Wednesday, October 25, 2006

No Comparison

An elementary logical fallacy is the false analogy: comparing one thing to another when the two items in question have little in common.

Mark Hyman gives us a wonderful example in
his recent editorial about illegal immigration.

Yes, I know you think you’ve heard just about everything Hyman has to say on this issue, given that it’s the subject he discusses more than any other. But just wait! He’s got an ingenious twist in store for you!

See, this time around, he’s not talking about illegal immigration from Mexico. Instead, he’s talking about illegal immigration from Africa to the Canary Islands (which are Spanish territory).

He tells us of how the islands are being “burdened” by the “staggering numbers” of immigrants coming from Africa (Senegal, in particular).

With a wink-wink, nudge-nudge attitude, Hyman suggests the situation is parallel with the situation at the U.S. border.

In some interesting ways, they are. For example, the Canary Islands were seized by Spain many years ago, taken from their original inhabitants who had come from the African continent. Similarly, Mexican immigrants entering the U.S. illegally are doing so largely into territories formerly owned by Mexico and taken by force.

So in both cases, you have countries who used force to take control of a geographic area facing the unwanted return of the people they displaced so long ago, and calling this return “illegal.”

Sorry . . . didn’t mean to go all post-colonial on you, but you don’t have to be an outspoken advocate of open boarders to see the irony in the situation.

Another similarity is that in both cases, the people immigrating are doing so to find jobs, often to support families who have stayed behind. And in both cases, they have been charged with trying to freeload off of government programs and burdening the natives, despite no evidence of this.

Yet, the difference is much more important, and it's a difference that flies in the face of Hyman's central assertion. The Canary Islands are a geographically microscopic entity with limited space and economic resources, despite their connection to Spain. A sudden influx of immigrants entering the country illegally could conceivably do harm (although, as noted above, the immigrants are coming to find jobs).

The United States, on the other hand, is the wealthiest nation in the history of humanity. To compare a tiny group of islands dealing with an influx of immigrants to the situation of the United States is silliness.

This isn’t to say that national boarders shouldn’t be respected or that illegal immigration doesn’t create problems. But the use of invalid scare tactics and thinly-veiled racism not only demeans the people who are often risking life and limb for a chance to live the American (or Canary Island) Dream, but demeans the public sphere, where reasonable people should be able to talk intelligently, respectfully, and sincerely about the issue and how to best address it.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.56


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