Borders, biopolitics, and the welfare state

A long FB post about the evils of borders by my old mentor, Doc M., bothered me. If you simplify things to the point where you’re saying “oh, borders are plain bad because they separate people who are all basically the same” you win points as a kind-hearted humanitarian, but you don’t win the debate. You must also historicize, acknowledge that there are inequalities created by states on both sides of that border, and acknowledge that these were created not entirely out of some malicious desire to divide people. Rather, many borders are more than symbolic and represent material advantages (in terms of resources and even social values) that were fought for long and hard, and which need to be maintained, e.g., the welfare state.

I think Esposito would say that the modern nation state’s obsession with borders is part of a immunitary reaction that is literally and figuratively pathological–and that we developed this condition over time by over-emphasis on race and biological difference. 20th cent. US eugenics movement WASPs successfully pushed an idea of identity based on racial exclusion, one that succeeded because it played on fears about health, public safety, and race. However bad that is, I don’t think it means we should eliminate all borders and allow unlimited immigration, since such a move would surely ruin the US economy and create social turmoil. In short, pretending the immune system of the country doesn’t or shouldn’t exist is naive horseshit.

Citizenship and diversity are luxuries, so Roman law was always aimed at increasing Gaul’s living conditions while gradually expanding the franchise in that direction. In the US, one way to solve our problem would be to follow the Latin example and help boost Mexico out of poverty, while at the same time marking a clear path to citizenship for those illegals already living in US. This would not only benefit the US-Mexico relationship, it would help maintain (or re-establish rather) the US welfare state and develop toward a less pathological society, i.e., one where the Other is respected and neighborly relations can be established. In Esposito’s immuno-jargon, promoting friendship and trust between the two countries would be one way to “innoculate” folks on both sides of the border and help stamp out this fear of hispanic contamination.

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