Do We Need Passports? Or Borders?
Crossing with Radiohead
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
A heart that's full up like a landfill A job that slowly kills you Bruises that won't heal You look so tired, unhappy Bring down the government They don't, they don't speak for us I'll take a quiet life A handshake of carbon monoxide Radiohead, “No Surprises”
I was definitely surprised. It’s so rare these days to just ‘enter’... and yet, not only did we have an easy time of it going into Israel... we had an even easier time entering Jordan!
Sauntering up, not a queue -or indeed any other tourist- in sight, we managed to exit one country and enter “no man’s land” within about three minutes.
Bizarrely playing out of the speakers was the above Radiohead song. Who picked the song and for what reason is beyond me, though I do enjoy hypothesizing. I could not fathom a less appropriate tune to be broadcasted on such a contentious border...
Once we officially crossed into Jordan, the officials doted on our daughter. They didn’t charge us for her visa and even put a sticker (a pink flower to be precise) on her passport stamp. She was thrilled.
Then they offered to help us find a taxi. I was gobsmacked.
Of course, it would be foolish to think everyone would get this treatment. Our small party of three is innocuous looking to be sure... but it’s the color of our little books and the animals that adorn them that grant us this privilege.
Indeed, I’m very aware of our freedom of movement due to our accidental backgrounds. We are from so-called ‘rich’ countries, and as such, people always let us in... though sometimes much quicker than others.
But how many times have I been at a border... in Oman, in Hong Kong, in Brazil, in... well, just about everywhere, where I’ve seen unfortunate folks huddled, waiting, seeing if they’ll be let in to one side or the other.
Their crime? They are from ‘poor’ countries.
Now, obviously they didn’t choose where they were born, they’ve simply lost out on the international lottery for enviable passports.
I had one friend in Dubai, for instance, whose father was a diplomat. She grew up in Paris, spoke numerous languages perfectly, was eloquent and a brilliant business woman. Oh, woe was the day when she reached the dreadful age -I think it was 25- when her father’s diplomatic status no longer extended to her. She became -just- Moroccan. Still the beautiful intelligent polyglot, but now with a... difficult passport.
Is this fair? Of course not... but this isn’t even the question!
The concept of passports, of restricting our movement of travel, is a painfully new invention. Granted, paperwork has existed in various moments in history, such as in the Bible when Nehemiah, an official serving King Artaxerxes I of Persia, asked permission to travel to Judea...and while Henry V is sometimes credited with creating some form of a modern passport, it wasn’t until World War I that it started to become standardized. There was a huge backlash by the British in the 1920s, complaining especially about attached photographs and physical descriptions, which they considered led to a "nasty dehumanization".
And yet today, the mandatory requirement of those little colored books is so embedded in our modern life that most folks don’t even think to question their existence, of the passage they give.
But of course, they should!
By contrast, the ancient world was awash with movement between regions, cities, and territories. In the 7th and 6th century BC, for example, almost all the greatest pre-socratics, such as Thales and Pythagoras, had traveled extensively - to Egypt, Persia, and even India. Sappho went from Lesbos to Sicily. Aristotle lived in Athens, Macedonia and Lesbos. Cleopatra visited most of the ancient wonders of the world as a girl. Imagine the Library of Alexandria without the never ending ships bringing fresh scrolls to be copied?
But of course, life is not that simple, is it?
So let’s get into the nitty-gritty...
The real inquiry is:
Should we have passports? Do we need borders? Should we restrict movement of people? And if we do, who decides who can come and go?
As always, you can reply to this email or write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, onto today’s mailbag: Do you listen well... and should we follow inane laws. I’ll be honest, I was a little surprised (once more) that this time there was more of a consensus than usual... What do you think?
Founder and Director
P.S. FUN fact... I’ll be writing more about the sites we’re visiting here in Jordan... but before we do, who knows what the capital Amman was called in the 3rd century BC, when it was a regional center of Hellenistic culture? Comment below if you know the answer.
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What is said here about listening also applies to reading. Especially these days when folk dash off a reply and have clearly not read carefully or considered what they have read. This causes SO much anger, and usually degenerates into name calling etc.
I look forward to, and profit from Classical Wisdom. The link I supply contrasts American listening with how Nordic folks converse:
Ad multo annos,
Leges sine moribus vanae (motto of the University of Pennsylvania)
There are any number of ridiculous laws on the books that are merely symbolic. How to enforce the sexual proclivities of individuals in their private residences, for instance? How very 1984.
At the same time, we are seeing very real laws that are causing very real harm that, in many cases, must be fought. Must be disobeyed. Must be challenged and subverted. An inane law about the silly things people do behind closed doors can turn into bans, outlaws, and illegalities. There is no choice but to fight, to flout them, and continue to challenge them until those laws are no more.
Well, of course, as an Aristotelean, I see that Plato, as usual, was wrong. But rules are for rulers no matter what anyone says, so I say break as many rules as possible on principle. Of course, it’s the “as possible” that takes some thought.
P.S. The Greek meaning of Alexander is “Defender of Men,” so that’s what I do in my work and life. We need it now more than ever.
Almost 100,000 pages of laws and legislators at every level continue to write more laws enabling a bureaucrat and its thugs to look for unknowing violators. A guide for increasing a bureaucratic empire.
I would suggest a combination of the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Knights Templar. From that draw your own conclusions. It is a mess.
I would not classify most laws as silly. Rather, we have such a plethora of laws because those who write and enforce the laws want to have a way to "get" any person they set their sights on. As Beria, enforcer for Stalin, is reputed to have said, "Show me the man, and I'll show you the crime."
Thus, if we generally are obedient sheep and don't upset the elite, then we will be left alone, but should we become bothersome to them, our lives will be placed under a magnifying glass to find something for which we can be charged and punished.
Inane is a subjective definition. Inane means lacking significance, meaning or point. It includes the subjective concept of silly and is deemed insubstantial. Since the word and use are subjective, they become hard to quantify or measure objectively. What may be inane to Anya may be fitting and proper for Charles.
Inane law has been redefined as administrative law in the USA. This is the legal underpinning of organized stupidity. An example is the water supply for the city of Fairbanks, Alaska. The EPA deemed the water quality too pure and requires the city to pollute it so as to bring it into an acceptable range. Housing associations have morphed into command and control over a homeowner's right to pursue happiness through property ownership. The federal government once published all the law updates. They no longer do because the printing press failed to keep up with the new inanities promulgated.
Inane laws are a byproduct of bureaucracy and bureaucracy is the gravamen for replacing representative government with ever escalating tyranny.
The answer then is to never accept an inane law. The next requirement is to take a sword to the source of this Gordian enterprise if freedom is to be maintained and passed on to the next generation. Since inane is a subjective standard, it is somewhat like defining pornography. Hard to define but easy to recognize. So too with inane laws.