The barriers we erect—both physical and social—are signs of failureby Chris Tilbury / March 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
Over the past few years, Tim Marshall has carved out something of a niche by writing accessible and timely geopolitical histories. He has already used the planet’s landscape to analyse modern international relations (Prisoners of Geography), and examined the way flags are used to unite or divide people (Worth Dying For). Here he fixes his gaze on why peoples and nations are becoming increasingly divided at a time when technology is supposed to be uniting us.
He uses walls, fairly mundane objects, as his entry point into what is a lively tour of the physical and non-physical barriers that have been erected all over the world to create what he terms “identity conflict.” He covers Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico and the structures erected to separate India from its neighbours, at each stage explaining the historical reasons for their existence.
He also turns his eye to the non-physical barriers that make us think of some groups as different to ourselves—as “others” that should be kept at arms’ length. Often these walls exist in our minds and centre on religion, politics or wealth.
When discussing the UK, Marshall shows that the pressures of increased immigration combined with the changing religious landscape, especially in areas such as Manchester and Luton, “have given rise to a situation whereby parallel societies have emerged.” This is a touch exaggerated but he is right to warn of the danger of reinforcing “‘us and them’ mentalities and lifestyles.”
Ultimately, Marshall’s lesson is one that we should all heed: differences can be overcome. Many thought that the Berlin Wall was there to stay. That barrier has now been down longer than it was up. This is a salutary example for those currently putting up barriers—the ostensible reasons behind their construction can be solved in a more amicable way.
Divided: Why We’re Living in an Age of Walls by Tim Marshall is published by Elliott & Thompson, £16.99