Gregory Sams
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15. The Thin Red Line

Borders are scratched across the hearts of men
By strangers with a calm, judicial pen,
And when the borders bleed we watch with dread
The lines of ink along the map turn red


Marya Mannes "Gaza Strip" 1959
Consider for a moment that we are one of the few* creatures on this earth that may not use its own free will to move from place to place completely oblivious to red lines drawn on the map. We, the most intelligent and developed species on earth, have our movement carefully controlled and monitored by states around the world every time we seek to move across a red line on the map of our planet. It was not this way at the turn of the century and up until the First World War. Why is it that the exact location of this red line is imbued with so much significance by our society that we are willing, or expected to lay down our lives to defend it?

* Most still water fish and domestic animals are the exceptions.

One thing is certain - we will never know peace, stability or harmony in today's world as long as our lives are ruled by imaginary lines drawn by nation states upon the face of planet Earth. The world has always experienced movements of people over time, whether it was the Gauls' movement from Asia to parts of Northern Europe or today's emigration of Latin Americans to sections of North America. Yet the phenomenon of the thin red line seeks to fix these boundaries permanently, once they have been naturally established.
"While the state exists there is no freedom, when there is freedom there will be no state."

LENIN, The State and Revolution 1917
In whose interest is it to know exactly where that line lies? If you feel a part of German culture and live in Alsace then you may well eat bratwurst and tap your feet to a brass band. If you feel French then you will act differently - that much we know. But what matters it whether someone officially decides which nation-state Alsace is a part of? It matters only to those who claim ownership over the fruits of your produce and the right to dictate your lifestyle. First and foremost the boundary defines the tax base of the government - the area from which they can take a cut of society's productivity. That this tax base may also represent some loose or coherent grouping of peoples into a similar culture base is often the case but not really relevant. That cultural Ironically, the notion of nationalism is a sad manifestation of society's acceptance that somebody has got to own us, take our money from us and lay down the rules without us having much say in the matter at all. It has nothing to do with love of our country and pride in our culture. The dedicated follower of nationalism wants guys from his or her own nationality to make the rules, rather than be told what to do by foreigners. For the sake of a simple argument, let us concede that Japan makes better cars than most, China makes better fireworks, France makes better bicycles, America makes better junk food and England makes better music. So what, you ask? It might equally be argued that Switzerland makes better government; but the government isn't something you can choose - it is imposed on you by the chance of which side of a red line you were born upon. Voting, as we have discovered earlier, does not give us many options. The state would have it that nationality is something which they bestow upon us with an official document testifying to that which is already the case. If you are proud to be British then be so, but do not mix it up with the need to be officially approved by that mixed ragtag in Westminster who claim to be guardians of all things British whilst they systematically drain and debilitate the society they feed upon - all those within their strongly defended red line.

Prior to the First World War and the subsequent quantum leap in size of the Western state structures, life was very different for the average citizen of these countries. With some exceptions, and not during times of war, they were generally free to travel throughout much of the world without passports, time limitations or excessive contact with bureaucracy. It was a world in which they could make home virtually anywhere, and move their money and goods from place to place with minimal interference by customs and official controls. Taxation was usually plus or minus ten percent of national income, rising above during wars and dropping back to below for most of the rest of the time.

Of course, when personal travel was less common and less restricted, it was necessary for the traveller or immigrant to support themselves wherever they chose to rest their feet. There was no question of them ever receiving support from the state running the area in which they settled - in the form of free housing, medical services, food, money and so forth. Relatives may have provided this service to an immigrant until he or she was able to become a useful member of the community and thus begin to benefit from it. Today, if you have ever travelled from country to country or around the globe you may have suspected that all the form-filling and officialdom is actually doing very little other than giving bureaucrats a raison d'etre. Hours are spent obtaining visas, queuing for customs, immigration and so forth.

In the world of the credit card, high technology and instant communications around the globe, we have the ability to positively establish identity and home-base whenever circumstances require it, using a document of some central and standard nature if convenient. This may be required by the airline taking you from A to B but not by the bus company or competing airline doing the same. It may validate your cheque or credit card, or even act as that as well. But such a document should not be a prerequisite for existence within a boundary itself, nor for travel outside of it to other parts of the culture we have established on this planet. The Internet and satellite communications are rapidly breaking down the societal barriers between our different cultural heritages. It is time also, to wither away the unnatural boundaries erected by the red tape of bureaucracy, to end the sad plight of refugees unable to leave a camp because they lack the right documents.
"Nationalism is an infantile sickness- it is the measles of the human race."

Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)
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