Convenient philosophy

You may or may not be aware of this: it’s election time here in the UK. I won’t go into the details, but the key issues are the same as they have been for the past few years: the NHS, Brexit, climate change, austerity and immigration. It’s this last one I want to touch on.

One of the key election promises to roll off the forked tongue of the Tory party recently is the implementation of a points-based immigration system here in the UK. Points-based immigration can be compressed to the following: “The condition of entry is contribution.”

Such systems are in operation across the world, but they have flaws. For example, how does one measure “contribution”? A doctor has verifiable expertise and experience. They’ll likely be an asset. But what about a minimally educated single mother raising a family of four? On paper, she has less to offer. In practice? It’s not so clear cut.

Who’s to say that a mother is less valuable than a doctor? Who’s to say that the contributions we can measure are more valuable than those we can’t? Further, why is it that those who were born in a particular place can have more rights than those who were born elsewhere?

(Also, it’s worth noting that points-based immigration requires an over-supply of demand for entry. Understandably, a lot of people want to move to and live in Australia. But the UK? The prospect is much less alluring, especially when lined up against the prospect of life in neighbouring countries on the continent. And don’t even get me started on the idea that immigration is a net-loss for a society…)

A more savvy mind than mine can tear down such systems with rigour. No, in this space I want to highlight something that pissed me off: those in favour of points-based immigration never argue for its logical opposite–points-based citizenship.

If the Tories came out and said that continued citizenship, and thus residence, was dependent on measurable contributions above a definitive level, there’d be riots. It would mean that a large part of the current UK population would have to be bounced off the Isle.

Points-based immigration, seen in this light, is a conceptual structure adopted because of convenience. Its proponents, theoretically, can remain where they are and reap the benefit from an influx of the best and the brightest from elsewhere. That seems a bit iffy to me. But it also represents an opportunity to abstract.

Are all the conceptual structures we adopt selected because of their convenience? I remember reading somewhere that one’s philosophy is an allegory for one’s autobiography. So would it be a reach to say that our philosophies of life are one grand confirmation conspiracy?

For example, I’m leaning towards antinatalism. But is that lean an indicator that I’m scared of the responsibility child-rearing entails? Is it a result of the perceived curtailing of my personal freedom? Sure, I have “higher” reasons to adopt antinatalism as a stance, but are they just intellectual wallpaper that covers a hole in the edifice of my mind?

It’s recognised that learning is a function of difficulty and failure. On Twitter, Pete Wolfendale shared an Alan Turing quote: “If a machine is expected to be infallible, it cannot also be intelligent.” The implication is that intelligence is a consequence of fallibility–the ability to make mistakes. We see mistakes as inconvenient and try to minimise them, but they are essential to who we are and who we are capable of becoming.

Do we then have a duty to seek out the inconvenient? To treat the convenient with suspicion? I think so. But how can we do that? Surely inconvenience everywhere is counter-productive? It is. Which means we have to be selective.

Where possible, we have to erect obstructions. When considering complex issues that affect more than just ourselves, we are obliged to examine both the convenient and the inconvenient.

It’s convenient to think that individual actions in a local system cannot affect the dynamics of a global system. It’s inconvenient to act on the belief that what a person does has significant, higher-order effects.

It’s convenient for journalists to let a Prime Minister’s falsehoods slide, especially when they appear in realtime, from across the table. It’s inconvenient to doggedly, relentlessly, hold him to account.

It’s convenient for me to sit here, typing about changing our criteria for the issuing of word, thought, and deed. It’s inconvenient for me to put such a scheme into effect in reality.

In our modern age, we don’t say we are enlightened so much as claim we are the wielders of more light than ever before. In theory, this should make our world simpler, clearer, less dangerous and more comprehensible. In fact, our abundance of light creates more shadows, more darkness. A philosophy of convenience sticks to this light. It refuses to tread where this light is not cast. That’s no longer enough.

Consider the human eye. Going swiftly from extreme light to utter darkness, it falters. But linger awhile, and it adapts. It normalises the new conditions and unlocks our vision once more. Individually and collectively, we need to spend more time in the shadows of inconvenience.