fact that immigrants are not the only scofflaws, nor indeed the most significant or the most threatening to the values of our society. Those same politicians whom our friend disdains are, as he readily agrees, "a bunch of crooks" whose only concern is re-election and the money to finance it. Our president--yes, Bush, excuse me--even our president feels free to ignore those laws which he deems inconvenient to follow. Our corporate leaders are no better than our politicians, lying, extorting, spinning the facts to maximize their profits. And, let's face, even our littler selves can hardly boast of our obedience to the laws we readily blame others for contravening. How many of us routinely break the traffic laws, at the cost of others' convenience, and sometimes even life or limb? How many of us fudge, just a little bit, around the edges of the tax laws?

We live in a world where all of us seem to be skirting in different ways around the laws we have created for our common safety, a world where the problems are enormous and the solutions few. From this bigger perspective, illegal immigration seems to me just one more problem for which our traditional legal systems no longer provide realistic or manageable answers. We have work to do, and it's not restricted to giving the old heave-ho to those pesky immigrants. A good part of it, I personally insist, has to do with learning to control our populations. Are you ready for that?

3 comments:

Max Chandler said...

I am amused by all of the talk of our open border. If you think our border is open try to move to Mexico, get a job there, buy a home, hire a non Mexican citizen, get health care, or go to school.

PK said...

It would take pages on this:). Let's just say, I agree with your friend. In all actuality these people are being paid a whole lot more than meets the eye. How much would health care and meds cost if they weren't free or close to it? How much would their food be if they didn't have all the food stamps? See what I mean by pages:)? We are paying that. How much an hour in benefits do you think all this adds up to plus whatever they're paid? It's not the pay, it's the bennies they get, and lots of them. Yes, if we put the min. wage up to $10.00 an hour where it should be, there would be a lot more white people willing to get a sunburn for the crates of lettuce or for peach picking. Been 9 years since there was something done about min. wage, no one can live on 5 something an hour, but I can guarantee that Congress and the Senate get some damned hefty raises don't they? AND:), Congress isn't in session long enough to earn it, to my way of thinking!!! On that note:D, I'll get off my soapbox...have a good one Peter.

stuart said...

have immigrants become the new gay marriage?