Citizen Action Monitor

Barbara Kingsolver on borders between the haves and the have-nots

No 32, Posted by fw, July 5, 2010

Barbara Kingsolver is so much more than a novelist. She’s a citizen activist. Her activism is indelibly etched in her breathtaking, at times, heartbreaking, prose.

I’ve just discovered her book of essays, Small Wonder, published in 2002. As she explains in the Foreword:

“I learned something surprising in writing this book. It is possible to move away from a vast, unbearable pain by delving into it deeper and deeper — by ‘diving into the wreck,’ to borrow the perfect words of Adrienne Rich. You can look at all the parts of a terrible thing until you see they’re assemblies of smaller parts, all of which you can name, and some of which you can heal or alter, and finally the terror that seemed unbearable becomes manageable. I suppose what I’m describing is the process of grief. . . . I began this book, without knowing I was doing so, on September 12, 2001.”

In her opening essay, from which comes the title of the book, she “dives into the wreck” of the borders that divide us, deeply lamenting, in particular, the borders that separate the haves from the have-nots:

“In his poem ‘Mending Wall,’ Robert Frost invokes the image of his neighbor walking the fence line intent  on constant survey and repair, here and there raising up a boulder between his hands, ‘like an old-stone savage armed,’ to put it back in its place, determined to keep this boundary intact, though it restrains only trees. (My apple trees will never get across / And eat the cones from under his pines, I tell him.) ‘Good fences make good neighbors,’ is the only rationale the neighbor will offer, as his father said before him. The poet is baffled at so much resolute effort.”

“And so we all might well feel baffled, as we awaken this morning to find the greatest part of our ways and means invested in the walls our nations have built between ourselves and those whom we wish to keep out. Throughout our modern history we have taken each step in the construction of defensive borders with few doubts in mind, from stones to bricks and mortar, to rifles and barbed wire, to missiles and tanks and the firestorm contained in an atom. And now here we are, devoted to the efforts of surveillance, repair, and dread.”

“Borders crumble; they won’t hold together on their own; we have to shore them up constantly. They are fortified and patrolled by armed guards, these fences that divide a party of elegant diners on one side from the children on the other whose thin legs curve like wishbones, whose large eyes peer through the barbed wire at so much food — there is no wall high enough to make good in such a neighborhood. For this, of course, is what the fences divide. Probably we began with more theoretical notions of ethnic purity — the wish to keep the apples out of our pines — and for most of the last century we rationalized our walls in terms of ideology, but the Iron Curtain has now dramatically fallen. Now we have fashioned from the crumbing boundaries of the Cold War a whole new shape of divisions, fundamentally between rich and poor. That chasm keeps growing; a quarter of the world’s poor are now poorer than they were fifteen years ago, having struggled only to lose ground.”

“The hard boundary between the haves and the have-nots is still defended with armaments, but now it is also bridged by a dancing, illusory world of material wants. Passing through every wall are electronic beams that create a shadow play of desire staged by the puppeteers of globalized commerce, who find their advertising each year with more than a hundred dollars spent for this planet’s every man, woman, and child. ‘This world of inequality is also a world of solitude,’ writes Eduardo Galeano, in which multitudes of the desperate are led ‘to confuse being with having’. And condemned to have not.”

“In the name of God and all the fishes, a hundred dollars for every human alive, solely to lure them all into want! To consider this material tyranny is to begin, surely, to understand why protest against the global corporate order throws itself down weeping in the streets from Seattle to Genoa to Pakistan. . . . Imagine how it looks from the other side where undulating female bodies sell soft drinks to the likes of the nomads . . . Global commerce is driven by a single conviction: the inalienable right to earn profit, regardless of any human cost.”

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This entry was posted on July 5, 2010 by in counterpower of one and tagged , , , , , , .
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