My students were typically appalled at the moral stance in environmental scientist Garrett Hardin's essay "Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor," because-- as the title implies-- Hardin believed that resource distribution is limited, and that the "lifeboat" that contains the developed nations of the world has a limited carrying capacity-- and so the boat should remain sovereign, protect its borders and beware of "boarding parties" which could destabilize the boat and make everyone drown . . . and though the lifeboat could support more people, a buffer should be maintained and the developing countries should be left to fend for themselves, to avoid "the tragedy of the commons"; the logic is a bit blunt and stark, and some of his rhetoric falls into the scare tactics of either/or logic, but the "tragedy of the commons" is a real environmental problem and one that needs to be addressed (though I don't think the solution is as grim as he paints it) but most of my students, who are liberal and despise Trump and his wall-building anti-immigrant posture, needed another way to understand how people could feel this way-- especially since most data indicates that the illegal immigrants in the United States contribute heartily to our economy, providing cheap labor in difficult professions without taking from major government programs such as welfare, food stamps, Social Security and Medicaid . . . and we've installed a system with a tacit understanding between the government and business that such labor will be available-- it's too expensive to deport people established here with jobs, many of whom pay taxes and all of whom contribute to the economy as customers and consumers-- but this is all logical abstraction that doesn't get to the emotional heart of why folks want to build a wall around our lifeboat and voted for Trump . . . so I provided my students with another, more powerful metaphor that I stumbled upon in the newest episode of Hidden Brain, Strangers in Their Own Land: The 'Deep Story" of Trump Supporters; sociologist Arlie Hochschild, a liberal, moved to conservative Louisiana and studied the narrative of conservative, white, heterosexual working-class Americans . . . she wanted to understand the paradox of why these people would vote against their own self-interest, vote against safety nets, vote for tax cuts for the rich and she came up with this deep metaphor: folks are standing in line, on their way up a steep mountain, and at the top of this mountain is the American Dream . . . and though these folks are tired and haven't had much upward mobility, they feel if they keep working, that they will make their way up the hill, but before they get their chance, people start cutting them in line-- blacks with affirmative action, illegal immigrants given a chance at the American Dream with DACA and DAPA, women, brown pelicans-- those damned environmentalists!-- all sorts of foreigners, transgender people, etcetera . . . and President Obama is signalling to those arrogant cutters to "go for it!" while ignoring them, the rule abiding working class white people . . . and, to extend this further, many of the people in the economically sound blue states are on a pretty nice plateau on the way up the mountain . . . we sometimes get annoyed with the folks way up there-- the filthy rich Wall Street elite-- but we don't get particularly angry with the folks below us, because our lives are good enough so we don't begrudge people food stamps or low paying agricultural jobs (even if they're not citizens) but the folks in Trumpland, who are farther down in the valley, are competing with those people cutting them in line, and it's making them outraged; I think this metaphor helped some of my students empathize with the Trump voters, though they don't believe this metaphor is the correct interpretation . . . and neither do I, there's plenty of room in the lifeboat, especially since most of these people climbing in are living in cities, which are greener than the rural areas that supported Trump, and I think these people contribute more to the economy than they burden it, but, of course, I'm not an uneducated white conservative working class dude in Lousianana . . . so what do I know . . . also, the working title for this post was a bit long, so I had to cut it down, but here it is in its entirety:
Trump: Make The United States a Lifeboat So That the Forgotten White Men Can Climb to the Top of the Mountain (Unimpeded by Blacks, Latinos, Illegals, Brown Pelicans, Women, Transgenders, and Other Cutters).