Some things are simply true. Maybe we live inside a complex computer program, or an organic hologram; but as long as you’re part of the program, you’re living with certain truths. Most of these truths are pretty basic by nature, since once you get into complicated truths things seem to change fairly often. We can all agree on certain aspects of objective reality, and see that they are what they are with our own eyes; but some things aren’t considered subjective, even if they are.
A consensus can be reached by looking at an objective reality, and determining that what you and I are looking at is the same thing. Even the naysayer on the fringes can be dismissed in this case, or proven wrong; the facts are the facts, and refusing to look doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
However, much of what we live and die by in this world are not really objective facts. They get treated like they are, sometimes; but what they really should be seen as are agreements. Enough people get together and decide something should be the way they want it to be, and for some reason the rest of the world proceeds as if it were true.
All of our social systems are built on agreements, and the people that hold tight to old agreements when the rest of the world is ready to move on know the power of the agreement like no one else. They know most of what we all depend on to keep life pretty much the way it is can all come crashing down like a rickety house of cards when those agreements go out the window.
Take borders, for example. If you go back a hundred years, a bunch of them were totally different than they are now. Go back another hundred years, and quite a few places were called something totally different and were hemmed in by a very unfamiliar set of imaginary lines. If we take it back a thousand years, most of us would be pretty hard pressed to draw the lines they accepted back then or accurately name the territories defined by those imaginary lines.
But back then, they were as important as they are now. People put up fences, built walls and posted guards…just to protect these imaginary lines, and keep those that were not supposed to be crossing from stepping foot over them. Other people tried to cross them back then, just like they do now; and they were imprisoned or killed or chased back over the line back then, just like they are now.
It all seems pretty unfair to anyone born on the wrong side of one of these imaginary lines. They might have to tolerate a crooked government, harsh terrain, bad weather, and a host of other conditions; each as beyond their control as where they were born. Those lucky enough to be born in a good spot can’t really claim they planned it that way; but they do have to decide whether or not they are willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to keep that spot a good one. Maybe they didn’t draw those imaginary lines we call borders, but they do have to make a choice to defend them or open them up to all comers.
Of course, this is all pretty abstract for most of us. We have nothing to do with deciding or enforcing border policy, and it very quickly becomes clear that we shouldn’t have anything to do with either when we start to voice our individual opinions about this subject. The best most of us can do is bring this into a more personal arena, to start to get some understanding of why these imaginary lines are so important.
Most of my adult life, I have been a renter. It was just a few short years ago that I first saw my name on a mortgage, and even now it’s hard to answer the people at Home Depot when they ask if I own my home. I usually say, “no, the bank does…but I’m working on it”. That generally earns me a perplexed look, and an opportunity to excuse myself and get back to my shopping; but it doesn’t change the fact that I have always seen my space as my own.
Even as a renter, I felt comfortable telling people to get off my property when I didn’t want them there. I didn’t own any of those places, but that didn’t stop me from hanging ‘no trespassing’ signs at the gate and along the fence line. When my place got broken into, I didn’t think about the fact that it wasn’t really my place. I also didn’t question whether the actual owner had any right to possess the property or rent it to me; all I felt was violated, and upset that someone had so little respect for the life I had built that they kicked down the door and ransacked the place.
Maybe I could have been more kind, and openhearted; perhaps I should have left my door unlocked all the time, and let those less fortunate than me have at my stuff at will; but if those had been the rules, I wouldn’t have seen much point in making the effort to build that life. I mean, if anyone can take anything I accumulate whenever they want to…it kind of seems like maybe I would never really accumulate much at all. Why even rent a home, or buy one, if anyone that wants to can use it as their own? Why not just cross someone else’s property line, or border, and take what they have?
If we were all the same, perhaps this would work out just fine. Either we would all be ambitious accumulators who only valued a thing if we had worked for it, or we would all be savages that just took whatever we wanted whenever we wanted it. Unfortunately, people come in all shapes and sizes along that spectrum; and if we want to have order, we have to come up with certain agreements that make sense to most of us.
So we draw imaginary lines, around our property and our towns and our counties and our states. Most of those lines are not etched in the ground or illustrated by fences, and many of them get crossed every day by a ton of people. In fact, most towns and counties and states have welcome signs to greet travelers instead of gun turrets to dissuade them. In the end, it’s just the very small lines and the really big ones that need to be protected and sometimes defended.
As a country of immigrants, America has gone to great lengths to ensure a steady stream of foreigners can come here and become locals. At the same time, this country is very much about protecting its people from the harsh and violent realities that are daily life in much of the rest of the world. We may end up soft because of that, and very insulated within our collective bubble; and that might be why we tend to be critical of border policies, as one administration after another goes to great lengths to keep that collective bubble from bursting.
The truth is, not everyone is raised in that kind of situation. It may not be their fault, but that doesn’t change the fact that people get programmed at a very basic level from an alarmingly young age. A fetus carried through war or stressful circumstances shows a heightened sense of danger as an adult, even if the war or stress ended before they were born. People raised in violent and difficult conditions often have that violence and difficulty etched into them, and becoming a nice soft American is a much longer journey than crossing a border and signing some papers.
Not to say that becoming a citizen is easy in the United States. Even though about ten percent of this country is made up of legal immigrants, and the government continues to let them in at the rate of about a million per year, the screening process is a fairly rigorous one. It may seem slanted toward or against certain people, and I’m sure it is; but I don’t envy the government the job of deciding who to let in.
As much as it seems compassionate to allow refugees to cross our borders at will, we have to look at what becoming a nation of refugees would do to us. We might institute a policy of open arms, and open borders; but what happens if the people who flood the country are not ‘open arms’ kind of folks? What if they see us as the problem? Does allowing them to overwhelm us within our own borders solve that problem, or does it just create more of them?
I really don’t know, but I do know having a safe place to house my family and clear lines that others can’t legally cross makes me feel a lot more motivated to keep working hard than a free-for-all would. They may just be imaginary lines, but some imaginary lines have consequences both good and bad in the real world.
Or, at least…what we agree on referring to as the real world.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,