Immigration – or migration – has become a problem in Europe and America in recent years, as millions of people have begun migrating from Africa and the Middle East to Europe, and from South America to North America.
And so walls have started going up. US President Donald Trump famously promised to Build A Wall on the southern US border to keep them out.
It’s not the first time that such walls have been built. The Great Wall of China was 21,200 km in length (over half the circumference of the Earth). In Britain we have Hadrian’s Wall, which was a mere 135 km in length, separating England and Scotland.
In both cases the walls were built to keep northern nomadic tribes from entering settled southern territories.
It is probably the case that humans have lived nomadic lives for most of their existence. The nomads moved from one area to another, very often following the sun, annually from north to south, going wherever food was most abundant from season to season. And very often they would follow animal herds which were also living a nomadic life, moving from one area to another, wherever the grass happened to be greener.
It was probably only in a few highly fertile regions (e.g. the Fertile Crescent) that it was possible for people to live a settled existence all year round. They would probably have grown different plant foods in different seasons, and included livestock in their diets.
And it was only when humans stopped their continual wandering existence that they began to be able to build stone and brick houses rather than tents and tepees. And it was only when they could form settled states with geographical boundaries, in which land was owned by individual people. And that’s why the earliest civilisations arose in places like Mesopotamia and Egypt, and erected great edifices like the Pyramids of Egypt or the Tower of Babel.
Land ownership can only have started when humans came to a stop in one place or other. Land ownership only became possible when a single patch of land could support a single human family all year round, and that family took ownership of that land. For in a nomadic existence, land never belongs to anybody, because the nomads are always moving on. Or if the nomads took possession of any land, it was only ever temporarily, for a few weeks.
Or, to put it another way, the nomads worshipped the Whole Earth, while the settlers worshipped the particular place where they had settled.
Nomads annually travelled great distances, in long journeys from place to place, eating different foodstuffs at each different place. Those who settled in one place ate pretty much the exact same blended diet all year round. Both settlers and nomads walked around, but while the nomads would walk for thousands of miles, the settlers would only walk around the confines of a small town or village.
And the settled life, lived in one particular place, was consequently an idler life than a nomadic life. For nomads, always on the move, had to keep walking as they followed the sun and the herds. Nomads had to keep walking, and so keep working. Because walking is working.
And this was why it was in the idle, settled regions of the world that the great civilisations with their art and architecture and science and philosophy emerged and flourished. Because it was only in these idle, settled regions that people had the idle time in which to produce art and music and literature and architecture and philosophy. Nomads never had much time to do anything like that.
And if settled civilisation first emerged in Egypt and Mesopotamia ( and most likely in India and China as well), it gradually extended over the whole world. The Roman Empire was, it might be said, an empire of settled civilisation that gradually extended over the whole of western Europe, which had hitherto been occupied in large part by wandering, nomadic peoples (e.g. the Helvetii). Roman civilisation was one of towns and cities, and land ownership, and self-governing states.
And this settled European civilisation then extended itself all over the world, a couple of millennia later, as first Portuguese and then Spanish and then English and Dutch and French extended neo-Roman civilisation over the entire globe, building their trademark cities (Rio de Janeiro, New York, Melbourne, etc.) wherever they went. Because the Aborigines of Australia, and the Polynesians of the Pacific, and the Native Americans of North America were (almost) all nomadic peoples, who never built cities, because they never stopped anywhere long enough to need to build them.
And so, after hundreds of thousands of years of nomadic existence, it’s only been in the last few thousand years that humans have adopted a settled existence (and in so doing acquiring distinctive native identities – e.g. French, German, Spanish, English, etc.
And there is, it would seem, a very deep cultural division between nomads and settlers. They had necessarily different attitudes to land ownership, for one thing. But they probably had different attitudes to almost everything else as well. For example, people living in settled families may well have also lived monogamous lives along with their monotheistic and monotopic (staying in one place) lives, while the wandering nomads were forever wandering in other ways as well. Who sang:
“Goodbye darling, don’t forget my kisses.
Keep your love light shining,
I’ll be back in a year.” ?
And these days, it would seem that an entirely new kind of nomad has begun to appear. The new nomads are tourists and travellers – jet-setters – who see the whole world as their domain, and feel no particular identification with any particular place. They’re citizens of the world, rather than any particular country. And they are perpetually on the move – like Jack Kerouac, “On The Road.” They’re the hippies who headed for India (or California) to find enlightenment.
And the current deep social division in the USA is between nomadic left ‘liberals’, and settled, land-owning conservatives. For Donald Trump is very much a land-owner and property-developer. He even puts his own name on the buildings he erects. The Clintons and Obamas on the other side are jet-setters who belong nowhere, and look down with disdain on the “bitter clingers” in Mid-Western “flyover country” as they jet from New York to Los Angeles. For the new nomads look down upon the world from 10 km above its surface, as they fly from place to place.
The depth of this social division might also have been seen in the Nazi era in Germany, when wandering (i.e. nomadic) Gypsies and wandering (i.e. nomadic) Jews were persecuted by the settled, nationalistic Germans. For the real roots of antisemitism may lie in the fact that Jews have been a wandering people ever since the Diaspora, and they consequently have the values and beliefs of a wandering rather than settled people. Such people (rather like Roman Catholics) owed no loyalty to their native countries: they owed it to something else (the Pope). They could not be trusted.
It might also be mentioned that Mohammed was a nomad:
Entrusted to a Bedouin nurse, Muhammad spends much of his childhood among nomads, accompanying the caravans on Arabia’s main trade route through Mecca.
The Muslim era dates from the Hegira – Arabic for ’emigration’, meaning Muhammad’s departure from Mecca. In the Muslim calendar this event marks the beginning of year 1.
Consequently the other great alarm of our time, at Muslim fundamentalism, may well be alarm at the re-emergence of an ancient nomadic value system. And can it be any surprise if this Muslim nomadism finds natural allies among the new jet-setting nomads of Europe and America.
Immigration is a problem only for the settled peoples in any country where it is taking place. It is not a problem for people of a nomadic frame of mind, for whom all borders and all walls have always appeared as obstructions to their free movement. And this is not a new problem or a new division: it is a very, very, very old problem.