Interesting ideas interspersed with nonsense - RSS - by nikhil bhatla, -
Home Archives January 2007

« Top 11 Books - Stop Bugging Me »
Walls of Wealth
Jan 16, 2007, 10:58a - Culture

Why do we build walls?

As early as the 3rd century BC with the Great Wall of China, wealthy civilizations have made it their business to erect physical barriers for what they saw to be encroachments on their territory. Land is second only to human capital as the greatest source of wealth and power. We see the instinct to build walls extending to the present with a wall between Israel and Palestine and a fence between the US and Mexico. Yet we exalt in the destruction of walls, be them physical, such as the Berlin Wall, or metaphorical, such as the signing of a trade treaty.

It is the rich that wall off the poor, the haves that build bulwarks to protect their wealth from the sideway glances of those suspicious-looking have-nots. I guess this makes sense at first - once you have enough on one side of a line, a wall can be more liberating than imprisoning. The walls of our houses provide for both privacy and security. Yet it's a fine line to walk. I know one woman who, having acquired the large enclosed territory of a 4-bedroom single-family abode in Santa Monica, finds herself frightened by the massively walled space. At night when her husband is away, she locks herself with her two children in her bedroom and turns on the motion-sensor security system for the rest of the house. She is so frightened by her territory that she cannot even use it. Good thing she doesn't have a dog or a cat, else she'd have to lock them in with her as well. Granted, she feels safe in a smaller enclosed space, but the drives of material excess seem to be decreasing her sense of security rather than increasing it.

Walls, either intentionally or not, can easily slip into prisons. China's wall-building tendencies have most recently found expression in what is known as the "Golden Shield" to the Chinese, or the Great Firewall to the rest of us. What's protection for one (the ruling elite of China) is imprisonment for another (the rest of the Chinese population). This wall is used not so much to keep wealth in, but to protect a significant source of Chinese elite wealth, an obedient populace, from knowledge from the outside world. The war for the hearts and minds of a society is fought in the space of emotion, rhetoric, and information, and at some point, soon or in the distance, the pressure from both the outside and the inside will cause this wall to crumble.

I guess I'm not against walls in general, just walls that surround emptiness and walls that imprison those who should not be.

If land is the most precious physical resource in the world and you have so much of it, why not share it? Population densities outside cities are so low that it seems like a shame not to share our land wealth with those around us. Given that this land was taken forcibly and our "right" to it is therefore questionable, sharing also seems like the least we can do to repay past grievances. We are the richest country history has yet to see, yet we still feel the need to hoard and protect those riches. We should learn to be a bit more compassionate, I feel.

Why are people who have their needs and more met still so materialistic? Where is the ambition and drive beyond just earning more money? It sickens me, seeing people who are certainly not in need sacrificing themselves at the altar of greed for greater hedonism.

While walking to take my GRE at Berkeley High School, I passed a banner atop a Buddhist temple that read, "Before world peace comes inner peace." We all want world peace, and an effort toward personal inner piece seems like the best way for each and every one of us to help achieve it. It seems to me that inner peace starts with reigning in our instinct for greed and our instinct to protect that which has been acquired through greed.

I wish we would decide to want to not want, learn how to not want, and finally, want no longer.

No comments - Write 1st Comment

« Top 11 Books - Stop Bugging Me »

Come back soon! Better yet, stay up-to-date with RSS and an RSS Reader. Creative Commons License