Open Borders: Hopes and Fears on Release Day

My first graphic novel, Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, co-authored with the great Zach Weinersmith, released October 28th.  Since I’ve already shared the backstory, today I’ll share my hopes and fears.

All of my books have been controversial.  Yet so far, almost no prominent critic has accused any of my books of being “ideological” or “dogmatic.”  Instead, they open the books and engage the arguments.  As a result, even staunch critics almost always find some common ground.  Few deny me a minimal, “While he goes too far, some of what Caplan is saying sure seems true…”

hope this pattern of reactions to my books continues.  I fear, however, that I’ve reached the end of the line.   Immigration has become so ideological during the last five years.  Pessimism about immigration is almost a litmus test for conservatism.  Yet there is no fundamental reason for this change of heart.  Yes, today’s immigrants are heavily Democratic.  As I explain in the book, however, this is a recent pattern.  During the Reagan era, immigrants were almost equally divided between the two major parties.

While it’s tempting to blame the changing national origin of the immigrants, this doesn’t hold water.  Indian-Americans are the richest and most socially conservative ethnicity in modern American, yet they’re probably even more Democratic than Hispanics.  What’s going on?  I say we’re seeing the Respect Motive at work.  Immigrants have turned away from Republicans because they no longer feel the heartfelt welcome that leaders like Reagan once eloquently voiced.

When I say this, I fear that conservative readers will feel attacked.  I also fear that liberal readers will amplify those fears by attacking them. My hope, however, is conservatives rediscover Reagan’s perspective – and liberals will show appreciation for those who do.  Support for immigration used to be bipartisan.  It can be bipartisan again.

Wishful thinking?  Perhaps.  With Zach Weinersmith’s help, however, it’s not hard to visualize…

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Statism is The Strongest Witness Against Itself

Not only does it show the flaw in statists’ beliefs when statists worry about who gets to v*te, but statism is full of contradictions that show the flaws in statism.

Property rights are the biggest, most obvious strike against any chance of logic in statism.

If you believe I should be forced– at gunpoint– to finance a gang you claim is needed to fight theft, you’ve made a fool of yourself.

If you believe it’s necessary to violate private property rights in order to protect property rights– through borders, “taxes”, etc., then you’ve testified against yourself.

But there are more problems.

If you believe you need a State/government to “defend freedom” by violating individual liberty, you’re not so brilliant. And if you buy A/Ru/dolph Giuliani’s steaming load claiming “freedom is about authority” then you might as well just get on the next shrimp boat to North Korea.

If you buy into the statist lie that drugs can destroy your life, so we need to impose prohibition so we have an excuse to kick your door down in the middle of the night, and murder your family and– if you survive– throw you in a cage, make it so you can’t get a job, and destroy your life, then you’ve admitted that you’re an idiot.

Statism is incompatible with ethics; statism is incompatible with life, liberty, and property; statism is incompatible with humanity. You can tell this just by looking at the claims statism makes and where it leads.

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Dueling Mental Constructs

Rights, as I have pointed out, are a (human) mental construct. As are ethics, liberty, freedom, and so many other ideas.

However, those who use this fact as an excuse to violate people forget that they are usually relying on another mental construct: the State (what most people mean when they use the word “government”). You can’t justify allowing your mental construct to crush and enslave people by saying their rights are nothing but a mental construct.

Rights (and ethics and liberty) are positive mental constructs. Acting as though these things have physical reality, even though they don’t, is good for individuals and thus good for society. In fact, civilization isn’t really possible without at least most people respecting each other’s rights most of the time. A functioning society would be otherwise impossible.

Government/the State is a negative mental construct. Acting as though it has physical reality is generally used as justification for harming people through the political means. It’s not good. Even when it is claimed to be used for good, there is someone who has to lose for others to win. And to claim this negative mental construct trumps the positive mental construct of rights is to encourage evil.

All mental constructs are not created equal.

Instead of saying that rights are a mental construct, some people just say there’s no such thing as a right. That they are imaginary. When someone makes the claim that rights are imaginary, I’m OK with that, too. If there’s no such thing as a right, then no one can have the right to govern– to rule– other people in any way. They would be nothing more than a bully, relying on the most dangerous superstition for their power.

There’s also no reasonable way to pretend that the mental construct of rights is created or granted by another mental construct. This is the claim being made when saying that rights come from government. That’s magical thinking.

You can’t have it both ways. Since both concepts exist as mental constructs, I’ll choose to favor the positive one and reject the negative one. You may choose differently, but that would be your choice. I would appreciate you explaining your reasons in that case.

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Rights as a Human Construct

Are rights a human construct? Yes, obviously. As are ethics and empathy and many other things humans value to some degree. You might see those constructs expressed in similar ways in some other animals, especially among the Great Apes, but they only truly reach their human form in humans.

Rights are a human construct in that they only matter between humans, or between humans and something humans want to treat in a human-like way.

Rights don’t exist apart from sentient beings. They only exist within the brain, while still having consequences, with regard to interactions between those bearing the brains, in the physical world. The Universe doesn’t have rights or respect rights otherwise.

A rock will never respect anything’s “rights”, nor will a mosquito. The rock has no consciousness or will (free or otherwise) and a mosquito just does what it must to survive long enough to reproduce– it doesn’t concern itself with anyone else.

Being a construct doesn’t mean rights are imaginary. They are real– at least when you are speaking of human interactions. Life doesn’t turn out well if you don’t respect the rights of others at least a little bit. If you didn’t, you’d be worse than the worst psychopath, and you wouldn’t survive long. You’d be everyone’s enemy and everyone would be doing all they could to end you.

So, rights are a useful construct. And as long as I’m dealing with other humans (or creatures I want to treat humanely) I will respect rights and will expect mine to be respected by other humans as well.

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Why Culture Matters

What is Culture?

As individuals, people experience consciousness (identity, intelligence, soul, conscience), develop character (will, agency, behavioral patterns, habits), and demonstrate preferences of style (taste). Biological traits and tendencies both enable and limit perceptions and abilities, but all people have the ability (and unavoidable responsibility) to shape their character and develop to their potential.

By natural extension, groups of people also experience a sort of shared consciousness (shared identity, values, perceptions, language, epistemological orientation), develop a shared character (ethics, norms/rules, priorities, organizations, obligations, expectations, group dynamics, reputation), and express shared style preferences (aesthetics, dress and grooming, design, cuisine, music, humor, communication patterns, leisure activities, rhythm of life). Culture is an umbrella term for the shared identity, values, perceptions, perspectives, knowledge, beliefs, organizations, practices, and preferences of a group.

Culture is Fundamental

Culture is about much more than just style. Style is a very visible part of culture, but it is also comparably superficial and inconsequential. Style differences rarely cause significant conflict (except, perhaps between significantly shallow people). On the other hand, differences in things like ethics, rules, and behavioral patterns are at the heart of very serious conflicts, indeed. In fact, many conflicts that on the surface appear to be motivated by ethnic identity, political ideology, or religious affiliation are fundamentally cultural.

But understanding culture is not just about conflict; it’s also about the progress of civilizations and quality of life for people everywhere. Key adjustments in culture can have profound effects on group dynamics and future generations.

Cultural Advancement and Decline

The word “culture” comes from the latin cultura referring to the care, development, and protection required to develop something, as in “cultivation” and “agriculture”. The weeds and rocks have to go and the soil has to be prepared in order for precious seeds to be carefully planted and become a beautiful garden that bears fruit and is worth preserving.

In other words, a culture must be both conservative and progressive in order to develop. That is, its members must conserve positive elements while also abandoning negative ones and adopting additional positive ones. All cultures should embrace the best practices of other cultures while conserving and promoting their own.

Here are some examples of elements of high-performing cultures that have proven their value and are worth adopting: coherent philosophy, individual self-determination, reciprocity ethics and natural law, clear and noble grand narrative, private property norms, freedom of association, monogamy, incest avoidance, courtesy, hygiene, industriousness, low time preference, precise and high-minded language, appreciation of / participation in / contribution to sophisticated pursuits.

Cultural decline is marked by the abandonment of such elements and their replacement with corrupt and perverse ones.

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Ethical Consistency, Does it Really Matter?

We see or hear it all the time. Whether we’re on social media or having a conversation with a friend or family member, you may hear or read something like this, your redneck coworker may say, “We just need to turn the middle east into a sheet of glass!” Meanwhile, your progressive, career college student cousin may say something like, “We need someone like Bernie in the white house so we can finally get universal health care!”

More often than not these examples are due to the lack of something I consider invaluable as a Voluntaryist… ethical consistently.

To the best of my understanding, the lack of ethical consistency in today’s culture has led, and continues to lead people toward further social, economic, and foreign policy disasters. For this reason, I wanted to go over the concept of ethical consistency as I see it, the definition of the term, and some examples of how it’s applied in real world scenarios.

Consistency—the absence of contradictions—has sometimes been called the hallmark of ethics. Ethics is supposed to provide us with a guide for moral living, and to do so it must be rational, and to be rational it must be free of contradictions. If a person said, “Open the window but don’t open the window,” we would be at a loss as to what to do; the command is contradictory and thus irrational. In the same way, if our ethical principles and practices lack consistency, we, as rational people, will find ourselves at a loss as to what we ought to do and divided about how we ought to live. Ethics require consistency in the sense that our moral standards, actions, and values should not be contradictory. Examining our lives to uncover inconsistencies and then modifying our moral standards and behaviors so that they are consistent is an important part of moral development.

Consistency and Ethics, from the center of applied ethics at Santa Clara University.

I’ve observed that, especially in the realm of political opinion, being ethically consistent seems to be a real challenge. And as I wrote earlier, this leads to a lot of confusion, controversy, and conflict.

In order to further explain, I’ve provided five scenarios along with an explanation of how ethical consistency applies.

Scenario #1
-Murder is considered illegal or unethical.
-Accidentally killing civilians with drone strikes is collateral damage and therefore justified.

In this example, it should be fairly obvious that killing is inherently unethical, whether intentionally or by accident, however some people believe there is an exception to this universally accepted rule when it comes to war…or so they’ve convinced themselves. In a way, I can’t blame them. They’ve spent a lifetime inundated with nationalism, from reciting the pledge of allegiance in public school every morning to social media and network news filling them with pride for country and military worship.

And that’s the problem. The programming has been incredibly successful, so successful some people have lost their ability to discern between murder and accidentally killing innocent people.

Scenario #2
-Robbing someone of the cash in their wallet is considered illegal or unethical.
-Taking money from someone through the act of taxation is justified.

Think back to when were a child, do you remember when one of your siblings or playmates took your favorite toy from you? I’m not sure I can remember that far back either, but if you have children, nieces or nephews, you’ve witnessed this drama firsthand.

The recognition of personal property is innate in human beings, we know what is ours.

As we mature, we begin to understand the benefits of sharing, whether it’s the desire to connect with others or more selfish reasons. For example, some may share their candy with classmates in order to be seen as likeable and some may do so in order to garner social status and the benefits involved with being popular.

Although we’ve come to find sharing as a virtuous thing to do, we choose so voluntarily. We choose to donate money, our time, or make charitable donations of items because we receive some type of psychological reward.

In the case of the mugger stealing the cash in your wallet, we know this is inherently unethical. In the case of taking someone’s money via taxes, we know that this act is also inherently unethical. Why? Because, unlike charitable donations, the money is being taken from you. Some may say that they’re happy to pay taxes and that’s great! You make your charitable donations to the state and I’ll spend my money supporting alternatives to such coercive systems.

Scenario #3
-A group of neighbors come to your house and forcefully abducted you for smoking a plant in your living room is considered illegal or unethical.
-The police come to your house and forcefully abducting you for smoking a plant in your living room is justified.

Do you own yourself? Is your body, your self considered personal property? Are you responsible for actions taken? Do you have a sense of personal agency?

I would answer ‘yes’ to each of those questions, therefore my body and my actions are mine. If I were to eat a fatty steak and wash it down with a double Old Fashioned, does that affect anyone else? Of course not, but if I were to get in my car intoxicated and hit someone else, that would be violating their person, their self.

Whether it’s eating a steak while drinking bourbon, smoking weed, or doing meth, it’s my body. As long as I do so without affecting anyone, it’s my decision alone.

The act of being abducted by your neighbors simply because they made a “No Weed” rule between them is inherently immoral. The same thing applies to being abducted by the police. In addition to your neighbors, strangers helped make the rules restricting the rights of others to do what they choose with their bodies. The police enforce these rules, although they call them laws instead. Whether rule or law, a person’s self ownership precedes both.

Scenario #4
-A group of people mandating your children attend church is considered unethical.
-The state mandating your children attend school is justified.

My explanation of scenario number three applies here as well. However, in this case it’s not your person, it’s your child’s person.

What separates adults from children is the adults sense of personal agency and responsibility. Since children lack this understanding, their parents, other immediate family members, or other types of surrogate caregivers have the responsibility of taking care of them.

Now this part is going to sound insensitive and simplistic, but hear me out. Your child is your possession. Until they also have a sense of personal agency and responsibility, you are as responsible for them as you are for yourself. Therefore, you have the final say when it comes to their person.

By mandate or law, forcing a child to attend anything without the consent of the parent is inherently unethical.

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