You Want Us to Be Like North Korea?

I enjoy social media. Facebook has helped me connect, re-connect, and stay in touch with people, old friends and new, from all over the world.  It has been a boon for me in many, many ways.

Social media also has its downsides. It can be a time and creativity waster. Some say it contributes to the disintegration of "real" relationships: more Facebook equals less "face time". I've seen it work both ways. I've seen it build relationships, and I've seen it tear them apart. But, then, these things have been happening throughout the ages. Facebook is just another medium for human hearts.  Whatever lurks there also lurks in Facebook, for better or for worse.

For better, there are friendships - kind, respectful words of support, encouragement, love and hope. For worse, there is election season.

Though I am interested in politics, I avoid political discussions, both in person and on social media. I have my reasons, most of them obvious. So now I feel the need to warn you that I am about to tread right up to the edge of a political cliff. I ask you to stay with me. I assure you I have no intention of stepping over the edge.

As another election season approaches, the number of political "memes" going viral is ramping up. I see them coming from my friends on the Left and the Right. I mostly ignore them, but there is one making the rounds that has managed to get under my skin:
 "Interesting... If you cross the North Korean border illegally, you get 12 yrs. hard labor. If you cross the Afghanistan border illegally, you get shot. Two Americans just got eight years for crossing the Iranian border. If you cross the U. S. border illegally you get a job, a drivers license, food stamps, a place to live, health care, housing; child benefits, education, a tax free business for 7 yrs...No wonder we are a country in debt."
First, I'm not going to defend or dispute the validity of the claims being made here. I can only hope that anyone who reads it would research each of its assertions before even considering re-posting it. Second, I understand the intended point is that illegal immigration to America is the reason for our national debt. I will not state whether I agree or disagree with that notion in whole or in part. What I will say is that plenty of people I am acquainted with, have given their "Like" to what this paragraph says.

What concerns me about this meme isn't so much that people think our immigration system is broken or that it represents a financial burden. Few Americans, Left or Right would disagree. What troubles me, first, is the lack of careful thinking that leads people to resort to and/or fall for the dreadful logic and argumentation used to make this point and second, that professing Christians are going along with it.

This is America, a representative democracy founded upon a belief in basic human equality, rights, and freedoms. Everyone, so far as I can tell, who is re-posting this meme loves this country, and yet is inexplicably willing to set up North Korea (a totalitarian Stalinist dictatorship),  Afghanistan (a war-torn Islamic republic), and Iran (a theocratic Islamic republic), as positive examples of how we should be dealing with illegal immigrants. Who on earth aspires to be like these countries with their authoritarian regimes, their draconian policies, and their notorious abuses of human rights? These are places whose own citizens flee to America from, if they can manage to get away. These are not places people seek to emigrate to.

Further, the logic of the argument only works if the economies of these nations are something for America to aspire to. Since they don't have immigration problems, they must really be thriving, right? But these are not countries known for their prosperity. On the contrary. So, if there is a direct relationship between a nation's treatment of illegal immigrants and its financial well-being, which is what this meme is attempting to claim, then if we are hoping to be prosperous, we should do the exact opposite of what North Korea*, Afghanistan, and Iran are doing. Which is exactly what we are doing.

So, I'm left wondering, what exactly it is that those who post this meme find admirable about these countries?  Since I know it can't be their dynamic economies, I'm left with only one thing: their harsh treatment of their fellowman. As a Christian, and as a citizen of a nation founded by immigrants and rooted in the belief in human equality, I find this distressing. Whatever my views on immigration policy, this is hardly the attitude I wish to have or convey to others.

I choose to believe that the people I know who've re-posted this meme do not really want to see immigrating families, illegal or not, gunned down, brutalized, or imprisoned. I prefer to think they are feeling stressed, frustrated, wishing for simple answers to a complex problem, and have just not thought through the ramifications and veiled violence of this particular argument.

If you are hoping to fix immigration in America, this kind argument does nothing but harm both your cause and your credibility. Slow down when you find your emotions being manipulated into knee-jerk reactions by flawed rhetoric.Try to identify which of your gut desires are being pandered to. Examine the things you read and re-post carefully and critically; check your facts; see to it that your arguments make sense and that they are saying what you really think they are saying. In doing so, you may find that you have to re-think a thing or two. I know I have.

*While we are on the subject of the economy of North Korea, I would like to provide a couple of really informative links.  The first is an episode of the Planet Money podcast that was so fascinating that I  listened to it twice, called "North Korea's Illegal Economy".  The second is a blog called North Korean Economy Watch.


Jenny said…
I think the big problem might be that many Facebook users genuinely believe that they'll impress the opposition with short quips. The internet gives its users a false sense of their level of influence on the rest of the world.

BTW, I love your little quip: "Facebook is just another medium for human hearts." But I'll refrain from reposting it on Facebook. ;)
Laurie M. said…
I couldn't agree more. I think it's next to impossible to change the mind of someone set in their ideas with these little memes. To really bring change in a fundamental ideology of another an underlying sense of trust or respect needs to be in place and built upon with careful reasoning and understanding. I'm concerned that we are losing these fundamental qualities necessary to maintaining a civil society.

I think what these memes succeed in, when they succeed, is "preaching to the choir", you know, in the "Can I get an amen?" sense. They rally the emotions of like-minded individuals, but little else.
Anonymous said…
Oh, amen amen amen! I try to steer clear of talking politics (mostly to hide my ignorance, but also b/c people tend to be the least grace-full when talking politics), but I have a hard time keeping quiet with immigration gripes like this.

Yes, there is a problem. But there should be a distinct difference in the way that Christians approach these immigrants - perhaps if Christians were giving more grace to them, the government wouldn't have to. If anything, we should applaud the U.S.'s success in this human rights issue - treating even illegal immigrants like humans - even if it is to our economic detriment (but let's be serious - how many of us are going without food or clean water or basic health care because of the economy? We're doing STELLAR compared to the rest of the world - this coming from a family of four on one income that is struggling to pay the bills each month).

Great post! Very thought-provoking.
John Child said…
Hi Laurie,
Well said!

Unfortunately this seems to be the nature of popular political debate.

I liked the way you took this sound bite apart & analysed it, its implications, and how it comports with both American democratic values & Christian ethics.

In marking assignments I often come up against shoddy logic & poor argumentation. This looks like a good example for students to discuss in buzz groups or write a short analysis of. At our College we're trying to teaching our students to think, to reason, to argue; rote learning or repeating one's lecturer's opinions is a problem in Africa.

And in line with your next post we are not immune to similar responses to illegal immigration. 2-3m Zimbabwians fled to South Africa. Though not protected by our labour laws many, despite huge unemployment, nevertheless found low paid jobs, often below minimum wages. They (& other African refugees) were better educated than South African Africans & had a far stronger work ethic. The response? Not memes but xenophobia! Violence, killings, lootings, driving out. A blot on our nation a few years ago. But also tremendous practical support of the immigrants & a national outcry against the way they were treated.

Popular Posts