Friday, May 1, 2009

Give and Take

One of my customs, after strenuous exercise, is to take a soak in the Y's jacuzzi. Not naked. I find ... I ... uh, find ... ahem, excuse me? Did you think something? Oh, you have a problem with it, do you, my use of the jacuzzi? And you feel it's appropriate for you to formulate such a strong opinion about my personal choice, of utilizing this perfectly normal and reasonable resource at the Young Men's Christian Association? Oh, it's a "sybaritic indulgence," is it? I'm "like the Emperor Tiberius," am I, "luxuriating in a frothy womb of decadence"? Oh, now I'm a "syphilitic water buffalo wallowing in the ejaculata of a thousand gibbering monkeys," eh? Well, I'm just going to reach over and switch off my Futuromatic PsychotelepathoscopeTM so I don't have to hear your internal gibbering ...

...there. Now, to proceed.

As I was saying, when I was in the jacuzzi, a high school-age girl was talking to a lad, about how people, immigrants, with legal documents were being rounded up and sent out of the country. This conversation occurred a few years ago, under a different dispensation. Very earnest she was. She gave every sign of being of recently hispanic heritage -- context affirming Mexico as the land of ethnic origin. I'd spoken with her the day before about something, so I felt no discomfort in simply joining in on the conversation.

"I think ... I'm very sure that's not accurate," I said -- gently, calmly, because she was a young girl.

"Really? But I heard it on the radio."

"Well this is a very emotional subject, and people say all kinds of things. You know, they have strong feelings, and want to make themselves right." And being me, a rather shy but actually passionate man about some things, I warmed to my topic. "Look, anyone who comes here legally is welcome. We want people like that, who wait their turn, who honor the laws of the land they would join. But people who just come, because they want to, and don't care about doing it the right way" -- and here my tone grew even gentler, because this is an emotional issue, and hard truths are best told with kindness -- "well, it's understandable, why they come. They want the chance, the opportunity that they don't have where they come from. Mostly Mexico. But it's wrong.

"It's never about race," I said. "Skin is skin. Everyone speaks a human language. But Guatemalans who sneak into Mexico get put into jail by the Mexican government. We don't do that. You know, that's just not right, this Mexican hypocrisy -- they want it both ways, or any way at all that suits them in the moment. That's what corruption is. But we, you and I, we Americans, have the country we have because of the rule of law -- because we value law -- we don't just make it up. And we will not tolerate corruption. It is hateful to us. Of course it happens, but when we find it we take care of it. So I'm sure some criminal could have abused his office, and for some reason gave legal immigrants a hard time. But there is no American, no real American, who would stand by and let that sort of thing happen. Legal immigrants have the full protection of the law -- so do illegal immigrants -- and we will never allow them to be treated unfairly. That's the thing about liberty," I said. "That's why people want to be here. But there is no liberty, without a respect for the law."

Then it was ten o'clock, and time to leave.

That's what I said, pretty much word for word. You can tell, by how I ramble. Why do I tell this? I mean, it's not really anything new, is it, from me. It's just that last thing. There is no liberty, without law. That's why I make a distinction between freedom and liberty. Freedom is about the individual. Liberty is about the society.

The Mexicans -- and I was reluctant, and slow, to call them by name, but we have to be honest about it -- come here because they want freedom. Well, don't we all. But what we want from others is not their desire to be free. What we want from them, is that they respect the full meaning of liberty. That requires a respect for law. That, if nothing else, is why we might respect -- even cherish -- our legal immigrants. They come, at least in some small way, to help us build something even better. Those who come illegally, who come only for themselves, who come only for their own personal freedom -- well, they come to take. Understandable. Just not anything we really need.

Now that southern land has a new export, aside from its vast uneducated and unskilled excess population. It also sends us the swine flu that is no longer to be called swine. Mexico City is quiet, with blue skies, because that most crowded of cities is uncrowded -- denizens remain indoors. Crowds are a hazard. The crowds that have swarmed our borders, and of which we hear so little under this new regime, bring with them now an additional hazard, not just to our culture and society, but to our health and lives.

How great a hazard? Well, we know something more about flu than we did 90 years ago. And panicky pandemics make good news, regardless of their actual threat to us. So we take it with a grain of salt. But we also remember that health, like peace, is easily disrupted, and it sometimes take force and violence to protect them. Isolation and quarantine are not just lawful, but right, in given circumstances. What of liberty? It is a social concept. As for freedom, it is an illusion. We are free, as with any illusion, only in our own minds.

I wish it were simple. It's complex. That's why I speak gently, when I speak. I don't want to add to the harshness and ugliness of the world. There's enough of that.



Anonymous said...

If the US economy doesn't take a hit when hundreds of thousands of illegals take off work to protest, how important could they really be to this country?


Jack H said...

I make the same point, here:

Great minds...