L. Neil Smith's
Number 373, June 25, 2006

"Head Shots"

Immigration & Tribalism
by Paul Bonneau

Credit The Libertarian Enterprise

If you are like me, you are a bit bewildered, perhaps shocked, at the division immigration has created among libertarians. The arguments used on both sides of this divide are also disturbing.

Applying an admittedly amateur understanding of anthropology and psychology to this debate, has helped me understand it better, and even (perhaps optimistically) points to a way to close the divide.

All humans are members of tribes. We may not consciously think along those lines, but tribalism is evident everywhere. There are straight and gay tribes. Light brown ("white"), medium brown ("hispanic" & Indian) and dark brown ("black") tribes. Statist tribes (subdivided further into fascist and socialist tribes) and libertarian tribes. Liberal and conservative tribes (although the words have become almost meaningless). Yankee and Southern tribes. Cubs and White Sox tribes. And on and on. Until Earth is invaded by aliens, we will continue to split into tribes.

Now, the interesting thing about tribes is that it implies some form of separation. Cubs and White Sox fans sit in different parts of the stadium. Gays associate with gays, straights with straights, dark browns with dark browns and light browns with light browns. There are varying degrees of separation, and the separation might or might not be reflected in the laws, or even in borders. Or, it might simply be social separation.

The immigration debate is really a debate about separation, and what form that separation should take—separation by law, or by border, or merely social separation.

Now, having been on the "open borders" (to exaggerate) side of the debate, I will make a closed border argument, and see how it applies to tribalism and separation. It is an interesting one, because I haven't seen the other side make it yet:

South Africa and Rhodesia.

Both countries allowed dark browns into the light brown power structure. Subsequently, one of them is a wreck (despite great natural resources to support it) and the other is on the way there.

This sounds like an argument for closed borders in America, but it leaves one with a very uncomfortable implication: that it makes sense to create legal, even border-level separation between people based on skin tone.

Now, most of us have gotten beyond looking at people of different skin tones as needing such strict separation, even if they are (in that respect anyway) members of another tribe. It's been a long, difficult road to get there; we no longer have laws against interracial marriage, no longer have bathrooms "for colored's only". Now, are "closed border" folks saying we should go back in that direction?

This is a point that really sticks in the craw of many "open borders" folks. We just can't go there any more.

Yet the "closed borders" folks bristle at charges of racism, and couch their language in euphemisms like "assimilation"—even if such never mattered to them before—giving rise to the reaction that we think they "doth protest too much". The argument generally goes downhill from there.

I don't really think it is racism, but I think they are using highly visible indicators like race or accent (or that creation of the state, nationality) in hopes that these indicators correlate with other divides that do matter, such as whether the newcomers' culture can support freedom. Such correlation is of course, pretty problematical, and smacks of a collectivist view.

Yet, for "open borders" folks, the uncomfortable example of South Africa and Rhodesia AKA Zimbabwe remains.

Maybe the problem is the way people divide, what they choose as indicators of distinctness from "others".

We all would be very unconfortable to see racism or ethnicity re-established in the statutes, even more prominently than it is already ("affirmative action"). But the fact remains, skin tone and accented English are very convenient indicators for overall tribal membership.

We really need better indicators.

We need the tribal split to be along lines that make sense; along lines that don't trample our principles. I doubt any light-brown person really cares if a medium-brown or dark-brown fellow shows up at your tribal get-together (we no longer have tribal get-togethers that are explicitly racial—I mean instead things like a baseball game or a church) as long as he fits in otherwise. We recognize that at least in that venue, making the split on skin tone or accent of speech makes no sense; in fact most of us like to see such members because they help broaden our experience.

The difficulty is that the splits that do make sense are often not so obvious as the racial indicators are. Who can tell, just by looking, whether someone is a statist or a libertarian? But there are some examples we can start thinking about. Perhaps some creative thinking will generate more examples.

In "Molon Labe!", Boston T. Party envisioned a split based on open carry of firearms in Wyoming. In the book, most people started carrying openly due to a tax advantage. This split stopped the immigration of gun-haters from other states, and drove such folk (if there are any left) out of Wyoming. The correlation between gun-hating and statism is probably a pretty strong one.

That is an example of a split that not only is obvious like race or accent is, but also makes a lot of sense; and it does not trample our principles or make us feel uneasy. Hoplophobes and gun nuts really should have physical separation; they should live apart from each other and put up with the societies that result from that choice. There is no arguing about such things as whether one side is "racist" or not; the divide is simple and explicit and agreed-upon.

I am becoming a member of the Wyoming tribe shortly. I want people who love freedom to move to Wyoming, and those in the anti-freedom tribe to "convert" or move out or stay out. I'm hoping (with the imminent passage of an "Alaska Carry" bill, and expanded open carry of firearms) Wyoming creates a split that people can easily see and understand, agree with, not be ashamed about, and act upon. Wyomingites may still have their social divides along other lines; but the main one, an actual separation reflected even in the laws of the state, should be along the very visible and significant issue of carrying a firearm.

Paul and his lovely wife worked at an outfit in Oregon at the same time as Your Editor, over 20 years ago. I didn't know they were foaming-at-the-mouth rabid libertarian gunnies then. They didn't know I was. Small world. Paul has an interesting web site at www.wyominglibertyindex.info


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