The Market for Sanctimony
Do Ideas Matter in Religion?

Response to Rev. Matt Tittle on Border Policy

Peter A. Taylor
July, 2016

Democracy is three wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
— old libertarian slogan

There have been several sermons at BAUUC over the years in support of open borders. I've written in opposition to open borders before at length here and briefly here. Here is another stab at it:

  1. The USA is a democracy with birthright citizenship. Even if we're talking about illegal aliens who never get the right to vote, and who never vote illegally, their future children born in the US will have citizenship, and about 30 years from now, today's immigrants' children will have the right to vote.

  2. Voting is potentially predatory behavior. Instead of pointing a gun at you, I help elect a politician who will order police or soldiers to point guns at you. In both cases, this could be what I consider legitimate defense or what I consider predatory behavior.

    As Robert Jenkinson (2nd Earl of Liverpool, Prime Minister 1812-1827) put it,

    I consider the right of election as a public trust, granted not for the benefit of the individual, but for the public good.

    As Senator Benjamin H. Hill put it,

    Suffrage, then, is not a right–it is not a privilege–it is a trust, and a most solemn and sacred trust. It is the trust of preserving society, of securing rights, of protecting persons.

    If you vote in a way that is inconsistent with securing the life, liberty, and property of your fellow citizens, then I claim you as a faithless trustee.

  3. I have classical liberal (moderate libertarian) values. I regard good (classical liberal) government as a precious and precarious thing (in so far as we still have it). Most voters thoughout the world, including the US, tend to vote in ways that I consider predatory. For example, I consider voting for socialists, race hustlers (practitioners of "identity politics"), or even people who are insufficiently devoted to the rule of law to be predatory behavior. I'm not just talking about politicians like Slobodan Milosevic. I'm talking about almost all of them. I believe in "American exceptionalism" in the sense that classical liberals still have significant influence in the US, but that influence is fragile.

  4. Voters' behavior is determined largely by their culture, which is determined largely by how their parents raised them*. People's behavior is also dependent on peer effects: whether I follow the norms of group X or group Y depends partly on how many members of group X and group Y there are in my environment. The numbers matter. In order to conduct an intelligent conversation about the long term effects of immigration, we need to have realistic ideas about how political cultures interact and change over time in politically mixed environments. There are a number of possibilities:

    1. Self-selection. Maybe we don't have to worry about being in a politically mixed environment in any important sense because immigrants are self-selected to be good classical liberals. Perhaps Mexican migrant workers come to the US not because of material considerations, not because they can't get good jobs in Mexico, but because they have read a lot of F. A. Hayek and yearn to caucus with the Libertarian Party and sing The Star-Spangled Banner.

      This possibility may have been more plausible in the distant past. On the contrary, many immigrants come to the US to escape the consequences of foreign government policies that they themselves supported, and which they continue to support, because to them (and to many of us!), the causal relationships are thoroughly opaque.

      There are similar concerns about "ruin voters" internal to the US. These are typically Californians whose votes made California the way it is, but who leave for Colorado or Texas because they can no longer get jobs or can no longer make ends meet in California. They then vote to turn Colorado and Texas into new Californias. They don't recognize their own complicity in having created the problems in California.

    2. Vetting. Maybe we don't have to worry about being in a politically mixed environment in any important sense because immigrants will be vetted effectively by the INS to make sure that they and their children are likely to be good classical liberals.

      There are a number of problems with this claim:

      1. It's contrary to the political interests of the people who control the institutions that are supposed to carry it out. German homeschoolers are deported, but members of La Raza are welcomed. Mexican Americans vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party, which dominates the civil service and the press.

      2. It's contrary to the rhetoric about open borders (e.g. Emma Lazarus). Specifically, Rev. Matt Tittle preached that open borders was a matter of principle, and that the numbers don't matter.

      3. It's impossible to predict the behavior of people who haven't been born yet except on a statistical basis, based on things we can observe about their parents. But trying to guess at someone's behavior based on statistics is "profiling" and "racist" and "Islamophobic", and is the Most Evilest Thing in the known universe!!!

      Poorly vetted mass immigration might be attractive to a socialist ideologue, but not to a classical liberal.

    3. Rapid assimilation. Maybe we don't have to worry about the mixing of political cultures because classical liberalism is overwhelmingly dominant in the US, and immigrants to the US quickly embrace the dominant political culture. Each wave of newly converted immigrants then helps to convert the next wave. In this view, immigrants are like reprogrammable androids who sync up and receive political software updates over a wireless network as soon as they step across the border.

      John Derbyshire calls this the "magic dirt" theory: the US is different from Mexico because we have magic dirt that makes people act differently once they come across the border.

      Unfortunately, none of this is true. Classical liberalism is not dominant, and is slowly being bludgeoned to death by the news, entertainment, and education industries. Like-minded immigrants tend to cluster together and assimilate slowly, if at all. When they do assimilate, they assimilate to Hollywood values, not classical liberal ones.

    4. Slow assimilation. Victor Davis Hanson suggested that if we shut the border for 20 years while the current group of immigrants assimilates, we'd be fine. Maybe learning a political culture is like learning a language; the first generation may not learn it well, but the second generation learns both the new and the old, and the third generation is fully assimilated.

    5. Permanent Balkanization. Maybe assimilation requires people to mix socially, and some cultures tend not to mix unless they are forced to. Maybe some political cultures are resilient even under long term minority status, possibly even under moderate coercion. Maybe the assimilation of a minority group depends on whether or not it is politically advantageous for the right people.

      I will elaborate on that third possibility. Until group X assimilates, they are a votebank for politicians who pander to them. It is therefore not in the interests of these politicians for group X to assimilate. If these politicians or their allies control the propaganda that group X receives, then we have a feedback loop, and assimilation can be delayed indefinitely.

      How long will it take for the New Black Panthers to assimilate? When will I see former members of the New Black Panthers or La Raza at the library reading Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises? It's not a good sign if the powers that be insist that asking immigrants to assimilate is also considered "racist" and is the second Most Evilest Thing in the known universe!

    6. Reverse assimilation. Maybe political assimilation is like putting an ice cube in hot tea. The ice cube melts, but energy is conserved, and the temperature of the tea drops accordingly. On the other hand, maybe assimilation is like combining the contents of sterile and non-sterile Petri dishes: the result is decidedly non-sterile. Does the mixing of political cultures, after homogenization, result in the two cultures affecting each other proportionally, or does one have a disproportionate effect on the other? If I stare into Tammany Hall after a wave of Irish immigration, to what extent does Tammany Hall stare back into me? If we mix a high-trust culture with a low-trust culture, do we get a high-trust culture, a low-trust culture, or something in between?

      Scott Alexander has two excellent thought experiments in his Nutshell article that take the view that I describe as "ice cube in hot tea". Search for "Utopia" and "Conservia", respectively.

    7. Absimilation. Sometimes the children of immigrants react against their parents' adopted culture and revert to their ancestors' culture. We see this for example in the Orlando shootings. Maybe they see the native culture as being a "weak horse" whose adherents are unwilling to defend it vigorously. Maybe they find it viscerally disgusting. Maybe they have higher expectations than their parents, and find it difficult to compete with the native stock. Maybe they are social misfits and experience status frustration. "asdf" writes,

      Second/Third generation Muslim immigrants tend to become radical Islamic terrorists more often than first generation. Some people are puzzled why such terrorists seem to be bad Muslims. They drink, listen to rap, want to be gangsters. Then some sudden conversion and within a year they are driving a truck through a crowd for Allah. It makes people think they are hypocrites who aren't really Muslims. I disagree. They are genuine Muslims accurately following through on the life example of Muhammed. It's just that Muhammad was a [expletive]. There's no lack of authentic Islam to any of it.

      The first generation does this less because their Islam isn't all about Muhammed or the Koran or whatever the doctrines of the religion are supposed to be. They are a part of what we could call their religion, but its only one part. Their culture, family, community, traditions, extended family etc are all wrapped up in their complete religious/social life and play off each other and influence each other. Someone who is practicing this kind of organic religion can't be boiled down to a list of logical doctrines and the more they follow those doctrines the more religious they are. That kind of zealous and abstract RELIGION is more the realm of sudden converts and socially isolated/broken people.

      (Update) Example: Stefan Molyneux reports that crime rates for Moroccan immigrants to the Netherlands go from 2.52% for the first generation to 7.36% for the second generation.

    8. Holographic culture. Cut a photograph in two, and you get two incomplete images. Cut a hologram in two, and you get two complete images with lower resolution.

      Another analogy is an ecosystem. Suppose you have an ecosystem with a certain equilibrium ratio of foxes to rabbits. You can kill 90% of the foxes, and keep all the rabbits, but a few generations later, after some population swings, you will return to the original equilibrium ratio.

      A culture may be analogous to an ecosystem with certain niches for people to fill, and so it may be associated with certain behavioral probability distributions. For simplicity, lets say that half of the members are "saints" and half of them are "sinners". You can take pains to import only people from the right hand tail of the behavioral distribution (saints) from some culture, but this has the side effect of importing the culture. Until it assimilates to the host culture, this immigrant culture will produce children and converts who exhibit the behaviors of both tails of the original immigrant culture. Half of the children will be "sinners".

    9. Mixed strategies and peer effects. How people behave depends on their numbers and power. There was a story about a group of Christians who fled Muslim persecution and settled in India under Hindu rule, where they enjoyed freedom of religion. But when Great Britain took control, these Christians called on the British government to forcibly convert their former rulers.


      When Puritanism troubled England in the days of Elizabeth, James, and Charles, none was such a stickler for liberty as the Roundhead.... When the Roundhead grasped the power which he had long desired, but could not earlier obtain, he was a tyrant of the strictest and most odious type.

      You may not know whether a group of people can be trusted with power until they actually have real power, at which point it's too late. How will members of group X and their representatives in the legislature behave when their numbers get large? Will members of group X enter coalitions freely on an individual basis, or will they form a cohesive, predatory voting block?

      How will the "good" members of an unassimilated minority behave when the bad fringe members cause trouble? Where are their loyalties going to lie? Will the "good" members serve as the "water" in which the problematic "fish" swim?

      If unassimilated minorities have higher birth rates than the native population, peer effects can get especially interesting.

    10. Enemy action. If you allow easy immigration, and can't effectively vet all of the immigrants, a certain proportion of them will be self-selected to be outright enemy agents (e.g. ISIL, Iran, free-lance, etc.).

  5. More than anything else, I'm reacting against Rev. Tittle's statement that the numbers don't matter.

    One analogy is that (classic) liberal democracy is like a container than can store liquids provided that they're not too acidic. We start off with an alkaline solution (a population dominated by classical liberals), but gradually add droplets of an acid (socialists, ethnic tribalists, or opportunists). The solution becomes gradually less alkaline. You can do this up to a point, but eventually, the solution will become too acidic and it will destroy the container.

    John Derbyshire used the analogy of a lifeboat (after Garrett Hardin). If there is a shipwreck, with 1000 people in the water and only one lifeboat, with a capacity of 10 people, what is the morally correct thing to do? How many of the people in the water should you try to rescue?

    The world's population is something like 7 billion, and Carter van Carter reports than over 3 billion of them live on less than $2 a day. The political stability of the US is a limited resource, like the metacentric height of a boat. If you overload the boat very much, it will capsize and everyone will drown. Overburdening that resource doesn't even make sense from a utilitarian standpoint. It makes even less sense from a more conventional moral standpoint that views fellow citizens as trustees of one another's life, liberty, property, and other interests.

    If the Biblical Jesus were the coxswain of that lifeboat, He could lay hands on all of the 1000 people and confer to them the power to walk on water. In that case, the numbers really don't matter, and He doesn't even need the lifeboat.

    However, if the coxswain isn't Jesus, then the numbers do matter.

  6. I suggested earlier than importing people whose children are likely to vote for socialist politicians 30 years from now might be an attractive idea to a socialist ideologue. That may be true, but I don't actually think there are that many genuine ideologues running around with 30-year planning horizons. Mostly what I think is driving the open borders enthusiasm is a mixture of (1) pandering to Mexican ethnic nationalists who already vote in the US, (2) camouflage for various business interests who want to hold down the price of their labor inputs, and (3) virtue signaling, of both the positive (exaggerating one's virtues) and negative (slandering one's competitors) types.

    The last reason is the most important. Quite simply, it's fun for the average person to accuse members of his outgroup of moral turpitude so he can feel superior to them. I have never quite been able to figure out what the difference is between "identity politics" and "racism", but apparently the former is good while the latter is the worst form of moral turpitude known to man. Calling for open borders provides people within the Democratic Party's ingroup with what is, if you squint a little, a plausible excuse for making accusations of moral turpitude against the Party's outgroup.

    Positive virtue signaling can also lead to perverse behavior. As itellu3times put it,

    When all that matters to you is virtue signaling, you will start forest fires so you can be seen to save a squirrel.

    In the case of refugee admissions, the order of the events is reversed. Saving the poorly vetted "refugees" comes first, and the problems come later. Also, to some extent, the problems are borne by someone else. John Derbyshire complains that people in "blue" states vote to import refugees, but then to settle them in "red" states. He calls this "telescopic philanthropy". The motto seems to be "privatize the sanctimony, socialize the costs".

  7. This does not (Arthur's England) end well (Northern Ireland).

Update: Clark at PopeHat has a report on the Oort Cloud refugee crisis of 3328.

*I am setting aside any discussion of population genetics on the grounds that (1) I don't know much about it and (2) if an ethnic group refuses to assimilate, I don't see why it matters why they refuse. Regardless, the result is permanent Balkanization.

Suppose we build a multi-generational starship to go to Alpha Centauri, and we populate it with members of the Church of the SubGenius (CotSG). Suppose that there are two kinds of SubGenius, the good kind ("Praise 'Bob'") and the bad kind ("Kill 'Bob'"). Good SubGenii smoke "frop" and write computer programs. Bad SubGenii take LSD and sometimes want to open windows and drill holes in the wall. If the population on board our starship ever becomes more than 5% bad SubGenii, they will destroy the ship, so to prevent this, we make sure that the original population of the ship are 100% good SubGenii. So, using Matlab syntax, the initial probabilities of someone on board being good or bad, respectively, are P = [ 1 ; 0 ] .

Whether someone who is raised in the CotSG turns out good or bad is random, and depends partly on his parents and partly on the contents of The Book of the SubGenius. (If the parents differ, let's assume that the children are influenced only by their same-sex parents.) Children of good SubGenii are 99% likely to be good, and children of bad SubGenii are 91% likely to be bad, so the Markovian transition matrix is M = [ 0.99 0.09 ; 0.01 0.91] . (Pn+1 = M * Pn .)

What is the equilibrium proportion of bad SubGenii? Will the ship be destroyed, and if so, after how many generations?

I get equilibrium P = [ 0.90 ; 0.10 ] .

The ship will be destroyed after seven generations, P = [ 0.947830 ; 0.052170 ] .


The Market for Sanctimony
Do Ideas Matter in Religion?