A border is an interesting thing. As per my post on ‘would you die for a country?’ you’ll realise a border is no more than an imagined line in our minds. That’s possibly why we have so many issues with borders such as recognition of borders and so on. One party sees the line go here while the other person sees it go there. At best, a border is an administrative boundary of some form plus a tribal statement of ownership.
See the image below – three countries intersect. Imagined or actual?
Now, strictly speaking… in the physical world there actually are no borders. Oddly, even hardnosed atheists who can’t fathom the meaning of ‘god’ can stomach the meaning of a country. Whilst ‘god’ may actually have more ‘evidence’ of existence than countries and borders they continue to believe in border crossing agents authority over them.
Some borders are like dynamite [India-Pakistan, Israel-West Bank]. Other borders are just ready to go to war… [North-South Korea]. In all these cases humans pay close attention to the border… because it has wider consequences… in other words, tons of humans will willingly die and kill for it – maybe even dragging other humans into the process. Worse still, the environmental impact can be very, very serious too if humans start throwing nuclear, atomic or biological weapons at one another.
To be clear we are not talking about religions, nations or countries per se… [although they too are related, somewhat because they also form part of our human imagination stream] but the focus here is on the actual border line. In other words, the political map of the world.
That world political map – fake news at its finest
The map you may know from popular culture is shown above. It was designed in Europe. It’s got Europe slap-bang at the center. Interesting still, the northern hemisphere is disproportionately larger than the southern one. Europe [including Russia, Canada – and Greenland] is so huge that Greenland often appears to be of the same size as the entire continent of Africa. India and Brazil look tiny compared to what they should be per the physical reality shown by satellites and so on… This in the most technical of terms is known popularly as “fake news” but of course no one thinks so because they are so used to seeing this image. Its about power projection so that the ‘physical reality’ gets distorted enough to create a ‘mental reality’ that helps small European countries match up to the likes of Russia, China and India.
Bias and more fakeness – Falkland Islands and Kashmir
The above map of India shows an interesting paradox. The Kashmir section of the map of India shows odd shades of colour and dotted lines indicating dispute between neighbours. Now, if you grow up in India, like I did, that’s not what the school text books or the maps on TV show you. There is a definitive map of the state of Jammu and Kashmir shown in Indian school textbooks. However, the Pakistanis have their own map while China has its own map. It’s obvious why non India news companies/ other countries etc. may be tempted to trigger the ‘if it displeases all parties it’s probably right’ move. It does not side with anyone and shows the areas as disputed.
But if that were true should not every map highlight all the disputes?
Take a look at a map of Northern Ireland in 1995 – that was never shown as a ‘dotted line’ with the Republic to the south and the Falkland Islands were always a part of the UK and not Argentina… and nor were they ever called Islas Malvinas as the Argentine government call those islands. Clearly the most widespread version of the political map out there is the Anglo version where you’d modify your important parts and leave the rest. The Argentine one obviously does not show the Malvinas as part of the UK.
The treaty of Westphalia
To me, this event in 1648 to end the Thirty Years War in Europe marks the beginning of the notion [or, nation!] of ‘sovereignty‘ – the idea is – up to this imagined line is my stuff and beyond that line if your headache. You don’t mess with me and I don’t mess with you as long as you don’t walk into my space, or else!
Prior to that Treaty all such concepts remained very arbitrary with rulers controlling city states and areas. There was simply a lot of ‘space’ between rulers and ruled. In addition, there were just less people around back then and of those people most were just simply unaccounted for, worthless, undocumented pheasants.
This means if you were the Queen of England in 1555 [as Mary I was the Queen] you’d be Queen in name and celebrity but you had limited ‘power’ in the physical land and in the minds [mental structures] of the people. Often the people were mostly poor, ill-educated and just living by with short often harsh lives. Who’s really worried about the drama elsewhere? That drama was the problem for the landed nobility.
Since humans are amazing at re-wiring history… When borders were invented in the 1600s at Westphalia – people began wondering what borders may have used to look like in the past. Eventually bright sparks began painting around the Nile in Egypt saying thats the border with the civilization there then here is what the Greeks controlled and here were the Romans… after Europe they began to imagine similar borders in Asia etc. As you go further back in both recorded and oral human history – the idea of borders and sovereignty in history gets more wishy-washy so the imposition of borders over the past is simply to fill educational gaps we think we need and create a new future history of the past.
In the years after 1648, the Europeans continued to break the imagined borders for years by invading each other willy nilly.
European expansionism and borders
How did these ideas got exported from what is now a region in Germany [Westphalia] to the rest of the world? As Imperial powers, the Europeans, took their ideas with them. The British, for example, landed in Bengal and there is literally no way such a small group of white Britishers could ‘rule’ the roost over that many Bengalies then the all that sub continental landmass without controlling the mindset. Of course, other factors were at play like ‘divide and rule’ or keeping the local princes in place and playing on the Indian obsession of the superiority of the ‘white skin’ [that’s a controversial statement but I think it’s true].
The British offered the Indian princes [in return for tax and homage] a new mindset:
- Make them feel part of something bigger [the British Empire]
- Pay tax, provide troops and keep your privileges
- The British race is more superior, accept that and we’ll let you administer your affairs
For the Indian princes it was a boon
- Hindus could avoid being overrun by the Muslims
- Muslims could avoid being overrun by the Hindus
- You still ruled as long as you paid homage to the masters
- Part of something bigger and you could become a ‘Sir’ or something
- You were just fine
But also, the British along with their European counterparts [and also competitors] brought the concepts of Westphalia with them. They drew borders and painted a land mass split between them. They convinced and agreed with each other what colour they were on that map thus those borders.
It was said the sun never set on the British Empire. Are we really considering that to be the case? I call bull on that one. The planners in Westminster were simply good illusionists. What control did anyone in 1908 London have over millions in India, the land mass of Baffin Island [in Canada] or the land of Queensland [now in Australia]? Zero is the answer. No one wanted to go to Baffin Island. Even today what control does Ottawa have over Baffin Island [it’s up by the North Pole]? Not that much. The British just painted it all pink after some snappy chappy showed up and put a Union Jack on some permafrost.
Just because the British were great illusionists does not mean they were the ‘bad guys’. Far from it – why not hoodwink if others were fine with accepting the nonsense? If someone is giving me a million acres of land in exchange for a few titles and a couple of maps? Why not?
These borders were such powerful a ‘thing’ that when independence eventually came the ruled actually needed official ‘independence‘ from the colonial powers. This meant lowering the flag, moving out the civil servants, the troops and so on. Mostly it meant the controlling power accepting they need to go – be it with grace [Canada], with war [USA], with bloodshed [India-Pakistan], with malicious intent [Africa, Middle East] etc.
Once independent many of these newly free governments suddenly went from the idea of arbitrary borders to a world with borders and discovered the fine art of border dispute management and building something insane such as a ‘nation state’… national flags, a national bird, national anthems and all that hogwash.
That brings us to today.
The post-Westphalian border system
The American empire after the Cold War is kinda odd. The US does not want the headache of controlling the natives but it does want ‘forward military bases’. Their goal is to protect the mainland by having clear blue water from the barbarians. Forward bases in Europe [NATO] and Japan/ South Korea gives them the illusion of control across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and makes them [the US] feel safer. The barbarians were no longer at the gate… so if you want a war first you attack our proxies [Europe/ S. Korea/ Japan] then cross the oceans before you can touch the homeland [Mexico is the only real US border – Canada is another US proxy].
That US safety myth was broken initially with Pearl Harbour [thus the need to move the border to Japan itself] then with 9/11 and the advent of the ‘global jihad’. The so-called non state actors don’t care about oceans and other peoples countries – they attack individuals directly – so the forward bases and oceanic stuff was quickly flushed down the toilet. The biggest downside of this US government policy is you get drawn into local disputes like the North Korea versus South Korea fight[where the US is itself a lightning rod]. Over in Ukraine there is a big US-Russia conflict because the US border extends to Estonia and Poland via the US proxy known as NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation].
China and India [plus others outside the old Westphalian system] typically look not too far from their own neighbourhoods [even the South China Sea is in the Chinese ‘hood]. China’s recent endeavours in things like ‘One Belt One Road‘ is an even smaller footprint than the American Empire. It negates the need of forward military bases per-se [at least as of today]. All you need is economic investment [no questions asked] then go trade with them. It is cheap, effective and if things fall apart you fly in your military [and drones] in and get your people out. Simple and cheap.
Globalisation is not new. It’s been around since humans started moving about and trading pigs for chairs. Modern technology has forced a challenge on the Westphalian model. People move, trade and communicate anywhere with a lot of ease. Governments have become a hindrance. Traders see sales not borders… after all… they are imagined…. right? All that has really happened with globalisation is people in the West began to give meaning to an ancient activity that has always been there and will always be there… proper trade!
Like how India was ‘discovered’ and like how America was ‘discovered’ when they were always there… The West has been waking up to international trade and commerce it never knew existed without its own overt control and rules of engagement.
The imagined border in the image below is part of the the India-China border – probably Tibet somewhere thousands of feet above sea level.