I've been invited to lead a public discussion in the town of Eliot, Maine, in a couple of weeks on the topic of incivility in public discourse. I titled it "Words That Heal, Not Wound," which was the Page 1 headline of the print edition of USA Today on Jan. 13, the day after President Obama gave his speech in Tucson in the aftermath of the shootings there.
What I want to get people to think and talk about are the root causes of this incivility, and how it can be rectified. One of the examples I'm going to draw on is a pair of posts I wrote for this blog in December 2009, including my very first post, "Unemployed IT Pros Performing What Amounts to Slave Labor." That post drew attention to the growing trend among employers to squeeze expertise out of job candidates during the application process, taking such tacks as demanding that they analyze the employer's operations and prepare a strategic plan to improve them. The job candidates aren't compensated for this intellectual property, and the employer gains information for which it might have had to pay thousands of dollars to a consulting firm.
That post was picked up by Tom Abate of the San Francisco Chronicle, who wrote about it in his Get to Work blog and posed this question to his readers: "So is it widespread? Unfair? Unethical? Or just the new normal for jobseekers?"
I was fascinated by the fact that many of his readers took the occasion to beat up on foreign workers in general, and H-1B visa holders in particular. Presumably, their reasoning was that U.S. workers wouldn't be subjected to unfair job application practices if it weren't for foreigners coming in and tightening the job market. Here's a sampling:
End the H-1B program immediately and send those who are here and not critical packing. The companies of those who remain should be subject to a tax equivalent to 100% of the salaries and benefits. That will make up for the huge amount of money leaving the U.S. Yeah, I'm bitter. My income has halved in the last 10 years, and my only crime was not being a 25-year-old Indian or Chinese.
The friggin Federal Government is run by idiots and/or criminals. Our immigration laws are designed to completely destroy the American Middle Class. Pure and simple.
For you H-1B workers out there, go home. Get out. You aren't wanted, except by your money-grubbing employers.
What a country India is!!!! You have a high-tech U.S. company with a top-notch physical facility hiring local employees at fast food wages, and yet next door is a toxic waste dump and residential hovel with living quarters in cardboard and sheet metal.
In a subsequent post titled "Knee-Jerk Foreigner-Bashing Gives IT a Black Eye," I wrote about those comments and expressed this view:
Now, bear in mind that all of this venom was spewed in response to a blog post about the practice of employers demanding operational improvement plans from job applicants. It's illustrative of a disturbing myopia I've observed over the years-one that only gets more distorted as the recession drags on. The knee-jerk compulsion of marginalized IT workers to blame people from other countries for the difficulty du jour is getting distasteful, and a little embarrassing.
In the end, it's also hopelessly self-defeating. Legitimate concerns about real problems, like the inexcusably poor administration of the H-1B visa program, are getting lost in a din of snide anti-foreigner rhetoric. Nothing is advanced but the perception of our ignorance and our inability to compete.
Some of the reader commentary in response to that post made the comments from the San Francisco Chronicle readers look like odes to tolerance. One reader who labeled me a "castrated collaborator" made this contribution:
NASSCOM sycophants like Don are complicit in the denigration, displacement, and discrimination of American techies. And now the naive flak is SHOCKED! SHOCKED! that Americans are fighting back. STFU, Don-I have a good job, get calls from recruiters all the time, and run circles around anyone of the H-1Bs that are shining your shoes, you f*cking pig. I fought for this country, and don't take kindly to shills like you throwing me under the bus because your sponsors have a fondness for brown, musky, low-wage visa workers.
Another reader who called me a "traitor" added this:
Unfortunately creeps like you still shill for the enemy, enabling this invasion of fascists in American IT. You should be ashamed of yourself.
The point in rehashing all of this is to solicit input from the readership of this blog that I can share at the public meeting in Eliot. I'd be especially interested in hearing from readers who concur with the means the readers quoted here used to express their views. Why is this the preferred method of expression? I'm also eager to hear from readers who are tired of the incivility in our public discourse. Is there any way to advance beyond this rampant incivility in our society? If so, how do we accomplish that?