By Professor Ed Blakely
Walls around settlements large or small are the norm of human settlement from the time humans adopted non nomadic behaviour. Man normally defends space. Food and shelter have always been hoarded. So, it is normal for humans to control space. Fear is the underlying motive in all cases. Fear of those who would take or alter our possessions drives this human need.
The East German regime was trying to keep out bad ideas while it generated fear of outside ideas as hostile to the state and bad for citizen's consumption. Citizens who became infected with outside alien ideas were a threat to the regime. So, in every respect the Berlin Wall to those who erected it was a righteous defensible act. How could they develop a better state without protecting the member of their territory from the horrors of ideas, values and human contact that would degrade their cause? Gate communities in their most extreme versions do the same thing. The underlying virtue of the community is kept alive in side through the community clubhouse. Clearly, one does not have to have gates to hold ideas of purity central in clubs but virtually all closed social communities have a temple or shrine where they can control their idea space, many have closed retreat centres too. This is not to say any of this is wrong or bad. It is merely to illustrate the central tendencies of humans is to close space—socially and physically. Humans don't want freedom Eric Fromm the famous psychologist suggests. We humans want controls over who we are associated with and how. The Government of East Germany was well aware of the heightened post World War II fears of people who had been humiliated by the collapse of their government in war for the second time. The Wall in this respect is the symbol of hope and not oppression. Those residents n the western side of the Wall were horrified by the Wall. But, I suspect many westerners in Germany and other part of the West saw the Wall as the line that kept them from the tyranny that lied on the Eastern side. In this respect, the Wall served both sides. It was a marvellous propaganda tool for both sides because it was a visible manifestation of the fear and paranoia of both political systems.
The crumbling of the Wall came when the supports for it collapsed. Neither East nor West needed it anymore. New forces and fears were abound in the world State driven walls remain visible around the globe in North Korea, Iran and other regimes who control borders and their people. The mechanisms remain the same—control space and ideas. The United States is erecting a giant wall along the southern border to prevent drug smuggling, unwanted immigration and terrorism. This wall will fail too. The Berlin Wall fell because the ideas that carried the fear failed. Gated communities fail because they only manifest the problems they are meant to control in different numbers and not different in type. That is there are as many murders per thousand in gated communities as non gated communities because most murders are committed in domestic violence situations.
Berlin's Wall is still in place but not in Berlin. Walling in ideas and fear remains across the world. Walls are the manifestation of our human basic drive to keep others from occupying our social, intellectual and physical space. It will take enormous political courage for all political systems around the world to allow human ideas and human movement to move freely. We are now in the "Brave New World" where fear sells easier than hope.