Friday, April 23, 2010

Immigration Reform, Part The Second

OK, yesterday I blathered about a class of people who don't believe that hard work and talent are what get you ahead in this country.  I'm going to forgo a complicated analysis of what got them into that state, as there are lots of reasons they may end up that way.  That may be a topic for another post at some point.

In any event, the people I'm describing have become fearful of social change.  Since they don't believe they can move themselves forward, their primary concern becomes holding on to what they have.  Their desire for stasis comes from a fear of backsliding - if they can't move upward in society, they at least don't want to move downward.  Politically, their main goal is to make sure no one moves past them on their way up the social ladder.

Old Southern society was built on social stasis.  Everyone had a place in the hierarchy, and was expected to behave and live in ways suiting their standing.  The greatest sin anyone (of any race) could commit was being "uppity" - acting in a manner that befitted a higher social rank than they possessed.  Southern racism wasn't so much antipathy to people based on their skin color, it was that blacks had been forced into the lowest social caste and were expected to behave accordingly.    White Southerners could look on their own social position and always feel assured that no matter how badly their own life was going, there was always a limit to how far they could fall.

The great opposition to the Civil Rights movement was mainly driven by this fear.  Desegregation, freeing the blacks from their bottom social caste, meant upending the entire social structure of the South.  Ironically, desegregation freed more whites than blacks in the South.  By destroying the caste system of the Old South, poor whites were released from their own subjugation and allowed to move upward, as well.  The only real losers were the landed aristocracy, greater in power and influence than numbers by a long way.  Their response was to turn to economics.  Conservative economic policy over the last 40 years has been designed to stop social mobility and concentrate political and economic power in the wealthiest citizens - but that is another digression, and another topic for another post.

Today, the desire to freeze social classes out of fear of falling lower is scattered nationwide.  It is not isolated to any particular geographic region.  The economic crisis of the last couple years has exacerbated the feeling that the American Dream is slipping away from them, due to arbitrary forces beyond individual control.

Like the poor whites of the Old South, they need a social caste to feel superior to.  No matter how bad their own situation gets, they want someone guaranteed to be below them.  This is the role that is being filled by the illegal immigrants.

Tomorrow, I'll try to show how this desire for a static caste system out of fear of social backsliding finally relates to immigration reform - and draw this sequence of posts to a close.

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