Invisible, but they define our world. Borders are the lines that limit us as we live our lives and as we increasingly feel the frictions they cause, it brought us to wonder: where did these things comes from anyway? A look back through history shows that what we take for granted may in fact be ridiculous, that lines on a map can be a world changing invention, and that things that feel as old as civilization may have surprisingly recent origins. Join us this week as we draw a line in the sand and begin working towards tearing down the myths, preconceptions, and assumptions we share about the lines that divide us.
Thank you Jandun for completing this transcript!
[0:06] I'm David Torcivia.
[0:08] I'm Daniel Forkner.
[0:10] And this is Ashes Ashes, a show about systemic issues, cracks in civilization, collapse of the environment, and if we're unlucky the end of the world.
[0:20] But if we learn from all of this, maybe we can stop that. The world might be broken, but it doesn't have to be.
[0:33] Now Daniel, it's another week and another episode and I think we're gonna try something just maybe slightly different than we normally do here, maybe a little bit different format in a more conceptual topic, if you'll bear with me.
[0:48] I'm all for concepts, David, abstract thought, that kind of thing.
[0:53] Well, that's good because we've got lots of those today. And also I think this will be easier on me, as you can probably hear I've got a little bit of a cold that I'm dealing with. So, sorry for all you ASMR enthusiasts out there who are disappointed. But you’ve still got Daniel, so.
[1:09] Well, either way I hope you get better soon, David.
[1:13] So, this topic is something that I've wanted to talk about on the show for a long time. And it's something that's so conceptual and difficult to broach because it's very ingrained in the way that we see the world and we interact with each other, that trying to find the right route and conversations to be able to bring it up in a way that sidesteps all of our initial prejudices and preconceptions about it is difficult, especially right now because of how much it's in the news. And the topic is something that we've alluded to before in previous episodes but we're gonna really get into the concepts and what it means today in this. And what we'll be discussing here is borders.
[1:54] Well, more than alluded to, we did kind of do an episode on borders, Episode 31 "No Entry." Although it was more, it had a lot to do specifically with border security and the building of physical walls, and the paradoxes that come along with that, and the reasons why individual nations feel compelled to build these giant walls that really have no practical purpose at all except, you know, making a mess of so many of the things that we actually, you know, are trying to prevent, and making things worse. But you're saying this is more of, like, a conceptual understanding of what that wall represents in the first place.
[2:34] Yeah, that episode, it's Episode 31 and it's one of my favorites, is a really good introduction to some of the very physical manifestations of these concepts. But getting to understand why we have borders, the fact that, you know, initially a border is not a very obvious thing, it's something that had to be evolved and created and slowly made into these very physical things that we understand now. And that process is important in understanding our relationship with them today. And they do touch every single part of our lives, both in the very obvious ways when we see people, maybe friends, maybe family, being deported across borders, these international/national border lines, but also in, like, our day-to-day lives. I was telling Daniel a story that I have a border that runs through my apartment, actually.
[3:19] Yeah. I love this story because we think of borders, well you hear that word and you think about political borders that separate states and larger nations, but that's not the only type of border we interact with. In fact, we interact with several borders everyday probably without even realizing it, as these things tend to serve administrative and bureaucratic functions of our governments, whether that's, like, a school district or, you know, some kind of utility border, a neighborhood border, municipalities, state, county, all kinds of things.
[3:50] Exactly. And this is one of those borders that runs, quite literally, through my kitchen. So, long time listeners will know that I live in New York, but specifically I live on the line between Brooklyn and Queens. And this line dividing these two boroughs runs through my kitchen, it cuts my kitchen half. So, when I go and I wash my dishes I'm in Queens, when I walk into my office I'm in Brooklyn, and this happens over just a matter of feet. And when I moved in here, you know, I had no idea that this border line crossed in here. I knew across the street, that's Queens, and that on this side my mailing address is Brooklyn. But I found that this was, this invisible border that crossed through me, that I was crossing everyday many times without any sort of visualization or realization that this was happening, was playing a role in my life. And that's because I move in, and I'm trying to set up my gas in my new apartment, I've already set up my electricity itself and its simple because my address is there, but the gas company has no record that my address even exists. Okay?
[4:51] And, you know, I'm like, well, you know, I'm very clearly here, I've set up my electricity, I've set up my whatever, you can see this is my address. I'm getting mail, I know this is correct, but the gas company just couldn't find it. And so I have a couple weeks without gas, and eventually we realize it's because the gas is registered in Queens with a different Queens zip code and Queens address. And I had to find that information and find it in their system before they could actually come out and turn on this gas. And there was no actual, you know, there wasn't like a faraway thing. The address they drove to was my Brooklyn address, but because this system was built on this border line that they didn't realize existed, I had to find this information that nobody else knew, in order to make this very simple process happen. And these are the types of ways that borders are constantly intersecting in our lives, making things difficult than what should be simple. There should be no difference between the fact that my gas is in one place or the other, because this is all the same apartment, it's the same address. And, I mean, this is a very benign example of these kinds of frustrations. And that's where a lot of us, our day-to-day dealings with borders, whether it's a school district, or a zoning district, or whatever it is, is something that just sort of makes our life frustrating and more difficult. But for many people, you know, this is quite a matter of life or death.
[6:06] Well, yeah. That's what I was gonna say, is that that's kind of a funny example, David, that kind of points out the bureaucratic absurdity of so much of modern life and the contrivances that we create to section off one property from another. But, as we'll get to, like, some really startling examples, like, for instance, in the United Kingdom where this bureaucratic confusion is totally uprooting people's lives. I mean, people being mistakenly deported, people being sent to countries that, you know, they're not a resident of, their citizenship papers getting lost, so it's a big deal. Although I think the upshot of your story, David, is that if anyone ever accuses you of being the stereotypical Brooklyn podcaster, you can just walk to the other side of your kitchen and say, "Aha! No I'm not."
[6:52] I live in Queens.
[6:54] There we go.
[6:55] Well, plus you got me down in Atlanta to balance you out.
[6:58] Exactly. But I think to really understand these borders we need to go back and look at where they first arose, and where it all came from. And that's the kind of history that I really like doing on this show. We've done it a couple times before, in the IP episode, in our episode on debt, which are both big conceptual episodes. And because this is where this understanding of the concept really comes, we can see how it evolved. So the first records that we can find of borders goes back 4,500 years ago to this ancient story of these two warring cities in Sumeria called Lagash and Umma (and I hope to all the ancient Sumerians listening I'm pronouncing those names correct). And these two cities were separated only about 30 kilometers of distance between the two of them, today, you know, this is very, very close. And in between them was this very fertile piece of land. And both sides wanted this land for their farming, for their agricultural products, because fertile land, especially in this area, is something of huge value.
[7:54] And inevitably this turned into conflict between the two warring cities. There were treaties set, and they set a border line between the two, this giant stacked stone, and then there were arguments about whether it was too far one way or the other. And the two cities attacked each other for countless years, eventually one destroyed the other, and then the other one destroyed the other again. And we have these records of this battle going on over the disagreement of what belongs to me and what belongs to you. And as far as we can tell, this is the first time the idea of borders, and the conflict of them, arose. And it makes a lot of sense that it's happening in this sort of process. The fact that as soon as we started settling down in one place, farming in a field, this advent of agriculture, and we started thinking about property as ‘this field is mine,’ that very closely after, the idea of borders evolves.
[8:38] Agriculture, I think, is a key piece to understanding borders, for sure. Like, as scholars point out, the difference between a nomad and a settler came down to this conception of property, where once you decide the land is going to become this permanent installation for agricultural production, the perspective becomes, okay, how do we distribute the land among the people. But if you live in a more mobile format, where your culture roams from place to place even if it has permanent campsites but you move from one to the other, you don't think necessarily of land being distributed among people, you think of the people being distributed among the land. And in that sense, ownership of the land and sectioning it off doesn't make any sense. You know, you might go to a camp and for the night that is your campsite but then you leave and it's not yours anymore because you're not occupying it. But, I guess, with agriculture you have these plots and then there's value to that even if you do leave and you want to come back and be able to claim that as your own.
[9:41] Exactly. Once when people started settling down into permanent places and working the land, and using the resources of that land, the idea of what belongs to who becomes very important. And this is something that evolved, as time went on it became more complicated. And the idea of what belongs to who is one of the very important foundational things that created the modern idea of borders. But we're gonna to shove that to the side for a second, just keep that in the back of our head, and I want to go to the second big thing that I think led to the modern idea of what a border is. And we'll talk more about what that is later on. But the idea of maps, this is something that's again very old, it goes back to ancient man. We were making maps almost from the dawn of time when we started having these first pictorial representations of what people were doing. We have these maps of first, typically, the sky, of stars. And, of course, there's no borders there, it's the wide-open sky, it was used for navigation or for various types of ceremonies and things.
[10:41] But very soon after that we started seeing maps appear of places. And these maps were very, sort of, pictorial in their representation. You would see a valley, or a mountain, or a river. And it was used as a general idea of what things would look like because that was how you would navigate and explain things to other people, say, ‘Oh, follow this river 'til you hit the valley, and then there's a mountain there that looks like this, and go that way across the pass,’ and that was how you would navigate this world. And that was how people thought about the world for the vast majority of human history - as an idea of places, and of places and things. And this was reflected in the maps that were created, and these types of maps were the only maps that were really made for thousands of years.
[11:21] Well you mentioned, like, one of the earliest form of maps being those that mapped the sky, and it reminds me of Episode 43 "FUBAR" when we talked to Sophia Perez about the military's plans to bomb an indigenous island in the Pacific. And we talked about how the indigenous people that occupied these islands were once some of the greatest sailors of all time because they could navigate the waters, not just by typical things like the stars, or reading the sun, but literally by the movement of their boat. They could feel the currents, and it's really hard to imagine how that's even possible. But there is a certain type of map, it's called a stick chart, and you can look this up and you see, like, there's actually a method for creating a map using sticks and seashells that charts the currents of the ocean, in a way.
[12:15] And we're gonna put a picture of this map on the website and I really encourage you to check it out. Because when you look at it, to our Western eye that's trained on understanding a map as a very specific type of thing, this just looks like a piece of art. We can't even be able to start to read it.
[12:29] And I think it's important in that it highlights the different functions maps have, like you're alluding to. Whereas, today our modern conceptions of maps is like, okay, this is the property of the State of Georgia, and this is where the line demarcates this property, or this is the property of this city, but maps can serve so many different functions than that, and really creative and innovative functions as well.
[12:52] Well, maybe this is a good moment to think about what our modern idea of what a map is, right. Like when I say the word map, Daniel, what are you picturing?
[13:00] I quite literally picture the world map, that Eurocentric map with...
[13:05] Yeah, North is up.
[13:07] North is up, South is down, the United States is on the left.
[13:10] There's lots of pretty colors for each country.
[13:12] The big ocean in blue.
[13:14] And it seems so obvious when you look at it that way, right?
[13:17] Yeah, it makes sense, you know.
[13:18] Like, of course that's what a map looks like. But, I mean, thinking about this as an innovation, and a way of thinking about the world in an entirely new way, it's something that's not obvious, but that's really what that type of map was. And I'll get to exactly when that happened and why that happened. But, remember, for the vast majority of human history maps were not accurate. They weren't, you know, down to the centimeter or the millimeter like we have with our ultra-accurate maps now, or even something that could be used easily for accurate navigation, like, oh, it's this many leagues to go to here, or this many miles that way. They were just very general things with landmarks. You had a more or less basic idea of where you are, but something that wouldn't tell you exactly where you are at any moment. It was just to help you along the navigation, and your personal experience and the people that you were with who had already done these journeys could explain the rest of it to you and make sure that you knew the way. Because the knowledge of where place was, was something that was recorded, typically, orally and then eventually described with words. And this was how most maps were actually made - by writing out detailed information about locations. And it wasn't shown graphically until much later on, but I'm getting ahead of myself again.
[14:28] No, I know maps like that, David. You know, turn left at the QuikTrip, when you see the red house you've gone too far.
[14:34] Right, and that was even how most of us navigated recently, until we all have these extremely powerful mapping computers in our pockets now. And that's something that's only really happened in the past 20 years. But again, to jump back in time, I mean, we have to mention the ancient Egyptians. We don't have a lot of maps from them, but they were enormously talented surveyors and they created a lot of the tools that became the standard of surveying for the next thousands of years, up until maybe the 17th century when we started creating a lot of new stuff. And these tools were extremely accurate, and they were used by the Egyptians extensively for the construction of all their massive building projects. And we have some very incredible detailed architectural drawings that they made using these incredible surveying tools. So these were people who knew how to map accurately, and that's an important concept. But what's interesting about all this knowledge is that the Egyptians, of the couple of maps that did survive, they were the same sort of pictorial representation of things - of a valley, and then in this distance we would have a tomb, and then, you know, there was another valley depicted - but not in an accurate-to-scale type of way. More as an idea of places and how they are oriented with each other, rather than something that can be used as an accurate representation of the distance and separation between all these places. And this is important because they have the tools and techniques to create these highly accurate maps, but as far as we can tell they chose not to. Or the idea of creating them in that way didn't even occur to them. Of course we're going to create accurate architectural designs, but why would we make a map to describe the world in this way? Why would we treat every single point equal, and the same value, when it's not that way? Because some places, a city, a tomb, are more important, and we're going to devote more of our space on a precious piece of papyrus, or a stone, with dealing with that information, rather than all the empty space in between.
[16:25] Okay, so that's really interesting. You're saying, like, the Egyptians had this great technology for representing the physical world, but they didn't create the geographical maps in the sense that we think of them today that are, like, drawn to scale, where like, you know, if you put your finger down you can measure the distance from the river to the, you know, the next pyramid. Because I guess what you're saying is like, there was no need to do that, but also if a room in a temple is more important than the distance between that temple and the next temple, why not just create a perfect blueprint architectural rendering of the room within that temple, and then you can just describe, 'Oh, if you want to get to the next temple you can just walk 30 paces, you know, walk 5,000 paces,' or something. Why take up space on a sheet of paper or papyrus, like you said, to represent that.
[17:18] Exactly. And that's a really important point in the development of this, and why we didn't start seeing sort of modern maps until the costs of using all this paper and then printing all this information really started to come down. Especially with the introduction of the printing press, which again, getting ahead, and we'll get to that. The next innovations in mapping, it came from the Greeks, who contributed a lot to the discovery of, first just the fact that the Earth was of a certain size, they were able to calculate it within .5 percent of accuracy for the total circumference of the earth, which is incredible. And they, really, their big innovation was realizing that if you're going to map things, and you're going to map them accurately, you need some sort of measuring, some basic standard way that you can decide where things are. And they came up with what is basically the idea of latitude and longitude, of a grid that you could build across your map, that would allow you to equally space everything around and know that they're accurately spaced from each other. This is the idea that I alluded to a second ago, where every single point is considered important. Whereas, before on a map we would devote what's important to a place, and that would be larger on the map because it has a larger influence in our lives. The Greeks came up with this idea that even though a place may be more important to the lives that we live, geographically and mathematically it's the same as anywhere else. It's just another spot on the map, as we think about it today. And this, I think, came especially from the Greeks because, you know, if you're living in Greece, you're surrounded by these islands, you're a seafaring nation. And an island, I think, very well lends itself to the idea of a border - it's surrounded by water, it has a very mappable edge. And different islands you can see are different sizes from each other, you can calculate very easily how far they are apart. And I think this idea of treating everything equally, and knowing accurately the space between things, and how far it is from one island to the other, is something that appeared obvious to the Greeks. Whereas if you look at the Egyptians, who had the same technology to be able to map things out accurately, much of their civilization was stretched across empty desert space, and there's no value in mapping that accurately like the Greeks found in mapping their local coastlines and things accurately. And add to this the expansionist ideas of people like Alexander the Great, who mapped out the edges of his empire, it became important to them to know just how much land I control in an accurate way. But even still, the maps they created didn't have borders, but they did start to treat things accurately in its distance from each other.
[19:51] I'm thinking aloud here, David, but you mention, like, Alexander the Great and obviously he was a big conqueror, and you mentioned the need for accounting for all the property that's under the control of whoever, the Greeks in this case. And I wonder if that was, like, a big driver for innovation in the use of maps where, if you're in Egypt you don't really necessarily need a huge map to navigate the desert, I mean you have the pyramids right there, they're pointing the way. But if you have this great empire, right...
[20:22] I guess.
[20:23] If you have this great empire and you're actually setting out to conquer a place and expand the things are under your control, I can see how it would be way more important to accurately reflect that somehow. For financial reasons mainly, I mean, you would need to take into account how much grain you're taking in from these new conquered lands to figure out how many soldiers you can feed to go conquer the next land, right.
[20:47] Well, you're starting to get to the point there. And I don't want to downplay how large the Egyptian Empire was and how much land they conquered, because it is prodigious. And we shouldn't say that Alexander the Great's empire superseded the fact that the Egyptians didn't need to be able to calculate the areas they had conquered, because that's silly. But you are hitting really close on the point, the fact that it is important to know the areas that you are controlling now, for tax purposes. And this really brings us to the second major point of why borders are important. So first we have that economic resources that we need to exploit, and number two is the oldest thing that we all hate here, taxes. And this is something we talked before about, in "Debt," in our pensions episodes, in our financial episodes, we discuss a lot of tax things. But it really is a story as old as time, and knowing exactly who controls what is important when you are levying those taxes, especially in areas that you are now conquering. And, again if we go back to the Egyptians, they were using some of their surveying to figure out this land, that people would owe taxes, and of how much to the pharaoh.
[21:54] But, again this was mostly something recorded in words, or in hieroglyphics for them, and the same was true for the most part with the Greeks, and with the other civilizations at the time, where they would record tax debts and property owned, in words and not so much, actually, in physical maps, that we understand. And the Greeks were doing it from a more philosophical kind of way of dealing with these maps.
[22:17] But for the most part this tax base component of figuring out who owed what, was something that was recorded in writing. It would say, you know, this property is this large, and they owe us this much money because of that. The Romans, I guess, were the next people in this process of taking this idea of surveying, and especially this tax-based idea of who owes me what, and combined it, for the first time really, with maps. And they had very extensive maps, this central record-keeping hall, almost, of maps, in Rome, where they would record on brass plate, and then also on paper copies, these details of what property people owned, of the borders of the properties, and consequently the tax burden that would be associated with that. And, unfortunately, we've lost all of this, we've lost a huge amount of the maps that the Romans made. But even a lot of these maps were more the types of maps that were sometimes called itinerary maps, where you would just see, you know, along these roads that the Romans built everywhere, what cities were along the way, and a written out explanation of the distance between the two, but not a visual demonstration accurately of what that looked like. Some of the Greek techniques of how to map in this very accurate way, that Ptolemy had figured out, weren't carried over into the Romans so much. But the Romans did love borders, and it was an important part of their empire. And the way that they administered all their different provinces. In fact, they had a god of borders, Daniel.
[23:43] A god of borders, David?
[23:45] Yeah, and maybe you've heard of it before - Terminus. There was even a celebration that they would have, where you would have, on the day of Terminus's feast, you would go to the borders between your land and your neighbor's land and leave offerings there for the god and, I guess, make merry with your neighbor. The Romans constructed pylons everywhere.
[24:08] Did they construct enough pylons, though?
[24:15] Terminalia is actually coming up, Daniel, it's on February 23rd, so everyone mark that down on your calendar for when you want to celebrate the borders in your life.
[24:23] That's the day I will draw a line in the sand, David.
[24:26] And they would have these boundary markers all over the place, on the edges of their properties, along roads. Some of these mile markers still exist, they usually look just like a large stone someplace, you can still find them scattered across Europe today. And these were everywhere, and show just how important the idea of borders and boundaries were to the Romans. And this was because, in large part, like we mentioned, they were great surveyors because of their need to build roads everywhere, to connect the empire, and efficiently administer the taxes and the resources that needed to be shuttled around, to create a long lasting Roman Empire. But empires come, Daniel, and empires fall, as we are finding out continuously on this show.
[25:07] So, what happened when the Roman Empire fell, David, that changed our conception of borders and space? Or did it, or did it at all?
[25:17] Well, what we saw was a loss of a lot of knowledge. This is the Dark Ages, as it is called. And whether that's true or not, the point is there's a lot of ways of doing things that people basically forgot how to do. And creating those highly accurate Greek-style maps, that was lost. The sort of hybrid-style maps the Romans were making, which were somewhere in between the accuracy of the Greeks and the pictorial representation of the Egyptians, that was also sort of pushed away and forgotten. And we started seeing the creation of these interesting types of maps that really focused on place once more, in this early medieval period. And that's because, I think at least, the idea of power in this time really sort of fell apart. Where the Romans had this very strong centralized system, that you could feel the effects of Rome even if you were thousands of miles away, that just didn't exist for most people in this collapse of Rome period. You would have your local source of power, your village, your castle, the town, the city that you would live in, and that would be what influenced the vast majority of your life, the directives you would get, the laws that would come.
[26:27] Well, David, at what point in all of this does the tradition of beating the bounds come about? Have you heard about this?
[26:33] Tell me about beating the bounds, Daniel.
[26:35] Okay, so this is a long tradition held by the Catholic Church, David. And beating the bounds is when the parish, or a particular church, would take all the children, or I guess the boys in most cases, of this parish. He'd take them outside and they would, quite literally, take sticks, limbs from trees, and beat down the borders of the grounds of this church. And they called it beating the bounds, quite literally because that's what they were doing. But the priest would also stop the boys every now and then at certain spots, and beat them, maybe with the same sticks they were using to beat the bounds, as a way to instill in them a fierce memory of the place. And the idea was that in order to protect the boundaries of this church you needed generational knowledge of exactly where the boundaries were. And what better way to preserve that knowledge than in frightened young boys who are being beaten while tracing their steps. And then as they grew older they would always remember exactly where, you know, that way if, you know, someone else wanted to claim, 'Oh this is actually my farmland' they can say, 'Oh no it's not, I know that spot that my blood, you know, I dripped my blood in that corner. That is not your field, sir.'
[27:51] That's an intense and traumatic way of mapping in a time, I guess, when physical maps were difficult to make or weren't that common.
[28:01] Well and I guess it also goes to show that when you forsake the god Terminus, things get a lot more complicated. Now it's not so easy to manage your borders, huh?
[28:09] You go from celebrations to beatings. Maybe we should go back to those Roman party gods. But yeah, and I think it's interesting, too, that one of the only forces that was really pushing this mapping, in this case this very physical oral-based mapping, 'cause that's what this is, an oral history with one generation passing it to the next, in this case, I guess through trauma, is through this centralized power, and that is the church. But the maps that were being made, oftentimes by priests, or by academics and scribes, when you would look at them, like, one of the most popular types of map, for example, had the world divided in a circle, okay, which is something we're used to seeing, the world is round, it is a circle. But this circle, which was a map of the Earth, would be divided into three parts - half of it would be cut in half and then a line through the bottom. So basically, imagine a 'T' inside a circle.
[28:59] With one, the top half being half the circle and the bottom half being a quarter each. And on the top they would write Asia, and on the bottom on the left they would write Europe, and on the bottom right they would write Africa. And that is like, that was a map of the world. That would seem, somebody would look at that and say this is a map, you know, of course this a map. And we look at this and we're like, this is a weird piece of art, of medieval art, we don't understand what's going on here. Again, we're gonna post images of all these maps on the website, check it out, I love maps and I'm sure a lot of you do too. There's some beautiful art there.
[29:31] Well you know, again, David, I wonder, like you mentioned in the very beginning how our navigation has been defined by, like, GPS and these very precision, coordinate-led, highly precise tools, but back in the ancient world if I wanted to go from city to city, as long as I knew that, you know, I could follow a certain river, you know, walk along it or go down it by boat or something, and I would get to my destination, I don't really need precision, right, in terms of coordinates. I'm not landing a plane on a tiny strip after traveling for, you know, 20,000 miles.
[30:06] After traveling 200 miles and going, you know, 600, 500 miles an hour. I just need to know the general direction. And I saw one of these circle maps, different from the one you're describing, I think it had India at the top and Jerusalem in the center, but it had all these detailed rivers connecting places, I mean even very faraway places. It's a little bit detailed in the waterways, that you could traverse between them. And maybe it's not totally meant to be a traveling companion in an accurate sense, but I think if you can imagine the world in these very important geographic landmarks then it becomes very easy to kind of conceptualize the orientation of places around the world. In fact, this is something when I was learning to drive here in Atlanta, I struggled, when I would get on the interstate, to really figure out where I was going. There were so many signs, I personally, David, had trouble navigating. But then it was explained to me, 'Hey, there's a very simple way to figure out where you're going, okay, just imagine a circle. And in the center of that circle is the city of Atlanta. And the circle that goes around it is 285, that's the loop, and then there's an X that goes straight through the center of the circle, and that's I-75 going up northwest and 85 going up northeast, and vice versa on the south side.' And once I saw that picture in my mind, it was like a light bulb had gone off in my head and I could now navigate anywhere in the city, without even knowing the streets or what signs I would encounter, because I could orient myself. And I just knew if I was going this direction then I would eventually turn right to go northeast or whatever it was, because I had that very simple image in my mind.
[31:53] Yeah, orientation's important. And that map that you were speaking of initially, which is one of my favorites, it's from the 12th century, is a really great example of the emphasis that was centered around place during this time, and the way that we saw ourselves interacting with things. Because power emanated, at this time, primarily from cities. And yes, there were larger kingdoms, but it was the city that was really the focus of power. And cities would belong, several cities could belong to the same kingdom, but the in-between spaces were just that, they were in-between spaces. And power was looser there, there wasn't this perception that the power of the kingdom extended throughout all of this negative space because there was a realization you could only project power where you had people to do so. And those centers of people were obviously cities. And when you look at this map, in particular like, you know, you can see all these beautiful illustrations of different cities, of Jerusalem, of Rome, of places in India, you'll see coat of arms for some of these cities so you know who they belong to, and you'll see very detailed rivers and waterways written out. But what is completely absent, and that we really need to note here, is any borders dividing these places. Because the idea that a border would be drawn across all these minor kingdoms, they weren’t divided between these things with these lines and borders drawn onto the map, because it just didn't matter. We didn't even think about the relationship of a kingdom with the land in that type of way. Because it wasn't centered about a hegemonic perception of power, but instead centers of power around different types of places. And this is what most of maps and the perception of borders was like, through the Middle Ages until we started getting into the 16th, 17th century. And that's when everything changed and we started seeing the formation of the modern idea what a border is, and the way it was created to ultimately enter our modern world.
[33:44] And, real quick, right before we jump to the 16th, 17th century, David, you mentioned how these maps, you know, weren't very precise, because you couldn't project power in that way. But, you know, right before we lost a lot of the map technology when the Roman Empire fell, and to kind of illustrate the inverse of that, I want to quote from an article called "Cartography in Ancient Europe and the Mediterranean," so this is going back to the Roman use of maps that emerged out of that initial innovation by the Greeks. And the author writes, "Drawing on the theoretical knowledge of Greek scholars and technicians, both geographical maps at a small scale, and large-scale cadastral maps, were brought into more regular use." And cadastral maps simply mean an accurate representation of property rights for the purpose of taxation, so keep that in mind. The author goes on, "The primary stimulus to the former seems to have been the recognition by the Roman rulers not only that maps were of practical assistance in the military, political, and commercial integration of the empire, but also that a publicly displayed map of its extent could serve for the people as a symbol of its reality and territorial power." That's like you were mentioning, David, how you could be a thousand miles away from the metropolis but still feel that you were in Rome.
[35:04] And this particular thing is mentioning this very famous map that was painted across the Roman Forum, so that the citizens of Rome could come in as they're doing their business and see the size of the empire laid out right in front of their eyes. It was a very powerful piece of propaganda at the time, and unfortunately we don't have any surviving records of what it actually looked like. So we don't know if there were borderlines on there, but it sounds like, at least in this case, the Romans might have had those.
[35:33] Well, no doubt it was impressive. But, more importantly, the author goes on to say, "Similarly, the cadastral maps [those tax property line maps], given the force of law by the end of the period, were designed to record and to help uphold a system of property rights and agrarian production in which the state had a vested interest. Maps had thus become the tools of statecraft at a number of territorial scales. It was these motives, rather than disinterested intellectual curiosity, that led to an extension and diversification of mapping as the empire was further consolidated in the period from Tiberius to Caracalla."
[36:16] Oh, that's right. And I think what's really important to draw from that, Daniel, is the fact that as this centralized power of Rome increases, so does the reliance on maps. And they go hand-in-hand in illustrating that power and projecting that power, both to citizens within and then also as a tool for using the legal rights of the centralized power to administer that empire. And as we saw the collapse of the Roman Empire and the splintering of power from one large centralized area operating out of Rome into thousands of disparate townships, in kingdoms, and fiefdoms, and all sorts of different things, we saw also the collapse of maps in that process. Because the idea of a centralized place that needs to be mapped out just didn't make any sense anymore, as that's not how power was projected. It was projected through very local places. And that's what we saw in the maps that were created during this time. And there weren't a lot of maps made during this time, as far as we can tell, a lot have been lost.
[37:09] You mean the Dark Ages?
[37:11] Yeah, throughout the early and the mid Medieval Ages there were, you know, 1,500 or so maps made. But from 1500 to 1600 we saw the development of over a million new maps being created at this time. And, of course, a lot of this is due to the invention of the printing press. But also a fascination with maps, an increase in surveying tools, and commercial mapmakers realizing that for the first time, if they made maps people wanted them. And that's an important thing because, Daniel, you mentioned the state being the driving force for Rome making these maps, but the explosion of maps that occurred in the Late Medieval Period that caused the modern perception of what we see as borders, was not driven by states. It wasn't states hiring these surveys of their kingdoms, it was commercial mapmakers going out and doing this on their own, building from previous maps as well as their own measurements, that created a need, for over a hundred years later, for states to respond to this. And I think this is where this gets really interesting, because we see maps sort of predate the centralization of this power, and I think really encourage it, and this perception of border and the way treaties are done because of it.
[38:21] So, with the creation of the printing press we were able to mass-produce these maps and send them out all over the world. And we saw lots of these being bought by the state actors, by kings, by dukes, by all sorts of whatever royal titles that you had. And these maps were created using the Greek style of accurate mapping. And the reason this happened was because Ptolemy's very important text on how to map in this accurate way was finally translated to Latin in the 1500s. And the mapmakers read this and realized, 'Oh my God, there's a whole new way that we can be making these maps.' This knowledge that was lost, was rediscovered and totally changed the face of mapmaking. And this was made possible, of course, by the development of that printing press. So now we have two things come into play, this new knowledge of how to make maps, that had been lost, and the medium, finally, to distribute maps in a way that hasn't ever existed before in human history. And what happened is these mapmakers started making accurate maps, treating every single point equal, of all of Europe. And so we started seeing these massive maps being created, where there's huge space between different cities. They're no longer focused on place, they're focused on accurate geographical representations of our land. And with these massive space, these mapmakers want to make them beautiful, and fill them out and make them interesting. And so, part of the way they did that was by drawing lines dividing kingdoms and filling them in with color.
[39:49] Is this why the typical world map, if I Google it right now, will be filled with all kinds of different colors?
[39:56] Well, some of it's for legibility, but also at the time it was very much for adding value to this product that you're trying to sell. You can charge that much more for this beautiful piece of art if it's also, you know, hand colored.
[40:07] David, are you gonna tell me that, like, entrepreneurs ended up, like, just through the desire to make more money off their maps ended up, like, totally redefining, like, the political landscape through color. And, like, maybe a king saw that on this map, said, 'Oh, wow, that's a big territory I own, maybe I can expand it, get some more of that red on there, take away from some of the blue kingdom.'
[40:30] Well, I'm not saying that's the only thing at play but it definitely, I think, was part of it. And there are other people who agree with me. There's a really fascinating article that sort of kicked off some of this map and border talk, that we'll link on the website, that I highly recommend checking out. I read it years ago and the thoughts have stayed with me ever since - I think it's really onto a lot of things. But this new explosion in surveying, all this stuff, you started seeing the language of politics change. So to jump back just briefly, there was this very important book written in the 11th century called the Domesday Book, that was a survey done of all of England. And today we think that would be, of course, a mapping thing done. This was done for tax purposes, to figure out who owed what to the king because of how much of the king's land they were using. Because at the time the perception was you did not own the property that you lived on, you were, the king was allowing you to live on it because the king owned all the property of Great Britain.
[41:26] Yeah, of course, he owned it all.
[41:28] Yeah, he owned everything. And so you would pay your taxes to the king in exchange for them allowing you to use this land, more or less. But they didn't record this down in any sort of map, it was all written in words, like we've talked about before. You know, it would describe the size of your plot, where it was, what it looked like, all written out tediously with words. And this was this massive, massive book, and that was how surveying was done. And this was the only survey done in England for hundreds and hundreds of years.
[41:58] Yeah, it's called the Domesday Book. It's a really important book and it's kind of interesting to think that there was just literally one book. And I think this book was actually used as a primary source, like, in a court case as late as, like, 1960 to settle some dispute between people for, you know, ancestral land or something like that, so.
[42:21] Yeah, it's a hugely important book. But what I want to take from it is the fact that the language that was used to describe this very important thing, that as you mentioned, Daniel, is still quite literally on the books, it’s part of the law, and it can be referenced in these cases even through to today. And so, now we go back to where we are right now, it's the 1550s, it's the 1600s, it's the 1650s, we are rapidly starting to change our understanding of place because these atlas makers are designing atlases with borders drawn on them. And we fast forward to 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia.
[42:54] It's this very important treaty that sort of establishes the idea of sovereignty of a nation. That when a nation exists, that what happens within that nation is solely that nation's rights and what happens outside the nation is those other nations' rights. And one nation should not interfere with the domestic matters of one nation. And this is important because these ideas are something that emerged for the first time, according to scholars, with this treaty. But part of the reason why these ideas were arriving was because of the way people had started to change how they think about a place, a nation. And no longer that it was these different areas of power that would project over each other, but defined borders. And what happened within those borders was one nation's and what happened outside of them was somebody else's. And this is the first time we really started seeing these ideas enshrined in text. And though this treaty was defined once more in those same types of words that the Domesday Book used, describing the limits of the treaty using words, very shortly after we started seeing treaties defined on maps as well. And this is the critical shift of our understanding in borders. 'Cause no longer were they loose things, no longer were they soft projections of power, where the interim spaces were 'maybe it's yours, maybe it's mine.' They became hard lines crossing invisibly through our land, in many cases cutting towns and villages, and in my case kitchens, in half.
[44:21] And damned be the consequences. This has meant in history that at different times villages were cut in half and found themselves in two different nations, paying taxes to two different kings. Though this village has been there for thousands of years maybe, though they may be ethnically or culturally belonging to a single kingdom, because of the arbitrary stroke of somebody's pen along this line defining what this treaty might be, these people now find themselves living somewhere else, or their land cut in half, owing allegiance to more than one king and, of course, the taxes that go along with that.
[44:52] And so this brings up an interesting question, right. When we start having these very strong ideas of national identity, of 'I am the Kingdom of France and these are my defined borders,' we start having this identity of, well, 'I'm a Frenchman and when I travel somewhere else I'm still a Frenchman.' And we today would say, 'Well, if you're traveling from France to somewhere else you have to identify yourself as a Frenchman before they'll let you in.' You need permission to enter another country, and this goes along with that Westphalian sovereignty idea that we talked about. But these ideas are actually extremely recent. And though there have been limitations and restrictions on who can travel where, that go back quite literally thousands of years, there was much less control on where you're allowed to travel and how you're allowed to travel in almost all of human history up until very, very recently. The idea of a passport, again this is an old idea, but the idea of passports that everyone must have, that we are universally bound by, that if we do not have we cannot travel, is something that is barely a hundred years old. Which, when I found this out I was shocked to realize that this thing that I had taken so much for granted was a relatively recent invention, newer even than the automobile. Think about that! People have been traveling in automobiles longer than their travel has been restricted by those passports and crossing borders. And the big impetus that caused this change was World War I.
[46:21] Let me read a quote, David, from historian A. J. P. Taylor, writing in his book English History 1914 - 1945. He writes, "Until August 1914, a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked, he had no official number or identity card, he could travel abroad or leave the country forever without a passport or any sort of official permission."
[46:55] I mean, that sounds, quite literally, insane to hear that. But, I mean, when you think about it, that's the world our great-grandparents lived in, that they were born into, and we've slowly built these restrictions up since then. And the primary reason, well, it's two-fold. Like we said, this arose in World War I, especially after the war, a big agreement between all these nations saying, well, we're gonna create a universal, sort of, passport and standardize this and restrict who can go where outside of these treaties and agreements that we make with each other. And this was because of 1) income tax. We had to pay for these very expensive wars with income taxes. And though income taxes existed before this, they were really deployed during World War I, and they've really found their way into being an important part of how nations would support their selves in this time period. And the second one, also related to the war, was conscription. If people could very easily travel through borders, disappear, then you couldn't force them into a war they didn't want to fight.
[47:56] But it makes sense.
[47:57] Exactly. And the limitations of a passport, where you had to get permission to leave, would make sure that they always knew where you were, what country you were in, if you were allowed to leave at all. And you could be pressed into service much more easily that way. And these are two of the four modern concepts of why we have such strict borders: Taxes, which is something that goes back pretty long, population control, which is important when you need to be able to conscript people and increasingly make sure that you're controlling their behavior in certain ways, like we've talked about extensively in the social credit system of China, where not only is travel restricted outside of the nation but even domestically. The other two being, ostensibly, security, which is something we've talked about at length in that “No Entry” episode.
[48:38] Yeah, that “No Entry” episode.
[48:39] Or where we find that, though this is a popular reason for claiming that we need this intense border security, in practicality this is almost never true and in fact can exacerbate security problems in many cases. And number four, for the clear definition of economic control. So, if it's not an individual tax, it's a tax on goods coming through, and also defending and defining what your resources are.
[49:04] Well speaking of border security, David, that is the most prominent thing that comes to mind today when anyone talks about the need to secure our borders. That is the talking point that our politicians use to get these policies of increased funding to border security, policies of reducing rights within border security zones. The idea is that we need borders to protect our nation from foreigners, or from outsiders, or from drugs coming in, or whatever. And, like you mentioned, we did talk about the paradoxes with that reasoning in “No Entry.”
[49:42] But a better understanding of it, I think, comes from the example of how the United States has slowly been creeping it's border security zone inland. And most people probably don't realize this, but border security, and the rights that we have waived within these, does not just occur at, like, very obvious border checkpoints like the one on the US/Mexico border, or one on a US/Canada border, but it...
[50:08] Hang on one second, Daniel. When you say loss of rights, you're talking, like, so when I cross a border, the border control guy, the TSA, Department of Homeland Security, whoever they are, you know, they can search me, they can search my cavities if it needs to go to that, they can, like, look at my phone, they can request me for passwords, for things like that. You're talking about those types of invasions of what I would normally consider my privacy and my rights that are guaranteed to me in the Bill of Rights.
[50:40] Yeah, exactly. But even going beyond that, is if you have property within a border security area, you don't enjoy that right where officers require a warrant to step onto your property. If it's in a border security zone, officers can trample all over your private property, no problem, in the service of their duty. But that border security zone in the United States has now crept to 100 miles inland of the political borders, circumferencing the entire nation.
[51:11] And, actually, it's a lot further than that around the Great Lakes because border control considers the borders of the lakes themselves as the starting point for their 100-mile inland encroachment. So, if you find yourself living in this 100-mile inland zone, which, like, 75% of minorities in America find themselves in...
[51:35] I think, also, international airports might count. So Denver International, for example, has a hundred-mile circle around that.
[51:41] Yes, so if you find yourself living in one of these zones, you can be searched at any time. You might find yourself driving, or walking, and all of a sudden you're at an Immigration and Customs border checkpoint, where they have the right to search your vehicle, search all those things. And typically, you know, in America, like I said, we have rights where you can't be searched without consent, or without a warrant. Even if a police officer pulls over your car and says, 'Hey, let me search your vehicle,' you often times have the right to just decline, and then if they don't have a reason to arrest you, you should be free to go.
[52:14] And sometimes, also, it's not just about, you know, the regular incentives, 'I'm trying to solve a crime here.' But there's been times in the past when border patrol has actually been incentivizing their agents to arrest people, by giving them cash bonuses and Home Depot gift cards, based on the number of people that they arrest. And, of course, this ended up with hundreds of people who were legally allowed to be there being arrested and having to go through this process and ultimately released, so these agents could get these rewards that the organization was promising them. If you don't think this is corrupt enough already.
[52:45] Yeah, it's actually, a side note, that's actually really interesting how Home Depot gift cards are, like, a really common way for bribes to occur in the United States because it's really easy to exchange them for cash value, since construction is such a lucrative business and there's so much that you can get at Home Depot. If you have a $50 Home Depot card it’s pretty easy to sell that to someone who's just gonna be doing business there anyway. And what's interesting about that is that, in a way, more often than not you're selling these Home Depot gift cards to working-class people, who might be of the minority demographic that is being disproportionately searched by these customs and immigration officers in the first place. It's kind of an interesting circle there. But we might tolerate this if we as the American people felt, well, it's necessary, right, to protect us, to keep us safe. But what's interesting is that in 2017, all the people that were found to be illegally residing in the United States through these more aggressive searches that occur in this area, all of those arrests, and all of those deportations accounted for just 2% of the total arrests and deportations that occurred in the country. And so you might ask, 'Well, then why are we doing it? Why are we paying all these officers to search United States citizens en masse, to set up these checkpoints, to invade people's private property, why are they doing it?' Well here's a hint. I'm gonna read from this report by CityLab here, where they write, "What checkpoints seem to be good for, however, is intercepting drugs - mostly marijuana - from people who are legally present in the US." According to the data, agents seized 54,803 pounds of marijuana at internal checkpoints in 2017; 90% of this was from individuals who were lawfully present in the country.
[54:39] And once again, David, we might say okay, well maybe that's not the intended effect of our border security policies, but if we are stopping these criminals from conducting these gang activities, from trafficking illegal drugs into our country, we would want our officers to enforce the law, even if it means we're giving up some of our rights. But listen to this, and the authors go on, "A 2017 Government Accountability Office review of checkpoints requested by Congress also found that 40% of all drug seizures at checkpoints were for ..." How much, how many drugs do you think, David, on average.
[55:18] One, one drug please.
[55:21] 40% of all these drug seizures were for one ounce or less of marijuana from United States citizens.
[55:28] I guess a lot of them are in the ‘for much less’ component of that.
[55:32] Yeah, and so, you know, so that's kind of the idea is that we've created this giant border security apparatus that is invading domestic soil as basically this military force, stopping, arresting, searching United States citizens. And the reason, I guess, is because they're profiting somehow off of seizing one ounce or less of marijuana that United States citizens are holding.
[55:59] Okay, so what I'm gathering from this is one of our points that we mentioned here that borders exist to preserve: it's the security of the people living within the border, yeah? Well, Daniel here is explaining that in fact much of the energy of enforcing this border is actually focused inward and not outward, and that the people who are living within these borders are the ones being targeted by these agents who are supposedly existing to defend them from those who are evil outsiders. So, okay, so I think that, along with the other conversations we've had about securities, and walls, and borders, really shows that the security excuse is just that - nothing more than excuse. So, instead let's look at one of these other reasons that we have these borders - and that's taxes, right.
[56:41] Everyone within this large border of whatever nation you're in, you're going to have to be paying taxes to whatever nation that it is that you're in. And of the wealth that exists within these nations, of the income and money that's generated, I mean, a lot of it is going to the top, increasingly so, as we see with this increasing inequality that's happening all the time. But unfortunately, for those who are rich and powerful, it's very easy to avoid a lot of this taxation that's happening, whether they're parking it in offshore accounts, like we've seen increasingly in the recent years, that have been revealed in things like the Panama Papers, of which very little was done, and many of the journalists that revealed this have ended up mysteriously dying. So they're already avoiding a lot of this tax burden that is supposed to be falling on them, that they should be paying more of because they are consuming more and taking more in this process. So the borders are doing a bad job of controlling that because we've increasingly made borders about controlling people and not capital, especially those who have a lot of capital. So they're bad at this controlling of tax, but even more, they've invented this new thing, they're called freeports. And these freeports were originally the idea of, if you're shipping a good from one place to the other, sometimes it needs to sit somewhere and wait before it's picked up and moved along.
[57:53] And this port, a freeport, is a anti-, duty-free tax zone. So, you know, you go to the airport, you buy cigarettes, and because it's an international zone in the airport you don't have to pay tax on it, so you can get these cheap cigarettes, or cheap alcohol, or whatever. Freeports are sort of the same thing, except for goods that are supposed to be in transit. Instead of having to pay a duty tax, or tax when they come into a nation, they could instead sit here in this tax-free zone until they need to move on to their final destination and only pay tax once. The design is to keep consumer cost down, to avoid this unnecessary taxing that would occur in the process of moving goods from A to C, if it also has to stop in B. But what the ultra-wealthy have discovered is that they can take these freeports and turn them into warehouses for their extremely expensive goods. And now there are freeport warehouses all around the world, but especially in places like Switzerland and a lot of the Middle Eastern countries, that are designed solely as art warehouses, where they're holding hundreds of millions of dollars, in some cases billions of dollars worth of art.
[58:53] David, let me correct that figure for you. The main freeport in Geneva holds an estimated 100 billion dollars of artwork alone. And that's just one freeport. These are, quite literally like you're describing, warehouses that are built on airport property.
[59:10] Yeah, you were really, really jumping at my or down my throat to correct that incorrect figure, there. But I'm glad you did.
[59:17] Well it's such a huge number, David, 100 billion dollars of artwork in just one warehouse. And like I said, these are all over the place - Singapore, Cypress, Luxembourg. Beijing is trying to get into this game. Yeah, and it's a huge racket. And it's just insane that all this wealth is being parked in these warehouses. And what's interesting, so, like you were mentioning, the idea is that if you manufacture something and you're sending raw materials across the country, and it has to stop somewhere, look, you shouldn't be taxed for the value of these raw materials, or this grain or something, or the sugar, in the country in which it's just laying over, and then it's gonna be going on to its final destination. And the idea is that with this artwork, if I'm a millionaire, billionaire, I can purchase this, park it here, and I don't pay taxes on it until I bring it home, until I bring it out of that warehouse. And so what's really interesting is that these warehouses have positioned themselves to be like showrooms, even though they're, like, embedded in these very industrial sealed-off, you know, very secure compounds. Where these millionaires will fly to these places, they'll drink expensive wine, champagne, and they'll go from room to room and they'll arrange these deals with each other. They say, 'Oh, let me trade that van Gogh I have for your Monet or something, and throw in a couple statues or something. And then they quite literally do a business deal right then and there. And then some clerk will come, with a, you know, with a hand truck I'm guessing, or something more sophisticated, but they'll just move the artwork from one room to the other. And there you have a billion dollars has just traded hands, but no taxes will be paid on it. And that's the idea is that these, this artwork can trade hands dozens of times and no taxes will ever be paid on it until it's taken out of that warehouse. Which could be never, because there's another innovation that these millionaires have figured out - in some countries that have designed their tax laws favorably around these freeports, they've even made provisions where, okay, if the artwork leaves the freeport but only temporarily, we won't tax it. So these millionaires can actually make even additional money by lending their artwork that they parked here to museums. And so now museums are lending the artwork and showing it off in their facilities and still no taxes have been paid for.
[1:01:36] And this is all that much worse when we remember that the vast majority of the ultra-high-end of the art market is used for money laundering. So this is a very easy way to not only launder money in an anonymous and very private way, but do so without any sort of taxes taken out of it. It's made money laundering that much more profitable. And it really illustrates just how terrible borders actually are at controlling the tax implications of these very wealthy people who, because of their massive amount of assets, really should be also contributing a massive amount of the total tax base. Borders are bad at defining taxes, and that's always been the case. So there, that's another example of why borders exist, showing that they do a really bad job at doing that.
[1:02:21] And it also reveals how, again going back to how borders are very important in controlling internal populations and less about protecting those internal populations from foreign actors, the reason why these freeports are so valuable is because we've used borders to restrict the movements of people, at least poor working-class and middle-class people, while allowing these millionaires to move their capital and their tax-free money freely around the world. And that's what creates this value. And it's interesting how as some countries have become a little bit more strict on tax havens, you know, requiring these Swiss banks and whatever to disclose more information on their clients, so that, you know, we back here in the United States might be able to tax them more, that increased effort has correlated perfectly with the rise in value of these freeports and the goods that go inside them. They say, 'Okay fine, you're gonna try and find my money in this tax haven, well I'm just going to convert that cash or that digital money into some physical object like a statue, then I'm gonna import it into this country that looks the other way, won't ask what the value of this object is, won't ask who the real owner is, or when it was purchased, and then just store it in this warehouse. And I'll just sell it to all of my friends or my network whenever I need to liquidate to get some cash.'
[1:03:43] We should get into the high-end art market, Daniel. If anyone wants to buy some of our paintings to pay off our billion dollars debt, uhh...
[1:03:50] That's, well I was going to say, David, before we can start purchasing art we're gonna have to take care of our debt problem.
[1:03:55] Please reach out to us, we're happy to launder your money.
[1:03:58] A side note, though, we are looking to work with artists on some various projects in the future. So if you are an artist and would like to get into this game, lend your services to the Ashes Ashes brand, let us know.
[1:04:10] For real, though, please reach out. But back to borders.
[1:04:13] Well, to circle back to this idea of how borders make it difficult for individual people but not necessarily money, we mentioned in the very beginning of this episode how there have been a lot of problems with the UK's handling of immigration documents. And this is something that officials with the Home Office, that's the name of the government department in the United Kingdom that handles immigration, there was an official within that, as far back as 2013, that was saying, 'Hey, we've got massive problems, we're losing a lot of documents and we don't really know what we're doing.' And since that time, the Home Office has been losing thousands and thousands of people's original documents every year, and it's created these huge problems for so many people.
[1:04:58] Yeah, they're like, 'Send us your birth certificate,' so you send a birth certificate and then it gets lost, it is never found again.
[1:05:04] There was one woman named Kate, she came to the United Kingdom when she was 22 to study, and then when she tried to renew her passport she had to send it off to the Home Office. So this was her original passport from her home country, which was a former Soviet state with not a great database on her information, and the United Kingdom lost it. They lost her passport! And it took her four years to figure out what happened to it, until they finally admitted they had lost it. But in the meantime, she had lost the official residency to stay in the United Kingdom. And so, you know, in 2012, for instance, she tried to enroll in an online university but was rejected because she didn't have official papers. And then at the same time the United Kingdom started cracking down very aggressively on immigration in general. And so she essentially became financially off the grid. She could only deal in cash, she couldn't get credit cards, she couldn't get loans, and she couldn't go back home because she didn't have her passport. And she spent 10 years in the United Kingdom, stranded. She missed funerals from her family, as members of her family passed away. She worked exclusively as a babysitter, working for cash. And then it wasn't until a media organization contacted the United Kingdom government that they admitted, 'Oh, yes, sorry, we made a mistake.' But by then she's a 36-year-old woman, and she says, "I have been tortured for ten years. A am now 36 and have no career, and nothing, no life. I just hope I can start something now." There was another man, David, his name is Franklin. He came to London from Nigeria as a child in 1989. He received paperwork from the Home Office stating that he had a right to stay in the country forever. This is called an indefinite leave stamp.
[1:06:57] So he grew up, he worked several jobs, he started a family, all of whom have become naturalized citizens of the UK. But then one day he was asleep in his bed and eight officers burst into his room, and they arrested him. They took him to a detention center and told him that he'd be deported to Nigeria in two days. You know, of course he protested, and they tried to look him up in the system but there was no record of him. So, they realized something was amiss, though, so they halted his deportation until they could get it sorted out. But in the meantime, they put him under surveillance, they required him to go to this immigration center once every two weeks, and he spent, like, eight months in limbo.
[1:07:39] And during this process his income was halted, he fell behind in his rent payment, and then eventually, 8 months later, the UK government was like, 'Oh, we found your documents, you're good to go.' But by that point he was mired in court cases for being behind in bills. And not to mention the trauma of, like, am I going to be deported, like any day now, from a country that I don't even know, 'cause I grew up here and I came here as a child.
[1:08:04] And one more, David, I don't want to bore you with these stories but they're so unique and so tragic in a way. Melvin Collins, he came to the United Kingdom 56 years ago as a sixteen year old. He lived and worked in Britain his whole life, he raised a daughter and a son, he had several family members, he even retired, David, with a state pension. And in 2012, Melvin passed through a British airport with two passports - he had a newer, Jamaican passport that he had recently acquired and he also had his older passport that had his indefinite leave stamp from the UK. But as he walked through immigration, one of the officers quite literally just confiscated that older passport, saying, 'Oh, you don't need that sir.' He wasn't really thinking straight in the moment so he just walked away. But then in 2015 he decided to take a trip to Jamaica. He used his newer passport, took a little vacation there, and then when he tried to board a plane to come home he was denied, saying, 'You don't have a visa or an indefinite leave stamp to come to the UK.'
[1:09:14] Even though he had been continually renewing this older passport, and they had continually, automatically adding this stamp. Well, and he's been stranded in Jamaica ever since. He's away from his family and his home. And what's tragic, too, is that, that state pension that he was getting, that income that was guaranteed to him, well it dried - they canceled it, because he wasn't home to return the mail that was being sent to him. He couldn't get home and so now he's just stranded in Jamaica, he was living, like, as a beggar for a while 'cause he had no way to make any money, no cash. His great aunt, who is like 92 years old, was sending him money from the UK. But he's still there to this day, and the UK government is basically, like, 'Well, you don't have a stamp so you can't come home.'
[1:10:03] These types of administrative snafus are so incredibly common. I find as I get older and I have more and more friends who are from different countries, the horror stories that exist about their visas, about being deported, about being threatened to being deported, about even the difficulty of staying somewhere legally where they built a life, because of the sheer amount of paperwork and the amount of errors that can enter these systems, even in many cases with extremely high-priced lawyers coming in and doing everything they can, is shocking to me. These systems which are supposed to protect us. Again, you know, this is a big concept here, we have all this vetting because we're supposed to be protecting the people within these borders. Well, these people are within these borders, they're my friends, they're my family, they're people that I know, and care about, and love, and are doing things in their community, and they are being tortured. They're filled with anxiety thinking about these things. In some cases they're being ripped apart from their families, quite literally. We're seeing this a lot with the deportations going on right now, and I have lots of friends who are affected by this. And the reasons, these aren't criminals, in the way that we like to think about these criminals, you know, people who are doing things that hurt people, but they are people who are breaking this law.
[1:11:14] This law that exists because of our very strange way that we've started thinking about borders in just the past couple hundred years, and really even in the past few decades. These are people whose lives are being destroyed because at some point we decided we needed to draw lines on maps, and that line defines who's in and who's out. And those who are out, as we've talked about in other episodes on this show, have no rights. The rights that we establish in a country like the United States, with our Bill of Rights, say ‘If you are lucky enough to be born here, you are privileged to these things.’ Right, that's how we like to think about it?
[1:11:47] But really what these are saying is, 'Everyone else in the world does not have this right.'
[1:11:53] And that everyone else is defined by these borders that we cling so tightly to. But why are we clinging to them? We established throughout this show that they fail to do these things that they're supposed to. Instead they prevent us from doing so much - from traveling and exploring the world in the free way that we're supposed to, that our great-grandparents were able to. The world didn't collapse when your great-grandparents or your great-great-grandparents could get up and go where they wanted to, so why are we so scared of reimagining that idea now. Why are we moving farther away from this freedom that we like to say that we're fighting for all the time, when increasingly it's something that is farther and farther away from our day-to-day lived experience.
[1:12:35] Well, you said, like, our great-grandparents when they traveled the world, they could do so freely and our systems didn't collapse. And maybe people would come back at you, David, saying, 'Well look at the world we have today, you know, we had 9/11, we have all these terrorists.' But, I mean, we still have that same conception of space today. We still travel freely across borders all the time. I mean, again going back to your apartment example, we have borders that we intersect every single day as we walk, and we drive, throughout our cities. We have school district borders, we have tax districts, we have incorporated cities, we have age-segregated communities that have set themselves up as a little micro-city where they keep all their taxes inside. And that's really the main function of our borders today is they serve administrative functions. They allow us to identify where resources go to, who collects taxes from who, and at the same time we move freely between these and there's never any conflict. You don't have to take out a government ID to go from your high school to your middle school. You don't have to take out a separate county ID to go visit the neighboring one. We move freely every single day between countless borders, yet we still maintain our administrative institutions, and our bureaucracies that benefit from those borders. So the idea that the political border somehow acts differently, makes no sense. It's a ... I don't know where the idea comes from, David.
[1:14:06] Let me let me run with this for a second here, Daniel, because I think you're really onto something. And that's the fact that in the very recent bit of human history, as we've moved away from our agricultural forefathers and find ourselves increasingly disconnected from the land, we have all become, at least mentally, nomads. And nomads are important in the larger conversation of this border talk. Because the historical nomads that we've seen around the world, the Tuareg, the Bedouin, the Maasai, these types of people, they break the current systems. And states don't know how to react to them. In some cases they've been allowed to pass through these borders sort of porously, in other cases they've been genocided because they had the gall to live a life that they have for thousands of years. In other cases they've been confined, forced to move into sedentary lives, towns built for them, and if they leave those they face punishment, because their idea of 'I want to live how my forefathers have,' experiencing the land as one continuous piece, is not compatible with our modern Westphalian idea of sovereignty.
[1:15:12] But increasingly I find that each and every one of us are becoming mental nomads. I don't own a piece of property, and I am guessing that most of our listeners don't either. I rent, right. I'm not tied to a single place anymore. I can very easily end my rent here, get up and move to another city, in fact it's something I've done before. Increasingly I find myself connected to people who are all around the world. Places like the Internet have no borders, in a very strict sense like we're thinking about with these maps. I can communicate to people all over. I have ideas that are occurring from Europe, from China, from Australia, from Africa. All these ideas are coming together and I can read and talk to people who are living these different lives. We are global citizens increasingly, but we are finding ourselves increasingly unable to experience this in a very physical sense, though we are mentally more than ever prepared to make this nomadic life where we travel without these borders the way that we were meant to.
[1:16:10] Instead, we are thinking more like this, but finding ourselves unable to, increasingly as time goes on.
[1:16:18] And there are efforts to try and reimagine this. I want to really point to the EU just for one moment, the Schengen Zone, the ability to move between different countries in this zone, without borders, without passport controls - from France to Germany, from Germany to Italy. These sorts of ideas where we can have this cross communication of people, of free ideas, of economic exchange, this has been huge in turning this area into a vibrant community, into a global continent community. And though there are concerns, and fears and stuff, this has been, for the most part, a resounding success. And whether the EU will fall apart in the future or not is to do with other things besides the free movement of people (with ideas of sovereignty and treaties and things). But the fact that even things like Brexit, where they're threatening to separate from this but we still want to have the ability to freely move, shows how viral this idea is, how important it's become to the people of this larger community. Because once you have the ability to move freely and you can understand what that's like, it is the last thing you want to give up. And that's why we are increasingly seeing more control being laid down to prevent us from ever tasting this ability. Because once you realize what it's like to truly be free, physically free, to enjoy the freedom of movement that only our forefathers had, then that's something that you'll fight for, because it's something that's fundamental to being human and living in this larger community as a global citizen.
[1:17:48] And one more example of kind of the ridiculousness and the absurdities of all this border contrivances is, the indigenous nations that exist on the margins of these borders that don't recognize them. In the United States, for example, there are countless indigenous nations and people who straddle the US/Mexico border, the US/Canada border, and even the borders between US/Canada and Eastern Russia. And so what's interesting is that it's a recognized human right for indigenous nations to determine their own citizens, yet when our borders intersect those nations we don't necessarily allow the free movement of those indigenous citizens within their own nation - to visit each other, and to hold Council, and perform the government services that they ostensibly have - which seems to contradict this international idea of human rights.
[1:18:44] And so, as a result though, some indigenous nations have negotiated with border patrol. The Ktunaxa, for example, they're a people that straddle the US/Canadian border. They're primarily in British Columbia on the Canadian side, but they frequently have Councils where they need all their people to come together, and so they've created these passports for themselves and they've put the US Border and the Canadian Border Patrol on notice, saying, 'Hey, our people are crossing the border and we have issued them these temporary passports and you need to let them through.'
[1:19:21] And there's been some pushback, but for the most part they've been successful in this, and so many other indigenous nations have done the same. The Iroquois, for example, has sent a lacrosse team that represents their nation all over the world to compete in these tournaments, and they travel on the Iroquois-issued passport. And what's interesting is that in that passport - just like we here in the United States have a line in our passport that says you renounce US citizenship if you, you know, do x or y, or declare it as so - well in the Iroquois passport they say you lose citizenship to our nation if you become a citizen of any other nation. So, in a sense these indigenous people are not US citizens if we are recognizing their right to create their own citizens. And it's kind of this admission by these Western powers that it's all kind of a game, that anyone could potentially identify themselves as a sovereign people and create their own citizenship papers.
[1:20:25] Well, I like the word there, "game," and I want to talk about that real quick. But on one hand, you know, I'm really excited for these native people who are able to assert their independence.
[1:20:37] Yeah, it's really cool.
[1:20:38] And on the other hand I'm sort of disappointed that they are forced into playing this passport game along with the rest of us, and then, you know, we can't imagine something better, so you have to play along. But, I mean, this passport system really is a game, and in any game there are winners and losers, and some passports are better than others. You can find a ranking to see how many countries your passport allows you into, and if, you know, you're Germany you're really well off. And I have a friend who's Palestinian, and a Palestinian passport is basically worthless - you can get into something like 14 or so, or 20, I don't remember how many countries, off of that, and that gets you basically nowhere. And so trying to travel is impossible - even if you have the means to, countries don't want you. And yes, you can get visas and stuff, but it's a difficult process. And he spends a vast majority of his time in embassies talking to diplomat friends to try and get them to do favors for him, because it is the reality that there are winners and losers in this passport system. But again, even worse in all of this, and illustrating just how ridiculous these games that we're all playing is, is if you are from a country that you don't like the passport of, well lucky you, you can buy citizenship in several countries.
[1:21:50] So, say you are unfortunately from Palestine (and I'm sorry for all our Palestinian listeners out there but, I'm sorry, you are also, you know, carrying that passport) but you're wildly successful, you make a lot of money. You can go and buy citizenship to Cyprus for two and a half million Euros. Now you're a Cypriot, you have a passport from Cyprus, and you are free to travel all the places that that passport gets you into - it's a better passport, a higher score. And this really shows just how artificial these things that we've created, that seem so fundamental to the way that we relate to our world and our nations that we're born into. You're not just born an American, you're not just born a Palestinian, you're just born in a place, and we apply all these things and these ideas to control the way that you interact with each other and with the rest of the world. And the fact that you can go and just shift your allegiance by buying something - not even, you know, applying for citizenship, living somewhere, and being naturalized and all that, which shows some sort of, maybe, a process of, like, you're learning to be something else - but no, you can just go in and buy this citizenship from several countries. It shows just how artificial this system is, and how if you are wealthy enough, and powerful enough, you don't have to play by the rules that are being forced onto everyone else.
[1:23:05] So why do we have this system in place right now? Well, it's because it enables this global exploitation that we see. We've talked about this before, especially in our Slaves episodes, where capital is allowed to move freely but people are not. And that allows you to easily exploit those people, and other nations. Whether you're coming into a nation like Bangladesh, where you can take these people and work them to the bone by bringing in your foreign capital but making sure that you're paying them barely anything, taking their goods, exporting them freely through this free trade system to whatever country you want to, and selling it for the markup, making all that money. Whether you are importing workers from another country, say, bringing them in from Bangladesh, or wherever, into, I don't know, the United Arab Emirates, to build your soccer stadiums, to build your hotels, your massive things, and taking away their passports in this process - and this is something that happens all the time, we've talked about it before, both of them.
[1:23:56] Yeah, we talked about that on Episode 36 and 37 "Slaves to Progress," "Logistics of Slavery."
[1:24:02] Exactly. It happens in the Middle East, it happens in the United States, it happens in our fishing vessels. You take away their passports and you take away somebody's ability to escape a bad situation. This happens all the time, especially in human trafficking and sex trafficking. And people are stuck because of the ways that we've established these rules about who is allowed to move where. If we can't identify you, if we don't know where you're from, you can't cross that border and you are trapped, you are slave. Because these borders that we've created, ostensibly to save us from crime, we have created an entirely new class of crime that would not exist without the permission a passport is supposed to give you.
[1:24:38] Everything around borders, David, is a contradiction - supposed to protect us, but in reality is a tool for enslavement and violence. You know, I want to come back, real quick, to what you were saying about how you can purchase citizenship and how if you're wealthy you can get around these borders. And, you know, coming back to the fear that so many people have of people crossing our borders, right, this idea of a border separates ‘us versus them’ and "them" are dangerous, they want to come into our country, they want to take from us, they want to erode our culture and all of this. But what's really interesting is that, so take American citizens for example, we don't really move ourselves. You know, it's not that simple to move even if you have the freedom to do so. It's not always the most convenient thing in the world, you know, people have jobs, they have families, they have hometowns, they have places that they're tied to. Let me read real quick from a 2015 New York Times article where the author writes, "The typical American adult lives only 18 miles from his or her mother, according to an Upshot analysis of data from a comprehensive survey of older Americans. And over the last few decades, Americans have become less mobile, and most adults - especially those with less education or lower incomes - do not venture far from their hometowns. Only 20% live more than a couple of hours' drive from their parents. And, with the exception of college or military service, 37% of Americans had never lived outside their hometown, and 57% had never lived outside their home state."
[1:26:21] And what's interesting about this to me, David, is that not only have Americans become less mobile, but the least mobile classes are those with lower incomes and education, which are the very classes of people that border security propaganda attempts to vilify and surround with fear. You know, the president isn't telling us that we should be afraid of the rich Latin American oligarchs from coming into our country and exploiting our labor base, he's telling us to fear homeless people, you know, the poor, the uneducated, they're going to invade our country. And what's even more ironic about this is that Westerners, in general, belong to one of the most mobile and least rooted cultures on the planet. Like you were saying, David, most of us, if we live in cities, we're used to just picking up and moving. Less so if you're in a rural area, but across-the-board, on average, Western societies are more mobile. And what's significant about that to me is that while we are the most mobile, we are paradoxically the most paranoid about invasions from hordes of these poor people coming from other cultural backgrounds. Cultural backgrounds which tend to be more rooted anyway, these cultures that put a larger emphasis on familial relationships, on cultural ties, on the importance of place.
[1:27:45] And so, again, just going back to that point, that baseless argument, that if we were to somehow open up our borders, our systems would collapse and people would invade our countries, it's simply not true. We don't even move ourselves within, you know, this land of opportunity as it is, right.
[1:28:02] Right. And time and time again we have demonstrated that people want to move, they're going to come despite the walls or not. And in places where we have relaxed these borders, like in the EU, it hasn't been economic collapse, it's been prosperity. We are increasingly facing global catastrophes, global problems that need to be solved as a global community. At the same time we're creating stronger and stronger walls, limitations on these borders. Our facial recognition technology is finding its way creeping into all places of the world, so that even when you're outside the bounds of your own nation you are still being tracked. This is a world that is splitting in two directions, one of increased hyper-alienation on a national scale, and one where we need to come together more than ever to fight these problems collectively. The solution is not gonna be border walls, building them up to keep people out, to keep yourself safe for another year longer before the hordes invariably overwhelm you. The solution is to get rid of these borders now, to build that global community and stop trying to deny things individually, but come and fight them together.
[1:29:07] Yeah, yeah. You know, David, recently, you know, I was just thinking, because I started volunteering with an organization that assists refugees, and the thought just crossed my mind, like, in the event of some crisis or some economic disaster, like, what type of community would we want to be around. Do we want to be around, like, the selfish, individualized person that our entrepreneurial-focused culture tries to make us out to be? Do we want our neighbors to be these, like, hyper-competitive, like, I'm out to out-grind you and be successful while you're lazy? Like, you know, what kind of people do we want to be surrounded by when shit hits the fan and all of a sudden we don't have any political, economic, or social, like, large institutions to support us?
[1:30:02] And I was thinking about this in the context of me volunteering with this organization, it was like wow, I think I would rather be around the type of people who have learned to build up this type of resilience, who have struggled to move and who, you know, who have had to uproot themselves but found the strength to keep going, who have maintained these familial ties, who have come to a new place and established communities and figured out how to survive. Those are the type of people we would want to be around anyway, right David? I mean, that's not something that we would fear. I feel more fear from the types of people that our culture is encouraging, this hyper-competitive, like, 'the only thing that matters is money' type of people where, okay, well then when the economic system collapses and we don't have that money as a way to, you, know get our basic services, what do we have? Do we have mutual aid? Do we have a cultural standard for taking care of each other, for lending support to our brother, our sister, our neighbor? These are concepts that ultimately boil down to skills that we've kind of abandoned in Western culture and society, I think. I don't know, I'm just thinking aloud here, but it seems like, like you said, the world is going to experience macro shocks, no matter what.
[1:31:21] It doesn't matter if we build a hundred foot wall, a thousand foot, a mile high wall, we're not gonna stop the hurricanes, we're not gonna stop the drought, we're not gonna stop the heat, we're not gonna stop a climate refugee crisis. But if we learn to be a part of communities that take care of each other, that support each other, then we can absorb those shocks, we can be resilient in the face of these challenges. And that's gonna require, though, that we abandon this ‘us versus them’ mentality. It's gonna require us to stop drawing lines in the sand, sand that's gonna wash away from rising seas anyway. It's gonna require us to shift our perspective to one that, you know, we're not people that need to be carving up the Earth, we're not people that need to be distributing the land, we are a people that are already distributed on the land.
[1:32:12] Well I want to take a concept here, Daniel, with this final story and as we close out this episode, and the idea of no man's land. It's an old term, it came from the Domesday Book as far as I can tell, when land didn't belong to anybody. We saw it repurposed in the tragedies of World War I, of the land of death between the trenches, of two borders fighting between each other. But it's also come to mean a land between borders now. Sometimes you've been through them, you know that space, you cross a line, so you're now leaving Florida, travel a little bit, welcome to Georgia. These exist between nations as well, sometimes for military purposes, other times just for convenience. And I had a friend, I asked a lot of friends about these borders over the past couple weeks, asked them for stories, and thoughts and ideas. Like I said, this is a show that we've been working on for a long time. Now, that friend who told me a story about a no man's land, she's Macedonian, and she told me of a place between the border of Macedonia and Albania. It's right on the beach, there's a white fence on either side with about a hundred meters of sand in between. And Macedonians and Albanians would come here, hop the fence from their respective country, and walk down on the beach, sit on the sea together, on this nice beach, Macedonians, Albanians hanging out in this no man's land.
[1:33:33] And I really like that image. And I yearn for a world where it's all a no man's land. Where we can all come together, and sit on the beach, and relax, and not be a Macedonian, or not be an Albanian, or an American, or whatever, but just people enjoying this Earth together. As always, it's lot to think about. But think about it we hope you will. And as we close out with these credits, here's some music from the nomads of the desert. You can find more information about all these borders, you can see some of these maps that we've talked about, as well as read a full transcript of this episode on our website at ashesashes.org.
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[1:35:11] We're also on your favorite social media network at ashesashescast. What did we say we're doing next week, Philanthropy? Next week we're taking these questions of what we can do to help each other and help the world, and revealing, well, you know, everything might not be as good there as we thought, either. And we hope you'll tune in for that.
[1:35:34] But until then this is Ashes Ashes. Bye
[1:35:39] Bye Bye