The Symbolic Wall

It’s now become fashionable to point out derisively that the border wall is “symbolic.” As if there were anything but symbolism propping up nation-states. What are the flag or the anthem, for instance? Why do we support “our team” in the Olympics or the World Cup? It’s all symbolic, duh!

What’s next? Triumphantly pointing out that nations are “invented communities” and national borders were drawn arbitrarily? You don’t say! Have any equally stale news for us? How about the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun? It’s not exactly a revelation but since we are pointing out the painfully obvious these days, then why skip this glaringly obvious reality?

It doesn’t matter if nations are completely artificial. Yes, they are, but so what? So is central heating, but we are in no hurry to give it up. New Year’s is completely artificial and symbolic but I’m planning to celebrate my heart out. The point is whether this artificial construction brings important benefits we don’t want to be without.

What is missing from all of the criticisms of the wall is the only issue that really matters: do we want to keep the nation-state model? Are we consciously walking away from it? Have we considered what the consequences of doing that would be? Welfare, feminism, gay rights – are we sure we want to toss them out of the window? If not, what is our proposal for shoring up the crumbling nation-state model? If it’s not the wall, then what?


45 thoughts on “The Symbolic Wall”

  1. // New Year’s is completely artificial and symbolic but I’m planning to celebrate my heart out.

    Like the approach. 🙂 Will you publish photos of decorations and food later?

    In Israel it is not a holiday, so I work as usual, but try to recreate this childhood feeling in my home via decorations.

    Why is this wall described as purely symbolic?

    The Israeli West Bank barrier or wall and Israel−Gaza security barrier do function effectively as security barriers against terrorism. For instance, regarding the West Bank barrier from wiki

    // in 2002, there were 452 fatalities from terrorist attacks. Before the completion of the first continuous segment (July 2003) from the beginning of the Second Intifada, 73 Palestinian suicide bombings were carried out from the West Bank, killing 293 Israelis and injuring over 1,900. After the completion of the first continuous segment through the end of 2006, there were only 12 attacks based in the West Bank, killing 64 people and wounding 445. Terrorist attacks declined in 2007 and 2008 to 9 in 2010.

    Israeli officials (including the head of the Shin Bet) quoted in the newspaper Maariv have said that in the areas where the barrier was complete, the number of hostile infiltrations has decreased to almost zero. Maariv also stated that Palestinian militants, including a senior member of Islamic Jihad, had confirmed that the barrier made it much harder to conduct attacks inside Israel.


    1. It’s an article of faith among Democrats and Republicans alike that the wall won’t work. This is repeated so insistently that I’m starting to suspect that it actually might work.


  2. Very ‘symbolically’ suitable:

    // Israel protests image of Jordanian minister stepping on flag
    The Foreign Ministry says it summoned Jordan’s acting ambassador after the country’s information minister was photographed stepping on a large image of the Israeli flag displayed at Jordan’s engineering union event.,7340,L-5437224,00.html

    I see symbolism as something not to be taken lightly since it signifies very ‘real’ things. For instance, this stepping on the flag was not done in a vaccume:

    // Israel and Jordan signed a peace agreement in 1994, but relations have often been frosty… Last October, Jordan’s King Abdullah announced that he intends to cancel the appendices to the peace treaty with Israel, reclaiming Jordanian sovereignty over some territories in the Arava region and the surrounding agricultural areas near Naharayim.

    I am yet to hear of Israeli ministers stepping on any flags or burning them. Those acts simply look barbaric to me, shameful for the ones enganging in them and showing cultural backwardness.


  3. Liberals and progressives know the symbolic matters. If it didn’t, stopping the wall wouldn’t be such a huge priority for them.


    1. Liberals and progressives, for some reason best known to themselves, want open borders…. and opposing the wall is a symbol of opening up the united states for anyone who wants to live there.


  4. I get the need to have controlled immigration and border security. I don’t get the idea of a physical concrete and steel wall. Sounds expensive and ineffective to me.


      1. Also, can you imagine what it does to the landscape to have hundreds of thousands of people crossing there and back and trying to avoid apprehension? People are citing ecological concerns but these crossing areas are being devastated by forest fires, mountains of garbage, etc.

        And then there are the cartels. How can they be stopped?


    1. People in the Northern Triangle (the source of most US illegal immigrants) are not big on either. They are big on despising black people, though. I love Central America but feminism is not its strong suit, to put it mildly.


        1. There is nothing anybody can do for feminism legislatively, so it doesn’t matter how anybody votes. But I encourage you to look at the sexual crimes, and especially ones against minor girls, by ethnicity.

          The gay rights – it’s the same thing. If a gay boy is bullied within an inch of his life at school or in the neighborhood, what is voting for whomever going to do about that?


          1. « There is nothing anybody can do FOR feminism legislatively… »

            Of course, but they can do something against feminism like nationalists have often done historically. And Hispanics vote in large majority for the non-anti-feminist party.


              1. “Women face the greatest danger in their own homes, according to a new report on homicides around the world by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

                More than half of all female homicide victims last year were killed by intimate partners or relatives, the report found. And efforts in some countries to stem such killings through new legal strategies and social programs have not yet made tangible progress, researchers concluded.

                Of the approximately 87,000 women who were victims of intentional homicide last year around the world, about 34 percent were murdered by an intimate partner and 24 percent by a relative.

                The rate of women killed by a partner or relative was highest in countries in Africa, followed by the Americas. The lowest rate was in Europe.

                Domestic violence against women and girls is rooted in societal norms about men’s authority to exert control over women. Research cited in the study found that men and boys who adhere to stereotypical views of gender roles — for example, that men need more sex than women or that men should dominate women — are more likely to use violence against a partner.

                Last year, the president of Mexico called on his country to eradicate “a deeply rooted machista culture,” one that “ultimately and truly generates violence against women.” After a gruesome killing that was partially caught on tape, Brazilians used social media to urge people to intervene to stop domestic violence. In Peru, contestants in a beauty pageant mounted a poignant protest — reciting statistics on feminicides— instead of telling the judges their measurements.

                And in September, the European Union and the United Nations launched a program to fight femicide in Latin America.”

                It’s from the New York Times. Domestic violence is one of the two leading causes of mortality to women under 35 in Latin America.


              2. Actually, the only time when the civil rights movement actually existed and won all its victories was during the time when the nation-state was at its strongest.


    1. I’m definitely for a wall a hundred miles high between Russia and Ukraine, that’s for sure. Canada and the US, as soon as a few million people try to cross illegally, definitely. Nobody is trying, though, so the issue is kind of moot.


        1. These visa overstays don’t cross the border illegally. They don’t die in a desert, aren’t victimized by human traffickers, don’t walk for a week without water, don’t get raped by coyotes. And so on and on. And all this just to enrich some wealthy bastard who doesn’t want to pay his workers right.

          I don’t see any useful analogy here with Canadian tourists.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Well, Canadian undocumented “illegal” workers. Is it morally less reprehensible to do this if you are Canadian? (Many seem to think so, and to focus on the moral outrage of “breaking the law”.) And it is still visa overstays, etc., that are the main way to get in, not crossing the desert. Diverting money to build that ecosystem-destroying thing will give some people short-term pleasure but that’s really about it. If the concern is the difficulty of the trip then other actions would be more realistic, if less showy, more difficult, etc.


            1. The US and Canada are roughly equivalent in terms of socio-economic development and share a lot in terms of language and culture so strict border controls make no more sense than they do between Denmark, Sweden and Norway…
              the US and Mexico are extremely different in terms of socio-economic development and share far less in terms of language and culture and a controlled border makes a lot of sense for the long term well-being of both countries.
              An open border between the US and Mexico is a way of enriching Mexican elites and impoverishing the non-elites in both countries.


              1. Even so, I was hassled by immigration to leave the US when my contract at Cornell ran out and before my contract in Illinois started. And I did leave and re-enter legally even though it was inconvenient and an extra expense. I had to borrow money to do it. But I’m not complaining because it’s the law and I value being law-abiding.


              2. But doesn’t a Canadian working undocumented in the US “take a US job” the same way someone not speaking English or French would?


              3. How many underpaid and exoloited Canadians have you met in the hospitality industry, construction, childcare, house cleaning? Has anybody here met any?

                Canada has a higher minimum wage than the US and no serious unemployment issue. Why would anyone come here from Canada to be underpaid? Especially in large numbers and crossing the border illegally? Leaving behind a guaranteed healthcare coverage to have none at all? That sounds very hard to believe.


              4. According to Pew research center, there are about 100,000. The ones I’ve met are through my British undocumented friend. One tends to assume they’re here legally. Things have gotten harder for my British friend, who used to do office work and also high-end retail but now does package mailing and house painting, because controls have tightened up.


              5. Canadians don’t need a visa to come into the US. We come in on our passports, and until a few years back even those weren’t needed. So the whole idea of Canadians having to crawl through the border illegally makes no sense. What does happen is that Canadians who are here on school or work visas must leave and re-enter without a visa after they expire. Which is a hassle and nobody wants to do it. People just stay on. This is the extent of “illegal Canadians in the US.” Nobody is asking for a wall with Canada because nobody is crossing over illegally through Canada.


              6. In the borderlands that isn’t true, though (the sharp difference Mexico/US). And we don’t have an open border. Current situ, though, does benefit elites because excess people get shifted to US where they perform low wage work AND send money home. How to address the system that requires and supports this, though?
                US has always had unremunerated or barely renumerated workers, it is how the country was built and got rich. And it’s what keeps prices down for some less elite consumers. So current situ, with a lot of unfairness and instability for many, and a lot of irrationality built in, is at the same time what keeps us going. I’d be for higher wages, better working conditions, and working to solve the issues that create the need (and it is a need, not a consumer wish) to migrate, but the people who want to get rid of the migrants seem also not to want to address these problems. It is as though what people really wanted were to have undocumented workers and dislike them. And in the past, we had slaves and disliked them. I am starting to think this is just what the US is


            2. In terms of destroying ecosystems, it can’t be worse than what currently is there. Mountains of garbage, burned woods, creeks that are clogged up with litter etc. National Parks and nature preserves are closed down to public for months. There is an ecological disaster going on all over the crossing-heavy areas. It’s been studied by scholars for at least 15 years that I know about. And it’s not like we need a lot of science to imagine what will happen if for years there are hundreds of people moving through the wilderness. Whatever the disruption if building the wall,at least it happens once.


              1. Wall adds to and exacerbates. And I am fairly sure it is industry that is doing the greater harm, especially since NAFTA


              2. Yes, also the UC Merced campus, and many others. Building destroys habitat. This is particularly massive. There’s a lot written on it.


  5. \ In their respective (and more nationalistic) countries, of course. In their respectrive countries.

    I do not think nationalism is to blame. Israel is very nationalistic, yet murders of women among Jews are low. In contrast, some Arab groups in Israel and other neighboring states are not more nationalistic than us, while having horrifying levels of violence against women.


  6. “How to address the system that requires and supports this,”

    I’m in favor of getting control of the border (with or without a wall) and a system of temporary work permits which would be more in line with what migrants have traditionally wanted (and jailing employers caught cheating the system and immediately deporting workers outside that system).


    1. People are dying. Human traffickers lie and tell them the journey is shorter and easier than it is. I heard horrible stories. Not from TV or the newspapers but what people told me. I hope nobody suspects me of all people of wanting fewer Hispanics. My continued employment hinges on there being more Hispanics in my area. But not like this. Not at this cost. And not at the cost of more millions of people being doomed to a lifetime of illegality to enrich evildoers like Carlos Sims and others. Not at the price of more heroin addicts to enrich the pharma industry. If the wall is bad, why does nobody even try to propose anything better?

      Yeah, I agree, everybody seems to enjoy the status quo.

      I have relatives who are illegal gastarbeiter in Moscow from Ukraine. I believe it would have been better if they had been prevented from going there.


      1. “If the wall is bad, why does nobody even try to propose anything better?”

        This. I’m open to other options for increased control, but almost all that comes from the other side amounts to open borders… No long term solutions, just problems are defeatism and immigration folklore/fantasy.

        “Human traffickers lie and tell them the journey is shorter and easier than it is”

        I’m also very concerned about the situation in Europe where the same is true… (with the added complication of boats and now open slavery in North Africa)

        I’m developing a unified theory on progressive attitudes toward migration (warning: it’s nuts).


        1. I heard people develop a rich fantasy life around the idea of drones as a substitute for a wall. What the drones are supposed to be doing is, of course, a mystery.


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