Arbitrary Politics

So, here’s a random thought that’s been building up in my mind over the last couple of weeks. Ever since I completed the political philosophy unit of my OU degree actually, so it really is very random, with no pretensions to political, economic or any other kind of expertise.


How are countries formed? They’d appear to be formed by processes of landgrabbing by various parties, usually begun centuries ago. So the country boundaries we end up with today are basically the arbitrary results of these long-long-term processes. In this way you get countries made up by the elite few in government which will contain various communities with their distinct identities, languages, cultures, and the borders are made to suit the particular political and economic needs of the governments concerned at the time. Sometimes the boundaries are set by outside governments who are remote from the countries that they’re playing around with – I’m looking at you, UK and USA.

This situation will come back to bite sooner or later. Look at the Middle East, Ukraine, Ireland, India. Those arbitrary political borders suit the top guns but cause divisions where there don’t need to be, and lump together different communities because they happen to be geographically close. And we don’t yet know what will happen in the future; there are probably many old sores caused by these types of policy. A Victorian attitude that lingers like a nasty smell was that Africa was made of savages who had tribes rather than countries; luckily for them, we went in and sorted that out and created nice civilised political boundaries (with nice, civilised armies and guns to maintain them) and rearranged the place to our hearts’ content. I think we could perhaps take another good, hard look at ourselves there, people.

It’s possible to get a better idea of actual communities by looking at the linguistic features of the landscape, as accents, dialogues and creoles etc don’t respect political borders. People who form a community influence each other’s, and their neighbouring communities’, linguistic features through natural contact; people either side of a border will share features such as dialect or cultural practices. Why shouldn’t these things be more important when the big boys are playing real-life Risk?

As an example close to home, the current campaigns for and against Scottish independence bring up interesting questions. If there is a yes vote, what happens to those border countries that share far more with Scotland than Westminster? What happens to Berwick, for example, which is de jure England but perhaps de facto Scotland? Obviously it would be impractical to have a Berwick referendum, so they are lumped, whatever the outcome of the vote, with the existing political borders. Further south, Northumbria is an area with a distinct heritage and identity, a distinct regional dialect (with its own subsidiary dialects and accents) that is often almost unintelligible to Standard English speakers, and ten times as far removed from London culturally as it is geographically. Maybe it should be independent too? From an economic and political point of view this is ludicrous of course, but I can’t help thinking that if we could get past these ancient, arbitrary ideas of country and just look at communities, it wouldn’t be quite so unthinkable.

And of course, independence (based on community) doesn’t mean that anyone is taking their toys home in a huff. I mean, surely people can co-operate? I realise this is incredibly naive and idealistic, but let’s face it, political and economic borders haven’t really done wonders for World Peace now, have they? If Scotland vote for independence, it does NOT automatically mean they want nothing to do with England, and it does NOT automatically have to mean that England snatch back everything that they cast a possessive eye over, such as the sterling or the BBC. I don’t think Scotland are rejecting The Great British Bake Off along with Cameron and his cohorts, and I don’t see how it would benefit the UK to have such a dog-in-the-manger attitude. Share and share alike, eh? And perhaps respecting the boundaries of community rather than politics might make people MORE inclined to co-operate with each other. I don’t know.

That’s my five minute rant for today anyway. I expect there’s a million reasons why this wouldn’t work, most of them involving £, $ and € and anyone is very welcome to comment with those reasons. As I said, I have no illusions about my inexpertise or naivety. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion, however unrealistic, now does it? After all, being out of touch with reality never yet stopped someone getting into Downing Street…

3 thoughts on “Arbitrary Politics”

  1. Love it 🙂 And I agree, with the addition that all boundaries are arbitrary – including the ones that were in place prior to us nasty brits getting involved.

    And yeah, Berwick may feel more Scottish than English, and be lumped with it. As Coldstream may feel more English than Scots, and be lumped with that too.

    Let’s hope both sides can get over the petty snatching and grabbing of resources.

    I grind my axe…griiiiiind ;p

    Love ya xxx

  2. Completely agree, ALL boundaries are arbitrary, perhaps to varying extents. So why have any boundaries at all? Thinking along the lines of Médecins Sans Frontières!

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