Engaging artificial boundaries – Hope Eghagha
By Hope Eghagha
Vanishing boundaries has become a veritable signpost of our tumultuous age, both in our view and appreciation of the human physique and in academic disciplines, especially in science where we can now virtually ‘create’ beings. It has affected thinking and thoughts just as it has radicalized how we appreciate limits and boundaries. It has identified ‘artificial boundaries’ as an impediment to knowing, to doing, and to leaping beyond the now in order to create a brave new world. Race or the colour of the skin, we know, is an artificial boundary and as homo sapiens ‘we agreed’ even reluctantly in the last fifty odd years to downplay race in determining relationships; and that all human beings are created equal with God-given rights.
Yet new boundaries are being created everyday being canvased and sustained by members of the conservative or right-wing political or religious or economic class. Migrations which made the world what it is, is now being challenged and curtailed because the new migrants are perceived and treated as a threat to established boundaries. We can easily reference the desperate Mediterranean crossings into Europe and the Mexico-US border as typical of these reversals. Let us pause for a while and imagine what would have become of the world if the Red Indians had succeeded in preventing the migrants into America in the early days of what became the American Republic!
The world order of the post Second World era is being re-ordered with new boundaries, some artificial, some real. It is true that some of the hard boundaries were imposed. Not negotiated. Some were at the whims and caprices of the powerful. But with time we got used to them. And we thought we had moved on. Now we know better. Boundaries disappear, boundaries are recreated. And the world continues. Who knows what the world would be like in the next one hundred years?
It is a contradiction in terms, this idea of vanishing boundaries being one of the features of our age and new ones being created. Europe and America are not spared. Borderless borders which the European Union represented has been vigorously and rudely challenged by Brexit. China has never really opened its borders. Properly expressed, China and its ways have not really encouraged migrations from non-Asians. So, we are in a state of flux. We are creating new frontiers yet creating new worlds from which some are automatically excluded on account of race or ethnicity or lack of economic power. We seem to believe that we have swung overboard on boundaries; that there ought to be boundaries, and that a balance can only be achieved if we draw boundaries on how flexible we can go with bringing down all boundaries; that boundaries are not necessarily barriers and that barriers are not boundaries.
But who is designed, who is charged with, or who should take on the responsibility of defining, de-limiting and limiting boundaries? Do destroyed or abolished boundaries invariably create new boundaries? Is freedom slavery as George Orwell so captures in his haunting novel Nineteen Eighty-Four? Is ‘ignorance strength? And how has religion fared in this season of inchoateness? Great God will not come from the sky in a deux ex machina style and legislate on the way forward.
The ‘new’ nationalism recognises ‘difference’ as a status that should be maintained, not downplayed; it is seen as a necessity for the survival of an idea, a people and a culture. The subtext is that those who live in the ‘old’ world are special, superior and should not be tainted. It has led to the rise of populist politicians even in the world’s strongest democracies. The new nationalism therefore is populist and cheap, and so it is dismissed by deep thinkers or those with a proper sense of history; yet the populists seem to win the day not by superior intellectual arguments. The intellectuals do not determine the voting patterns. Emotions are raw and high occasioned by disappearing privileges. Xenophobia, racism and ethnic chauvinism are dimensions of the new boundaries being created. The same conservatives who fundamentally oppose the vanishing sex boundaries are calling for the restoration of geographical boundaries. Perhaps inchoates must remain a constant in social relations. Ignorance and narcissism are powerful tools in the hands of populist thinking and movements. Now that sits squarely in the White House.
Economic factors, and hope for a better life, have always determined and shaped migrations. People took decisions without knowing for sure that wherever they were going was better. The exodus as recorded in the Bible promised the migrants a ‘land flowing with milk and honey”. It was a promise, a divine one. Yet, one-time PM of Israel Golda Meir is on record as saying that if Moses had turned the other way the Israelis would have had the oil which the Arabs now have. But with the power of modern images seen through social media other forms of mediation there is more certainty before, during and after migration. Yet this certainty of image does not transform into the warmth of humanity. A beautiful and serene place does not automatically welcome visitors. The place does not show the heart. And so, the new beauty as captured in media images may be artificial. When that patriotic advert welcomes visitors to say Thailand or Malaysia it does not say a class of people are not welcome.
One of the most challenging of the attempts to abolish boundaries is in male-female biological considerations, their relationships and accepted patterns of social behaviour. It is indeed a fundamental challenge to the natural order as we knew it. Most African countries have stuck to the ‘original boundaries’ as nations even though some individuals want to go the Western route. Certainly, free will has been made a mockery of. We cannot simply live as we want without regard for the ethical rules of nature. It is a sure sign of the apocalypse, whether metaphorically or literally.
The truth is boundaries are a part of our DNA. There are some boundaries that should not be crossed no matter how sophisticated we may have become. Boundaries are needed for stability, for a sense of order and for the continuity of humans. The naturally ingrained sense of propriety which we know as moral principles are etched in our DNA even if some parts of it are denied while negotiating new boundaries. Beasts will not become humans and humans should not become beasts. The boundary between the sexes is real, not artificial and should be so respected if nature must continue to avail us of its bountiful harvests. Why did our ancestors find a correlation between agriculture and the unity of bodies in time of planting?