Thursday, July 08, 2010

Have You Read The Bill?

[Background:  I have had a number of discussions on FaceBook, sometimes heated, about Arizona's SB1070. I wrote and posted this there, but thought I would share it here as well.]

May 28, 2010

Have You Read The Bill? – A response, and a challenge.

In the discussion of Arizona’s new immigration law (SB1070) and its implementation and the continuing reaction of others, this question “Have you read the bill?” (“HYRTB” for short) has come up repeatedly.  Indeed, I think I myself have been asked this question five or six times to date.

I find the question, and the reasoning that underlies it when asked by some persons, to be offensive; it’s also unhelpful and uncharitable.  I’ll try to explain why.  I must point out at the outset that my remarks are not aimed at any one person, for while some people have what I consider to be bad motivations in asking the question, I know several of my interlocutors to be people of sincerity and good will who genuinely mean no offense.

The question seems simple enough.  Have you read SB1070?  This is often accompanied by the remark that it’s only 17 pages.  True enough.  What are the subtexts of this question?  I can think of several variations on a theme:

1.    You must not have read the bill; otherwise you would agree with me/have a different position.
2.    I don’t understand why you don’t support this bill, so I’m assuming you must not actually have read it.  (This is the kindest variation, held by at least one person I know.)
3.    Reading the bill will convince any intelligent person to support it regardless of any other circumstances.
4.    If you have not read the bill your opinions don’t carry any weight and I can ignore them.

Let’s take them in turn.  The first and second are very similar; the main difference is that the first seems arrogant and the second comes from a position of sincerely seeking understanding.    Behind them both, though, is the implication that reading SB1070 will produce agreement with it.  Considering how many well-educated and well-read people in our society disagree on fundamental points of view, the likelihood of education resulting in uniform support for any particular position is low.

The third point is also similar to the first two, but I put it this way to bring out another point – context.  Every person that’s asked me the question has been a white person, and most of them do not live in Arizona.  I find it ironic that someone can ask this question, because the questions that I would ask in response include “Do you live in Arizona?  Are you familiar with Arizona politics?  Do you know why this bill came forward at this time, and who supports and opposes it and why? Do you have any Hispanic friends?”  SB1070 did not come forth in a vacuum, but in a particular set of circumstances of which many of the people asking HYRTB are totally ignorant.  Many people who object to SB1070 do so not because of the text of the bill but because of their experiences with Arizona’s politics and law enforcement, especially in Maricopa County.

Furthermore, it applies a standard for debate that most do not apply to other discussions or issues.  Do I have to have read the entire Tax Code of the US to object to the level of taxation I experience?   Did those objecting to Obama’s healthcare initiatives actually read all 1000+ pages of that bill?  Do I have to have read the UN Charter to support or object to the United Nations?  What about the North Atlantic Treaty? I suspect not.

It’s the fourth point that is most offensive.  Put another way, the question asks “Do you know what you are talking about?”  Questioning the knowledge and/or intelligence of your interlocutor is never conducive to a good discussion, but is a standard ad hominem tactic.  It also avoids discussing the actual objections raised.  If you wish to have a respectful, productive, and persuasive interchange, avoid such tactics and address the actual points of discussion.

My challenge to those who have asked HYRTB, and to everyone – have a discussion that is respectful and uplifting, edifying and charitable.  Seek to understand not just the text, but the context, of what you discuss; and for those that profess a Christian faith (at least) – as Frank Sheed (I think) said, when you are tempted to put someone in his place, remember that his proper place is Heaven and everything you say and do towards him should help him attain that end.

I have a lot more to say about the bill itself, which I will do in a future posting.  I did want to take some time to make these points since they have been the cause of some hurt feelings on my part and presumably on the part of others.

And yes, I have read SB 1070.