Thursday, 12 April 2018

The problem of borders

The proposal by Michael Gove to ban the export of live animals for slaughter has provoked a range of reactions, but none of them seem to have touched on what is, to me, the most curious part in political terms.  It’s presented as being in the interests of animal welfare, and I can certainly see that it is better to slaughter animals for food as close as possible to the point of production rather than to transport them across large distances.  I don’t, though, understand why it makes a difference whether the animals are being transported for slaughter rather than for other purposes.  I can’t believe that the animals are aware of the difference between the two – it’s the transportation which causes any distress, not the purpose of that transportation.
But above all, it’s the distinction between ‘export’ and ‘internal’ transportation that I don’t understand.  Under his proposals, transporting animals from Kent to Pas-de-Calais would be unacceptable, but transporting the same animals from Aberdeen to Exeter would not.  In truth, the sheep really don’t know the difference – crossing an international border is to them a meaningless concept.  And that, rather than animal welfare, is the real point of this post.
International borders are an artificial, entirely human, construct.  For sure, they are important in terms of marking the difference between different regulatory regimes, and between the territories administered by different human authorities, but considering their impact on the degree of additional stress experienced by farmed animals when crossing them (i.e. zero) should help us to understand just how artificial these lines on maps are – and in the process, help us to understand the innate silliness of the ‘control our own borders’ nonsense of the Brexiteers.
It is a backward-looking form of nationalism which insists on the importance of these lines on a map and in controlling what crosses them; as an independentista, I don’t believe that policing lines on maps contributes anything to the degree of independence a country has.  What it does do is contribute to a sense of exceptionalism and apartness, a sense of ‘us’ and ‘others’.  Sheep don’t need that – why should humans?


Jonathan said...

Because we can distinguish sheep from humans.
Not sure that idealism can explain attitudes to borders. The English obsess about their "moat" ie the Channel because it a real and practical thing and is enforcable - so they enforce.
Americans obsess about their Southern Border because it is not enforceable in practice without that Wall "an' Mexico's gonna pay!" And in fact the US has large social/linguistic movement and change because it has not been practicable to stop it. Though not all see the American change as a bad thing - Democratic polticians for example.
Back to Wales: we have an open border with England plus social/linguistic change. We cannot stop this with Customs posts on That Bridge (can we?). But we could act eg by introducing Lake District/Channel Isles style property laws.
So borders/control/identity remain on the agenda for many in Wales.
Would you do nowt in Wales' situation, Borthlas?

John Dixon said...

"So borders/control/identity remain on the agenda for many in Wales."

The problem with that is that you are conflating three different things before suggesting that I want to do nothing about any of them. I don't see why borders, or control thereof, are a pre-requisite to maintaining identity. If they were to be so, then I'd have to conclude that Welsh identity in any form is doomed, because I cannot conceive of any circumstances in which it would become sensible or appropriate to erect border posts and institute controls along the length of Offa's Dyke. Introducing property laws as you suggest does not require enforcement of borders.

The countries of the Schengen area don't feel their identity is threatened by free movement of people - why should we? The two biggest threats to the survival of a unique Welsh culture/identity/language (deliberately conflating three different things for the sake of brevity here) are the incorporation of Wales into a larger state and our general willingness to concede rather than be difficult. Both of those deserve more discussion than a brief comment, but for my purposes here, neither are about borders or controlling who or what moves across them, and imposing borders resolves neither.