The True Subconscious Meaning of a Border Wall by Bill Miller
The True Subconscious Meaning of a Border Wall.
Despite the range of domestic and international challenges currently confronting
us as a nation, the recent months have seen an inordinate amount of the nation’s
attention taken up by debate over building a wall at our southern border. In its
most extreme version, this would be a 30-foot tall concrete barrier, stretching
over much if not most of the 2,000 mile long border with Mexico.
The stated rationale for such a wall is to provide a barrier against an alleged
relentless flow of drugs, crime, terrorism, and an influx of immigrants purported to
overburden our economy and infrastructure. Substantial questions have been
raised about the actual causes and magnitude of these problems, as well as the
effectiveness of a physical barrier in dealing with them. (Most illegal drugs for
example come through legal ports of entry rather than being ferried across
desolate areas of the border.)
Yet despite the practicalities of building such a barrier, its great cost, and the
questions about its effectiveness, die hard supporters of the project cannot seem
to let go of the concept and were willing to force a month-long government
“shutdown” in order to obtain the funding to move forward.
In view of this, those on the Left struggle to understand the vehemence with
which Wall supporters cling to this initiative. Common explanations in the
Liberal/Progressive camp center around racism or fear and hatred of a foreign
other. Note that these are outward-directed motivations. Simply stated, bad or
otherwise undesirable people are “out there”, and we must prevent them from
getting “in here”.
Were this the whole story, facts and figures about actual crime rates and sources
of the same might go some way toward mitigating the urgency in this matter. The
fact that it does not suggests that something deeper in the human psyche,
something inward, is likely at work. To the extent that is the case, further
arguments against the Wall and those who support it are likely to be wasted
It is here proposed that the symbolic significance of a border wall is not so much
to keep things out, but rather to keep something in — specifically, the idealized
vision of what we’ve long believed America to be.
Since the United States’ heyday (sometime around the middle of the 20th
Century), citizens have watched the promise of America steadily slip away for
growing numbers of people. We had cherished beliefs and myths about our place
in the world — who we were and what our country stood for. America was a “land
of opportunity”, a level playing-field where hard work paid off, and anyone could
grow up to be president. We were a “shining City on a hill” — a benefactor to and
an exemplar for the rest of the world.
However, in the latter decades, we watched this grand vision gradually
deteriorate. Our country was involved in a number of controversial military
campaigns, with great cost in dollars and lives — often with no clear outcome.
We watched good paying jobs and companies leave the country. We’ve seen
economic insecurity increase, putting “the good life” out of reach for growing
numbers. We’ve seen stable, predictable communities change with diversification
— now sometimes operating by rules we don’t understand.
At the same time, we’ve watched foreign powers like China and the European
Union - even Russia - grow in wealth, power, and influence.
A Wall or a Container?
There may well be a powerful subconscious sense that the America we knew
and loved is somehow draining away — perhaps to be absorbed by other
peoples and nations. Fear of death and oblivion, even if of an ideal, is one of the
greatest of motivators. From that perspective, it is easier to understand the
resonant appeal of a slogan like “Make America Great Again”. Further, it is
understandable that, with the panic of a drowning man, one might cling to the
idea of building not so much a wall but a symbolic container, in order to keep in
and preserve that which we fear we are losing.
One of the hallmarks of Conservatism is a nostalgic longing for things of the past.
If such longing were directed toward the positive aspects of the mid 20th Century
vision listed above, who would fault that? Recovering those should be
embraceable from all points on the political spectrum.
Yet those past times also included phenomena not so benign — racism, sexism,
slavery. Instead of realizing that these were merely epiphenomena of the times,
some people may become confused, believing that the path back to a desired
past requires a reinstatement of those negative social dynamics.
With that understanding, rather than becoming diverted into divisive labeling,
shaming, and blaming, we might bridge the Right-Left divide by going deeper, to
those values that we do share in common. Unless damaged by life circumstance,
everyone wants to be healthy and happy. Everyone wants the opportunity to
develop their potential and to enjoy what life has to offer. And they want the
same for their children. Nationally, (in perhaps a more benign take on “MAGA”),
we all simply want to feel good about the country we live in.
From that perspective, rather than fight against a Wall and its proponents, a more
effective approach would acknowledge the primary fears and insecurities that
make people susceptible to manipulation by Far-Right rhetoric, then address
them with a positive, constructive, political agenda.
Such an agenda must reject any us-versus-them, “let’s fight ‘em” messaging
—replacing it with a unitive message that all citizens are valued members of
society, and that the primary goal of progressive leadership is to support and
encourage each citizen toward reaching their potential to contribute to the health
of society at large. Accordingly, current Progressive proposals with the goal of
making education, healthcare, and a basic standard of living available to all are
an initial step in that direction.
In its original meaning “conservatism” was about conserving that which we value.
As a nation, such values have more to do with morality than materialism — how
we treat each other, and how do we best move forward as a society. In this
sense, these values do not require a physical barrier or container on the nation’s
border. In our hearts and minds, each of us is ultimately the moral container for
the values we cherish. And each of us has the opportunity to serve as our own
shining beacon to others.
May we let the best that is within us shine. Written by Bill Miller.