Northern Virginia Ethical Society (NoVES)

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  • Thursday, February 22, 2018 12:03 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    -- Govind Nair,  NoVES Member

    Here’s an addendum to our 2/18/18 multi-member panel Sunday platform on immigration and American identity. It completes our closing statement with clarifications which were not possible in our time limits.

    In closing this platform, I touched very quickly on our need as humanists to apply reason and evidence to counter the growing scourge of nativism across the world, well beyond just America. I also promised to offer references to a few quick evidentiary claims I made to counter widely propagated myths founded upon the notion of nativism valued by those opposed to immigration, immigrants, and multi-cultural society.

    Opportunistic and cynical politicians appealing to nativists love to tout a claim that immigration leads to greater crime, which well over 50 scholarly criminology and other studies have debunked. Another favorite claim is that immigration causes job loss at home. Despite some methodological difficulties in the relevant research, none of which disqualify the conclusions, evidence from both Britain and USA do not indicate any impact of immigration on unemployment. The evidence on wages is a bit more varied, but still negates a favorite nativist trope that “immigrants push down wages.” Some data on sectors employing immigrants may show declines in low-wage occupations, but may be picking up more than just the effect of immigration, whereas data on high-wage occupations show continued wage increases. The overall positive impact of immigration is however the overwhelming conclusion in the vast majority of research studies.

    If evidence counters the nativist false claims on immigrants’ adverse impact on crime, jobs, and wages, why do such nativist falsehoods still find favor? Whatever the cause, it is clearly not the result of applying reason and evidence to back nativist claims. Ultimately, we can reduce the basis of such claims to tribal instincts and the fear of the “other.” Such irrational tribalist claims too must be challenged by reason and evidence. Advances in global genetics research now place us on firm ground that race is a biological fallacy and only a misleading social construct and also that we share overwhelming similarity in our common origins as a species which migrated worldwide out of Africa.

    If we can accept that reason and evidence overwhelmingly refute the claims of nativism, we also need to ask what are the costs of nativist myths and the potential benefits of policy built on non-nativist foundations. Recent research concludes that migrants constitute just 3.4 per cent of the world’s population, but contribute 10 percent of the world’s economic output. Moreover, some of the most recent research estimates persuasively suggest that removing all global barriers to migration would actually double global output and dramatically lift living standards worldwide.

    Clearly, reason and evidence alone may not be sufficient to extinguish the appeals of populist politicians to those seduced by the myth of nativism. As humanists however, we today face an even greater imperative to bring the light of reason and evidence upon the dark and delusional visions of nativism, and to further unleash the greater human potential that remains unrealized in our midst as we erect barriers to further free movement of people.

  • Wednesday, February 21, 2018 8:16 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    At our Sunday 2/18 platform, five NoVES members, myself included, wove a biographically based tapestry of the diverse American immigration story. We traced our multi-generational family migration stories to America back to Ethiopia, Belgium, India, Colombia, Malaysia, Hungary, Australia, and indeed well beyond our shores to every continent on this planet.

    Our varied stories spoke of flight. From concentration camps, military dictatorship, communist government, and other settings. We also spoke of the quest for and fulfilment of opportunity in America. At medical and dentistry school, in entrepreneurial ventures, and more. Our stories also variously spoke of confronting and defying stereotypes, of feeling “different” in America, but also of feeling American and “different” abroad. We heard echoes of the generosity and warmth we feel from fellow Americans, and also of the sense of being a stranger at home from having a different accent or aspect. And several of us mentioned that ironic sense of feeling American especially when we are abroad, even if we may feel less so when we are home in America.

    Despite many common threads, each of our five stories were unique. Adding to our five biographies we presented are the many more diverse immigration stories from our NoVES membership which were not told at that Sunday morning platform. What nonetheless emerges from this sense of commonality and diversity is the reality that America has always and continues to accommodate the rich streams of history, language, and traditions that the rest of the world brings us and that we imperfectly meld into a sense of common American identity.

    America for all of us is an ideal which somewhat eludes us, yet also can inspire us and the rest of the world in ways no other country can. We have held the torch of e pluribus unum to attract the energies of hard working and creative talents worldwide and, as a result, have achieved a record of social, cultural, scientific, and technological innovation still unmatched elsewhere in the world. Yet, we have historically fallen short of fulfilling our ideal, whether through enslavement of involuntary migrants, exclusion of others who sought to voluntarily migrate, or unlawful detention of citizens who happen to look “different” at the “wrong” time.

    At present, our ideal has once again been placed on trial as a seriously misplaced sense of nativism has threatened to overshadow our real, albeit imperfect, achievements of striving to overcome the limitations of bigotry, persecution, and discrimination elsewhere in the world that brought many of us and our ancestors here. For us who seek to build a society on enlightened principles of reason, the evidence of our benefits from diversity and immigration is overwhelming. We need to continually strive to shed the illusions of fundamental differences into which our tribal instincts mislead us. We need to instead harness that marvelous gift of reason which has shown us the genome of a human species demonstrating race as a biological fallacy and also as a dangerously misleading social construct. America remains uniquely poised to show humanity the potential of harnessing that sliver of our genome we call human diversity. Our claims to humanist ideals make this challenge an imperative.

  • Sunday, February 11, 2018 9:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I was pleased the NoVES newsletter acknowledged the passing of one of the Society's original members, Richard (Dick) Risk. I would like to add my appreciation.

    Dick was an erudite gentleman who retained a charming Midwest politeness. When Dick presided over a Society Platform meeting, I appreciated his sonorous, refined voice accompanied by a wide and welcoming smile. I felt secure in his presence.

    “Marv, I’m delighted to see you,” was how he typically greeted me. I suspect others were similarly addressed because Dick liked people.

    On the other hand, Dick had a no-nonsense streak. I recall a time I was addressing members at Platform by asking us to consider completing our pledges. After suggesting that we only had a brief time to conclude the campaign, the budget, the need to know our numbers . . . Dick stood from the audience.

    “Just fill out the damned pledge on any old piece of paper. Marv is way too circumspect, but we are all volunteers here. Let’s make our lives a bit easier.”

     I did not say another word that day.

    When I last visited Dick at a nursing home, he was confined to bed. Yet, he wanted to talk about poetry and musicals. He insisted on singing bits from shows he enjoyed. He recalled his early years in Illinois and Missouri. “I was so naïve in those days,” he admonished himself. But he said that one of the best things he did was to join the Ethical Society, first in St. Louis and then here in Virginia. He told me the Society opened him to ideas that challenged his parochial beliefs. So, what NoVES does is important . . . at least to a lovely man whose memory I value.

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