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Said Articles - Commentary No 185"Walls and the World Walls...

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Commentary No. 185, May 15, 2006 "Walls and the World" Walls are in the press again, and are controversial again - walls on the border between the United States and Mexico, walls to encircle Israeli settlements in the West Bank. These are walls that people in authority advocate building. But just about twenty years ago, Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and famously said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Why do we build walls? Basically two reasons - to keep people out and to keep people in. Walls usually are built at the edge of one's jurisdiction - the jurisdiction of a governmental authority, the jurisdiction of private property. There are two questions we have to ask about walls. Are they moral? Are they effective? There is wide and deep disagreement on the answer to these two questions. Let us start with the walls that are designed to keep people out. Why do we want to keep people out? The simple answer is that we have something that we think other people want and that we don't want to share with them. Since borders are merely lines on the ground, they are inherently porous. One solution is to build a wall that makes it difficult to cross the line - to enter the country or the property - and thereby to protect it from what we consider the illegitimate and illegal trespass/entry/seizure of what we consider that we own. In the case of the wall the United States has been building along its border with Mexico, it is trying to make it more difficult for Mexicans and other Latin Americans to enter the United States without specific permission (a visa). And they of course are trying in most cases to enter in order to seek work or perhaps to achieve family reunion. The justification for the wall is that, were there not a system of visas, immigration into the wealthy country would be torrential and threaten the standard of living of the country into which people were immigrating. A system of visas limits the number (as well of course as choosing the types of persons who may enter), and the walls are there to prevent the outsiders from not passing through the sieve of the visas. At the individual level, the equivalent is the creation of so-called gated communities, in which property owners in a locality create walls to keep out uninvited strangers, and hire private police forces to enforce this restriction. We call them gated communities in rich countries. But these days in large numbers of urban communities in the countries of the South, persons who live in wealthier houses erect individual walls to keep out intruders, walls that are often reinforced with barbed wire, fierce dogs, and sometimes private police. The justification is usually that the local governmental police force is inadequate to do the job of protecting attacks on persons and private property. Now let's look at the other motive - to keep people in. When the German Democratic
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Said Articles - Commentary No 185"Walls and the World Walls...

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