Friday, November 17, 2006

Illegal Aliens, Parte Dos

Is it CROWDED in here, or is it just me?

I suppose one reason illegal aliens are getting so much attention right now is the fact that the United States' population is passing the 300 million mark. No other "developed" countries are as populous, nor are any other "first world" countries growing so fast.

On the one hand, it's a popularity contest. Two things: American citizens like to have more children than the citizens of other highly consumptive nations, and lots of people want to become American residents, if not citizens.

And those who want to move here and have the access to do it tend, on average, to want to have even more children than the people already here. And so the growth is accelerating, and how long will it be before we're talking about the "good old days" when the United States had only 300 residents?

For one, at the age of 48, I am nostalgic about the days when the United States had fewer than 200 million residents. Ah, I remember those days like they were only... 40 years ago.

We had millions more acres of rich and lovely farmland where there is now the eyesore sprawl of cracker jack tract houses, prefab businesses and pavement, new seas of pavement, rolling out behind the bulldozers felling farms and forests.

Americans are religious about some things other even more highly developed nations are not. These are very American values: relatively unfettered cutthroat capitalism; private property rights, even when squandering limited resources, ignoring our rather feeble zoning guidelines or otherwise harming others; and above all -- or should I say beneath all? -- that great orgasmic G spot of American civilization, growth. And again, GROWTH.

Americans seem to love the stuff and feel that their brand of capitalism and even the very pursuit of happiness itself depend on loads of GROWTH.

Thus for decades and about a century, Americans' pious adoration of growth has lead us away from lives defined by quality toward lives defined by quantity, away from personal service toward more and more variety, no matter how frustrating and yet shallow the choices.

To not grow? To desire fewer but perhaps better and less costly choices? To scale back? To downsize, downscale, move down the ladder? Only leads to down and out, many would say. And who wants to be a loser? Yep, winning in America is about winning big, crushing enemies, orchestrating hostile takeovers (much admired when they last a few years 'til the news fades). Whether sports teams or the titans of titanic corporations, Americans are not so much into suave finesse. They like their deft and dumb Donalds calling the shots before a TV audience.

The ups and downs are prime time. But the crowding and the bulldozing of our lovely land, these things are only going up.

And, I believe, setting the stage for our downfall. The Big Down.

And so I am not a big fan of any growth sports, including unseemly profiteering, but most of all, the biggest growth sports of all, population and development. We don't NEED more people as much as we need to encourage the people we have already to live with more liberty and to better pursue happiness, and the way to do that is to revise and rearrange ourselves, to live more efficiently, more closely, more communally, yes, with a greater sense of community. And even with more commonality, such as values and language.

America as "the melting pot" is a romantic notion that isn't optimal in the real world. As it turns out, according to sociologists (and felt by many of us, both for and against this experiment in diversity), the melting pot is a factory churning out stress and strife, neuroses and distrust. Indeed, the melting pot is to a large extent causing the meltdown of America.

One way we see that are the current debates about who to let in and who to keep out.

Close the gates? Or love the flood?

[to be continued...]

1 Comments:

At 12/14/2006 9:59 PM, Anonymous Ann B. said...

Lawrence,
Here from snowy Colorado. I'm afraid your blog on immigration really doesn't say anything about immigration--and please forgive my criticism here, but it's a lot of rehashed ranting about the shallowness of society in general (The Donald. etc) and people needing more and more growth. Also, you need to check your statistics--the American white birth rate is flat-lined, but the other minorities (soon to be majorities) are not. So your paragraph about those who come to America tending to have even more children than we do is correct.

What about immigration? How do we reconcile the fact that the people who come here illegally do so to find work and if there were no jobs they wouldn't come? Do we make it a criminal felony to hire an illegal? Do we add forces to the INS to investigate big bosses like contractors, landscapers, etc. who tend to hire illegals? Or do we offer amnesty to those here and add forces to the borders to stop the crossings now? What about those here and their families are still there? Is it really that big a problem? Are we really spending that much on services for illegals?

The key question, I agree, as you begin to hint at, is how many people can we as a space sustain? Is there a way to put a number on that without just some musing about "the good old days?" Perhaps a percentage of wild, raw land to development.

And, yes, growth causes all kinds of problems--ugly, raw land-devouring problems. But what if growth means that a family gets to move from a trailer into a home in a modest but decent neighborhood where their kids are close to school? Can we say that they are really overconsuming? That they are opting for quantity over quality? I would say those are quality goals--a home with pride of ownership and a sense of home for kids.

One solution that I think we should focus on is renovating existing neighborhoods so that we don't have to keep going out into farmland to provide housing for everyone. And I agree that it should be much, much harder to buy up a ranch and turn it into a sub-division than it is now--that would force developers to look at what's already developed to see how it can be improved. And we CERTAINLY don't need a Wal-mart and Home Depot and Bed, Bath and Things next to every single sub-division.

Tough questions; no easy answers, but raging about the evils of growth doesn't answer them.
Yes, to be continued.

Ann B.

 

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