Saturday, September 9, 2023

How Borders Make and Break Our World

Borders are lines.  The lines represent control.  The author starts off with some concepts we take for granted and gives fascinating examples of how some borders have been set.  Then he steers us to the future and how we will have to adjust our thinking.

Humans have been making territories for thousands of years.  Mainly to protect what they consider their own.  

In Scandinavia we are told about boundary procedures between Norway and Sweden which has the longest European boundary between two nations  One interesting aspect was a recognition of the Sami who herd deer across those two nations plus Finland and Russia.  The Sami were involved in the foundation of the World Council of Indigenous People.  

 Roman Empire was pretty impressive in its extent.  I had been told as a young student that Hadrian's Wall was built to keep out the fierce Scots.  The author points out it really marked the northern most boundary of the Empire.

China is known for the Great Wall.   Modern times have called for new measures.  The concern is to keep out undesirable messages from the outside world. Incidentally to keep discontent inside.  In 1998 China built its first firewall out of fiber optics.  It required a lot of manpower as monitors.  Other countries, such as Russia, Iran, Egypt and Venezuela found the Chinese strategies could be copied to help keep out western notions.

Israel and Palestine had been subject to a lot of historical factors.  In 1947 the United Nations recommended for the creation of two independent states; one for the Jews and one for the Arabs with the city of Jerusalem being an international city.  Military action went against the Arabs and their found their territory being occupied.  The border became controlled by the Israelis and they started exploiting the Arab lands by destroying such things as olive trees and setting up housing for Jews.  Israel has received more support from the Americans (evangelicals a key element) than Palestine received from Arab nations.

Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon two English surveyors were hired to settle the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland that had earlier been bounded by two different royal grants.  One step in the procedure was to use detailed astronomical measurements. The Mason-Dixon came to be associated with the division between the North and the South.   The fugitive slave law allowed bounty hunters to cross the line to retrieve escaped slaves.  Relating this story to an American visitor this past weekend I was told that Toledo was mis located in Ohio as it actually when proper surveying should have been in Michigan.  This was so disruptive that it was decided to keep the borders the same.  To compensate Michigan was awarded the Upper Peninsula that had no land connections.

 North America had their divisions before Europeans began to impose their own lines.  The indigenous tribes were concerned also about hunting grounds and food growing areas.  The French, Spanish and English carved up most of North America and the lines changed with wars and treaties.  A Mexican Revolution created an independent nation.  By 1848 Americans attacked Mexicans and the net result was a redrawing of the border with the Americans taking over all of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Texas and parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming.  Many of the people in those areas considered themselves Mexicans or indigenous.

Donald Trump  announced his candidacy for President with claims that he would build a wall that Mexico would pay for.  Appealing to a large segment he promised he would stop the murderers and rapists.  What is overlooked is that America needs immigrants to keep their economy going.

Pandemic have crossed borders for centuries. The Black plague cut European populations more than half and was little understood.  One of the first strategies was to isolate victims.  Venice added ten days to a previous standard of 30 days isolation.  To get better protection they extended their watch and were able to divert ships from heading their way.  In effect they extended their borders.

Covid 19 intensified protections.  Immigration and tourism was halted while each nation tried to impose their restrictions.  Trade was greatly impeded and a common excuse for inflation was supply chain problems.  I remember reading years ago that the Japanese developed the concept of Just In Time Inventory which during Covid was upended.  We are still recovering, but have learned a few things including co-operating with other nations behind other borders.

Climate change is affecting everyone, although not evenly.  Your geographic location is key, but so is your wealth.  The author brings efforts in Africa to our attention.  A big concern is the spread of desert regions.  One strategy is to plant trees, but although lots of trees have been planted it has not worked.  Poor natives have found wood to be one of the valuable assets they have access to.  New strategies put a greater emphasis on soil restoration.

Ceuta and Melilla are two Spanish posts at the northern tip of Africa.  They are like magnets for refugees from sub Saharan Africa.  The Spanish Government has fortified both locations, but no matter the barriers the refugees keep coming.  Like the United States border draws refugees from Ecuador, Honduras and Mexico,.  For many they really could be classified as climate change refugees.  

Americans and Europeans think the hordes of people are just seeking economic benefits which is true, but tied into loss of opportunities due to climate change.  Those most affected by climate change are also the most poor and had little to do with causing climate change.   Humans have always sought better land when natural circumstances have changed.  Movement hindered by borders.

While mankind has spent tremendous effort to shore up lines other forces such as climate change and pandemics have shown little respect for these lines.  A political force in America and Europe is to fight immigration tooth and nail.  But maybe it is time to declare global citizenship and tackle the problems that really affect us all. 

Some more relevant thoughts:

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