Immigration: Why the well-meaning ‘successful immigrant’ narrative is faulty | Adam Waytz

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So there are often these dehumanizing narratives
around immigrants and refugees, that they are barbaric or animal-like or disease-ridden
and that we should be eradicating them, or at least keeping them out of the country. And I think there’s a tendency to fight that
narrative sometimes by talking about how much value immigrants have, or refugees have, to
the United States. And what concerns me about some of these counternarratives,
even though they might come from a good place, is that I don’t think they really consider
people in terms of human dignity. They tend to be narratives around things like,
well, “Immigrants have value because look at this person who became a great entrepreneur. Or look at this person who fled genocide in
Eastern Europe and came to the U.S. and won the Nobel Prize for developing magnetic resonance
imaging technology. Or look at this person who comes from an immigrant
family who actually served the U.S. in the military.” And so, you’re not placing any intrinsic worth
on immigrants or refugees as human beings, but rather as instrumentally valuable. Even the late great Anthony Bourdain talked
about how if Trump’s very restrictive immigration plan for Mexican immigrants went through,
where Mexican immigrants would be kicked out of the country, the restaurant industry would
totally collapse. The idea being that there are so many Mexican
immigrants, some undocumented immigrants, working behind the scenes of restaurants that
this represents a very important labor force. And even if the sentiment was well-intentioned,
we’re not getting the argument that in addition to these people as valuable members of the
economy, these people are also human beings. It’s always easier to dehumanize others who
are socially distant from us, people who speak different languages from us, who live in different
places from us, who have different circumstances from us, who look differently from us. So, simply by the virtue of being foreign,
we tend to dehumanize at a baseline level anyone who comes from outside of the United
States. So there are a lot of dehumanizing forces
working against our capacity to develop sympathy for these outsiders. But I think a remarkable example of a countervailing
force comes not from the U.S. case necessarily, but comes from the case of people fleeing
Syria. And so we can perhaps recall the image of
Aylan Kurdi, the young Syrian boy who sadly washed ashore, fleeing civil war. And when that image of this deceased boy washed
ashore circulated on social media and the front pages of newspapers, donations to refugee-oriented
charities absolutely spiked. So I think that represents the power of a
single human individual, or a single human narrative to generate more sympathy for the
plight of immigrants and refugees.


  1. The "dehumanizing narratives around refugees" are literally all in this dudes head. They're just a way of simplifying the anti-immigration (not immigrant *immigration*) argument in such a way that it's legitimate to demonize anyone making it. This is buffoonish, to put it under the "big think" banner is absurd.

    And of course he evokes Alan Kurdi, because that was an incredibly successful example of woke propaganda. Thanks douche.

  2. That opening statement, I’ve never once before in my life ever heard anyone say that. So from the start you’ve built a strawman to fight.

  3. Americans dehumanize people from other countries? wtf are you talking about?! the argument isn't over whether or not illegal immigrants are human, it's about whether or not humans born elsewhere are entitled to break our laws, sneak into our country, and then demand that resources be taken from humans that were born here and given to them as a reward for successfully evading our efforts to keep them out.

  4. "I should hire this guy because he is a human being, even though he's work is shit and he have no qualifications".

  5. Hahahahaha, this guy thinks there a common perception that we need to eradicate immigrants? Holy crap, is this the first time fauxcahontas has ever let him out of the basement?! Let me guess, he identifies as living in 1930s Germany? My only regret is that you guys pretty much stole the market from The Onion. It's a real bummer how little content they can afford to put out when they're competing with stuff like this.

  6. Big Stink!!!
    What is the point of this narrative?
    Is this justification for war to generate more immigrants?

    Is he accusing us of looking a gift horse in the mouth?
    Cheap labour, servants, etc.

  7. This is lefty BS right from the opening statement, literally nobody says that. Western countries like the US are much more welcoming and tolerant of immigrants than any Islamic country, and most of the non-western world. In the Middle East they treat poor foreign workers like slaves. Poor Indians working in the in the Middle East on construction projects cant even practice their Hindu religion because the government doesnt allow any temples to be built. There are still millions of slaves in the world.
    We do value immigrants, thats why we have a generous legal immigration program and our schools are full of foreign students. The US takes more immigrants than most countries. Most of the world's quality doctors and scientists are educated at western universities.

  8. TL;DR: He believes there are narratives where economic refugees are considered barbaric animals, and that opponents to these narratives tend to counter-argue that refugees can posess economically important skills.

    He suggests that this is a flawed approach and that opponents should instead attempt to humanize illegal immigrants.

  9. I don't have any respect for any criminal who breaks our laws. The great Cesar Chavez was against illegal immigration and supported strong borders. He said that it lowered the wages for legal workers which is what it has done! I am sure that Cesar Chavez would applaud Trump's decisions if he were alive today!

  10. The tragic little boy was not a refugee,he was a migrant living safely in Turkey,his father should have been charged with manslaughter!

  11. I don’t really disagree with the big idea of ‘lets not refer to immigrants by their GDP worth’ because, well most immigrants won’t develop MRI tech, but I don’t necessarily like the idea of pushing pictures of dead people (kids or adults) as a means of humanization either. While it’s always good to know that donations to charity has gone up what we lose in that equation is the partisan implications of the emotions being evoked. Many conservatives may view the photographed dead children with the scorn of an acknowledged defeat to their ‘side’, whereas inversely, it emboldens progressives and liberals with a repertoire of argument that speaks less to the facts and more to the emotional. Emotions in politics are not inherently toxic but they may become so if people use them to the exclusion of data and political theory.

  12. Who says these things about immigrants you lying POS? There is minor and legitimate concern about disease. The rest is complete and utter hyperbole.

  13. Huh? This isnt about " immigrants" you liar. Its about illegal immigration. Illegal immigrats push legal immigrants to the back of the line so its not fair to them and not fair to Americans. Get your pompous self righteous head out of your ass. How about the plight and sympathy for the people right here in America? Ohh they dont matter right? I swear I dont get how any LEGAL IMMIGRANT OR AMERICAN can vote against the well being of their own. Europe has also changed their policies as well because its unsustainable.

  14. Based on these comments I never knew so many xenophobes watched Big Think, I would never have guessed these racists were smart enough to know how to use the internet.

  15. He was not able to directly answer the question based on the context of the title of the video. The refugees from Syria are not the immigrants from South America. Adam was not able to correlate the two very different groups of people into one group. In this video.

    Even tho Adam has written books on the subject. I feel that he has a lack of knowledge on the topic.

  16. The native Americans were okay before these "successful immigrants" from Europe came and defecated on their land.

  17. Is it wrong to prefer someone who is going to work hard and diligently over someone who won't be given the opportunity at a more comfortable job here in the US than that person could get at home?

    Is it wrong to exclaim positive qualities of the strangers with whom you've interacted, defending them against those who speak ill?

    Does not what you say about a person in their defense depend on the audience?

  18. What’s cringy about your argument is that many cultures from which immigrants come do view women as subhuman and such views will pose a danger to the women of the host country who wear shorts when it’s hot out and the immigrants thinking they’re “asking for it.”

  19. Well, that is nothing new, it is an intrinsic value of western secular-capitalist way of thinking. West values everything and everyone in terms of monetary or other instrumental value. Morality comes as an afterthought.

  20. Mass immigration never works in any country. America has become a shitty place in the last few decades yet the left still insists on a diverse utopia.

  21. Why do they all have to have achieved something so fantastic as peace-prizes and become notable military veterans? Also, is that really a thing or are our perspectives really that different?

    TBH, I thought this video was going to be about legal immigrants as the faulty-narrative, at first. My relatives seemed quite proud of themselves for merely being able to achieve US citizenship successfully. Which is why I thought that was the scope of the video until he mentioned all these other, dramatic achievements that I honestly don't pay much attention to beyond the respect they deserve.

  22. I don't get the argument. So are we suppose to not judge other* (immigrants) HUMAN by the merit & values that they bring? Isn't the whole society's built by a value system? You know like people that can do stuff got praised & rewarded the most?
    Edit: Oh and I'm confused are you arguing For or Against immigration then??

  23. Speaking from the perspective of a son of refugees, your interpretation seems disconnected from the needs of refugees and migrants.

    Migrant/Refugee families come into a country with the mindset to not be a burden to their hosts, they famously rely on community to overcome challenges instead of turning to the government on every single issue.

    The reason you need capable and successful migrants as well as disadvantaged/disabled & damaged migrants from the same community is that the advantaged migrants are extremely active in helping their disadvantaged neighbors to get a foothold in the country. Often those highly capable migrants who were lawyers/doctors/etc. become lawyers and doctors in their new country and they then serve their own community. These are the people the migrant families look up to in their community and they are super important for the mental health of that diaspora, these communities feel collective pride when people do well, and collective shame when their people do harm, they also feel collective compassion when people in their community need help, the process of assimilation to get out of this mindset takes many generations. I'm 2nd generation, born in my adopted country and middle aged and I still have these feelings, that's how slow assimilation works, it may take another 1-2 generations for my family to disconnect from that.

    You talk about dignity, but you realize that these migrants do not view your handout as dignifying, in the developing world/3rd world handouts are for the disabled/ the old, giving handouts to capable people is basically shameful, especially it's on an ongoing basis. So immigrants expect themselves to be productive as soon as possible, they do not care what some bleeding hearts out there think and they pretty much don't care what racists/anti immigrant people think either, they want to become productive because to them there is dignity in going our doing a days work and coming back to your family in the evening.

    When you advocate for this concept that you're the nurturing mother and you're taking only the most helpless foreigners under your wing and money isn't any issue because what's important is human dignity, you're actually flipping human emotions on their head. Humans who are capable but continue to be pitied do not feel dignity; they feel shame. Only people who are in tremendous need feel good about charity and they are a hell of a lot more happy receiving it from their own people than from outsiders. So just keep that in mind before you start advocating that we shouldn't highlight success stories of immigrants, this might not align with want you want to hear sipping your soy latte in your white neighborhood, but those stories are super important to immigrant families who are struggling to be the ones doing the pulling and not to be the ones getting pulled along.

  24. Why are so many of you getting angry?? Like it seems like every single person to comment has completely missed the point of the video. I thought this video was very well done, and it made perfect sense. What he is saying is that we tend to give foreigners value based on what they do for us. How many countless times have you heard someone say something along the lines of "oh those refugees/immigrants are just mooching off of the system"? Its as if their presence in the country is dependant on what they will do for us. What Adam is saying is that it shouldn't matter what they can or can't give us. What should matter is that they are human. They are not currency to trade. They are not workers here coming for the weather. These are humans desperate enough for their lives that they are willing to risk their own lives, AND their children's lives, to get out of their country! All well knowing it's fully illegal. And not many that dumb to illegally live in a country just because they thought it would be fun (or to hide).

  25. That’s Sergey Brin, wearing a Google glass in the thumbnail. He’s the cofounder of Google, and a successful immigrant.

  26. 3:00 that little boy on the beach didn't flee civil war. His dad wanted free healthcare in Canada so he arrange a trip over the Mediterranean from Turkey where they had stays for over a year, drove a boat and caused many deaths when he capsized the boat.

  27. I guess that is a way of looking at it. I just think that everyone should be judged by their value to society, through their education level, activity in community, amount of taxes they pay etc. And we already kinda are being judged by our value to society but we are also still more than our value to society, its just a part of being part of a capitalist society.

  28. Who is this shill who's regurgitating neo-Marxist Leftist rhetoric?!

    If you're an illegal alien, then you're a criminal & you need to be deported. See how simple that is?

    Btw, I'm the 1st person in my family to be born on American soil.


  29. I will leave my doors and windows open at night and go to sleep.
    If some comes in its all right he/she/xer/other has intrinsic value.
    In a gated community where this elegantly spoken gentleman sleeps maybe.
    Go sleep de in Malmö Sweden. You ll wake up from explosions.

  30. Immigration – economic and crime factsNorway: average lifetime cost for Somalis: approx Euro 1 000 000, Pakistanis: approx Euro 500 000 – and so the story goes. When Swedis, Poles, German immigrants = ALL immigrants are taken into the mix: average lifetime cost: approx Euro 500 000. Native Norwegians goes in pluss: approx Euro 700 0000That is a wopping Euro: 1 700 000 lifetime difference between Norwegians and Somalies – which also goes for most african/muslims immigrants. Somalis are from 10 to 24 times more criminal than native Norwegians when it comes very serious crimes as rapes, muggings, hard drugs, knife stabings for the fun and much more. Same goes for other africans/muslims.

  31. Mr Waytz, I fear, makes a good point very badly – demonstrated by his notable overuse of the term 'narrative'.

    Of course every human being has intrinsic value, but such a claim is meaningless virtue signalling until you attach some actual policies to it.

    If, for example, he favours open borders then one might point to the recent experience of Germany, which opened its borders in 2015, took in a million refugess and promptly closed them again. It is now paying the price for such foolishness.

  32. All he's saying is that immigrants are human beings. And this comments section violently rejects his message. This is disturbing.

  33. You know that it is a champagne leftist talking point when compelling language is used at the beginning, while the champagne CEO's that did not start anything or take risk collect a salary that is roughly 300 to 1 or more, class warfare at its finest.

  34. How would you then measure the value of a person. You have to have some metric there, otherwise you could just leave the door open (with all the associated problems that come with that). I don't see that a person has value just because he/she is human. The positive contribution of a person to a society seems to me one legit way to go. Its to sad that this is only questioned for people coming into a society from outside. Also the long term benefit is hard to measure, error prone and prone for misuse and corruption.

  35. "Immigrants and refugees"
    Stop right there. There's a very important distinction that needs to be made here. When we're talking about refugees we need to consider their humanity. We, as a global community, decided that those who are fleeing war or perhaps political persecution deserve our protection. But those who merely seek economic opportunity do not. Because in the end we can't settle the entirety of the world's population in America and western Europe, society would collapse. Taking a look at migrants from a purely economic point of view is completely justified, we don't owe migrants anything.
    Although I would argue it might even be a bad thing to take in those economically useful migrants, due to the brain drain that follows in the countries they came from.

  36. Ok ok ok… you want open borders you got it!! JUST take away ALL welfare for everyone!… that way if someone wants to leave the US they can too… no welfare fore anyone and a flat tax! Done!

  37. Maybe I do you wrong, but your intro starts with a fallacy.
    I'm 22 seconds in and I cannot believe that you are creating a strawman of the evil people thinking those things about immigrants. There are those people, sure, but they're the absolute minority. A loud one, but a minority nonetheless.

  38. Total brain rot gibberish. Not ONCE did he mention the word ILLEGAL, or make the distinction between LEGAL and ILLEGAL immigrants. If this is BIG THINK’s idea of BIG THINKing, they need to THINK AGAIN!

  39. So many random comments talking about pure bullshit. Go fuck yourselves you pussies. Fuck immigrants. Fuck anyone who thinks we have an obligation to help them. Eat a dick and die. YouTube is so fuckin dead lol.

  40. 3:11 Fleeing civil war? You mean fleeing living safe and sound with his father who had already had an apartment and steady employment in Turkey but was promised bigger accommodations and free dental benefits at the western European taxpayer's expense.

  41. Man, the over complication of the issue of immigration by many is astounding. These people come to earn a living, not be the poster child for a political agenda. By projecting them to the forefront of the issue of demographic change in the country only makes them a target.

  42. Rising house prices, stagnant wages, higher crime, and more trees killed in the US because of mass immigration. Where’s your sympathy for that? Japan,China, and other countries keep immigrants from causing these problems, why can’t we ? I know, because America is (was) mostly white and we just can’t have majorly white countries because we are the most hated group in the world. #itsoktobewhite

  43. I think that this guy is thinking to much into this. A lot of people hate line skippers and that is the bottom line. Mexicans have a beautiful country with safe places to migrate to within their own country and if they want to legally apply to come to US, that is what they are suppose to do. Now talking about the baby that washed up on shore fleeing civil war, everyone thought it was a tragedy of course, but the real tragedy is the fact that they could have walked over to the very safe & wealthy middle eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, luxurious and wealthy Dubai. They didn't have to cross the ocean.

  44. A single human narritive can grab people's attention no doubt but narritives are ultimately all constructed whether they're gearing for a sympathetic response or a pragmatic one as the alternatives in this case may be. If you're just looking to push your agenda then using both probably makes more sense than choosing between them, they do have differing appeal.

  45. Tired of people painting all immigrants with the same brush. A good immigrant does not make a case for immigration as much as a bad immigrant does not make a case against it. A successful immigrant is one who integrates well into society, NOT one who contributes to it more than non-immigrants, who for whatever reason have license to be a "burden" on the state by virtue of birth!

  46. Of lot of these “narratives” that he stars at the beginning I have never heard of in my life. Seems like he’s making up an enemy to fight

  47. The solely fact of being human is not enough neither to have good job nor good relashionship. These things should be earned and made.

    Peace from Ukraine.

  48. 1. It will be a good day if/when we manage to run our affairs as one species on one planet. But that will probably have to await the evolution of Humans 2.0, we've had a long run at it with very limited success.

    2. We all came out of Africa originally. First Americans came via Russia. National boundaries are mostly arbitrary, typically the ending lines of the last war in the region.
    Do those help at all?

  49. Moral relativism needs to be divorced from the reality of immigration. On both sides there exists economic needs. People change countries due to a desire to obtain better economic opportunities or to avoid the failures & lack of opportunity of their previous place. They are likewise welcomed or denied based upon the needs of the society they are applying to.

  50. Conflating the issue of immigration again. Pooling all immigrants together instead of addressing the actual concerns of people. Raymond Damadian who developed MRI was a legal immigrant. Using him to make a point is a red herring. It's illegal immigrants that are the problem try discussing that but we all know that you won't. Probably because it's easier to "dehumanize" and treat those US Citizens as if they have no "value" dismissing their concerns as "diseased" thought which must be "eracticated". Doing whatever it takes to diminish their "intrinsic" value as US citizens along the way. See how easy it is to use buzz words..

  51. Yes, all people are intrinsically valuable. Point of fact: living beings are the only objects in the universe who have intrinsic value because they are the only arbiters of value. BUT, instrumental value is the measure with which living beings can add or subtract value from the world. Therefore instrumental value is a good and rational metric with wich we may determine merit.

  52. Oh look, an idiot. Someone who takes people literally. You idiot. You moron. When people use these arguments, they're not diminishing the alien's inherent humanity, they're trying to convince the psychopaths amongst us that they are useful for society, because EVERYONE ELSE already understands the inherent value of being just humans.

    You idiot.

  53. I had to stop 1:20 in. You sir are a moron. More people need to tell you this so you stop believing your own drivel and get out into the world and learn something. None of your generalisations have anything to do with reality. This is just you projecting your own ignorant biases onto everyone else. Stop it. Please. And get less 'woke' Big Think. I used to like this channel a couple years back but you've devolved steadily since then. I'm saying this guy should never have been given this platform to speak on only because he clearly has nothing worthwhile to say. Not because I disagree with him but because he's talking nonsense but this platform could trick people into thinking he has some kind of point. Take the time to Vet these people and stop wasting ours.

  54. The people that most conservatives have a problem with are dehumanizing themselves by disregarding our laws and becoming criminals. VERY FEW people have a problem with people coming here and applying for asylum at a port of entry. Reporters need to stop using the word "anti immigrant", it is a flat out lie every time they use it. Try "anti illegal invader" instead.

  55. I have recent immigrant ties, but I still hear a weak proposal. Intrinsic human value is B.S. insomuch as if everyone is special then no one is special.

  56. Never mind the abject exploitation of illegal labor, immigration is unconditionally a good thing and fuck you for thinking it has any negative consequences on anybody. I'm a humanitarian and that means I'm always right because my intentions are always right. Ending illegal immigration is just motivated by racism and by no means any economic or ethical reasons, because if they look different from me and I disapprove of their illegal activity, that's a causation and not a correlation. There are never mistakes in good intent and that's how I know there are no accidents in ill intent nor am I ever wrong in identifying it. I am so much wiser and kinder than you trailer trash troglodytes that you really should just self-exterminate rather than make the rest of us suffer you to live by inflicting yourselves on the world with your economic success, due process and functioning plumbing. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm literally shaking right now and I have a leftover box of vapes to inhale.

    ~Adam Waytz

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