On fences and neighbors

Stephen W. Browne

'Something there is that doesn't love a wall,'

-Robert Frost

Fences, barriers, boundaries, and borders have been much on my mind lately, and things that bother me about them that I can't quite articulate.

It seems the Progressive project of the present era is to dismantle them all.

It started well. We wanted to end racial discrimination enforced by law, and we did. We wanted to end discrimination against women in the workplace, and made great strides. We wanted to end the legal persecution of homosexuals and did.

But we found that discrimination persisted in popular prejudices. We attacked them with laws rather than education, because education was too slow, and we made progress.

Then it got crazy. Not all at once, but a piece at a time until what was satire in one generation became sober reality in another.

Some examples in no particular order:

The latest flap about bathrooms and why shouldn't men use the ladies?

We and the Europeans are conflicted about national borders, and whether we have a right to keep anyone out at all. Even if it means accepting huge numbers of people who are actively hostile to the political and ethical principles our civilization is founded on.

Feminist psychology holds sex is merely plumbing and 'gender' is a social construct, an artificial barrier to keep half the human race oppressed. So if women are disproportionately represented in certain professions it has to be fixed, right now! Because it can't be that some women like to have children and be around to raise them, can it?

The courts have decreed a business has no right to pick and choose among its customers. (If you're Christian at least. We await the results of test cases directed at Muslims.)

Universities and large corporations have whole departments dedicated to recruiting people who look different, but Heaven forbid a conservative should be found in the social sciences or humanities!

And lately the federal government has been considering ways to make the suburbs of the nation more diverse in terms of income and ethnicity.

This has been going on for a while now, long enough to show some effects on society.

It does not seem to have made us one big happy family. In fact, our country seems more divided than ever. Divided by race, party, and even in our most intimate relationships.

As Wendell Berry remarked, 'Sexual liberation ought logically to have brought in a time of 'naturalness,' ease, and candor between men and women. It has, on the contrary, filled the country with sexual self-consciousness, uncertainty, and fear.'

The same might be said for race relations. The long hoped-for healing seems to be receding from our grasp.

Even anti-Semitism, 'the oldest hate' seems to be coming back with a vengeance.

Maybe that's just the effect of a lot of people from different backgrounds mixing more than they used to. Throw people together who used to stay at arm's length from one another and there's bound to be some friction.

Or maybe it's because some folks have shown they have no tolerance for other people's boundaries. Don't want to cater a gay wedding? By God you will, you intolerant Bible-thumping bigot!

Oddly enough, these are often the same people who think Jehovah's Witnesses knocking on their door with copies of The Watchtower are an intolerable intrusion on their personal liberty.

And maybe Progressives have it backwards.

Maybe a diverse society demands more acceptance of boundaries, not less. More of a common culture, not less.

Maybe toleration should extend to our prejudices and preferences, insofar as they remain personal and private. Maybe if people don't want your company or your business you should go somewhere else.

'He says again, 'Good fences make good neighbors.''

-Robert Frost, Mending Wall