Quick Review: Open Borders (Bryan Caplan & Zach Weinersmith)

Yes, Open Borders, Please, NOW!

I have been wondering for several weeks whether to buy Open Borders, Bryan Caplan’s essay on favor of open borders, illustrated by Zach Weinersmith. Reason why I didn’t want to buy it earlier, was that I’m already sold on open borders. I don’t need any convincing. But I saw tweets about the book, from people who said it helped with arguments for when other people say stupid crap about immigration. It was enough to convince me to buy it.

And indeed, Bryan Caplan being an economist, he makes really good economic, backed up arguments against restricted immigration, whether it is about taxes, healthcare or cultural impact of immigrants, to name a few. And it’s really of great help when you need to make some semi-xenophobic well-behaved citizen (1) understand how their convictions are flawed or based on nothing practical. I don’t really want to go into specific details of the book; I encourage everyone to get it and read through it all. It’s pretty easy, there are pictures. But I would like to talk for a moment about what I disagreed on (2).

Even though Bryan Caplan is totally in favor of open borders, he accepts to think that his arguments could be wrong (or counter-intuitive at first glance) and offers a few solutions to pave the way for open borders. What he calls “Keyhole Solutions”. Basically, it’s almost the same thing, but with restrictions (so it’s not the same thing). That’s where the book felt foreign, because it talks about changing the status quo, but the status quo Caplan’s talking about is the USAian one. Those “solutions” (3) are actually already in place in several developed country, like Canada or Australia, in the allegedly egalitarian “point system” (4). And this same point system is being considered in some european countries (such as France) to actually restrict immigration. Which means the status quo it would globally tend to, is actually a move away from open borders in many countries. So you might understand why I really don’t see those keyhole solution as an actual global solution. And that it’s viewed as an improvement on the current situation in the USA, is quite worrying about the USA.

Finally, I understand that convincing the world that open borders would be hard and some steps will have to be taken to achieve it. But Bryan Caplan, aided by the wonderful comic strips by Zach “SMBC” Weinersmith, is really a toolbox to give you “yes but” ammunitions when your annoying uncle at the Christmas dinner starts making up made-up facts about immigration.

(1) We can assume that totally xenophobic scumbags are way beyond salvation, but we only need half of the people to understand basic respect for human life. Maybe those SXWBC are all who need convincing.

(2) It’s not about economics, which I lack the knowledge to judge, but about ethics.

(3) For example, setting up an age cap, or selecting countries or languages to preferably accept

(4) To reuse the examples above, it means giving more points to young graduated people, the more points given to 30-35 year old young workers, and decreasing the number of points awarded with age, or giving points if you already know the official language of the country. It’s everything but equal. Because everyone is scored on the same scale doesn’t mean they have the same chances. Equality doesn’t work like that.

Cosmos: a review 40 years later

I wish I could tell you I read Carl Sagan’s Cosmos when it was released but there was no “I” in 1980.

One day of January 2017, I bought Cosmos, the book written by Carl Sagan after he made the TV show, and decided to read it… in 2019

I wish I could tell you I read Carl Sagan’s Cosmos when it was released but there was no “I” in 1980. As many millenials, I discovered Cosmos through the 2014’s remake of Carl Sagan’s TV program by Neil de Grass Tyson. I loved this series when it was released and how accessible it made it for about anyone to understand the physics of our universe and why it’s important to care about it. I seldom knew about Carl Sagan and his work. I happened to know that he wrote Contact, and co-wrote the script of the film adaptation, and I wanted to watch his TV program, but never managed to find the time⁽¹⁾.

One day of January 2017, while visiting the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum of NYC⁽²⁾, as I was stumbling upon the space shuttle on the deck, I saw that they were selling Cosmos, the book written by Carl Sagan after he made the TV show. So I bought it, and decided to read it… in 2019 (remember, time, and stuff).

I’m not gonna go into the particular, because it is dense, and as NdGT’s show, it goes back and forth between the past and the future, the extremely small and the immensely big. This coming and going is necessary to understand one important aspect of the universe: everything is linked. As Carl Sagan talks about the immensity of the universe, he tells about the probability of sentient life somewhere else, and he argues, according to our propensity to fuck things up, whether other civilisations can go past the nuclear age or if any advanced society is doomed to annihilate itself in an instant.

And that’s the objective of this book/series: tell us to wake the fuck up. Especially in the late 1970s, when the nuclear apocalypse seemed closer than ever, that with the existing nuclear arsenal, all human life (and most life) could be sacrificed in an instant. Not because world leaders wanted to use it, but because they were afraid the other party would use it first. Today, this threat hasn’t disappeared, despite the apparent end of the cold war, but the danger isn’t as immediate as it used to be. Still, the problem is still relevant. We don’t know what conflict might come upon us, and the nuclear weapons are still here.

And he doesn’t shy himself from global warming and climate change either. The problem was forcibly silenced by politics of all sides in the 1980s but nowadays we all see the effects and it’s probably the most pressing matter that we have to tackle if we are to survive on this planet. Carl Sagan talks in a lot of details about this issue and what can be done to deal with it. No need to say that the relevance of his argument is ever more convincing now.

I wanted to talk specifically about one event related by Carl Sagan at the end of the book: the destruction of the Alexandrian library. Even though the world has changed a lot since then, we live in a time when there is a resurgence of obscurantism led by very powerful people. The Alexandrian scholars used to gather every piece of scientific and technological works in a single place, and that’s what doomed it all. Works that didn’t have a copy would be likely destroyed with the library and a huge portion of antique knowledge has been lost forever, only to be rediscovered centuries later when science was again possible.

Today it would be unlikely that all this knowledge would disappear, since our capacity to copy extensively (virtually infinite in the Internet era) in a decentralised system has made it impossible to destroy, but there are still places that could very well get cut from all this important knowledge and still cause problem to the rest of the world (looking at you, US of A). Such an event could have an impact on decades or centuries. Or we could just get nuked.

So I think that Cosmos is an important book to read, even though there are a few obsolete information, mainly mysteries that have been resolved or technological challenges that have been overcome in the last 40 years, but overall, the relevance of the subject is still, well, universal.

(1) Ok, I binge watched the entire Gilmore Girls, and Friends twice since then. Don’t judge me.

(2) That’s a museum on an aircraft carrier. Just the place is incredible. You should check it out if you go to NYC and like technological stuff.

Would I live as a foreigner for the rest of my life?

I had to ask that question to myself at least once in my life. And by “as a foreigner”, what I mean is “in the eye of the people of the country you live in”. It can take many shapes. In some country, intolerance toward a specific group makes it difficult to live there, even if you’re born there and speak the language natively. Descendants of Algerians people in France often mention that they feel like foreigners, even though Algeria was a French region for decades and countless Algerians moved to France around the independence. And I’m sure the same thing happens to many people in a lot of countries.

[…]

I am gonna talk about transition again, yay! Bear with me for a moment.

I had to ask that question to myself at least once in my life. And by “as a foreigner”, what I mean is “in the eye of the people of the country you live in”. It can take many shapes. In some country, intolerance toward a specific group makes it difficult to live there, even if you’re born there and speak the language natively. Descendants of Algerians people in France often mention that they feel like foreigners, even though Algeria was a French region for decades and countless Algerians moved to France around the independence. And I’m sure the same thing happens to many people in a lot of countries.

In some other country, it’s the lack of foreign people until recently that makes it difficult to live there as a citizen. Meaning that it doesn’t matter how long you stay there, people will always see you as a curiosity. That’s the case in Korea, where I lived. Wherever you go, people will always assume you’re new and you can’t speak Korean. I have friends who have been living there for over 20 years, and Koreans are still spooked when they hear them speak Korean fluently. I was always receiving comments like “Ho you really speak Korean well”, and sometimes they even dared saying it in English, like if ordering a beer was the only thing I could say in Korean.

I am not criticizing that, I completely understand the reasons. If you where from a country that was considered insignificant by most of the world for a long time, that would be normal to not understand why people would be suddenly interested in living there (even though you became the 11th economic power in the world and provide half the world population with pocket phones). But the point I want to make is: would it be alright for you to live in a country, if it means you would be considered a foreigner probably for the rest of your life? There is no right answer; it’s totally acceptable for many people and for countless reasons. The people born from Algerian parents that I mentioned at the beginning consider themselves French (and they are), and see no reason why they would live somewhere else (and many say that when they visit their families in Algeria, people say they’re too French. They’re loosing on both sides). There are a lots of perks living in Korea, that can overshadow the small inconvenient of being seen as a foreigner. Or you can be married in said country and it’s simpler to live there than moving your family away.

Personally, I live in Canada, more precisely in Vancouver (BC), and since I arrived, I never felt that I couldn’t belong. People just don’t give a crap if you’re a foreigner. I get asked occasionally where I’m from, because I have a strong accent, but there are so many people from various origins that it just doesn’t make sense to ask it to every one all the time. And I like that way better than the other solution. And that’s how I could answer another question that’s so weirdly similar.

One of my biggest fear when I started transition was: will I pass? (See, I told you it was about transition) Most trans know it. It’s one of the biggest concern when deciding to transition, since it’s strongly related to discrimination. In the latest poll, it ranks second, before “what’s my actual sexual orientation?” and after “Am I gonna get killed for being trans?” (1). And I say the questions are similar because, to me, when people look at me weirdly, it feels like I am a foreigner. Some trans person don’t care. They know people look at them, but they don’t give a crap, and for other people, especially when you don’t like the attention, this self-consciousness is very crippling. I never wear obviously feminine clothes or heavy make-up for that reason (also because I don’t want to spend half an hour more to prepare in the morning).

So, when I realized I could correlate both questions, it became easy to answer. Since I didn’t want to live as a foreigner in Korea, which is one of the reasons I didn’t try to stay longer, I realized that yes, I need to pass as a woman. I can probably bear to be seen as transgender for some time, but at some point, I want people to see me as who I am and not at “who I’m trying to be”, if that makes any sense (it does to me and that’s what matters), and I’m ready to go to very long lengths (depending on my resources) because there is no way that I am going back.

 

(1) Poll realized with a non-representative sample of 1 pseudo-randomly self-selected transgender woman trying to be funny.