As some of you probably know, SF author, biologist, (and friend of mine) Peter Watts was charged a couple of months ago with assaulting a US border patrol officer. The case has now come to trial and Peter has been found guilty of obstruction, for failing to get on the floor immediately when told to do so after being punched in the face a couple of times. The more serious charge — that Peter had assaulted the officer in question directly — was thrown out of court. But failure to immediately and unquestioningly obey any order by a border patrol officer is apparently "obstruction", which in turn is a subset of "assault", carrying a maximum 2-year prison sentence. (Being incapacitated — for example, due to being dazed due to having been beaten up — is not, it seems, a mitigating factor.)
The problem behind this unjust and bizarre mess is buried a couple of layers deep.
Given: the assault (on Peter Watts, by the Border Patrol) shouldn't have happened. Nor should he have been charged, much less tried and convicted of assault in the opposite direction. Nor should failure to immediately and unquestioningly obey an order after being punched in the face be a crime — any kind of crime.
But there's a more alarming moral to be drawn here.
I note with some alarm that the saucepan of free international travel we've been swimming frog-like in for decades is now steaming.
It's not just the USA where border agencies have quietly acquired vast, unaccountable, and draconian powers. Here in the UK, the government is responding to anti-immigration sentiment by erecting a near-iron curtain around all ports and airports, monitoring all traffic, and dealing harshly with anyone who wants to travel for reason other than tourism or business. Ditto most of the EU (within the EU things are as different as they are within the United States, for much the same reason — it's a free trade/movement zone). The barriers are going up all around the developed world, and while the spikes are intended to point outward, other developed world travellers get caught on them. (I'm not just thinking of Peter Watts here; in SF fandom there's also the case of Cheryl Morgan. Just off the cuff, among friends of mine.)
Capital can flow freely, but labour is in shackles world-wide.
If you don't see a very specific political subtext here (being sold to the voting masses on the back of crude xenophobia and racism), let me be more explicit: labour wants to migrate where working conditions and pay are best. Capital wants to invest for growth where working conditions and pay are worst.
By penning us (the labour) in, capital can maintain, for a while, the wage imbalances that maximize profit. (Take raw material. Process as cheaply as possible. Sell for as much as possible.) In the long term, it's unsustainable — labour in the high-cost developed world is taking a hammering due to being uncompetitive, and wages will be forced down until it is competitive, while labour costs in the developing world are skyrocketing. It'll end when American and EU wages meet in the middle with Chinese and Indian wages ... unless American, EU, Chinese, and Indian wage-earners are forced to recalibrate their expectations against the DRC or Somalia.
f you don't think this affects you, if you don't think you're on the same side of the barricades as the sweatshop workers in Bangladesh and the marine biologists in Toronto, you're deluded; unless you've got a seven-digit trust fund to dine out on, the tidal flow of globalized capital is running against your class interests.
Welcome to the future that globalized capitalism has bought for us (and see also the vital, pressing need for election funding reform in the USA, which is the pivot on which this whole mess revolves). I'm beginning to think that, regardless of his prescription, Karl Marx's diagnosis of the crisis of capitalism was spot on the money. And crap like this is going to keep happening as long as we're workers first and citizens last.