Skip to main content


Today in Language: Victor Hugo

The year 1802 should not have been auspicious for French society, what with the ominous cloud of imperialism and the uncertain legacy of the Revolution hanging in the air. But Victor Hugo was born on February 26, 1802. One of the most versatile and profound French writers of the 19th century, Hugo was at his best (not without contradiction and tension) expressing either urgent warnings about the dangers and immorality of French conservatism or intimate reflections on God and nature. The latter can be seen in the following stanza from his poem « A Villequier » upon the accidental death by drowning of his newlywed daughter.

Je viens à vous, Seigneur, père auquel il faut croire ; Je vous parte, apaisé, Les morceaux de ce coeur tout plein de votre gloire Que vous avez brisé ! 

Recent posts

New Article on Colonialism and Languages

The latest volume of the online journal Postcolonial Interventionswas just published yesterday, and I had an article in it titled “Edouard Glissant’s and Edward Braithwaite’s Appropriations of Colonial Languages.” The article brings together two prominent postcolonial writers who are both from the Caribbean but who are separated by linguistic boundaries (although they knew each other). For perfectly understandable but still unfortunate reasons, Caribbean studies often focus on just one linguistic tradition, and this publication is part of my small effort to bring theory and fiction together across those boundaries and traditions since they have so much in common.

The other articles in this volume of the journal sound even more interesting than mine, particularly Laura Wright’s “‘Go Back to Africa’: Afrocentrism, the 2016 NFL Protests, and Ryan Coogler’s 2018 Black Panther”and Elena Barreca’s “The Oral Heritage and Linguistic Heteroglossia of Post-Colonial Writings: Bob Marley and the A…

On Immigration: Understanding open borders

Open borders do not represent anarchy or a step to anarchy, nor do they represent an absence of borders. The previous post in this series on immigration explained those misconceptions. This post offers some basic definitions of open borders, with some concluding reflections.

What Are Open Borders?
As indicated by the collocation "open borders," it is a situation in which few if any restrictions exist on the movement of humans, labor, capital, and goods across borders. An example would be the borders between states in the U.S., or states or provinces or regions in numerous countries. On the international level, the most obvious example might be the Schengen Area of the European Union.

An important point is that even with such open borders, some restrictions exist. Unless the entire world had a universal open borders policy, restrictions will always exist in one direction or another. Furthermore, even with open borders, restrictions will always exist as long as nation-states do. …

Immigration Misconception #1: Open borders are anarchic.

A misconception is a misunderstanding, one that probably leads to a misuse of language. We finally come to a misconception about immigration in this series on myths, fallacies, and misconceptions about immigration.

As a term, open borders is misused in two main ways, both of which come from the dishonesty inherent in our nature and in our political discourse. As this blog likes to emphasize, everything eventually comes down to language. Most people simply do not understand what the term open borders means, or they abuse it. Although it is fine for us all to use terms according to common usage, it is ethically suspect to turn them into rhetorical weapons and twist what others mean by them. Open borders, as well as words like evangelical and socialism, is one of those unfortunate linguistic constructions that we could call Frequently Abused Terms (FATs). How is the term open borders misused?

Open borders ≠ anarchy
Contrary to most conservative popular opinion, open borders do not equal ana…

On Immigration: Understanding border walls

If border walls actually do not work, then what about...

So goes the argument that will be made against the previous post in this series on immigration myths, fallacies, and misconceptions. Are there not examples of border barriers that are actually effective in keeping out certain people or problems?

Not Mere Border Walls
In the U.S.-Mexico context, proponents of more border walls argue that they would indeed work. They point in particular to the Israeli-Palestinian border wall. The Israeli prime minister himself has offered it to the U.S. president as a model of what could be done with the country's southern neighbor. The actual name of that wall, however, is instructive. It is the “Israeli West Bank Barrier.” It is not a border wall; it is a heavily fortified and militarized obstruction over a relatively short distance that Israel controls with an iron fist. Parts of it have been ruled illegal according to international law. So proponents are right when they say that border walls …

Immigration Myth #1: Border walls work.

As opposed to the previous two posts that focused on a fallacy about immigrants, we now take on an actual myth. It is not just a fallacy. It is a myth that border walls work. They are a categorically bad geopolitical idea. It may be possible to find some example in history where a border wall actually achieved its purpose, but as a geopolitical construct, border walls simply do not work. (There is one very obvious objection to this assertion, to which I will respond in an addendum post.)
Why do border walls not work? Presumably a wall is to keep out the unwanted (drugs, crime, undocumented immigrants). Borders walls and fences, however, have almost without exception failed spectacularly at doing so. (This is true even where the border obstruction is not a literal wall but rather a body of water or some other obstacle.) The reason is simple. As long as the motivation to go through, around, over, or under a wall is strong enough, people will do so. Newer walls, designed by brilliant engin…

Immigration Fallacy #1: Immigrants are dangerous. (Part 2)

Following on the previous post in this series on immigration myths, fallacies, and misconceptions, this brief essay continues to explain why immigrants should not be portrayed as dangerous. Consider three specific areas of threat or danger:

Immigrants do not generally present a physical danger.
Clearly many people who advocate stricter immigration controls do not harbor xenophobia. Some of them just cannot see past the threat of terrorism or gang violence. This is a very real concern and should be treated seriously. But as the previous post explains, this fear is unfounded in regard to immigrants. If it is a fear that you experience, I understand. I have family members that live under the constant threat and danger of the most barbaric cartel violence you can imagine. But if you have been led to believe that tighter immigration restrictions, more deportations, or higher border walls will make you safe, then you have been misled. That violence spreads regardless of those apparent solutio…