April 2, 2020

Could We Handle a World without Walls?

“At the time it seemed an unalloyed good. The fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989—30 years ago Saturday—meant more than just the end of the Cold War. It meant the vanquishing of all walls, a giddy flinging-open of all doors—to free markets, to common political values across the world, to the birth of a true international community.

Three decades on, what we’ve got is less an international community than a vast wilderness, one full of vicious creatures that prey on us and our polities anonymously from dark digital places. This is not the classic anarchy of the realist conception: The so-called international community lives on, raggedly, in the form of global institutions and a still persistent (if flagging) consensus on open trade and norms against criminality and terrorism. Few nation-states are going to war with each other. But neither are they coming together. Rather than behaving like a community—in which members are made to feel responsible for their actions and mutual respect is a necessity—our globalized world more often seems like an anti-community. It is a bottomless hiding place for bad actors—both real and algorithmic—who are no longer held accountable for their behavior, whether they are willfully disseminating lies over an internet manipulated by digital monopolies that don’t care a whit for social welfare (much less truth) or selling dodgy securitized loans around the globe to people whose reputation creditors no longer have to worry about, as banks once did in the actual communities they nurtured.

It can hardly be a surprise that, in response, we are seeing a demand for new walls—both real and metaphorical…”

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