Monday, April 15, 2019

What Walls Are For

"Good fences make good neighbors" as Robert Frost said in his famous poem "Mending Wall."

A year or so ago, we and our neighbors had to rebuild the fence between our yards, because their dogs, who were knocking down loose boards and finding their way into our yard, weren't very good neighbors. They even barked at us for daring to come out our back door and "invade" our own backyard. The new, stronger fence means dog disputes are over.

The Great Wall of China was built as a series of fortifications, eventually linked together, to ward off invaders. It didn’t always work, but it made invasion much harder.

Mr. Spherical Model took this photo
of the Great Wall of China in 2013

Jerusalem's ancient city walls are still standing. 

Old City Wall, Jerusalem
image from here

A friend took a trip to Carcassonne, France, last year and put photos online. It turns out the place looks just like the game, where you build roads and city walls to get points. 

Carcassonne, France (a friend's photo)

Why are those walls there? To safeguard the people and things inside.

There are ancient cities in the American Midwest, built by people sometimes referred to as mound builders. If I understand their strategy, they built walled cities, using earth to heighten the wall. There would be access from the inside, and lookouts. The entrance would be a narrow maze-like opening, so any invaders could be easily picked off from above, making it very difficult to get an invading army inside.

Something similar is described in the Book of Mormon, during times of ongoing war. They built up fortifications around their cities, digging ditches and mounding up the earth. And then adding timbers with sharp pickets above. And they built towers from which they could shoot arrows or throw rocks. And they had a single, heavily guarded entrance. (See Alma 49-50.) These fortifications were highly discouraging to invaders.

Moroni's fortified city
illustration from here

Early frontier forts, built entirely from wood and timbers, would have looked similar and accomplished some of the same purpose.

Think of every castle you’ve seen a photo of or drawing of one invented for a book. Walls used for fortification—to protect people and property—are so common that fictional world builders would hardly consider an ancient place without them.

model of city wall from Lord of the Rings, image from here

There’s a Jordan Peterson lecture clip, recently posted, although I’m pretty sure the lecture was given several years ago, in which he talks about why we have walls. The fundamental problem we’re trying to solve is chaos. The world is too complex for us to handle all of it at the same time. So we build walls to make our world smaller—to make it so that we are only dealing with a particular part of the world at a time. Something manageable. That's why walls were built around ancient cities:

If you didn’t put walls around them, then other people would come in and steal everything and kill you. And so, having some walls was a good idea—the same as having walls in your house is a good idea. Walls between your rooms are a good idea. Borders between categories are a good idea.
So, part of the way you simplify the world is by building walls around your space, because then a whole bunch of things can’t come in, so you don’t even have to think about them. It’s not conceptual; it’s practical.
We have walls around cities. We have walls to keep people out of our homes. We have walls within our homes, to deal with only part of the purposes of a home at a time, or to deal with only the people we want to at a time.

And when we are ready to handle more of the outside, we invite people in—temporarily, as visitors. This brings us new information from the outside, in doses sized for us to handle.

At a national level, we have borders—sometimes in the form of walls or fences, with guarded openings to screen who is allowed to enter. This makes it so that the whole world doesn’t enter at once, causing our nation to be indistinguishable from, say, the open ocean, or the world at large.

Do we, as a country, have the right to decide who comes in? Yes, if the country is a thing, and we are the people governing that thing.

Then, what is a country, or a nation? Historically, nations have been the more or less natural boundaries within which the people share a language, culture, and ethnicity. The first nation to be formed based on something other than these things is the United States of America, which was founded on an the idea that all people are created by God as equal—as opposed to some born with the right to rule and some born with the obligation to serve the high born. And we have a written constitution to limit government to its role of the protecting life, liberty, and property of the citizens of the nation.

That means that nationalism is different in America than in other countries. It doesn’t mean anything ethnocentric. It doesn’t mean anything related to a genealogical tree. National pride in America is about pride in the idea. 

Nationalism in Germany during WWII, by comparison, was about pride in nation, but only insofar as that meant people of a particular genetics and culture. Others, even though citizens of that nation, were excluded from the benefits of nationhood.

In America, we have pride of place, and pride in our various regional cultures as well as pride in our national culture. But it’s not an ethnic thing; it’s all connected to the idea of America.

And while we have reason to be proud of that idea we’re based on, we don’t exclude other nations from adopting the same idea. In fact, the world is a better place today, with more peace and prosperity, because America has shared the idea of self-government tied to principles of limited government.

Dr. Peterson talks briefly about the connection between temperamental traits and political leanings. There are the five main personality traits: extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. Those on the “liberal” side (which requires some definition, because I don’t think we can any longer use the word to mean Democrat, for example, when socialist is a better descriptor), which tends to be high in openness and low in conscientiousness. Meanwhile, conservatives (again, maybe needing some definition, because it may depend on what’s being conserved) tend to be low in openness but high in conscientiousness.

I’m determined to take his online test someday, because I’m curious to understand myself better. But my guess is that I’m very high in conscientiousness, but also moderately high in openness. I’m very conservative politically, but I don’t use words that box me in where I don’t fit. Thus, the Spherical Model.

Anyway, we need both openness and walls. America is great because it has both. But we can’t keep both if some of us tear down the figurative and physical walls and “fundamentally transform” it into something that does not have that important idea that has been our sure foundation. As Dennis Prager says, “You can’t love something that you want to fundamentally transform.”

Those who want to transform America are attempting to do it by tearing down walls—both the idea walls of the Constitution, and the physical barriers of an orderly border that allows us to let in only those who honor our Constitutional liberties—people we have always gladly welcomed.

You wouldn’t let someone into your house who didn’t value you or your property. If such a person grows up in your home, then, beyond your obligations to take care of such a person up to adulthood, you wouldn’t tolerate them creating chaos in your home. You would set up boundaries. Walls, if you will. To safeguard the people and things in your home.

We need to be intentional about doing that at a national level as well. To safeguard the people and things inside.

No comments:

Post a Comment