Sunday, May 02, 2010

Fictional borders

JEH Smith points out in a couple of excellent posts that ethnically speaking the Hispanics were here first so we have a bit of nerve asking them to produce papers to prove their "legality". I loved this because it took a view of the issue that is zoomed up a couple orders of magnitude from the stuff in the newspapers, and highlights the essential fictiousness of states and borders. And how the demographic and economic facts on the ground can trump such fictions, no matter how much effort is made to translate the fictions into walls of concrete, barbed wire, and guns.

Taking the god's-eye-view of situations that are hopelessly unresolvable on the ground is fun. Whee!
The problem...is that the American West was only able to appear as Anglo territory, for a spell, as a result of a relatively recent (late 19th century) and concerted campaign of ethnic cleansing. It is astounding to me that people have to be reminded of the historical fact that in order for the American West to become white, other people had to be displaced.... the population of Mexico is somewhere between 60 and 80% Mestizo, and that for them the line drawn by the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 reflects no natural or deep-seated historical boundary.
...
There is a cultural-geographical family there that cannot be made to fit with the arbitrary borders of states.... But the fact that it is proving difficult to maintain the Anglo identity of the borderlands needs to be understood in terms of geography, demography, and history, not as a testament to the scofflaw character of the 'illegals'.
...
The northern limit of Latin America in fact extends well to the north of the US-Mexican border, and the relatively recent efforts at Anglicization do not change this historical reality.
Ethnic conflict is no joke, even if it plays out slowly over a scale of centuries. The current dust-up in Arizona is minor league and hopefully not a harbinger of more intense forms of conflict. When ethnicities face each other across a porous, fictional, and unstable border, the alternatives are conflict ultimately resulting in extermination or expulsion on the one hand, or multiculturalism or hybridization on the other. It's clear which is the preferred path, but it's also clear what happens in the normal course of history:
Now I happen to think that ethnic cleansing simply is the default activity of the human species. This is something that is perfectly easy for archaeologists to acknowledge when attempting to explain why the pottery shards of one civilization are found at a certain depth in the ground, and those of another civilization at a lower depth. Let's not play stupid: it's because the lower guys were driven out or exterminated. Why? Because their land had stuff the higher guys wanted. That's human history in nuce, yet for some reason people prefer to pretend that the human present is governed by different rules than the past...

6 comments:

mnuez said...

Your God's eye view is accurate and I wish that other people who advocate a borderless America would admit to it too. There's a conflict of awesome proportions going on here and the liberal elite are pretending it's a moral issue when in fact it's an existential one. The Mexican invasion isn't damaging to the John McCains of the world but it IS damaging to hundreds of millions of pre-millennium Americans. The John McCains of the world ought to acknowledge that honestly and say they don't care because they'd rather help penniless Mexicans even if it's at the expense of trailor park Americans (and the cheaper nannies and housekeepers are nice too!).

All I ask for is honesty.

mtraven said...

Hm, I think you may be missing the point. Laws and fences can't change demographic realities. I suppose genocide and mass deportation can, but nobody (thankfully) is prepared to go that far.

Anyway, you reminded me of another solution (in theory) to ethnic conflict -- the workers on both sides could realize they have more interests in common than interests in conflict, and jointly organize to create a more livable and equitable society for all. That's the standard international socialist vision, anyway. Sounds crazy I know, but some people are trying. As you point out, the John McCains of the world don't care about the plight of working class America, so maybe you should look elsewhere for allies.

davidxavier said...

"Hm, I think you may be missing the point. Laws and fences can't change demographic realities."

Would you advocate a one state solution for Israel and the West Bank Palestinians? The fictitious nature of borders and the reliance on fences and all....

Anonymous said...

It is laughable to point to the 'international socialist vision' with respect to Mexico. Lazaro Cardenas nationalized the oil industry in 1938, yet the result of this socialistic action has done little to improve the living standard of the ordinary Mexican. Pemex is so badly run that in a period when other oil companies were making huge profits, it was begging for state subsidy to fund further exploration efforts. It has never been able to build adequate refinery capacity, so although the country exports crude oil, it has to import gasoline. It's another triumph of socialist economic organization, like the GUM department store in Soviet-era Moscow, a great pile of a building with nothing on the shelves that customers wanted.

The best solution to the illegal immigration problem in the U.S. would be to make it possible for Mexicans to make acceptable livings in their own country, yet their own government works against them in this respect.

About twenty years ago I put up a small amount of venture capital with some entrepreneurs who hoped to import a line of Mexican products into the U.S. The product samples they obtained were good, competitive prices were promised, and they reasoned that costs of shipping and customs duties under NAFTA would be quite favorable compared to those of bringing comparable goods from China. Their business plan seemed to make sense. Yet the effort to get a regular and reliable supply from the Mexican manufacturers was a struggle and finally they gave up. The obstacle was some department of the Mexican bureaucracy. You'd suppose they would want exports to help their balance of trade, but no.

It occurred to me after this experience that the would-be importers did not know they had to bribe someone, and/or did not know whom to bribe. By then it was too late. I did get my money back out of the deal, and we all got a good lesson in what to expect from Mexico.

The Chinese are no less corrupt than the Mexicans, but at least they want to do business with people in other countries, and they know how. At the most basic level the difficulties of Mexico are cultural - the country's economic privation and political disorder grows out of this, not the other way around.

mtraven said...

davidxavier: this post was not really advocating anything, merely noting that government attempts to fight demographic pressures are often futile.

The situation in Israel and Palestine more or less supports this view. A two-state solution has been the preferred path of most sane people for a long time, but the time for it has passed, as the two populations are increasingly intermingled over time. As Tony Judt noted, a de-facto binational state is already emerging from the failure to achieve any other kind of solution.

goatchowder said...

My favorite stand-up philosopher, Robert Anton Wilson, used to say that borders are just a place where two warring tribes of domesticated primates fought until they were exhausted. In olden times, they would be marked with feces, and in modern times, marked with excretions of ink on paper.

I have yet to discover a more apt, useful, or illuminating description than that.