Monday, October 24, 2016

Building Border Walls

Is it a Malthusian reaction to just too many people on the planet, sucking up dwindling resources and trying to survive by finding new places with more resources? Is it the inevitable impact of global climate change on agriculture, disease, water availability (from drought to flood zones) and comfort, which blesses some regions and decimates others? Are the ethno-culture-religious wars, the political upheavals that are loosing millions of migrants from their homes, truly ideological conflicts or simply demagogic leaders taking advantage of both Malthusian and climate change variables to advance their heinous causes?
At no time in recorded history have more nations and nation states erected more border barriers. And trust me, it’s not just Donald Trump (and his “they will pay for it” wall), whose raw opposition to the above immutable global changes, is now manifest around the world… in some of the most surprising places. “Most of the new walls are being erected within the European Union, which until recently was nearly borderless. Britain is going further, rolling up its bridges to the continent by voting to exit the E.U. Intended to counter migrants and terrorist attacks, these moves are not limited to Europe. In the Middle East, Tunisia is erecting a desert barrier with lawless Libya to insulate itself from unrest and an Islamic State-led insurgency.
“In Asia, India and Burma are encircling Bangladesh with hundreds of miles of razor wire to block migrants and counter religious extremism… Today, barriers on these 63 borders divide nations across four continents.” Part of a three part Washington Post series on border barriers, the first installment of which was reported on October 12th. From 1945 (the post-WWII era) to 2001, only 12 such border barriers existed according to the post. By the way, the massive Great Wall of China, with thousands of years of history, never really stopped any major invasion. It seems so much easier to build barriers and identify scapegoats than solve the problems that led to their erection in the first place.
People are terrified of change. They do not understand why the world in which they have always lived is now so dramatically different – from the sustainability of their now fallow farms or flooded plains to the rockets, mortars and murderous “rebels vs incumbents” making ordinary people choose side in conflicts where they have no particular interest in either agenda. They just want to be left alone, and in an increasing vociferous chorus, to be able to return to lives that they and generations of their forebears have lived for centuries. The impossibility of that seemingly modest dream, and the complete and total disbelief that any form of government can do anything about these dire manifestations, had led millions (billions?) of people to seek religious solutions… and many have been force to migrate just to survive. Corruption – from bribery to moral bankruptcy – reigns supreme.
A vast number of American (vs non-US) Evangelicals have interpreted the Bible as carrying a post-Great Flood pledge from God never to create another global decimation (hence the denial of climate change) and that God has given man free reign over global resources without restriction. A greater number of Muslims have come to believe that this world holds no real value to them, that their afterlife must become the focus of their current existence… and that their temporal mission requires evidence of their extreme religiosity in order to gain admission to that afterlife.
Generally, over-the-top positions are the fodder that demagogues use to fan such extremist flames to enhance their own power. Discrimination against these scapegoats only empowers their demagogues and creates retaliatory armed forces of intolerance. Our own rhetoric of intolerance is a powerful recruiting tool for those facing such intolerance.
These extreme emotions, creating and then mandating a new “them vs us” mentality, generate an overriding need to find blame and scapegoats, promoting “solutions” that solve nothing… exacerbating violence and intolerance. And what better way to reflect that schism than by erecting barriers to keep “them” out and then turning on the “them” that got in already to purge them and denigrate their existence however possible. And if the “them” that got in (or were forced in by slavery) happen to be easily identified – skin color, clothing choices, attending easily located places of worship, ethnic enclaves or ghettos – so much the better for rounding them up for discrimination, imprisonment, death or expulsion?
It is one of the saddest vectors of human history, one lesson that humanity never seems to learn. It is reflected in genocide, Jim Crow laws, unequal application of social benefits and legal sanctions, as well as gender/racial/ethnic and religious discrimination. That such inequality/ discrimination is constitutionally banned in the United States (it doesn’t take much time, but reading at least the initial body of the Constitution, the first ten amendments to it – called the Bill of Rights – and the anti-slavery 13th Amendment is well worth the effort), with comparable legislation in most of the developed world, does not seem to deter the demagogues with personal power on their minds. Even in purported “democracies.” Barriers R us!
That societies with seemingly high educational standards and virtually uniform literacy can foment such primitive and obvious ineffective political responses is staggering. There is an increasing rebellion against intelligent and thoughtful leaders as “not reflective of the people” in favor of leaders of large political constituencies who brag about not reading history or even their nation’s most basic legal documents. That following such demagogues has never resulted in the cherished goals is lost on that global electorate convinced that God trumps the lessons of history. Ignorant and intolerant leaders generally do not benefit the people under their control. Their brutal casualties often number in the millions. But how they love to erect walls, fences and other purportedly impenetrable separations between “us and them.”
“This new age of barriers is not just about chain links and concrete. It also reflects the rise of populist politicians. The effectiveness of their nationalist rhetoric suggests that even as globalization was working its magic on trade, mobility and investment, a seditious resentment was brewing among those left behind.” The Post. The one and only argument I have ever heard against the science of evolution that has the slightest merit to me is that mankind does not seem to be able to evolve beyond a litany of cruelty and intolerance that has plagued us all since the beginning of recorded history.
I’m Peter Dekom, and whether it finds its root in religious text – like the “love thy brother” theme in the New Testament – or from a notion of moral common sense, those who have a choice to cherish tolerance and empathy really need to raise their voices now.

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