Tear Down This Wall

Who said, "Tear down this wall?" It hardly matters. All that matters is the people who actually did it - people like you and I. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from living in an ex-Eastern Bloc country, it’s that the Iron Curtain didn’t fall because of what any one leader said or did here. It fell because people were prepared to exist without it.

Not that many English speaking visitors to Berlin realise this, but quite a few people who lived in the GDR believed that the Wall was a necessary defence against the capitalist, militarised West.  That was what their leaders led them to believe. Nowadays, we are so used to thinking of the Wall as a fence that kept people in, we forget that for many people on the eastern side of it, it was seen as a fence that was keeping danger out. 

In truth, the Wall was more a psychic defence that prevented the people of East Germany realising that they were fairly deprived, compared to their Western neighbours. What East Germans couldn't see or hear about the West, they couldn't yearn for. I have been told that, if you went back in time and asked the citizens of the GDR what the Wall was there for, they probably would have told you that it was keeping out all kinds of unseen threats. If many believed that lie it was because, at the end of the day, it made a lot more sense than the truth: that the regime was failing, and its architects were willing to sacrifice everybody else's health and welfare to delude them that everything was going to be ok.

The Western world has the same sort of relationship to free market capitalism, today. Most Westerners have been told for their whole lives that the capitalist system is there to protect them. Most of them know that this system isn't perfect, and maybe it's kind of a shitty deal for them, personally, but they are willing to put up with it because they believe that whatever lies outside of this system is way worse. Past the walls of free market capitalism lies a world full of vague, lethal threats... or so they are told. Tribal wars, plagues, famines, fundamentalist regimes are some of the baddies that they are certain would pounce on them if this system, and its walls, were to collapse.

To anyone who steps  outside of this system, though, it starts to look more like a stifling fortress, held together by fear, suffering and death; the arms industry, for example, props it up.  People fleeing wars caused by these arms starve and drown waiting to be let in. Police tolerate fascists and even terrorists in their ranks. The list goes on. Free market capitalism is the Eastern Block of modern times, working against the people even as its claiming to work for them. And our blind faith in its claims is the only thing that keeps 'business as usual' running.

"Buy less, think more": that's one solution to climate change, but it's easier said than done. 

When East Germans began to see beyond their Wall in the 1980's, thanks to greater access to radio and television from abroad, they started to realise that what lay on the other side was less threatening than their leaders had said it was. Some of them even realised that it was (say it softly) quite attractive. But the fullness of the system's insanity was not revealed until they'd dismantled the Wall and the system that had built it. Only then did they realise the full extent of their betrayal by their leaders.

Things like the Stasi files were uncovered, spanning decades, showing how much pointless torture and suffering was inflicted to stop people from warning one another that it was not going to be okay after all. I think that was the moment when most East Germans realised that the Wall was protecting something completely alien to them; something cold and inhuman. It was protecting sociopaths.

Right now, the public is witnessing something similar with regards to our system's handling of the climate crisis. Companies like Enron have been shown to have produced, and then buried, hard evidence of climate change as long ago as the 1970s. Governments like that of the U.S.A., argue that humans have no right to a liveable planet, if it gets in the way of their profits.  Every new revelation like this is a crack in the wall that people thought was defending them from chaos and uncertainty. Through the gap, they can see more and more clearly that all that was being protected was an image, or lies, all along. The lies of a sociopath.

Better access to information is now showing more people that climate change is accelerating - wildfires rage and glaciers melt, while these sociopaths continue to obsess over profits. It's chilling to realise just whom we have locked ourselves in with, behind this wall... but it doesn't have to stay that way. People just have to decide for themselves that the world outside the confines of capitalism isn't worse than the world within it is... or will soon become. When that happens they, too, will "Tear down this wall."

Just as in the late 1980s, the crises that our system is producing will keep on happening for as long as we allow them to.  When enough people start to see beyond the lies that are obstructing their view, all of the political and financial might in the world won’t be able to stop them from changing the system.


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