Response to FWD: Roosevelt’s 1907 Quote on Immigration

In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language.. And we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.

-Theodore Roosevelt 1907

It is unfortunate, I think, that this quote from Theodore Roosevelt is being forwarded without any kind of discussion or close interpretation. It does not simply stand in support of immigration reform (and I only guess that was what the forwarders’ intended) – if interpreted as appropriate for modern times, as I doubt it should be, it has much stronger implications for all modern American people.

How would you identify someone that was “in every facet” an American by Roosevelt’s definition – one with no divided allegiance and complete loyalty to the American people? Would they buy only American products, speak and think only in English (do you get to pick the language you think in?), invest only in American companies, burn their family heirlooms wherever another flag was present, disassociate themselves with their family history – for, seemingly, these are Roosevelt’s prescriptions.

And if that is what it took… then how many Americans would Roosevelt commend – certainly not the foreign-product-buying kind, employees of or investors in Toyota, Sony, et al., or even customers of American companies that outsourced jobs to reduce costs for the America consumption-addiction. All of these actions, and others, ingrained in modern American life, are certainly highly suspect for anyone claiming to be a Roosevelt-approved American loyalist.

Of course, we must ask ourselves, how many of these (apparently loyalty-subverting) activities were even possibilities over 100 years ago when Roosevelt spoke these words? The answer, certainly, is “very few of them”. The world has changed and America has changed with it. Looking to hundred-year-old quotes for normative advice can only go so far.

If you found these words to be compelling instructions, I am afraid it was only because you did not realize that they do more work against all supposed “actual Americans” than they do in support of tougher immigration laws. If you, in fact, did realize that broader implication, then I am sure you see we have much bigger issues in modern America than how to think about immigration.

I, personally, think that the quote is only worth interpreting within its own time – which leaves it normatively neutered and of simply historical value.

Andrew D. Anderson

good government, take one

My ideal government would be decentralized. The national government would be tiny, maintaining a national military and acting as a mediator between smaller governments. Local governments would hold a great deal of power and local citizens would control the means of production. There would be many powerful small governments, but no centralized big government. No big corporations.

The people would be taxed using a flat sales tax for necessary government services, but extra projects would be funded by inflation-indexed rate-capped government bonds. This way debt would be more fine-tuned by individual communities – and the nation would have less chance of overspending (especially on a national level).

Because communities would own patents collectively (granted by the national government), to foster innovation and productivity, large one-time cash awards and honors should be given to innovators. Say 10x the median income. This would ensure people were still excited about innovating, but prevent multi-billion dollar entities, groups, or people from concentrating power. Because local governments and people would benefit from innovators, they would be highly sought after. The local governments would set wages accordingly to keep and attract promising people. This would ensure that mediocrity didn’t run rampant.

Everyone would own arms, and participate in government/community at some level (even if it was just picking up trash in the park). This would make people feel connected with their community, and likely lead to more voluntary government involvement. Decisions at the local level would be made via direct democracy. State and national decisions would be made via representations. The overarching system would be a republic.

Governments would not be able to turn people away, but they could have policies in place to provide very low wages to new members of the community. Children would also become new members of the community when they were able to vote (which should require some type of national test, rather than an age requirement). This should lead to relatively normalized living conditions, and starting wages would not go too low (to deter new members) if people knew it would also affect their children.

I think that under a system like this, people would be guaranteed basic wages, but innovation would still be highly prized. Communities would become meaningful and cohesive, and people would not be making as many decisions while being removed from the effects of those decisions. Power would be with the people – political and economic power, both.

groups of two

For what reason is the ideal social unit a group of two? For every man desires a woman, and every woman a man… or, more broadly, every body generally desires a partner. Of course, there are exceptions, but one cannot doubt the “couple” is a prevailing trend. It is so pervasive that many feel it is the goal of life, necessary for”completion” – they seek their “other half” so that they may grow old together. Why so?

Certainly there are no shortage of biological possibilities for explanation (at least while assuming the more popular man-woman coupling). Biology equips us with a desire, so the story goes, to spread our genetic material. So, we desire a mate. Fair enough, seems sensible – most have felt biological effects that can reasonable be attributed to this assumed desire. But, why then does it stop at one partner? Perhaps it makes more sense in the short-term, human children are frail, and it does no good to spread your genetic material if you’ll not bother to ensure it survives. The couple endures to rear their young. But, could there not be one man and two women? Would it be much more difficult for the man to protect/provide for two children from different women than two children from a single woman (twins)? Why not diversify your portfolio of genetic successors? Which leads to the next wonder… why does the ideal biological union linger for a lifetime?

The answers may very well not lead us out of the biological woods just yet. Blame it on biologically-inspired jealousy. You’re not simply equipped with the desire to spread your genetic material, but to do so more successfully than your peers. It is easier for me to justify jealousy on behalf of a woman than a man. The woman is vulnerable during her pregnancy, she needs her partner’s undivided attention to ensure he provides optimally for her needs – thus ensuring a healthy child. If the man won’t commit – well, he just wont be spreading his genetic material. He commits, because he must. Of course, we now jealousy isn’t a one-sided ordeal. Many men are jealous. It could be that this jealousy is simple a restrained version of – kill your opposition. I suppose it is not too far-fetched.

However, I’m still not convinced this accounts for long term unions. It seems to me that these explanations of jealousy would mostly dissolve after the short-term child rearing. Based purely on biological motivations – the couple should separate and try numerous other genetic combinations.

And, well, we can’t pretend biology answers most of the aspects of this couple setup. What about the couples that don’t ever have (or want) children, and the same-sex partnerships, or the kids that talk about getting married long before they ever hit puberty? What can biology say of these? What advantage here does the two-person organization provide?

Financial stability would likely be better ensured by much larger groups, so too would entertainment value. Intimacy might suffer with groups that get too large, but not in smaller three or four person configurations. Are there social constraints? Sure – four people can’t get legally married – but marriage rates in many countries are slumping, and social constraints were not strong enough to suppress same-sex unions. I doubt they could overcome a strong desire for alternative social units.

What can we make of it? Simply some desire to emulate our parents, or the parents of pop-culture? Might society one day fill itself with groups of four or five partners – or will couples linger? And if they do, to what can we owe their success?

I’ve a few more thoughts on this subject… but they’ll have to wait. Until next time…