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Event Summaries
May 15, 2018

Event Summary: Divided: Why We’re Living in an Age of Walls

Henry Jackson Society

Event: Divided: Why We’re Living in an Age of Walls

Date: Wednesday the 11th of April, 2018

Speakers: Tim Marshall

‘Don’t mistake globalisation with unity’; this was the crux of Tim Marshall’s presentation, hosted in the Henry Jackson Society offices on Wednesday the 11th. Mr. Marshall was speaking on his newest publication, Divided: Why We’re Living in an Age of Walls. Mr. Marshall began by commenting on how his book accepts that we live in a divided world, without being overtly pessimistic by holding that this division is merely a phase. Its basic premise can be reduced to the belief that this division should be viewed and a period through which our world is being reshaped. Regardless of this optimism, Mr. Marshall did point to the gravity of this division. Some one third of the world’s countries ‘wall themselves up’; thus depicting how global this phenomenon truly is. Mr. Marshall further elaborated on this latter point by noting that the walls and division is not solely propagated by western industrialised countries in order to keep others out, but instead can be found in every geo-political theatre on earth.

Mr. Marshall next spoke on the social origins of this sense or desire of division. We currently live in what Mr. Marshall describes as a ‘multi-polar world’, whereby inconsistent and constantly varying power balances cause uncertainty, and with it, fear. It is this fear that has, and continues to inspire us to build walls and divide each other. We can rationalise this instinct when we contextualise it by recognising that we are first and foremost animals. Just as it makes one uncomfortable to be physically too close to another, so do nations and peoples among themselves. In other words, Mr Marshall claims that ‘we are inherently suspicious’. One example given was India and Bangladesh. India has walled off the entirety of its border with Bangladesh for fear of mass immigration into India. Another example that Mr. Marshall used was the port city of Ceuta; where the Spanish have encircled the city by a wall in order to keep out mass immigration from Africa. Indeed, in Europe particularly, but again as a global motif, more and more voters are becoming complacent or in favour of such walls. Hungary and Northern-Ireland demonstrate how a body politic can actually favour physical division, whether to keep others out or to separate two groups in order to maintain peace.

It is not just physical walls that divide our societies however. Mr. Marshall next spoke about the Chinese Communist Party, and how they are world leaders at dividing. More than simply Golden Shield, which is the Chinese Firewall against the rest of the world, the Chinese Communist Party also deploys firewalls between its own provinces. Xinjiang for example, is particularly separated technologically from the rest of China in order to curb and contain separatist sentiment. Larger than China however, Mr. Marshall claimed that social media provides yet another non-physical wall or division within human society. Beyond the fact that social media, in Mr. Marshall’s opinion, has cheapened public discourse, it has separated us by principles. While it has made communication much easier, and in that sense unified our global community in a way that hasn’t been possible before; social media allows individuals to engage with rhetoric that compliments their ideologies. In this sense, social media entrenches our principles and gives us a sense of ideological us versus them. One piece of evidence that Mr. Marshal jovially provided was the ‘seven steps to Hitler’ theory on social media arguments, highlighting people’s lack of meaningful discourse and readiness to confront in a crass way.

Finally, Mr. Marshall sought to demonstrate the global quality of this phenomenon of division. The middle East proved to be one such example. With walls along the borders of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories, it becomes clear that this practice of cordoning off one’s country is not a strictly western movement. Further examples in include social divisions in countries such as Cameroon and South-Africa, where ethnic minorities are being socially isolated into traditional lands such as the Hausa. Furthermore, we have examples such as Lagos, Nigeria where economic differences result in physical barrier. That is, Lagos has walled off portions of the city for Nigeria’s wealthy upper-classes. ‘Don’t mistake globalisation with unity’, thus rings true; however as Mr. Marshall argued, this is just a trend whereby one day globalisation might in fact foster unity instead of promoting walls between us.