Friday, March 05, 2004

One-A-Day Brand

After obsessing over picky details and exquisite subtleties for years, newly minted PhDs can be counted on to terrorize their students for a year or two with pointless displays of erudition and the dreaded oral footnote. It usually takes a while to recognize that you’re doing very well if you communicate a single important idea in every class meeting and that 30 significant concepts a semester is a highly worthwhile goal. Learning is a physiological process that takes time and sleep. To speak like a chemist, the volume of input is not the rate-limiting step.

In the spirit of this observation, I offer a single thought:

Many historians and analysts have noted that periods of increased immigration have typically coincided with eras of reaction in the United States. Conversely, when immigration abates and formerly despised newcomers become familiar neighbors, Americans become more progressive because they are eager to help those perceived as their own kind. The complacent assumption behind many versions of this cyclical theory is that new groups will indeed eventually be assimilated. However—and this is the thought of the day—the process of assimilation always depended upon the dynamism of the American economy. It required exponential growth to absorb the millions who came. Failing some new economic revolution of the scale of the settlement of the empty lands of the west or the industrial revolution, why should we expect the new immigrants to be integrated into the American system except as the domestic representatives of the wretched lower caste of the neoliberal world economic order? And what kind of politics goes along with a huge, permanent underclass?

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