P.O.V. kicked off the discussion by asking
Dan 6 initial questions, the same 6 we are asking all the featured
P.O.V.: In your work, you consider the notion of 'borders.' What
is a border to you?
Dan: A border is a basic unit of understanding around which all
human and natural activities are organized. Borders are fundamental
to our perceptions, framing our understanding to enable us to interact
with our world. They allow the survival of all individuals, families,
groups, tribes and nations. They permit diversity to exist (otherwise
every place would feel the same). Borders create variety and interest.
As far as nations go, borders frame a people bounded by a common
history, culture, language and tradition fulfilled by a common sense
of purpose, duty and destiny. Borders are a necessary part of human
existence, and on a practical level, effective democratic self-governance.
In immigrating internationally, some people try to "cut and
run," crossing borders rather than working to improve their
situations at home. Ironically, those factors that might attract
someone to cross a border illegally are often attributes made possible
only by the very existence of the borders themselves.
P.O.V.: What's an important border that you've crossed in your
Dan: In 1978 I passed through Checkpoint Charlie, a famous official
border crossing station between West and Soviet-controlled East
Berlin demonstrating a stark contrast between two ways of
life, two political philosophies and two views of personal freedom.
The transition was stark. That's when I realized that people will
hate borders when borders are used either as prisons to keep people
inside an area against their will, or more commonly
when they feel they have nothing of value (geographically, culturally,
historically or financially) to lose by their abolition.
P.O.V.: If you could erase any border in your
world, what would it be?
Dan: I'll be practical. The use of labels and epithets in public
discourse deployed as a convenient barrier to the meaningful exchange
of ideas. You can recognize them by their suffixes: "
ism." I would also like to erase the barriers
that prevent true multi-party democracy in the US, especially the
current two-party monopoly control over the nation's primary system.
P.O.V.: When and how are borders useful?
Dan: There are so many kinds of borders, and they are essential
to our epistemologies our theories of how we understand our world
and indeed to our very human survival in all its dimensions.
Borders are limits that provide the center of gravity for personal
and community action, even in the charitable realm: discriminatory
altruism practiced by all charitable entities is effective
because it promotes the conservation of resources. You have to choose
how you can help within the practical limits of available resources.
Promiscuous altruism however appealing to the ideological or doctrinal
mind so dilutes the distribution of resources that it is functionally
Borders form the basis of social cohesion, social action and the
maintenance of social justice, for the efficient allocation of natural
and material resources, for sustaining societal action indeed
the entire frame of reference for democratic action. Borders provide
the protection around which an overpopulated world can protect wilderness
and endangered species.
Man-made borders are essential to maintain and develop civilization
including those that define private property itself. Borders are
important in the modern nation state; indeed as Vattel said in his
Law of Nations, control over borders is the very definition of sovereignty.
It provides the center of gravity for the nation states and tribal
forms to cohere. Borders define jurisdiction, responsibility and
accountability for group and governmental actions. For nations and
tribes, borders define the framework of cultural cohesion, forming
the foundation on which the nation can survive.
Borders define and order our mental images to enable us to apply
mental forms to the world we perceive. Borders frame the common
and substantial forms in the mind that organize and guide our sense
perception. These mental borders enable us to grasp the significance
of the visual signals that our mind processes. Without these visual
distinctions this discrimination between objects we would be
unable to interact and survive in our physical world.
Beyond this, borders define the essence of effective personal and
social action. As children, we resist the imposition of "ego
boundaries" by our parents hoping we can remain the center
of the world forever and yet an acceptance of them provides the
core foundation for social maturation. Borders provide the basis
for discriminating between safe and unsafe conditions, situations
and substances. These boundary limitations also provide the borders
that define groups and family members borders that have assisted
in assuring human survival for millions of years.
Natural geologic borders define patterns in earlier topographical
shifts and movements. They define beginnings and ends, limits and
prisons. Biologically, borders define individual cells, which through
the mediating influence of permeable barriers enable the human
body to survive (with a breach in that wall causing the death of
Borders can provide challenges for the intrepid to surmount, encouraging
us to move beyond our known limits and reach new heights. In the
end, they are essential to every aspect of the world we live in
and the substance from which we are made.
P.O.V.: This episode of P.O.V.'s Borders concentrates on borders
as a physical reality, in terms of people moving from one place
to another and having to cross mental and literal borders to do
that. What, in your experience, is the most contested border?
Dan: Clearly it is the border defining control over essential natural
resources, like arable land, water and oil. Violence erupts over
land border disputes when tribes seek to defend an ancestral land
claim or holy land. There are also contested borders between languages,
religion and culture amidst rapidly growing population groups competing
for dominance, power and control over all these elements.
P.O.V.: Expand our borders. What's a book, movie, piece of music,
website, etc. that challenges or engages with the idea of 'borders'
that we should know about but perhaps don't?
Dan: Garrett Hardin's Limits to Growth (Oxford University
Press 1993) provides a mature exposition on the value of borders
and a practical sense of nature's limits.
An interesting piece of music is Duke Ellington's Harlem Air
Shaft (1940, RCA), demonstrating how the borders on one building
indeed just the sounds coming from the building's airshaft can
define a whole community of voices and feelings having their origins