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Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Non-Sequitur News

It's a sad time for the state of communications. The media, which was once known as the Fourth Estate, has decayed from its prominence as a bastion of free speech and degenerated into a universe of digital soapboxes, where "just published" gets confused with legitimate, truthful reporting.  This is not a new observation. Ever since the internet reached puberty, the Fourth Estate has filtered the news as they dumb it down for mass consumption. This is also nothing new.  What is relatively new is the alarming increase in Non-Sequitur news.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, and those who think they know what a non sequitur is, let's agree to define it in its most accurate terms.  If you're a Merriam-Webster fan, it goes like this:

An inference that does not follow from the premises; specifically : a fallacy resulting from a simple conversion of a universal affirmative proposition or from the transposition of a condition and its consequent; a statement (as a response) that does not follow logically from or is not clearly related to anything previously said

Essentially, what this means is that  at an increasing rate, people are having discussions and making their points using reasoning that simply doesn't make any sense. Their logic doesn't flow from one point to the next. They simply post the latest meme on their Facebook page, accompanied by some "Right on, bro" comment and leave it at that, no matter how bizarre or untrue the sentiment may be.

Let me be clear: I'm not talking about people disagreeing with each other or differing in their political or ethical viewpoints. It's America. You get to feel the way you do for whatever reasons you wish. However, in this age of dumbed-down information, non sequiturs are everywhere you look. People are linking powerful statements to specious facts that have no logical connection, resulting in strange conclusions that sound really good but are in fact, totally meaningless and often preposterous.

Before I go any further, you should know that this is where things can get politically incorrect. Buckle up.

Back in the sixties, when ethnic pride was in its formative stages, there was a lot of discussion about racism, specifically viewed through  the lens of black America. Back then, when just about all of white America's conversational efforts on topics like racism, income inequality and sociological pathologies had been exhausted, a common retort from black participants was, "You've got to be born black to know how it feels!"  This was, apparently, the impenetrable argument to which non-black people had no counter argument. For one thing, it was true:  If you're not born black, you don't know what it feels like to be black. Unfortunately, that observation had nothing to do with the arguments at hand. If the black on black crime rate is way higher than white on white crime rate, for example, "knowing what it feels like to be black" simply has no place in the discussion, because the discussion isn't about "what it feels like to be black."  On the other hand, being tailed by a cop as you're "driving while black" may have everything do to do with born black.  So I get it.  Nevertheless, for decades, the "you don't know how it feels" argument was abused as an effective non sequitur to shut down discussions because non-blacks accepted its illogic.  It didn't make any sense, but non-blacks felt so guilty about it, they simply gave in.

It gets worse.

These days, you can't get too far into the news without stumbling over stories having to do with "underrepresentation" and "over-representation," both of which are non sequiturs themselves. Take the case of underrepresentation, specifically with regard to race.  If you believe the United States census, specifically Race and ethnicity in the United States, "white Americans are the racial majority, with a 77.7% share of the U.S. population. African Americans are the largest racial minority, amounting to 13.2% of the population. Hispanic and Latino Americans amount to 17.1% of the population, making up the largest ethnic minority.  

Those are facts. Those are the numbers. Another number is this: The Senate of the United States is composed of one hundred members. If you believe the myth of the non sequitur, this means that 77.7% should be white, 13.2% should be black and 17.1% should be Latino. But that doesn't flow logically at all, for a couple of reasons:

Taken to its extreme, the strict logical interpretation of those numbers would have no way to account for the fractional representations, meaning that the country couldn't achieve true representation until the Senate chambers housed members of mixed races ( a .7% white, a .2% black and a .1% Latino) .  Okay, so that's a little much. But the other logical flaw is that even if the Senate were composed along those lines, it wouldn't at all guarantee anything, to anyone. Of course, it sounds great in theory. It sounds as if blacks would push the black agenda and Latinos would push theirs.  But if you really believe that, all that proves is your own racism.  You're not giving those individuals the respect for their ability to think for themselves.  You may really believe that one issue is logically linked and causal to the other,  but they're not. It may be convenient and expedient to make that connection, but the connection isn't there.  There's no logical linkage between race and representation. If there were, the Civil Rights Act -- passed by a white Congress -- would never have made it to a vote. But it did. And it passed.

You and I can agree on some issues. We can disagree on some others. That's totally fine. It's how things work. I care less about what you think than why you think it.  It has to make sense, even if we disagree. In my travels, I go hunting for non sequiturs but I never have to  venture too far. I always bag more than the limit.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Refugees From Reality

These are tough times if you're an immigrant. Throughout the world, people are running away from their homes, most with good reason. In the muslim world, Sunnis and Shiites are going all out to eradicate each other, armed by various political factions with their own specific agenda.  In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees have mobilized to the north and west, crowding Europe with the largest mass movement since the Second World War.

But those aren't the only people on the move. In the western hemisphere, migration is a distinctly one-way affair as well, with innocent Latinos and Hispanics fleeing for their lives, too. They all venture north, terrorized by lawless regimes, often at great risk to their own lives.

It's difficult to put aside emotions when the media is flooded with stories, graphics and video of the danger and terror these millions of victims face.  It's easy to open your heart and think, "We're so fortunate. We have so much. We need to provide these people with a safe harbor."

I don't disagree.  But I do have a question or two.

It's one thing for refugees to escape rampant murder and pillage, seeking a safe place to wait out the storm. It's quite another for them to abandon their homelands forever.  So people in host countries aren't out of line when they ask how long will it be before the crises in the refugees' homelands are ended? And when those crises do end, will those immigrants return?

If you're following this, stick with me, because it gets more interesting.

There's no question but that once arrived in a host country, it's only natural that immigrants put down roots, if only as a matter of survival. Refugees arrive with their families, who need food, shelter and schooling, just like anyone else. Along with the establishment of those roots comes a network of friends, employment and family, which in relatively short order becomes a socio-economic structure of support that's far more oriented to permanence than its original short-term purpose. As a result, many more immigrants choose to stay in their adoptive refuge than to return home.  And the longer they stay, the more permanent their stay is likely to be.

It makes sense that immigrants should choose to stay. I know I probably would.  But the untold cost of their choice never gets reported by the media.  Specifically, politicians and media choose to ignore that the real problem with immigration isn't the refugees, it's the warring factions in their homelands. Unless and until those warring factions have either been removed or resolved, no sane refugee would ever want to return.

All of which brings into question the solutions for removing those warring factions. By now, it should be clear that none of these embattled countries and failed states are capable of, or even motivated to restore peaceful security to their citizens. In the shrewdest sense, their agenda and goals are more easily achieved by the removal of their opposition, whether by escape or murder. Everywhere you look, these failed states show no sign of restoring any kind of former civility and thus far, no native opposing forces seem up to the task of removing them from power.

This leaves host countries with two choices: They can either accept the flow of immigrant refugees and crowd their own borders until there are no more to accept, essentially draining the populations of the war torn states on a permanent basis. Or the host countries can deploy armed forces of their own, rooting out the war lords in hopes of establishing the security that would lure the refugees back home.

I can hear the Facebook rants now, decrying the latter proposition as merely one more tool by which Dick Cheney can line Halliburton's pockets.  Or some idiot diatribe about how America is only happy when it's at war. That's nonsense. Refugees and immigrants know there's a real problem at home. People in host countries need to help them out.  But the real way to help is by our giving them a solution.

When you think it all the way through, we should be helping them get back home, not necessarily providing them a new one.