Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Something there is that does love a wall

SOMETHING there is that doesn't love a wall, 
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, 
And spills the upper boulders in the sun; 
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast............................Robert Frost, Mending Wall 

For the scientifically inclined, that something is entropy. But walls are everywhere the signature of life, so there are also things that do love walls. Cell walls, skins, snail shells, termite mounds, farmers fences and the Great Wall of China are all fashioned to keep order inside and disorder out. An Anthropology professor once told me that every culture draws a wall around itself.

Culture walls are fashioned not from stone or chitin, but from elements of culture: language, religion, endogamy rules, shared myths and prejudices, taboos, tattoos, and tribal insignia.

Did I mention that this post is about Donald Trump? I think the heart of his appeal is the culture war currently underway in the US and elsewhere. The national culture, as it existed in myth and reality, was based on religion, family, sex roles, and jobs, on the farm or in the store or factory. It incorporated elements of sexism, racism, homophobia, and a naive sort of nationalism. The nation has always had a more cosmopolitan elite, hardly immune to the sort of ignorant prejudices of larger nation but at least slightly more aware of and tolerant of diversity. Enclaves of other cultures existed, especially in cities, but were largely isolated from the rest of the country.

Television and other national media changed that. Big box stores and globalization brought the world to every small town. Television brought blacks and gays and other challenges to the traditional order to every living room or kitchen. Meanwhile science told us that much of our religious and other myths were fabrications. Our elites told us to embrace multiculturalism.

This, I think, flatly ignores human nature. I think that we instinctively protect our culture and reject others. Donald Trump's coarseness and rejection of conventional values appeals to those who wish to fight back against cultural change, however wrongheadedly. His ridiculous wall with Mexico means more as metaphor than potential reality - it's seen as a wall against the wave of cultural change that is sweeping through the nation and the world.

The fact that it would be as useless against the one as the other doesn't matter to those who reject science and government statistics.