by Mike Meyer
As a species we currently have a major problem with borders. At no point in the last few years have I seen any serious discussion on what borders really are about and how they are used except as means of keeping people who don’t look like you out.
There is a lot involved and the problems tend to result from failure to understand all the historical reasons and implications of borders and how they are defined. Borders are lines in the sand. This is mine and that is yours. I control this and you don’t. These are relatively new things that resulted from the agricultural revolution and the designation of land as economically part of a town or village rather than the traditional region of a nomadic tribe.
Ownership and/or responsibility are clearly understood and have become critical to the maintenance of peace in an area. If ownership rights and necessary surveying techniques are agreed upon we can designate ownership and keep neighbors from blowing each other away.
Yes, neighborhood conflict still result over infringement on someone’s ‘border’ whether over who gets to pick the fruit on the branch that sticks over the property line who’s dog will be shot for showing up. Dogs are a cause and, this is interesting, are expected to abide by borders and property lines. Cats, however, don’t give a shit about borders and are expected to ignore them. Legally they are considered feral and at this level untamed. Cats have rights that dogs don’t have.
So borders as property lines in the most common sense have value and are well established planet wide. The concept of ownership is another thing. Through most of history land was considered a common resource. The great conflicts were the result of large organized groups claiming exclusive rights to large areas of land. You may claim it but can you control it?
We have land rights, usually as granted by some general authority but also hunting rights and gathering rights for survival that override these in specified ways. In America, the location of a particularly loud and notably ignorant dispute about a border, we have had recent conflicts based on rights to graze cattle on federal land. Vast areas of the western plains and prairies were declared to be owned by the US government in their invasion and conquest of the western part of the North American continent.
This conquest had to be formalized because it was a violent conquest against the efforts of the indigenous people who had a traditional, more practical, and looser concept of shared rights to land. Not that they didn’t fight over resources but it was not rooted in some permanent formalized ownership system. The irony is that some of the problem groups attempting to deny other people and rights are more than willing to use indigenous peoples’ concept of rights to cause trouble. But that is another problem.
Borders are lines that define ownership but more practically they are used to define access restrictions. This is the conflict that has resulted from vague ideas of blocking access completely to some people but not to others. It is an effort to exert undue control over all resources of large regions denying all other rights.
Through the last half of the 20th century the emerging trend, recognizing that economics based on open availability of both resources and markets, was to remove borders of this type where ever possible as they are difficult or impossible to control and cause great economic harm. The European Union was the greatest success in moving this to a new form and proved its practical value by the tremendous growth of the EU economies over that time.
At the same time the old USSR and related communist regions maintained rigid borders that worked primarily to prevent people leaving particularly poorly run regions. This logically led to the restriction of everything moving over an arbitrary border defining a region. North Korean TVs are notoriously built only to receive North Korean channels and no others.
Do you keep people out or people in? Often rigid borders designed to keep people out ends up being used to keep people in because people do vote with their feet. Do you have the right to block people in general? Should anyone have that right? Do you want to prevent any communication and any ideas from coming in or going out? There are people who want to do that. Are they people you want to be locked in with?
Obviously there is a great deal of potential confusion in what is being done. But this is an issue of rights first and ownership second. Is this for security, protection, spite, hatred, ignorance, or administrative control, economic protection or all of these things in different forms?
It is a terribly tangled mess. Just to suggest a way to look at this: Any desire to block the free movement of people needs to be justified and may be valid. The reasons are distinct and need to be handled individually. Blanket control is not something that will work on a planetary level with nearly 8 billion people and a massive climatic disaster that requires planetary level action. That action includes the need for millions to leave affected areas as the situation worsens.
To put this more clearly much of the problems we have now are efforts by some to block the movements of others trying to escape environmental and political disasters. Survival is an overriding right.
International law covering refugees recognizes both the right of regional “owners” to control access to their region but the overriding right of people driven by various types of disasters to find new places to survive. Almost all of the current conflict over borders is blatant racism. This is ancient and tribal in its most basic form justified by xenophobia with race or culture as simple indicators of the “other”. These actions or both illegal and immoral and must be so at the planetary level.
As should be obvious any effort that resorts to prehistorical justifications, i.e. tribal mentalities, are both illogical and produce greater problems than the vague facades they are using usually to hide other political actions.
Should not individual rights of movement as well as for survival be protected? As the sea levels rise and the climate disasters worsen why shouldn’t we recognize this and guarantee, in fact encourage, anticipatory moves to lessen the impact?
One of the primary functions of neoliberal economics was the removal of barriers to planetary trade. (It would probably help to avoid using the old term “world trade” as that has been tied to distortions of the neoliberal era that ignored benefits to the population facing changes.) The problem under the first round of this was the exclusion of movement of workers except in the EU formally and the US informally until insanity set in.
The benefits of planetary economics and trade are critical to weather (sorry, couldn’t help it) the climate storms and loss of coastal cities. The benefits of planetary trade were immense but those benefits were kept to the oligarchs, the top 2% to 3% in terms of wealth. This gross distortion, where 26 people have more wealth than the bottom 3 billion, was primarily because the work force could not move to follow the manufacturing. This would have begun to equalize incomes and costs and could reduce the incredible asset distortions that resulted.
The other failure was actively ignoring the carbon cost of moving manufactured goods great distances to take advantage of a cheap work force. This distorted the benefits to the oligarchic class. It does not make sense to lose the power and efficiency of planetary production and trade when, if done properly it will correct wealth distribution and allow faster and easier movement of populations as climate changes dictate.
The broad movement toward sustainability requires local production and local resource use with growing limits on materialist demand. This must be done at a planetary level and is not something that will be aided by borders and arbitrary restrictions on the movement of people and things. Borders produce smugglers that can come to dominate a region’s trade. Less control rather than more produces better results. Planning that is understood and benefits all is a better way. We block movement of people now only at great risk to our survival.