Each year, March 16 marks an important date for those who cherish peace and harmony between human beings: Open Borders Day. The website openborders.info, founded by Vipul Naik, is in its fourth year of existence. It aims at starting conversations around immigration and freedom of movement across political borders. Its goal is a world where migration is routine and mostly unhindered and the site provides a wealth of information supporting the merits of that goal.
The site’s traffic has grown considerably each year as people worldwide increasingly realize that state-administered borders and corresponding immigration restrictions are counterproductive. While truly open borders are a lofty and idealistic goal in our unfortunately statist and territorial human reality, incremental movement toward that ideal is something peace-loving people must aspire to.
Today’s biggest and deadliest conflicts result largely from governmentally imposed borders. Not to say that human beings don’t have real, underlying disputes with one another: Disputes over land, money, power, religion and other ideological differences. But the separation of people created by state borders intensely magnifies those disputes. And the political class’s capitalist benefactors would have it no other way. Capitalism thrives on borders, which often insulate privileged businesses from competition and ensure access to slave labor markets.
When feuding parties are unnaturally forced apart by walls, be they real or metaphorical, you can count on their disputes escalating into outright aggression against one another. The personal conflicts fueled by political boundaries are the lifeblood of states’ existence. Bitter enemies are created where they wouldn’t otherwise exist thanks to the literal human disconnectedness created by borders. This creates a belief that those inside the nation’s borders need to be protected from those on the other side — a convenient excuse for politicians with preexisting imperial ambitions.
States without imperial ambitions also flourish because of their borders. The ability to claim a monopoly on the use of force within a defined territory prevents challenges to state power and leaves those living within the territory without meaningful choice over how they will govern their own lives.
Even many non-state, tribal societies have used borders to enforce arbitrary property claims over hunting and gathering grounds. This too sets the stage for conflict. Laying exclusive claim to the earth and its resources, and foreclosing the same opportunities for others will rarely be acceptable to those outside tribal boundaries.
Since ownership is a social fiction, humans must recognize differing concepts of ownership held by their neighbors and constantly seek to find equilibrium in the ownership “system” that works for the parties locally involved.
In a world with no political or territorial borders, disputes would likely be handled nonviolently through compromise, cooperation and communication. Whether groups choose to be connected or not at any specific time or in any specific context, they must manage their disagreements peacefully. In today’s authoritarian, state-run world, diplomacy is usually a last resort. There is simply nothing for politicians to gain from peaceful dispute resolution. War and bloodshed between states is a profitable enterprise, and a power-building exercise for the states and multinational companies involved.
A day before Open Borders Day 2015, Travel Channel debuted a program called Breaking Borders. Although unacknowledged, Breaking Borders makes the case for open borders. The show brings together people from opposite sides of a deadly world conflict to break bread and talk. American chef Michael Voltaggio cooks for the clashing parties as they exchange ideas over a meal. Travel Channel attempted to bridge the gap between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank in Breaking Borders’ first episode. The episode concluded with the parties agreeing to disagree. Although the world’s disputes cannot be expected to be solved over a single dinner, governments should never be trusted to carry out these peace accords. Governments have a vested interest in keeping their populations isolated from the rest of the world, and in keeping cross-border conflict alive.
Where political borders dissolve, cultures coexist, increased acceptance of differences results, and often ideologies and dogmas soften and dissipate. Philosopher and open borders proponent Robert Anton Wilson often talked about life being a process of trying to get outside one’s own skin and breaking out of our own artificially created boxes. Without borders, we’re free to pursue this healthy human process together, rather than apart.