Immigration reform may make its way through the Senate soon. Its chances in the House are less optimistic.
What role will reason play in the latest immigration reform effort?
When we want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe it?” Then … we search for supporting evidence, and if we find even a single piece of psuedo-evidence, we can stop thinking. We now have permission to believe. We have a justification, in case anyone asks.
When we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Must I believe it?” Then we search for contrary evidence, and if we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it. You only need one key to unlock the handcuffs of must.”
And — as I have noted before about the Gilovich Conjecture — much of this questioning happens below the level of consciousness.
Test the conjecture for yourself next time you are confronted with a controversial argument you want to believe, or one you don’t want to believe. For example, maybe something like the following:
Continuing to believe that evidence and logic influence public policy more than emotion and an adaptive unconscious, the Heritage Foundation issued a report a few weeks ago about immigration. The report asserts that “current immigration practices … operate like a system of transnational welfare outreach, bringing millions of fiscally dependent individuals into the U.S.”
If amnesty is a part of immigration reform:
“Over a lifetime, the former unlawful immigrants together would receive $9.4 trillion in government benefits and services and pay $3.1 trillion in taxes. They would generate a lifetime fiscal deficit (total benefits minus total taxes) of $6.3 trillion. …. This should be considered a minimum estimate. It probably understates real future costs because it undercounts the number of unlawful immigrants and dependents who will actually receive amnesty and underestimates significantly the future growth in welfare and medical benefits.”
Does that estimate hold up? asks Wonkblog’s Dylan Matthews, as if has better access to evidence and argument.
“Not really. They [the authors of the Heritage Report] make a lot of curious methodological choices that cumulatively throw the study into question. It’s likely that immigrants would pay a lot more in taxes, and need a lot less in benefits, than Heritage assumes, and that other benefits would outweigh what costs remain.”
And then he writes a lot more about the subject, but — to be fair — not as much as the Heritage document.
Two days later, Wonkblog “put that piece in context” by noting one of the authors of the Heritage report wrote a PhD dissertation at Harvard about IQs and immigration that concluded (according to the dissertation abstract)
“The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations…. Selecting high-IQ immigrants would ameliorate these problems in the U.S., while at the same time benefiting smart potential immigrants who lack educational access in their home countries.”
A number of people on the political left and middle and right and the gaps in-between objected to the argument and its conclusions, no doubt after also reading the dissertation abstract.
Heritage quickly announced the dissertation was “not a work product of The Heritage Foundation. Its findings in no way reflect the positions of The Heritage Foundation.”
The Foundation then went into damage control, and apparently considered hiring professional damage controllers.
Two days later, the co-author (Jason Richwine) resigned from Heritage.
He was “guilty of crimethink,” tweeted Charles Murray, Richwine’s mentor. “The bashing from the right has been as mindless as from the left.”
Richwine was interviewed by Byron York of the Washington Examiner a few days after the resignation. York’s article offers a compassionate but realistic portrait of a young intellectual caught by surprise in a political and media shredder.
So, how did it happen? Richwine, the Harvard intellectual, thought he could discuss perhaps the most radioactive subject in America — a mixture of race, ethnicity, and group intelligence — in the context of another highly controversial topic — immigration — and act as if it were all a matter of scholarly inquiry. In addition, he made what was at best a careless mistake … and further damaged himself by making tone-deaf remarks during a public discussion in Washington. Given the intensity of the immigration fight now raging in Washington, that was more than enough to do him in.
Steve Colbert had a slightly different analysis of the Heritage report incident and its aftermath.
But all that is prelude to what I really wanted to present in today’s post.
Here is a 21st century policy argument about immigration in the United Kingdom titled “Mathematics.”
Hollie McNish is the author. Her 2 minute and sixteen second argument seeks to bypass the reason gene completely and go directly to the part of one’s brain that decides things.
Listen to her argument.
If you want to believe what she says, have your unconscious ask yourself “Can I believe it?”
But if you don’t want to believe the argument, direct your unconscious to ask “Must I believe it?”
I think there may still be a bit of time left to wait for Reason to get its policy act together.
Or maybe not.