It’s a truth universally acknowledged that our beautiful planet appears from space as a mostly blue ball, surrounded by white clouds.
It’s a poetic view: a cosy and hospitable planet. No borders are visible, not one of the about 200 fragments called states that we humans have created in the last few centuries. Yet, one old boundary is visible, the Great Wall of China. Big walls are not something new, as we can see, and yes, they get outdated soon or late.
There are many kinds of borders.
Yet, speaking about borders, the first which come to mind are the borders between states. They have multiple functions, here are the main ones: safety from external threats such as invasions; delimitation of rights for the conferral to the insiders of some special status (as citizens or residents); source of income as goods and services can be taxed when they cross that line; stop of unwanted people or unwanted goods.
States and societies are more or less open. As Popper taught, the more a society is democratic, the more it is expected to be open. An open society accepts the exchange with the outside on the economic as well as on the cultural level. The more it exchanges, the more it flourishes. History has proven this to be true in all ages.
Nonetheless, even for democratic countries, borders are a challenging topic. It took about 50 years to Europe to dismantle them; first came down the customs barriers and the limitation to circulate for workers, then the police controls, finally they became totally invisible. The European Court of Justice, one decision after the other, deleted tons of hidden obstacles to the free movement of people, goods, services and capitals and removed all the discriminations brought to its attention. Free circulation became a fundamental right. EU contributed to reducing borders with the other countries too, as this was the main goal of hundreds (or even thousands) of international agreements concluded in the last half-century.
Many borders went down thanks to technological advancement. Internet was a powerful tool for overcoming cultural borders. Low-cost flights made the movement of people easier. Yet, borders are now rising again.
Borders are constructs of fear. And fear is rising
Even within borders, there are often other borders. Many ancient towns have walls around them, yet they were inside kingdoms or even empires. Nonetheless, they feared near towns, or just near towns’ products in the market, they kept guarded gates to keep outside unwanted travellers and to close inside at night.
Even within towns, there were often other borders. Ghettos are old phenomena, they had real barriers around them.
Now that many physical barriers are collapsed, and others are more permeable than they were 50 years ago, the political debate seems polarized on how to raise them again.
In Europe, after a long season without internal borders that attracted 28 countries from the initial 6, confusion and uncertainty dominate the political scene on how to rebuild the border with Britain (and even more unfortunately across Ireland).
In the US, “the wall” seems to be the reason for an unprecedented shutdown costing billions to the American economy.
The international relations appear dominated by debates about trade wars and trade deals on customs duties.
But the worst borders are the invisible ones, those within the mind of people. In Italy, as well as in several European countries, nationalism and racism are menacingly reappearing. This resurgent division between us and them – be them the strangers, the refugees, the poor, even those living in another region of the same country – are my main concern.
Once again, it is nothing but a construct of fear, and it generates even more fear. Even those resisting this wave and trying to keep mind and heart open could start thinking in terms of us and them – being them, this time, the racist, the fascist, the “bad ones”. This is falling in the same trap of separation.
If we want to resist all this, we cannot but think in terms of humanity. We cannot but express compassion for the reasoning we cannot accept nor legitimize. We can see and acknowledge the fear behind it. Then we can play our little role in dismantling inner and outer borders in politics as well as in daily life.