They’ll Pay for It

I am a big fan of borders and boundaries. Everything from fences, walls (the yuger, the better), and doors; to the interpersonal ones like titles, authority, and custom/manners. Each of these indicates (roughly) what I, as an individual, can do in any given space or situation. Borders create order.

Now, this should not be overstated (when do I ever overstate anything?), there is a constant rejiggering and renegotiation when it comes to these things. Social customs which provide our interpersonal borders are constantly changing. What people found acceptable and unacceptable 50 years ago is not okay today (the mullet, however, was and will never be okay). Identity is constantly shifting and changing, just look at what political parties stood for even 10 years ago. Republicans were going full-tilt boogie for deregulation, tax cuts, and spending cuts (oh my!). Today, they are all in on the culture war. Libertarians are quite lonely so I hear.

In Britain, there are three different countries (excluding Ireland because they are a separate island) England, Scotland, and Wales. Each has their own proud history of hating one another’s guts. However, despite this, as historian C.A Bayly argues, the years between 1760 and 1860 produced a British identity. It was during this period, which the English and CO. found themselves with an ever-growing empire, that saw the long-standing regional identities that used to drive identity on the island being subsumed by a broader British identity. From the English perspective, they brought peripheral, “indigenous” groups (yeah the Scots and Welsh are pretty weird) into the fold.

It was often the case that these Welshmen or Scotsmen that embraced this new British identity most fully. In fact, it would be a Welshmen by the name of John Dee that would coin the term British Empire. For the denizens of the isle, this identity provided a sense of separation from those they conquered as the British Empire grew. What ultimately led to the creation of this British identity, as historian Philip D. Morgan, was a long series of wars between 1689 and 1815 which served as a way to artificially galvanize a British identity.

Borders are not always steadfast. There are many zones where the rules of engagement are more difficult to define. These are at the frontiers of society or the marchlands. It is at these frontier zones that the rules that were once so steadfast are now not so. The frontier is obvious in a sense. Physically, they are regions where there is little central control or interference. The people on the frontier, on both sides of the frontier, are forced to learn to cope with one another’s presence in a sense. Or not.

For every instance of mixture and synthesis (think the Texican culture in the American South or Black culture or the Metis of Canada), there is a marchland where things do not come together so nicely. Examples include the Irish Pale, the Pale of settlement in Russia, or the Anglo-Scottish borderlands. In all these cases, not only is violence far more prevalent but identities, or rather the rules, are hardened in the face of an opponent. Sometimes two cultures can come into contact and shade into one another, this occurred to a certain extent after the Indo-Aryan migration/invasions of North India (ca. 1500 BC). This conquest of North India was a process of assimilation and integration between conquerors and conquered.

The same process would play out in England after the Norman invasion under William the Bastard (1066 AD). Herein, Norman French nobility would bring over Norman French styles of government to replace the old Anglo-Saxon nobility. However, within centuries these Norman nobles would assimilate with those they ruled, slowly abandoning French in favor of English.

Borders and boundaries, physical and social, are ever-shifting. They ultimately act as signals for when and where rules can be applied. Ultimately, these change and shift, because no border is truly ironclad. In areas where two different groups, cultures, or people intersect, they can either shade into one another or harden their identities. All this is why I think borders are essential. They let us know how to behave. And more importantly, how to behave when we are not on our home turf.


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