I Will Show You Fear In A Handful Of Colorful Candy Shells

Preface: A topic like this is inevitably prone to Gertruding. I will endeavor to limit this irritating habit, but if some creeps into the final edit, please forgive the trespass.

Yesterday, mirth ensued after a major party candidate’s campaign tweeted a particularly risible modification to a familiar thought experiment involving the risk of violence and candy. Here is one typical response:

I am confident that if you spend a moment, you will be able to find many more examples. As a matter of statistical literacy, this sort of rejoinder is useful and informative. Worrying over base rates of violence implies that the single most immediate safety concern in America would be to eliminate the lethal threat of human-operated automobiles. Terror attacks are far down the list, way below sedentary lifestyles, red meat consumption, alcohol, and failing to keep your head and arms inside the Mixer at all times. The Skittles metaphor is almost textbook xeno-phobia: an irrational fear of outsiders. There’s nothing proportional, nothing sensible about it.

And that’s the reason we should resist the urge to dismiss the argument cavalierly. It is by its own formulation a flimsy man of straw. Contend instead with a more robust objection to rapid refugee immigration: the incoming ideology is hostile to, and incompatible with the foundations of Western Civilization.

Consider typical objections to liberalized immigration, presented here in handy table form:

Objection Empirical (Y/N)  


Immigrants depress native labor markets Y false
Immigrants commit more crime (both property and violent) Y false
 Immigrants bring disease Y somewhat true, with the important caveat that communicable disease is easier to treat with routine border health screenings under a shall-issue visa regime (or the like).
 Immigrants are welfare moochers  Y  false
 Immigrants are disproportionately leftist, and vote accordingly Y false 
Immigrants with totalitarian belief systems seek to replace existing political and cultural institutions with their own. Y indeterminate

As much as I would like to scoff at the last entry on the list, rigorously evaluating this claim requires the analysis of data we may not have. Some questions worth pondering:

  1. Have foreign agents ever successfully introduced to the United States ideologies inimical to the founding principles of federalism, liberal commerce, and limited central government?
  2. Have fundamentalist practices ever overtaken existing, liberal cultural norms elsewhere in the world? If so, what characteristics permitted the change? Do those characteristics exist in the West? Does the US possess other cultural, legal, or political vulnerabilities that might be exploited?
  3. Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?

If the poison candy analogy refers to a thousands-year-old culture war rather than to occasional terror incidents, it is incumbent upon defenders of freedom of movement to demonstrate that the existential (and non-ergodic!) threat of civilizational annihilation is unfounded or overblown. This is a grave rhetorical duty. Unfortunately, I see much of the effort squandered on dismissal, mockery, and memetic, anural chaos incantations adjudicated by Weird Sun.

Again I stress: Adam is right. [Social] Scientists have a duty to attend to their rhetoric as much as to their analysis. And I fear that in this case, there is a terrible dereliction of duty. Pointing to the scarcity of mortal danger when what’s actually at stake are the foundations of a free society will fail to convince skeptics of the merits of our claims.

Edit: Since several people have asked, this is the source of Important Question #3:

2 thoughts on “I Will Show You Fear In A Handful Of Colorful Candy Shells

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