Fight vallumphobia!


Lot of folks on social media noted with astonishment that Donald Trump was elected on 9 November or 11/9 per the American notation. This was considered ominous, being the reverse of 9/11, the other tragic day in American history (if you choose to equate election result you don’t like with the worst act of terrorism on your soil, which resulted in the death of 3000 people). It was also technically wrong, since the election took place on 8 November and was only called by about 1:30am on the morning of the 9th. But that’s numerology for you; it’s an exact science you can use to fit anything you want, kind of like climate change.

Others, more historically rather than hysterically and superstitiously minded, found it vaguely significant that 9 November was the 27th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and here we were electing (or more precisely hearing the election results) a guy who wants to build a big wall himself. European liberals in particular, like the husband-wife team of Radek Sikorski and Anne Applebaum, found this juxtaposition sadly meaningful, perhaps signalling the symbolic ending of the good old post-Cold War days – wall down, wall up, that’s it, folks.

I rejoice in celebrating the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the symbolic end of communism in Europe. Where were you when the Wall came down? Most likely you can’t remember (I think I was at school that day, in grade 10); for some reason it’s the more American-centric events like the JFK assassination or indeed 9/11 that we are supposed to have more strongly etched in our memory.

But instead of rehashing the Cold War history here (don’t tempt me, you know I’m always up for it), I would like to take this opportunity to speak for the walls, and against the irrational prejudice and bigotry that so many exhibit against these poor and misunderstood structures. I was thinking of what we could properly call such prejudice, and after excluding Latin root words like murus (wall, but in a building sense) and saepe (fence) I settled on the term vallumphobia, vallum being the name for Roman military fortifications, anything from the wooden stockade around a legionary camp to the Hadrian’s Wall in Scotland (Vallum Aelium).

Many people hate walls. Walls separate and divide, they say, walls keep people apart and restrict free movement. Strangely, the people who hate walls all live behind fences or at least doors they keep closed and locked. To paraphrase “Yes Minister”, this seems to be one of those irregular verbs: I value my privacy, you want to keep others away, he imprisons people.

In reality, walls are not intrinsically bad – or intrinsically good for that matter. Like any other human technological artifice, walls are morally neutral. It all depends on how we use them.

Yes, walls do separate and divide, but sometimes there are good reasons for that. Forget the prosaic and previously mentioned example of a fence around your property, or equally prosaic and domestic example of a wall around a prison; pretty much everyone, except the insane and the criminals, accepts the need for these sorts of walls. It’s the walls along the borders that seems to arouse the strongest passions and the most bitter vallumphobia.

I still have problems wrapping my head around the dichotomy of people who would have problems with strangers walking into their houses or with convicted criminals waltzing out of their confinement, yet are all in favours of open borders. The only answer that makes sense to me is that it’s easy to appear very enlightened and compassionate since most of the passionate advocates of freedom of interstate movement are not the people who will be in any meaningful way affected and impacted on by open borders. It’s cheap moral posturing and preening by people who are unlikely to ever have poor migrants as neighbours or compete against them for scarce jobs.

Perhaps the easiest way to help make the moral distinction between “good” and “bad” walls is to ask whether a given wall is intended to keep people in or out.

The Berlin Wall was truly a bad wall, because it effectively turned the whole country into one vast prison; a prison full of innocent people to that. East Germans were denied the opportunity to travel to most countries around the world, most which would gladly welcome them, such as West Germany. The Wall was a consequence of that denial of free movement; if people can’t leave legally, they will try to leave illegally. And they did, in their hundreds of thousands, before the wall went up.

The wall that Israel has built along most of its border with West Bank is also considered bad by many, on the ground it restricts Palestinians’ movement and discriminates against them. This is a special case of open borders ideology in action, since in this case its proponents believe in a “one state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seemingly oblivious to the consequences of putting Jews in the same country with people who want to exterminate them. Israeli security wall might indeed hamper the movement of Palestinians between Israel and the West Bank, with negative economic consequences for the said Palestinians, but Israel does not have a responsibility to provide jobs for the Palestinians in the first place, and more importantly the wall has managed to almost completely stop suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks carried out in the past in large numbers by West Bank Palestinians in Israeli. The wall doesn’t keep Israelis in, it keeps terrorists out. I would consider that to be a good wall.

Which finally brings me to Donald Trump’s proposed wall on the border with Mexico. Putting aside any discussion of logistics of construction and efficacy of operation, is it a good wall or a bad wall? It clearly does not imprison Americans in the United States, it seeks instead to keep people (not just Mexicans but any other nationals) from crossing the border who have no right to cross the border under the US law. This makes the wall bad only if you believe that everyone in the world has a right to enter the United States and in most cases stay and live. I must be old-fashioned but for the life of me I can’t fathom the rationale for such a right to be held by more than 8 billion people. To large sections of the left and the multicultural industry this makes me a racist and a bigot. This sort of logic has over the years managed to turn millions of people into Trump voters.

Just as I believe I have the right to decide who I let into my house and under which conditions, so I believe that every sovereign nation has a right to decide who can cross its border and in what circumstances. It is a right that strangely the social justice warriors seem not to deny to developing countries, but it does not apply to their own, wealthy, developed Western states. Perhaps this illogic results from some post-colonial white guilt that needs to be assuaged by being nice to Third World peoples; and perhaps from the realisation that the easiest way to remake your country into some sort of a SJW paradise is by remaking its demographic composition. You let in another twenty millions of poor, non-white, statists-minded people and you’ll never have to face the horror prospect of voters electing Donald Trump, or for that matter anyone right-of-centre. If you think these are some lunatic right-wing conspiracy ravings, you clearly have not been listening to large sections of the left who are quite open about their motivations and plans.

As I have written here a few months ago, a sensible immigration reform in the United States will have to involve both the construction of the wall to prevent the more millions of illegal entries into the country, and some sort of an “amnesty” for at least some of the illegal residents already in the US. Most people support immigration as long as it is properly managed and benefits the country. Having a free-for-all erodes the public support for immigration – and then everyone loses: the country as well as potential migrants.

Walls are not all bad; many are useful. Fight the bigotry; fight vallumphobia!