Remythologizing The Melting Pot

Even the Wall Street Journal's editorial page seemed momentarily stunned by President Bush's January 7th call for the open borders policy that it had so long demanded but couldn't possibly have expected any president to endorse.

Eventually, though, the WSJ found Tamar Jacoby of the Manhattan Institute to applaud this radical proposal under the curious headline "American Conservatism."

Particularly noteworthy was Jacoby's passage:

"The Know Nothing Party of the 1840s begat the Anglo-Saxonist movement of the 1890s begat the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, and on into our era. Pete Wilson, Pat Buchanan, Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado...today's restrictionist pantheon, too, is made up almost entirely of Republicans or conservatives."

Thus in Jacoby's worldview, opponents of open borders are the descendents of the Ku Klux Klan.

Now that's American conservatism!

Jacoby is also the editor of a new and oddly important book on assimilation called Reinventing the Melting Pot: The New Immigrants and What it Means to Be American.

This collection comprises 22 essays by neoconservatives like Michael Barone, Joel Kotkin, and Gregory Rodriguez, liberals like Pete Hamill and Amitai Etzioni, and leftists like Herbert J. Gans. Only Harvard economist George J. Borjas, an old VDARE.COM friend, provides a token, but powerful, voice of skeptical realism.

To say that Jacoby's book is significant, however, is not to say that it's good. It consists mostly of happy-clappy celebrations of diversity, combined with the usual neocon griping that mass immigration would be all hunky-dory if it weren't for those evil leftist intellectuals who seduce innocent immigrants into identity politics.

Jacoby's introductory chapter, "Assimilation: A Progress Report," does not encourage confidence in her abilities as either an analyst or an editor.

Numbers, to be frank, are not her strong suit. For example, she writes,

"The estimates of minority purchasing power change almost too fast to keep track of them, but according to one study, Latino buying muscle grew by 160 percent in 2002 alone…"

To you and me, any study that claims that the value of purchases made by Hispanics in 2002 was 2.6 times what it was in 2001 is prima facie ludicrous. But not to Jacoby.

Likewise, she burbles, "But, in fact, as a group, immigrant children bring home a superb [report] card."

Well, sure they do … assuming their parents graduated top of their class at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bangalore. But Hispanics, who make up the majority of immigrant children, bring home a lousy report card (on average). Even though Jacoby hired Stephan Thernstrom to write a chapter, she apparently didn't pay attention to the recent book he wrote with his wife Abigail, No Excuses, which includes data indicating that even American-born Hispanic students wind up over three grade levels behind whites.

Jacoby is essentially an emotional thinker. She is driven by affection toward her ancestors—she dedicates her book to "Aunt Bea, who was the last living link to my family's Ellis Island generation"—and by resentment of those now long-dead "Anglo-Saxonists" who were less than wholly appreciative of Aunt Bea.

On the book's next to last page, Jacoby unveils her big plan for helping assimilate the latest newcomers: We should pay less attention to the history of Americans who were here before, oh, say, her family arrived. Instead, "the immigrant experience, broadly defined, should play a larger part" in the "national mythology."

News Flash! That shift happened decades ago in the schools and movies.

Jacoby's dream of making common cause with the new immigrants to symbolically stick it to those nasty Anglo-Saxonists who gave the fish eye to Aunt Bea back in nineteen-ought-whenever reminds me of the joke about how the Lone Ranger and Tonto find themselves surrounded by hundreds of hostile Indians.

The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and sighs, "It looks like we are doomed, my friend." But Tonto shouts over his shoulder as he rides off, "What's all this 'we' stuff, paleface?"

The distinction that looms so large in Jacoby's mental universe between white WASPs (bad) and white Ellis Islanders (good) is invisible to non-white immigrants of the post-1965 era.

They think both groups are just a bunch of palefaces.

Further, doesn't a desire that the American job market be thrown open to the entire world in the hope that this might lead to, say, Stephen Foster getting less space in the history books and Irving Berlin getting more seem a tad disproportionate?

I have zero (0) WASP ancestry. But this kind of squabbling over ancient bragging rights bores me to tears. I'm concerned about what immigration is doing to the future of my country.

Most of the other essayists picked by Jacoby also seem motivated by similarly vaporous concerns rather than by a desire to do anything practical to encourage assimilation. Some of the neocons suggest getting rid of particularly egregious recent innovations like bilingual education and dual citizenship, but only Borjas offers any positive steps. He describes, for example, a recent law in New Zealand that requires immigrants to post an $11,000 bond. If they can't pass an English proficiency test within a year of arrival, they forfeit it.

Intellectuals witter about assimilation in order to avoid talking about what really matters in immigration policy: the quantity and quality of immigrants.

Almost every essay salutes how wonderfully the Ellis Island immigrants assimilated, but only Borjas mentions one obvious reason why:

"By 1924, the United States had adopted strict limitations on the number and type of foreigners who could enter the country… This provided a 'breathing period' that may have fueled the assimilation process by cutting off the supply of new workers to ethnic enclaves and reducing the economic and social contacts between immigrants and their countries of origin."

Similarly, only Borjas makes this nearly tautologically obvious point:

"Because the social and economic conditions facing immigrants are not as favorable today as they were a century ago, it would be prudent for the United States to reform its entry standard to give preference to those immigrants who are most likely to assimilate successfully."

Every other contributor treats the quantity and quality of immigrants as simply a given—as far beyond human control as continental drift.

So why is Reinventing the Melting Pot notable? Because it is self-negating almost to the point of being self-detonating.

The contradiction between what it preaches and what it is reminds me of the famous Cretan Paradox that puzzled ancient Greek logicians. A poet from Crete named Epimenides contradictorily declared "I am a liar." Similarly, the very method by which Jacoby created her book gives the lie to its basic theme that assimilation is everything and selection is nothing.

Reinventing the Melting Pot illustrates how American intellectual discourse has become unmoored from American daily reality. The fundamental assumption of this book, as with almost everything published these days, is that social construction is all-powerful. We shouldn't worry about who or how many come to America because we can mold anybody into anything. To worry about which immigrants to let in is racist.

Yet, at the same time that intellectuals furiously propound the moral superiority of constructionism over selectionism, they, like most other Americans, have lost their taste for actually trying to mold individuals' characters. That's why nobody except Borjas proposed anything new that we should be doing.

It's not hard to think up better ways to help assimilate immigrants. For example, I pointed out on VDARE.COM some time ago:

"You don't get somebody to like you by doing them a favor. That only tends to build resentment over the fact that they are needy and you are not. No, you ask them to do you a favor."

Therefore, I suggested requiring immigrants applying for citizenship to:

"… put in, say, 100 hours of community service... We would have to carefully control what kind of service. Allowing, say, Chinese applicants to work in Chinatown would accomplish nothing. Nor would forcing them to work among the dregs of the native-born. No, immigrant applicants must work in organizations where at least half the volunteers were American citizens and where the people served are not primarily the immigrant's own ethnic group. Filling sandbags for the Red Cross during a flood or hurricane might be the perfect task."

Yet, when I mentioned this at a conference on citizenship, the neocons were aghast. How could I morally demand that an immigrant do something he might not feel like doing?

This reluctance to try to mold people is everywhere today. Look at the business world. Tom Watson Sr. had IBM employees sing 106 company songs. But that kind of social engineering of groupthink, valuable as it was in building a great company, would be inconceivable today. Now it's difficult even to get professionals to wear business suits. Instead, today's corporate ethos is selectionist: Pick the right people and then let them innovate.

Or, take education. Constructionism is the ideology, but selectionism is the reality.

Nowhere in Jacoby's book does anyone dare suggest that immigrants with high IQs might assimilate better than immigrants with low IQs. Indeed, the dread letters "IQ" are verboten in intellectual life these days.

Yet, in the real world, parents scramble to get their kids into magnet schools and gifted programs, many of which select their students explicitly on IQ. (For example, the LA Unified School District operates a Highly Gifted Magnet school specifically open only to kids with stratospheric 145+ IQs.)

When Americans say a neighborhood has "good schools" or "bad schools," they mean "good students" or "bad students."

Nobody cares whether or not a prestigious college does a good job educating its students. As teaching institutions, Stanford has been notorious for grade inflation and Berkeley for assigning grad students with thick accents to lecture huge auditoriums full of bewildered victims. Yet this doesn't hurt their reputations because the status of a top college doesn't depend on how much value it adds to the students it recruits. No—the standing of a college is primarily based on the SAT scores its students made back in high school!

Most relevantly, consider how Tamar Jacoby created Reinventing the Melting Pot. Since she admires the government's mass immigration system so much, she ought to have picked her contributors the same way the government picks immigrants.

  • For example, because most immigrants are admitted solely because they are the kin of earlier immigrants, Jacoby should have allowed other pundits to force her to hire their relatives as her authors.

  • Or, in the manner of the U.S. Government's Diversity Visa Lottery, she could have let randomly chosen opinion mongers write her book.

  • Then again, in the spirit of the new Bush Plan, she could have let any writer in the world contribute a chapter, and the book would have ended up 10,000,000 pages long and in 100 languages.

But, no—she carefully selected as contributors those elite individuals she considers the best and the most congenial with herself.

Did she then seriously attempt to assimilate the first drafts, to mold them into a coherent, persuasive whole? Not that I can tell. She didn't even try to get her contributors to agree on terminology, confessing, "As an editor, I've let the essayists use their own language to describe immigrant absorption."

Nor does it look like she tried to keep her writers from being shown up as ignoramuses by her other writers. I'm not even talking about how Borjas makes practically everyone else look out to lunch. No, she didn't even bother to protect her neocon allies from being made to look foolish by her other neocon allies.

For example, Thernstrom argues that current immigrant groups will assimilate largely automatically because that's what happened to German-Americans. "There was a German ethnic group once, a huge and powerful one. But it has vanished in the melting pot," he intones.

Yet, in the very next chapter, Nathan Glazer explains that German-American multiculturalism didn't die out naturally, but "was expunged by World War I and its aftermath."

And later, Barone gives some details of how German ethnicity was smashed in 1917:

"The Wilson administration and its propagandists conducted a campaign against German culture, renaming sauerkraut 'liberty cabbage,' suppressing German-language schools and newspapers, prosecuting political opponents of the war."

Hmm. Should we try that kind of "campaign" with the Hispanics now?

You might think that Jacoby would have asked Thernstrom to assimilate these facts about German-Americans and the melting pot into a new essay that wouldn't be so laughable.

But, nah, Jacoby's a modern American. And modern Americans just aren't into hassling people like that. That's why we select our colleagues so carefully—to minimize friction and discordance.

Except, according to Jacoby and Co., this prudence and discretion would be wrong when it comes to the fundamental civic duty of choosing who gets to immigrate.

Immigrants ought to select themselves. And we American citizens shouldn't have any opinion on the subject.

And if you think otherwise, that means you were probably begat by the Ku Klux Klan.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog.]