When it comes to solv­ing bor­der prob­lems, the an­swer is to build a bridge, not a wall

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY AN­DREW FIALA

The wall has stopped up our gov­ern­ment. This is not sur­pris­ing. Walls pre­vent things from mov­ing. Trumpians in­sist on the wall. A ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans don’t want it. And so we have hit a wall, stuck in a dis­pute that is a sym­bol of our di­vided coun­try.

The na­ture of a wall is to di­vide things. Sym­bolic dis­putes wall us off from one an­other. For the pres­i­dent’s fans, the wall is a sym­bol of Trumpian po­tency and the re­solve to make Amer­ica great. For op­po­nents of the wall, it is a sym­bol of Trump’s in­flated ego and a closed-minded form of Amer­i­can­ism.

The pres­i­dent made the sym- bolic na­ture of the wall clear when he tweeted an im­age of him­self with a “Game of Thrones”-style slo­gan, “The Wall is Com­ing.” Trump sees him­self as the hero in a mytho­log­i­cal strug­gle. This sym­bol­ism makes it clear why there is no room for com­pro­mise. In “Game of Thrones,” the Machi­avel­lian spirit pre­vails. Com­pro­mise is for the weak. Only the strong sur­vive.

A wall stands for power and strength. Walls are solid and me­dieval. A wall is built of earth and stone and ice. It is a sym­bol of hard­ness and re­solve. The word “wall” has Ger­manic ori­gins. It sounds like wealth, well­be­ing and war. Walls rep­re­sent the power of em­pires. The Ro­mans built walls, as did the Chi­nese. Cas­tles have walls, tow­ers, ram­parts and para­pets.

A fence, by con­trast, is nim­ble and light. The word “fence” is re­lated to the word de­fense. A fence sounds fancy, flighty and ef­fete. A fence can be jumped. But a wall must be scaled. A fence is some­thing you sit on, when you are un­de­cided. A wall is more stub­born. It is some­thing you put your back against in a fight to the death.

Walls are built to im­press. The project au­thor­ity. The power of a wall is not only as a phys­i­cal bar­rier. It is also a sign to the bar­bar­ians to stay away.

But a wall is only a tem­po­rary so­lu­tion to on­go­ing en­mity. Jeri­cho’s walls even­tu­ally came tum­bling down. The Great Wall of China was breached. The Maginot Line failed to pro­tect France. And the Siegfried Line (the Ger­man “West­wall”) did not pro­tect the Nazis.

The prob­lem of a wall is that pro­vokes envy and an­i­mos­ity. Peo­ple want ac­cess to what’s on the other side. A wall says you can’t have what we have. But since the time of Joshua, peo­ple have not heeded this mes­sage.

Walls al­ways have two sides. Trump’s wall is in­tended to keep peo­ple out. But the Ber­lin Wall was used to keep peo­ple in

and Amer­i­can pres­i­dents wanted to tear it down. In Is­rael, the wall di­vid­ing Is­raelis from Pales­tini­ans is clean and calm­ing. On the Pales­tinian side, the wall is cov­ered with graf­fiti protest­ing a sym­bol of op­pres­sion. And so it goes.

In the long run, na­ture ruins ev­ery wall. I’ve walked on the Great Wall of China in places where the roots of trees and vines have pried apart the stones. Earthquakes and storms also do their dam­age. Walls must not only be built. They must also be re­built and main­tained.

This is the theme of Robert Frost’s poem, “Mend­ing Wall.” The poet sees some­thing ab­surd in the way we keep mend­ing our walls, when na­ture con­spires against them. A proverb tells us that “fences make good neigh­bors.” But the poet says, “Some­thing there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.”

So a wall does not only stand for one thing. Like all sym­bols, walls are am­biva­lent. They unite us and pro­tect us. But they also pro­voke us and di­vide us.

From a philo­soph­i­cal point of view, walls are ul­ti­mately sym­bols of hubris and fu­til­ity. One gen­er­a­tion builds a wall. But even­tu­ally some­one scales the wall and tears it down. And so it goes, from Jeri­cho to Ber­lin.

Hu­man be­ings keep bang­ing our heads against the wall of divi­sion and an­i­mos­ity. The long-term so­lu­tion is fewer walls and more bridges. It is bridges that get things mov­ing, while walls get in the way. But so far we are not wise enough to see the writ­ing on the wall.

An­drew Fiala is a pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy and di­rec­tor of The Ethics Cen­ter at Fresno State: @Phi­los­o­phyFiala


Peo­ple pass bor­der wall pro­to­types in San Diego near Ti­juana, Mex­ico, in Oc­to­ber 2017. In the poem “Mend­ing Wall,” Robert Frost sees some­thing ab­surd in the way we keep mend­ing our walls, when na­ture con­spires against them. Frost wrote, “Some­thing there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.”

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