Dictating Freedom II: The Apprentice Citizen, Research Time, 26/08/2016

Continued from last post . . . So in this post, I want to get more into the hypocrisy of citizenship. Because all of Etienne Balibar’s essays on nationalism include different angles and approaches on the same underlying idea – that a society can’t be genuinely democratic while its institutions still rely on border controls.

This is a pretty radical policy idea and philosophical concept. Because it kind of undermines the concept of sovereignty. You know, the concept on which all of existing international law depends. And the institutional setup of states themselves. 

Canadians of my generation grew up being told how
welcoming, open, and multicultural our country is. But
there are always complicated factors, like the existence
of territorial borders themselves.
No one ever said freedom would be easy, I guess. And when you take Balibar’s analyses seriously, it marks a pretty intense challenge to the institution of the state and our entire international legal framework. 

Take nothing for granted, nothing as obvious. That’s supposed to be the fundamental starting point of philosophical thinking.*

* Though I actually saw this attitude pretty rarely among philosophers working in the Academy when I was there. Regardless of sub-discipline or camp. But that’s a History Boy post for another day.

Balibar isn’t the first to discuss a fundamental anti-democracy in the imposition of borders and border controls. One of Canada’s most impactful historians, Harold Troper, has said the same. Even after Canada’s explicitly and purposely racist immigration policies were stripped away, the author of None Is Too Many still points out that our laws treat Canadian citizenship as a privilege to bestow on an elite few.

Some of my good friends are immigrants to Canada, and it’s quite a long and involved process. It involves evaluations of your potential economic productivity, assessments of your personal and political history, and even tests of your knowledge of Canadian history and law. 

The refugee application involves even more screening, assessment, evaluation. This for someone fleeing from the devastation of a war, persecution, or ecological catastrophe.

Application processes for citizenship function as a reward for behaviour. And Balibar makes a solid argument that such behaviour is a supplication. A prostration before the culture and values that the state laws articulate as the majority stance. 

You submit to state authorities and enter a state of tutelage. You become a student of your new country’s history and values. And your prize on graduation is the guarantee that you can live inside the borders of the country with a promise that the state will protect and not itself act against your rights. 

The next post in this series will go into more detail on
the ethical and political travesty of Canada's
Temporary Foreign Workers Program. Ultimately, it's
the most egregious and visible demonstration of the
anti-democratic nature of border control, a law that
empowers authorities to make blatant class
distinctions about who even has the right to apply
for permanent Canadian citizenship.
Until you’re awarded citizenship, your rights aren’t guaranteed. Canada, generally speaking, will still respect your rights in the abstract. Even though you won’t hold all the civil and legal protections of a citizen, the state won’t arbitrarily violate non-citizens.**

** Anymore. For the most part.

But the guarantee only comes (for a migrant) after this submission to state authority. The guarantee includes the right to stay on the territory inside the border for as long as you want. 

Even in largely (or at least officially) post-national countries like Canada, which has decoupled its identity from a specific cultural, religious, or ethnic heritage, this minimal assimilation remains. 

Now, assimilation is different from cultural change. All cultures and people change over time, whether or not you want to admit it. Assimilation is when a relation of dominance and submission drives a person’s or a community’s cultural change – when a minority becomes majoritarian, when difference collapses into conformity.

But for a democracy (an all-the-way-down, every-vector-of-human-existence democracy), the only conformity should be conformity to ideologies and moralities that encourage the proliferation of difference. Because democracy is freedom in its political context. And freedom is, in an ontological context, the proliferation of difference.

So when you look at the philosophical and ethical problems that immigration raises, here’s how they test your commitment to democracy. Ask yourself – Does my period of tutelage, my country’s apprentice citizenship, encourage the proliferation of difference? 

If it does, then you’re at least on a democratic track. Well, you’re on a democratic track within your borders. Because there are a lot of social and economic pressures that the institution of borders exacerbate, worsen, and turn into sites of violence and abjection. 

Canadian civic studies tests in our citizenship applications are the least of the indignities millions suffer in their migrations for a better life. . . . To Be Continued

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