Black-and-White and Grey All Over the Red, White, and Blue
Cindy told me about the discussion she'd had the day before with my father -- who is an immigration attorney -- about the issues over migration to the USA. Cindy's opposition to further immigration stemmed mainly from the principle that we have laws and those who break them are criminals and should be punished. That, of course, sounds right. We are a society of laws, as the anti-immigration folks like to say.
But problems often arise from our mental approaches to our law.
"I see things in black and white," Cindy told me.
That's fine, I said. But that's not how our laws work. Our laws do not see things in black and white -- at least not on a large scale. Our laws form a complicated, nuanced, breathing document. If our law were not complex and detailed, why would we have highly-selective schools that provide study in law alone? Why then a bar to which our lawyers must earn admittance?
Undocumented immigrants are not criminals. They have violated civil law, not criminal law. And I'm not debating semantics here. Language has played a monumental importance in our laws since the writing of Genesis in which God uses words to create the universe. Legislators (in theory), lawyers, and judges spend lifetimes debating specific diction. In the service of justice and its application we must take care with specifics.
A civil infraction differs greatly from a criminal one. We don't have two simple categories of "law-abiding people" and "criminals" (read: "good guys" and "bad guys"). Our laws aren't that black and white because our world is not that black and white. (I say that despite the dichotomous Cold War mentality that has arisen since the hawkish mobilization of our minds after 9.11.01.)
Cindy also referred to legal provisions that allow for admission to this country as "loopholes", as if any acknowledgement of detail or gray area were a trick or manipulation. Her perspective reminded me of reactions to the presidential debates during the 2004 election. Opponents of Sen. Kerry criticized him for seeming to smart, too detailed, and too good at debate. They felt he was attempting to manipulate them; they thought him slick and dishonest because he focused on nuances and would not admit a black-and-white solution to every problem.
Part of George W. Bush's charm has been an adherence to vastly oversimplified, black-and-white opinions. He's a straight-talker, shoots from the hip, sticks to his guns, and other such cowboy clichés. That's comforting to many people. Our natural fears often lead us to crave a clear, stable, understandable world. It gives us a feeling of control and power. That's nice. It's also not real.
The real trickster in the 2004 debates was Pres. Bush who presented an oversimplified front to complex issues in a way that comforted those who, like Cindy, "see things in black and white". In doing so he masked the truth about such complicated issues as the war on terror and the economy. He manipulated those who trusted him. A simple version of the truth often has the same effect as a lie.
That's why we must do as Cindy did when looking into Scary Movie 4 and as she agreed to do by the end of the immigration phase of our conversation: We must recognize that we live in a grey universe. And when deciding our opinions and our public policy we must research; we mush hound for detail and nuance; and we must think. That will lead us to the truth. Governing from the gut sounds easy, but dealing with the consequences of such action isn't.