by Martin Yip
Someone (in)famous once said that borders were very important. Millions of people were rushing across the border every day. They were bad, bad people. They commit so many crimes, tremendously many. They are a threat to security. So, he said, we must BUILD A WALL to protect the borders.
Across the globe, thousands of years ago, a Great Wall was built. They wanted to fend off invaders from the north, so they went to the mountains and stacked brick after brick. Over the centuries, their successors reinforced and extended the wall. It was so Great that people said you could see it from space. (Spoiler: you can’t.)
Borders aren’t meant to be like that, not in times of peace. In times of war, borders are attacked and defended vigorously. Some of them shift, some of them are created, some of them are eradicated. But in times of peace, while borders retain their significance, they are much more open. The greatest post-war project after World War II brought about the free movement of goods, service, people, and capital. That didn’t erase borders, nor was it an attempt to do so (as much as some might think). Borders were kept together with the rewards of peace and prosperity.
That was, at least, the case until recent times, when the power aspiring to build walls clashed with the power which has built walls. In the balance are the days when borders can be relaxed; a bipolar or tripolar future looms, in which everybody is forced to take sides. The Iron Curtain may not be returning; but that is hardly any solace.
It takes a lot of effort to establish borders, and to take them down. But we need not concern ourselves with international relations that much. Our own mental borders are just as hard to manage, and they have a much greater impact on our day-to-day lives than international or even national borders.
For some people, it’s easy to build a wall around their hearts. Perhaps the heart comes under attack, time and time again; perhaps it is the one traumatic event you wouldn’t have imagined in your wildest of dreams. Sometimes the wounds bleed, sometimes they don’t; but deep down, they all hurt. And so over time, we build and fortify a wall. It’s an easy defense mechanism: push everything away. Nothing to gain, but nothing to suffer from either.
Only that walls are often not the best solutions to problems (a simple lesson that may have eluded some world leaders). Yes, there has to be border control, so let’s face up to what’s coming in and what’s going out. If you run the borders, you need to know, and you need to make choices about what to accept and what to reject – and be confident about it.
Borders help create a sense of identity, of autonomy and control. This is not at odds with openness and mutual trust, the foundations on which borders can be transcended for mutual good. And so, instead of going to extremes, either building hard borders or destroying them, moderation is the way to go. That is how borders can best be maintained.