We’re exploring ethics and immigration by looking at the story of a group of Hoosiers who helped Japanese American students escape internment camps.
Hoosier Hospitality: Ethics and Immigration
Overview & Shownotes
What does the idea of “Hoosier Hospitality” really mean? In this month’s episode, we tell the story of a group of hospitable Hoosiers who–in the face of tremendous wartime hysteria–helped Japanese American students escape West Coast internment camps and resettle in Indiana during World War II. This story inspired our discussion about courage and the ethics of state-determined borders. This episode was made in partnership with Indiana Humanities and is an officially endorsed Indiana Bicentennial Legacy Project.
For the episode transcript, download a copy or read it below.
Contact us at email@example.com
Links to people and ideas mentioned in the show
- Indiana Humanities
- Indiana’s Bicentennial Celebration
- Mike Pence and Syrian refugees in Indiana
- Some Indiana lawmakers are concerned about undocumented immigrants
- Undocumented immigrants make up 1.8% of Indiana’s population
- American Isolationism in the 1930s
- U.S. government-produced film defending the World War II internment of Japanese American citizens
- Executive Order 9066
- Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians
- Nancy Nakano Conner, “From Internment to Indiana: Japanese Americans, the War Relocation Authority, the Disciples of Christ, and Citizen Committees in Indianapolis”
- By 1920, Indiana’s population was mostly white and native born (Jim Madison, Hoosiers: A New History, page 191)
- Thomas Hamm
- A recent story about a Syrian family resettling here in Indiana
- Immigration Reform? Not in Indiana
- Indiana Should Avoid Arizona’s Immigration Mistakes
- New Americans in Indiana
Thanks to Evelyn Brosius for our logo. Music featured in the show:
Hoosier Hospitality: Ethics and Immigration
Christiane Wisehart (producer): Examining Ethics with Andy Cullison is hosted by the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University.
Andy Cullison (host): On today’s episode, we’re going to discuss Hoosier hospitality, with a focus on how hospitable, or inhospitable Hoosiers can be towards new people moving to the state. Our stories focus on two groups who help these newcomers in a time when the rest of the state is not just ambivalent—it’s hostile. These stories inspired us to discuss the virtue of courage and the ethics of borders.
Sandra Bertin (producer): Before we get started with today’s show, here’s a note from our partner.
Andy: We’ve partnered with Indiana Humanities to produce a series of special Indiana Bicentennial-themed episodes of Examining Ethics. Each episode takes us back to a key moment in Indiana history to look at how Hoosiers have wrestled with that issue over time, as well as the ethical considerations it raises for people everywhere.
Kiera Amstutz (guest, Indiana Humanities Director): These episodes are part of Indiana Humanities’ Next Indiana initiative, which invites Hoosiers to think, read, and talk about issues and ideas that are shaping the present and future of our state. Learn more at IndianaHumanities.org.
Sandra: I’m Sandra Bertin, one of the producers of the show.
Christiane: I’m Christiane Wiseheart, the other producer.
Sandra: Indiana has been in the news lately for some controversial policies. This year the Governor and current VP nominee, Mike Pence, attempted to block Syrian refugees from being resettled in the State—something that was determined by a court to be unlawful.
News Clip: Our State is now the first to actually turn away Syrian refugee family.
Pence saying in a press conference two day that he simply feels the vetting process for refugees is not thorough enough.
Indiana and more than twenty other states announcing the objections to accepting Syrian refugees without firmed prove they are not terrorist.
Sandra: And some lawmakers seem to be very concerned about illegal immigration to the state even though undocumented immigrants only makeup 1.8% of the state’s population, way less than some other states.
Clip: Immigration building goes further than anything tried before and the general assembly will be heard in committee next month.
Immigration bills have failed three times before the State House, but sponsors who believe that the political trends are now on their side are making this one stronger, in some cases, like the controversial Arizona law.
Christiane: So we wanted to look into the history of some Hoosiers’ attitudes towards immigrants. Is it only recently that Hoosiers have been wary of new people entering the state? Has everyone in Indiana always felt that way?
Sandra: Our story starts in the 1940s. There was this war that you might have heard of before: World War II.
Christiane: And here’s a quick refresher for those of you who might have forgotten how World War II went: in 1941, the war had already started over in Europe.
Sandra: But at this point, the US was still refusing to get involved. For a while the US was perfectly happy watching Europe destroy itself, but then, something happened.
Clip: [loud airplane sounds] Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a day which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan.
Christiane: After Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy.
Sandra: But today we’re not really talking about World War II, or the bombing of Pearl Harbor. We’re talking about the reaction to that bombing in the United States. We were scared, really scared, of what just happened.
Christiane: So in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most immigrants from Japan settled in communities along the West Coast. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese immigrants and their children made this region of the country their home.
Sandra: And even though these Japanese Americans exhibited no signs of disloyalty to the United States, people began to freak out about their Japanese-American neighbors:
Clip: When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, our West Coast became a potential combat zone. Living in that zone were more than a hundred thousand persons of Japanese ancestry, two thirds of them American citizens. One third, aliens. We knew that some among them were potentially dangerous. Most were loyal, but no knew what would happen among this concentrated population, if Japanese forces should try to invade our shores. Military authorities therefore determined that all of them, citizens and aliens alike, would have to move. [fade into]
Christiane: On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which declared that over 100,000 Japanese American immigrants and their families be evicted from their homes and put into internment camps run by the government.
Sandra: Wait 一 I know this story already. And I think a lot of our listeners probably know about internment camps. We’re not about to debate the ethics of taking innocent people out of their homes and putting them in camps, right?
Christiane: [giggle in response] No, we’re not going to do that. And in fact, in 1982, the United States government officially acknowledged that interning US citizens and legal immigrants was the wrong thing to do, that it was motivated by wartime hysteria rather than sound reasoning. But there’s another side of evicting Japanese Americans from their homes on the West Coast that I don’t think a lot of people know about. At least, I didn’t know about it until a few months ago.
Sandra: Then what are we talking about?
Christiane: Okay, so after issuing Executive Order 9066, President Roosevelt formed something called the War Relocation Authority. This was a government agency that in 1942 was responsible for creating the internment camps and moving Japanese Americans to those camps. By 1943, though, the War Relocation Authority shifted its focus to something called a “resettlement program.” And the idea here was that instead of interning Japanese Americans in camps, maybe the government could help them resettle in regions like the Midwest.
Sandra: That sounds really messed up. The government gives you two options: Go to an internment camp or move across the country?
Christiane: Yeah. A lot of scholars believe that this was the government’s way of breaking up larger communities of Japanese Americans and redistributing them throughout the country. But aside from all of that, there were still big problems with relocation.
Moving across the country to an entirely new region wasn’t exactly the easiest thing without the the kind of information we have available on the internet today. So Japanese Americans needed help if they were going to move.
Nancy Nakano Conner (guest, historian): You also have to remember that Japanese-Americans typically did not live in the Midwest before the war and so they needed some orientation to life in the Midwest.
Christiane: That was a historian we talked to, Nancy Conner.
Nancy: This is Nancy Nakano Conner.
Christiane: She was the director of grants and novel conversations at Indiana Humanities. Nancy helped us understand many of the problems faced by Japanese Americans who were trying to get out of the internment camps.
Sandra: Okay, so the government wants Japanese Americans to resettle in the MidWest. How exactly did that work? Did the government say, okay, 3,000 people need to resettle in Indiana, 4,000 need to resettle in Ohio, etc?
Christiane: No, the government allowed Japanese Americans to apply to move basically wherever they wanted in the Midwest. But certain places were more hospitable to outsiders than others. And unfortunately, Indiana was not one of the more welcoming states when it came to immigrants. Indiana did have a history of mostly German immigration before the war, but even then, the population of Indiana was 92% white and native-born. This means that when Japanese Americans were trying to find homes away from internment camps in the 1940s, not only was Indiana one of the whitest states, it also had a very, very tiny immigrant population.
Nancy: Indiana was somewhat known for not being a very hospitable place for immigrants. It had a kind of reputation. For wanting to keep itself kind of the same.
Christiane: So Japanese Americans are trying to escape internment camps on the West coast to come to the Midwest, and Indiana is one of the states that they could potentially move to.
Sandra: But you and Nancy both said: Indiana is not so great at welcoming outsiders.
Christiane: Yeah, according to Nancy, there were lots of people trying to prevent Japanese Americans from resettling in Indiana. But, there were also groups that worked to help Japanese Americans move to Indiana from across the country. Many of these were church organizations that already had huge nationwide missionary networks in place. One in particular was a group out of Indianapolis, called the Disciples of Christ. And it was the kind of far-reaching network that the Disciples of Christ had that made it possible for them to help Japanese Americans to resettle.
Nancy: They had churches, mission churches of Japanese and Japanese- Americans, that they were familiar with the people. They weren’t afraid, they didn’t have that kind of war hysteria because they knew the people and had worked with them and realized that these people were harmless, that they were not a dangerous factor because they were people they knew.
Christiane: These kind of networks seem to be key to groups who wanted to help out Japanese Americans.
Sandra: So tell me more about these groups.
Christiane: When I was researching this time period, the story that really caught my attention was the plight of Japanese Americans that were in college on the West Coast and had to unenroll from school to be moved to internment camps
Sandra: That sounds terrible.
Christiane: Yeah it is. And we spoke with historian Tom Hamm, who told us this story.
Thomas Hamm (guest): I am Thomas Hamm. I am professor of history and director of special collections which means I’m basically the college attic keeper here at Earlham College.
Christiane: Colleges and universities in Indiana were in a special position to be offering these students an easy entry into their communities.
Thomas: It very quickly all emerged that if Japanese Americans could be enrolled in colleges that were not on the West Coast and which were not in close proximity to defense plants and facilities where highly sensitive work was taking place. The federal government was willing to, uh, allow their enrollment.
Sandra: So did a lot of colleges and universities in Indiana end up offering admission to Japanese Americans?
Christiane: Not really… some tried and it didn’t exactly work out. But we’ll come back to that. Most schools didn’t even attempt it. But there is an important exception. Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana successfully enrolled, wait for it, 24 Japanese American students.
Sandra: Wait. What? 24? That does not sound like a lot.
Christiane: I thought that number sounded pretty low, too. But Thomas Hamm set me straight:
Thomas: As late as the 1940s, um, only about five percent of all Americans of college age are actually going on to college. Uh by the standards of the time, having that many Japanese-American students here um, you know, they would have amounted, um, probably to about five percent of the student body. Uh, to most people that was significant.
Sandra: OK that is significant.
Christiane: That’s not the only reason they could accept just 24 students. The president of Earlham College, a man named William C. Dennis, realized that his decision to bring Japanese American students to Richmond, Indiana, would be controversial.
Thomas: There…was strong anti-Japanese prejudice, uh, particularly because of Pearl Harbor, but even going back farther than that. Uh, the Japanese army had received all kinds of justifiably bad press for its actions in China in the late 1930s. Uhm, For most Americans in 1941 or ‘42 (it’s hard to believe now) but the Japanese probably had a reputation for being more barbaric than the Nazis did, in Europe. And this is before knowledge of the concentration camps had become general. So William C. Dennis was worried about having too many Japanese-Americans in Richmond, IN. He thought he could probably get away with 12 or 15 at any one time, but more than that, uh, in his mind, would have courted trouble.
Sandra: What kind of trouble?
Christiane: Okay so, remember that wartime hysteria that was responsible for evicting Japanese Americans from their homes in the first place? Some Hoosiers felt this hysteria as well.
Thomas: In September of 1942, a number of residents of Richmond, Indiana were outraged at the presence of Japanese Americans here. The mayor of Richmond, who was facing re-election, had originally been supportive but he very quickly backtracked when the presence of Japanese Americans turned into an election issue. Uhm, a secretary on campus reported that a delivery man bringing some office supplies told him that he was delivering poison that could be used on “those Japs” and there was a lodge here in Richmond, The United Order of Junior American Mechanics, that passed a series of resolutions which uh, said in effect that Earlham was committing treason and giving aid and comfort to the enemy by bringing the enemy into our community.
Sandra: That’s really frustrating to me because these were Japanese Americans, as in they were from the U.S.
Christiane: Yeah, in fact, ⅔ of Japanese Americans on the West coast were United States citizens. But remember: Indiana didn’t exactly have the best reputation for being welcoming to outsiders, even if they were citizens:
Thomas: There were enough big cities close enough that native-born Hoosiers could see the impact of large-scale immigration and generally they didn’t like it. They didn’t like all of these people coming in with strange languages and strange customs. They didn’t like the fact that uh almost all of these immigrants coming in were not Protestants: they were Roman Catholics, they were Eastern Orthodox, they were Jews. They didn’t like the fact in many cases that alcohol consumption was a part of the uhm culture of these immigrant groups. So, if you want to understand why in the 1920s Indiana is the northern stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan, uh you look at reactions to immigration. You don’t question that the Ku Klux Klan is racist, it’s anti-black, but if you look at its rhetoric and uh what it’s denouncing in the 1920s, it is equally against immigrants and everything that they represent.
Christiane: But according to Thomas Hamm, not everyone in Richmond felt negatively about outsiders:
Thomas: On the other hand, for every manifestation of prejudice like this that you find, as far as our documentary record goes, we find another expression of support…The Earlham Post, the campus newspaper, when it noted these protests, simply dismissed them as manifestations of bigotry and said, these are the same people who twenty years ago were marching around in Ku Klux Klan robes and hoods, you know, they made the connection to that sort of uh ethnic bigotry.
Christiane: Yeah this is a striking contrast to places like our own DePauw University where we accepted a single Japanese American but he had to leave after a few months because of the horrible response from the surrounding community.
Sandra: Wow.. It seems like these colleges are taking a risk with accepting these students一 and it’s not because the students are a risk at all but because the towns that the colleges are in could be pretty hostile towards the Japanese Americans. So I guess I’m wondering why did Earlham take that risk?
Christiane: The first thing to understand is that in the five decades prior to World War II, Earlham usually had at least 2 or 3 Japanese students enrolled at all times.
Thomas: Earlham had long-standing ties with Japan that went back to the 1880s…when an Earlham alumnus, Joseph Casand, opened the uhh Friends’ Girls School in Tokyo. He was in effect the first Quaker missionary in Japan… The second thing that’s operating here is self-interest. The president of Earlham at the time, William C. Dennis, was a hard-headed, pragmatic, practical man. He knew that the college was going to be facing significant financial problems as a result of the war since almost all of the male students would either be doing alternative service as conscientious objectors or they would be going into the armed forces…so…income was going to be down significantly. Japanese-American students could help meet uh part of that shortfall.
Christiane: But Earlham wasn’t acting purely out of self interest. They had more than money on their minds.
Thomas: There was a sense that this was simply an extension of what Earlham was supposed to be about. Earlham as a Quaker school was supposed to be committed to developing goodwill and brotherhood among human beings… So for many friends, uhm, advocating on behalf of people who had the, uh, faces of almost all of the rest of the country or the rest of the world turned against them was simply an extension of living out the gospel… And it would also be showing the American people that Earlham at least was committed to building a better world.
Andy: This special Indiana Bicentennial episode of Examining Ethics has been produced in partnership with Indiana Humanities.
Kiera: Indiana Humanities connects people, opens minds and enriches lives by creating and facilitating programs that encourage Hoosiers to think, read and talk. Learn more at IndianaHumanities.org.
Sandra: We were struck by the courage displayed by Earlham College in helping Japanese Americans resettle in Indiana. Especially because it was a time when hysteria gripped the rest of the state. So, what is courage and why is it important, especially when it comes to thinking about immigrants and the descendants of immigrants?
Christiane: Andy, Sandra, and I sat down recently to discuss this.
Andy: I think a lot of people…their first thought about what courage is is that it’s just being fearless or not having a lot of fear. But I think just a little bit of reflection on that reveals that can’t be what courage is, there’s lots of interesting counterexamples… My favorite is take a soldier who like throws himself on the grenade to save the rest of the platoon, he could be incredibly fearful but that’s like a paradigm of courage. So it’s not that he was fearless but it’s that he did something in spite of his fear.
Christiane: So I guess my question as it relates to the stories that we have been talking about with the Japanese American relocation has to do with not necessarily like having courage or what courage is but if you have courage what are you supposed to do with it. So with the Disciples of Christ and Earlham College, the reason that they could act courageously is because they had those like global missionary networks that allowed them to shepherd Japanese Americans to Indiana to either college or just to be kind of relocated here. So they had courage and the ability to do something about it. So I guess what I’m wondering about一Especially一 Something I’ve been thinking about with the Syrian refugee crisis is like I would love to take in a Syrian refugee family and I think we could I think we would financially be able to do it. But I can’t. Like I literally can’t. So, so what am I supposed to do in the face一or what is an individual supposed to do in the face of like these bigger problems, right, where your ability or your inability to act courageously kind of gets in the way.
Andy: I think that…to say that someone has courage but, but can’t exercise it, uhm, there are some views about courage where that’s just not even possible. So if courage is not being fearless so if courage is doing something in the face of your fear. A traditional view about what that is, is you, you don’t let your fear control you and prevent you from, from doing what you think you ought to do.
Sandra: So but like, in that analogy, the situation is: there’s a wall between you and a grenade. And even no matter how much you want to throw your body on top of the grenade and you’re throwing yourself at it and flopping off you just simply can not break through a wall.
Andy: Right right… so you’re…Okay, now this makes sense. So, Christiane一
Christiane: And like Mike Pence is my wall, right一
Sandra: Well not just Mike Pence… so the United States in general actually does not allow individual families to sponsor refugee families unlike Canada.
Andy: Right. Okay, so the analogy is like I’m on the side of一I’m over here and I see the grenade’s there and I like I’m being prevented from getting over there by a fence or something
Christiane: And you have all the courage in the world and you really want to.
Andy: And you want to jump on that grenade… That’s an interesting question. I think you’ld tear down the wall…or try.
Sandra: But is that [laughs]… So people can only be courageous if they tear down walls一 like do things that are physically impossible to do? I don’t think that’s true.
Andy: No you’re right. Now I’m taking back what I said, I don’t think you can only be courageous… So, another view about virtues is you can have them even if 一 there are like dispositions to act in certain ways一 and you can have them even if you don’t have the ability to do it. Right, so you can be an honest person but if you live on an island and you’re not surrounded by anybody you can’t exemplify一 you’ve never had an opportunity to tell the truth because you’ve just never been around anybody. And I think courage is like that too. People can be courageous but if they’re prevented from showing it, it doesn’t mean they’re not courageous. It just一they were never in a circumstance to let that disposition come out.
Sandra: And, here in Indiana a lot of people have put signs in their front yards saying Hoosiers welcome refugees. So like, maybe that’s an example of trying to exemplify courage without actually being able to do anything.
Andy: Well that in and of itself can be an act of courage. You take on enormous risk if you live in a society where a lot of people disagree with your moral opinions. It can be costly socially to even express them. Right? To even 一 to put that sign in your front yard would incur certain risks if a vast majority of people around you disagreed with you.
Christiane: That’s a really good example of what like an individual could do to act courageously in the face of kind of like systemic walls so to speak 一 Or systemic problems. And I’m wondering too like if we could also kind of twist my example and be like well you know if it was these global bigger community networks that enabled somebody to act courageously, maybe the solution isn’t me, Christiane Wisehart, trying to be like what can I do. Maybe the solution is like what can I do with my community. You know like, maybe if we band together we could figure out a bigger solution to this problem.
Andy: So, this brings up a really interesting question about why thinking about courage is important and why courage itself is important. Your obstacles aren’t like walls that just happen to be there. The obstacles you’re describing are largely there because other people are afraid一 other people are afraid of what might happen if we let other people in. If we could get people thinking about courage as a virtue. And not thinking about courage as being fearless but thinking about courage as not letting your fear dictate your behavior. If more people thought that way. If more people were just reflective on “am I letting my fear take control of me” then the kinds of obstacles you’re talking about might not be as strong.
Sandra: I just wonder if it’s reductive to say that only fear is standing in the way between people doing the right thing. I think that if you try to play devil’s advocate maybe people would say that liberals are just一liberals who are interested in having more immigration or accepting refugees or any of those things, I think maybe people would say that…we’re letting our fear of not appearing politically correct get in the way of our safety. You know? Like I think there’s a way you can make everyone look afraid. Of something.
Andy: Oh right. This diagnosis is something that someone could use no matter where they stood on the political spectrum. I think that’s what your point is一
Sandra: Yeah, uh huh.
Andy: So, you know we could look at people who vote a certain way and say well you’re afraid of that group when they could say we’re not the ones being afraid, we’re the ones who are rationally looking at what we need to do. And what we rationally need to do is protect these interests and you’re only supporting the opposite opinion because you’re afraid of being perceived as not politically correct, or something like that.
Andy: Both sides can play this game, is what you’re saying
Sandra: So then does that destroy like this, this virtue of courage or is it still fine.
Andy: I think somebody is right, on one of these sides. Somebody, somebody is right. Right. Somebody is letting their fear get in the way. I think what would be good is if everybody were just taking a step back and say “Am I in that position, am I letting my fear dictate how I decide to vote, or what policies I support, and then you just sort of try and reason from that perspective.
Christiane: I think with regards to immigration in general I think everybody not only needs to take a step back and think about their fear, but they also just need to take a step back and think about race. And what role race might be playing in their thought about immigration because it totally matters, right? With really any immigrant population. So, an example that I found fascinating from World War II is that very few German Americans were put in internment camps. This is obviously an issue of race. And I think it’s the same with, when we think about immigration from Latin American countries, or from Mexico, I think race plays like a really big role in how we think about that. And I think that’s something that we need to kind of make more explicit in our conversations about immigration.
Andy: I actually think issues about courage and issues about race like you mentioned are completely intertwined because I think a lot of the issues with race relations have to do with fears of other groups, and letting those fears get the better of you. So, I mean, you’re absolutely right that issues of race are important when thinking about immigration一 And this is all the more reason why courage is important because issues of race are largely issues about courage.
Christiane: So when we were talking about the virtue of courage, and how it related to issues of immigration, we noticed we were kind of ignoring a bigger question.
Sandra: Yeah, we realized we hadn’t even talked about whether states have a right to prevent people from entering its borders in the first place. So we asked ourselves, do states have a right to prevent people from entering its borders?
Christiane: And just to be clear we’re talking about moral rights not necessarily legal rights.
Andy: Being a state. What’s the point of being a state一 its so that you and a group of people can get together and sort of self determine how things are going to go within your borders. And there’s a kind of common argument that if you are going to be a state 一 a sovereign state, and be able to decide how you and another group of people are going to decide what goes on within your borders, part of that freedom is supposed to be freedom of association. But freedom of association just is deciding who gets to be part of the state or not. And so there’s a thought that it doesn’t make sense to have anything like states that have freedom of association unless they have the right to decide like who gets to come in and who gets to stay.
Sandra: I think that that’s good and true to a point but I think also individuals also should have a right to self determine and if an individual’s right to self determine and live where they want to conflicts with a state’s right to self determine, I’m just like… I don’t have a good reason for why but I feel like the individual should win.
Andy: I actually think that’s a really good response! Right? I mean, you know, we 一 like what’s so sacrosanct about a states rights. States are just groups of individuals. It doesn’t make sense for states to have rights unless it’s a fundamental fact that individuals have rights. Thats a good way to argue you know maybe individual rights trump states rights. Here’s another consideration in favor of individuals right to freedom of association trumping states rights. Look at our current exceptions to immigration law or where we tend to be most lenient on immigration law. It has to do with things like family relationships, right? It has to do with this idea that even the United States should not be in the business of preventing a mother from associating with her own children or associating with her husband or wife, right? So there’s evidence that underlying our current immigration law is there’s something sacrosanct about individual rights to freedom of association.
Christiane: So I think we kind of loaded the question, right? Our question was like do states have a right to prevent people from entering their borders. And this idea of state is very colonial. Um, and so I wonder if we can complicate it by saying more generally: do groups of people inhabiting certain geographical areas have the right to prevent other groups of people or other individuals from coming into those same areas.
Andy: I actually think that’s a good way to think about it. And I think it poses problems for this freedom of association argument. Because if you look at the way state lines are drawn, they’re just drawn because groups of people were powerful enough to draw the lines and stop people from crossing them. So, it’s actually worth taking a step back and saying what would give any group of people a right to even begin to draw a line around a region of space and say no one gets to cross.
Sandra: Yeah, it seems insane when you think about how arbitrary these lines are in the first place.
Andy: So there are a lot of people who think that an important thing for governments to be doing is distributing goods or benefits fairly and equally. and providing equal opportunity to access to those goods. we tend to think of those things as applying to food and water and access to education… But some people are starting to think well why shouldn’t this apply to things like the ability to move around. If you think that the ability to move around is a good, like those other things, you’re hard pressed to say the state should provide equal opportunity to access things like education and water and not provide equal opportunity to just be able to move around. Now it starts looking like you get this kind of equal opportunity argument for no borders at all.
Christiane: I like that argument when I’m thinking about like individuals, right, like should… I think it should be possible for an individual or an individual family to like move wherever they want to but the question becomes like how do we think about it when it’s like big groups of people moving wherever they want to like say big groups of people from England moving to what is now Massachusetts, in like the 17th century like what rights did they have to inhabit that land and even kind of push other people out of that land. So yeah, it’s just like a super hard question to think about right?
Andy: Yeah, but I think a way to think about it is the way you think about other kinds of rights that we restrict in cases where if everybody did this all at once, you know, we wouldn’t allow it right? You should have a right to be in a public park but if a million people decided to descend on a public park all at the exact same moment. It wouldn’t be so absurd to think that the park rangers should go in and say okay some of you have to leave.
Christiane: Who gets to stay and who gets to leave? What happens when there are like millions of people who need a home all of the sudden. Right? Like what happens then like… and who gets to determine where those millions of people go? Those millions of people, do they get to determine where they go? Or do the geographical areas where other people might be able to take them in, are they the ones that get to determine who comes in or who doesn’t come in.
Andy: If you go open borders you’re hard pressed to say what seems wrong about certain like… like invading armies basically, right? I mean it’s like, if it’s open borders then it’s like 100,000 people can just show up in a state one day, and… but that seems weird right. Like we should be able to prevent like a military force from entering and I don’t want to say the pilgrims were a military force but they were like a civilian military force. They came in and just started laying down laws and restrictions and all sorts of things. But I think it’s one thing to just say people are welcome. It’s another thing to say that they’re welcome and they have the right to just start dictating how all of these resources in this area are going to be managed and maintained and distributed.
Christiane: Yeah! Like there’s this interesting question of like vulnerability right like to what extent are the parties vulnerable. So to me it seems right to say yeah like let’s take in as many Syrian refugees as we possibly can like let’s do it, let’s help them. But it doesn’t seem right to be like open the border in Africa and let anyone take those diamonds, right, or let anybody scoop up all those resources.
Andy: The people who feel pressure toward open border style arguments, they get there by imagining what, like if you could decide what the world would be like without knowing how you were going to be born into that world. You didn’t know what your abilities were going to be, you didn’t know where you were going to be born, you didn’t know what kinds of things were going to be valuable. They ask you what would you want the world to be like and they say that the world would be basically a place where even the least well off are going to be okay. And how does the least well off be okay? Well, they are going to have access to water and food and shelter if they can’t afford it or if their abilities aren’t good enough to get them jobs. And this is where they say like we should be, we should have reasonably, you could say we should have reasonably open borders if people are about to die and their only way of getting food and shelter is to be let in somewhere else…I think we would all agree we would want the world to be that way. But I also think we would all — and this would answer the resource hogging question — I also think we would want the world to be such that a large group of well-off powerful people couldn’t just roll in and disrupt a local economy. And we would want rules and regulations to prevent that kind of stuff happening. So I think the thing that pushes people to open borders pushes them to think that we’d want to have policies in place that allow in Syrian refugees, but i think it would also push them to want to have rules and regulations that prevent powerful people from coming in and doing the kinds of things you talk about.
Christiane: But then is it still an open border? If–
Andy: I think it’s misleading to call it open border.
Andy: The ethical issues involving borders are incredibly contentious, even in our own discussion we had disagreements. But for me, I think the really interesting thing is to examine the way our fear might put pressure on us to act without thinking about what is right.
Christiane: Yeah and that’s so important for thinking about race too. Asking yourself, am I thinking or acting this way because I’m afraid of this group?
Sandra: Yeah and what those two issues have in common一 immigration and race. I think fear plays a huge role in both of those. It seems like with issues where fear might be playing a big role in your thinking, you need to really pay attention to both sides of the arguments.
Andy: Yeah, because if fear is pointing you in one direction, arguments that point in that direction are going to seem better than they might otherwise if fear weren’t in play. So if you care about courage, a very important thing to do, in the face of fear, is just to sit down and examine it.
Christiane: Before you go, we’re hoping to hear from you for an upcoming episode.
Sandra: We want to know how you think about voting.
Christiane: To be clear, we’re not concerned with who you are voting for, or have voted for in the past.
Sandra: We just want to know how you think about voting itself.
Christiane: So please call us at (765)-653-5014 and leave a five minute voicemail and tell us how you think about voting.
Sandra: If you don’t know where to start, you can tell us: Do you think everyone should vote?
Christiane: Do you think it’s okay to vote for someone you know has no chance of winning the election?
Sandra: What do you think about people not voting, because they don’t like any of the candidates?
Christiane: That’s just to get you started. We’re interested in anything you think about how people should vote, in our version of democracy.
Sandra: Again, the number to call and leave a five minute voicemail is: (765)-653-5014. You can find these instructions on our social media as well. Thanks so much! We can’t wait to hear from you.
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Sandra: You can also help us out by rating us on iTunes (even if you don’t use iTunes to listen to the show). You can also subscribe to the show on iTunes, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast app.
Andy: Thanks for listening. If you’d like more information about the topics we’ve discussed today, visit our show notes for this episode at examiningethics.org. When you visit, be sure to sign up for our newsletter. You’ll be entered into our monthly book giveaway. For updates about the podcast, interesting links and more, follow us on Twitter: @examiningethics. For information about our partner, check out indianahumanities.org. And don’t forget we have two more episodes coming up with them.
*laughter by Sandra, Christiane, and Andy*
Sandra: Oops, sorry. We have one more episode.
Christiane: We all saw that train coming.
Andy: Alright, here we go. Ready? For information about our partner, check out indianahumanities.org. And don’t forget we have one more episode coming up with them.
Hi, this is the operations manager of Prindle, Linda Clute. And I’m here outside of the institute to read the credits. Examining Ethics with Andy Cullison is hosted by the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University, with special support on this show from Indiana Humanities. Sandra Bertin and Christiane Wisehart produced the show. Special thanks to Keira Amstutz and Leah Nahmias from Indiana Humanities. Our intern for this episode was Jessica Keister. Our logo was created by Evie Brosius. Thank you to the Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media for providing our recording room. Our music is by Cory Gray, The Blue Dot Sessions, Jason Leonard, and Kai Engle and can be found online at freemusicarchive.org. Examining Ethics is made possible by the generous support of Indiana Humanities, DePauw Alumni, friends of the Prindle Institute, and you the listeners. Thank you for your support.