Sunday, December 6, 2009

Stranger Danger

The words, Stranger Danger, have, in our "developed economies," signalled a new warning. And that warning doesn't refer to the danger facing children at the hands of unscrupulous adults. The danger, as it is currently perceived, may be summed up in the following question: How much should developed nations allow entry to those who don't share their values, in order to offset a shrinking population, and a shrinking workforce?

To be sure, diversity has its problems, and aggravates other social problems, problems associated with sexism, racism, and homophobia. For the record: I never presume to tell anyone how to handle a perceived slight, or respond to a perceived attack against their race (racism), their sex (sexism), or their sexual preference (homophobia).

It's just not my place. I'm not going to call these persons overly-sensitive, conspiratorial, or just plain stupid, as some bloggers have. Here's the reason: racism, sexism, and homophobia (among other "isms" and "phobias") crisscross our national psyche, and social interactions like our nation's power grid, and, unlike our nation's power grid, they're in better condition, all to our national shame.

Were we living in a society where these "isms" were rare, and homosexuality received no more attention than that given to straights, then I could understand the continual bleating against those who would call out devils where none exists.

Recently, an article in the Guardian caught my attention. I know, this is not an American newspapers, but the article, although not specifically about the United States, could very well have had us in mind when it was written. Here, in a nutshell is the article's premise:

"The diversity, individualism and mobility that characterise developed economies - especially in the era of globalisation - mean that more of our lives is spent among strangers. [...] We share public services and parts of our income in the welfare state, we share public spaces in towns and cities where we are squashed together on buses, trains and tubes, and we share in a democratic conversation - filtered by the media - about the collective choices we wish to make. All such acts of sharing are more smoothly and generously negotiated if we can take for granted a limited set of common values and assumptions. But as Britain becomes more diverse that common culture is being eroded.

"And therein lies one of the central dilemmas of political life in developed societies: sharing and solidarity can conflict with diversity. This is an especially acute dilemma for progressives who want plenty of both solidarity (high social cohesion and generous welfare paid out of a progressive tax system) and diversity (equal respect for a wide range of peoples, values and ways of life). The tension between the two values is a reminder that serious politics is about trade-offs. It also suggests that the left's recent love affair with diversity may come at the expense of the values and even the people that it once championed."

As I read this, and the article in general, I was struck by the author's belief that, although people are unwilling to share with strangers, they aren't unwilling, so much, when they share common values, and a sense of "solidarity" with the other. And if they're strangers, this likelihood of shared values, and solidarity, becomes even more remote.

We're seeing some of this reluctance with the congressional health-care reform bill that seeks to install a public option. Much of the ballyhoo has been over the possibility that illegal immigrants may also qualify to participate in the system that the legislature is cobbling together.

The resistance to such a proposal came to a head in the words of Joe Wilson, "You lie," when the president assured listeners, during a recent address to the American people, and a joint session of Congress, that the health-care legislation under consideration wouldn't provide free health-care coverage for illegal immigrants.

Who, then, should be recognized as members of our family, those who were born in this country, those who are of our race, or gender, or those of us who share a common plight?

I believe that we're a stronger country because of our diversity. Diversity, and heterogeneity may bring with them certain problems, but it's unlikely that it will present us with this one:

"Finland is Europe's most homogeneous society, a nation of mostly blond ethnic Finns whose declining birthrate creates the classic 21st-century European dilemma: a fast-growing population of senior citizens whose promised benefits under a generous welfare state will soon be unaffordable. To compensate for fewer Finnish births, the country could encourage foreigners to immigrate, a subject much discussed here. But like most of Europe, "Finland is allergic to immigration," in the words of Manuel Castells, the renowned Spanish-born sociologist who lives in the United States."

As our nation becomes more diverse, perceptions of slights, and attacks are bound to rise. Rather than sweep these accusations under the rug, ridicule them, or even discount them, we'd be better off to meet them head-on with discussion, dialog, and a determination to create an environment that welcomes all, and a resolve to treat the stranger as members of the family, and not outsiders.

Otherwise, we could end up like Finland.

12 comments:

old white guy said...

Much of the ballyhoo has been over the possibility that illegal immigrants may also qualify to participate in the system that the legislature is cobbling together.

It is a constant source of frustration that so much of the opposition to progress is the fear that someone will receive a dime's worth of benefit they did not earn. An illegal immigrant is, by definition, already here. Doesn't it stand to reason they are more able to care for themselves and contribute to society if they are healthy?

Great article. Our diversity is one of our greatest strengths and the one that we have constantly failed to take full advantage of because of petty jealousy or prejudice.

Anyway, I clicked a link at Field Negro's blog some time ago and like your writing and insights so I have been reading ever since. Just taking this opportunity to comment and let you know I am out here. Keep up the good work.

c.c.-kathy said...

I read this post a few times, I really love it, and the linked article was excellent.

What you write here sums up the main fear that some of the anti-health care people do feel, it's the main reason I hear, that those of us who already have health care will lose something if the bill passes, it's the gun/butter argument, I guess?

Black Diaspora said...

@owg: "Doesn't it stand to reason they are more able to care for themselves and contribute to society if they are healthy?"

Excellent point. And many of the jobs that immigrants accept are high-risk, and possibly injurious to life and health.

We have a moral duty, it seems, to offset that risk with health care.

Thanks for letting me know you're there, owg.

"It is a constant source of frustration that so much of the opposition to progress is the fear that someone will receive a dime's worth of benefit they did not earn."

Well stated.

We can't have that. People won't know where to draw the line. Seriously, it is an impediment, and we need to keep our eye on the prize, and the bigger picture. Sometimes, a perceived loss, may actually be a gain.

Black Diaspora said...

@c.c.-kathy: "[i]t's the main reason I hear, that those of us who already have health care will lose something if the bill passes...."

Always the use of the fear factor to keep us in line, or to maintain the status quo.

Like you, I have health care. But if I'm required to pay higher taxes to give this most basic human need to another, I'm prepared to do so.

As old white guy suggested: We all gain, regardless of our immigration status, or citizenship, if we have a healthy populace, and a healthy workforce.

c.c.-kathy said...

"Like you, I have health care. But if I'm required to pay higher taxes to give this most basic human need to another, I'm prepared to do so."

_____________
not only that, but we would gain by the removal of "prior condition" clause, that would be a big win for those who already have health insurance, no longer forced to remain at a company we despise just to keep our health insurance intact.

c.c.-kathy said...

just saw this at the Black Kos,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKRT0HpsFA0&feature=player_embedded

Anonymous said...

Demographics of Israel and Japan have the unfortnate numbers that show that the birthrates are not replacing the citizens and it is causing troubles in the health systems with so many aged to care for but with not enough younger people to care for them. Immigration was encouraged in Israel for awhile from the former Soviet Union, however, I understand now that large numbers of these emigrants have now become homeless. I don't believe Japan has ever had significant numbers of emigrants.
Thanks for your thoughful well written articles with links leading to more information.

As much as some people here in America complain, they don't usually even understand the significant work that is accomplished each year by all the people that still flock to these shores, both the ones with the proper visas and the ones who makes it any way they can. It is what makes America the special place it is, even with all our troubles.

Found your link by reading your comments on Field Negro site.

Makaii

c.c.-kathy said...

"As much as some people here in America complain, they don't usually even understand the significant work that is accomplished each year by all the people that still flock to these shores, both the ones with the proper visas and the ones who makes it any way they can. It is what makes America the special place it is, even with all our troubles."

___________
beautifully put. thanks Makaii

Black Diaspora said...

@c.c.-kathy "not only that, but we would gain by the removal of "prior condition" clause...."

The health insurance industry is long overdue for an overhaul. Its emphasis on covering just the healthy among us, while eliminating those with preexisting conditions, and the chronically ill, and still enjoy a
monopoly status, is shameful.

Add to this the almost annual rise in health insurance cost, and you have the perfect storm for economic disaster.

Today's revelations of last-minute agreements, and concessions, may turn out to be nothing more than a huge give away to health insurers, by dropping the age requirement for Medicare to fifty-five: The government may take away from these insurers one of their biggest liabilities, and shift that burden to taxpayers.

It would be okay in a single payer system, but not to give insurers an undeserved Christmas present.

kathy, the video was discussed on the Rachel Maddow show today. It's appalling on several levels. I'm thinking about blogging about it, if I can do it in a timely fashion.

Black Diaspora said...

@Makaii: "As much as some people here in America complain, they don't usually even understand the significant work that is accomplished each year by all the people that still flock to these shores...."

Thanks for visiting Makaii. You're right about our ignorance. Our GNP would take a huge hit were it not for these workers.

Not only do they do the hard physical labor in demand, but they do it without the safety nets we usually enjoy as citizens: unemployment insurance, and, when we can get it, health insurance.

Couple that with the sad reality that the work they do is, oftentimes, dangerous, and inimical to their health.

To deny them access to health care while they're here in our midst is unconscionable, immoral, and inhumane.

Blinders Off said...

BD:

Very Good Post!

I never presume to tell anyone how to handle a perceived slight, or respond to a perceived attack against their race (racism), their
sex (sexism), or their sexual preference (homophobia).

It's just not my place.


DITTO ...to your above statement.

Black Diaspora said...

Thanks Blinders Off. I pray all is well with you.