Imagining a World Without Borders

Phil America speaks at TEDX UC Davis on Saturday
Phil America speaks at TEDX UC Davis on Saturday

On MLK Day, I don’t really like to recount the story of Martin Luther King Jr. It’s not that I don’t think that story is important and that I haven’t over the years been engrossed both in his story, his vision, his tactics, and his message. It is rather that I believe that the most important part of his story is ongoing.

He was right that he didn’t live to see the promised land, but you know what, none of us will. Instead, I think the most important lesson to take away from his life and work is carrying on his message into the modern world. After all, in three years, he will have been gone for 50 years – and yet we face a world with both the same and new challenges.

As I wrote yesterday, in recent weeks I have really gotten into watching TED videos, I downloaded the app onto my iPad and will often watch them before going to sleep. It is often a reminder of the impressive and often times dangerous work that people do in the name of social justice.

The local TEDxUCDavis event on Saturday featured a number of good speakers, but I found myself most moved by the last speaker, who went by the fictitious name Phil America.

Phil America said, “I was born here in America, but for my entire adult life I have been a migrant. I have lived all across the world.”

“I was born into privilege, and I acknowledge that,” he added.


“What’s a scrawny white guy doing up here talking about what it is to be a migrant as though I’m some expert on migrants?” he asked. “My path has been different from those who migrate to escape war or poverty or slavery.”

“My path was in the pursuit of art. My part was to try to find understanding for those who migrate to escape things and try to find understanding for the way that they live and to translate that into art,” he said.

He started with graffiti. For ten years he followed around and documented those who are most prominent in the graffiti community – and it took him all around the world. “It’s a sub-culture that extends to every single continent,” he said.

In order to understand them, he tried to live their experience by cutting through the fences, avoiding the cameras, going around the sensors and avoiding the police.

The way he found this was through photography and “through photography I found photography as art. And through art, I started to find a language that I could translate what I want to say.”

He moved to Asia, specifically to Bangkok’s Chinatown – a place that is 100% migrant. The people in charge of this Chinatown, considered to be the most authentic outside of China itself, were the Mafia, a criminal element.

“I rode around with the local Mafia, paying bribes to the police, selling fake Viagra and fake Xanex,” he said hanging out with the local prostitutes and he said, “I started understanding these people who were living in a new nation, a nation that most people said wasn’t theirs.”

Next he went to the largest slum in Thailand or what he called, “Third World, Third World.” He built a home there and he said he started to understand how these people live. He described, “These people lived in a place that smelled so bad I couldn’t sleep half the time.” It had no electricity or running water, “and seemingly no hope.”

“Yet somehow in the eyes of hopelessness they were able to come together and form a community, form a society within a society,” he said. “Ultimately (they) became the hands that built Thai society. 80% of the fresh food in Bangkok, which right now is the most visited city in the world, comes from this slum. Comes from the market that is in the middle of the slum. Run by the people of the slum.”


It was through this work that he was approached by agencies who wanted to use his art to show the issues that migrants faced in this place. His show was shown in the largest museum in Thailand. The main focus was a sixteen channel video installation that captured the work of these migrants building a home.

From there he went on to do other work on migrants and ultimately he said, “It made me question what are borders. They made me question why a line in the sand drawn way before our time can dictate how we treat one another.”

What he said he began to understand is that “in this society, they were misrepresented, they were mistreated and they were under-appreciated.” The people in these countries “treated them different simply because they were born somewhere else.”

He moved back to America. He said, “Previously my journeys had taken me to crossing borders all around the globe without permission.” Some of these were difficult and some were easy. It gave him a sense of what it was like “to feel the fear, feel the danger. Still, I couldn’t fully comprehend it.”


He turned his focus to America to focus on migrants in America. His search took him to Silicon Valley to “the jungle,” the largest immigrant camp in the country. He wanted to understand how they lived, and “why anyone would want to come here and why anyone would want to leave here.”

He focused on immigration issues here in America, a hot-button issue. “My hope is to try to find understanding for people who search for something better than is given to them or that the world has thrown at them. My hope is to try to see these people as our brothers, our sisters, as no different from one another.”

“My hope is to try to find hope,” he added. “There is at the end of the day no them, there is no otherness, we are all one, we’re all together.”

He said looking at America, we broadcast the notion of the American Dream across the world, “yet when people arrive here, they’re thrown into something different. They see that it’s different. There is no American Dream.”

When they arrive here, they are thrust into the same places they are thrust into all over the world – directly into the slums and the tent city.

He called for understanding about “this line and this fence around the world that divides people and somehow puts something between us and them.” He questioned why we treat them different, why we have hierarchies, borders, and he also began “thanking migrants for lending us a hand to help build our dreams.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Frankly

    The bleeding heart of liberalism that seeks to care for the collection of all perceived disadvantaged people, serves to drain a country of its cultural adhesiveness that is the lifeblood of its existence.  Nationalism and cultural bias, as long as peaceful, are necessary impulses for a people that naturally want to persevere.  Those impulses are the beating heart of conservatism.

    Islamic extremism and terrorism clearly refute this open borders utopia vision.   And so Islamic extremism is useful for western society because it helps overcome the inexplicable incapability of western liberals to recognize and calculate the ingredients of their good life that allows them so much time to focus on the minutia of social justice imperfection.

    There is absolutely no precedence, nor intellectual model, to support anything close to an open borders policy.  Wealthy elite liberals that travel the world are not enlightened to this cause, they in fact become less capable to see the truth… ironically, and somewhat hypocritically, after they return to their safe, secure and prosperous western home country where they then voice these ideas and display their “art”.

    1. Davis Progressive

      kind of interesting my experience reading this piece.  you have this young, idealistic man.  he acknowledges he comes from privilege.  so goes out and lives the experiences of the poor, the downtrodden, he empathizes with them.  and through that empathy he is able to communicate to the broader world through his art.

      then you have frankly who boils it down to his base partisan/ ideological dichotomy, who injects that intent anything and everything and proceeds to piss all over the good work the kid is doing.  nice job frankly.  you’re a truly inspiring person.  you inspire me to want to close down my computer and do something else.

      1. Frankly

        DP – you want to feel good about what this kid does.  I applaud his work, but not his conclusions.  His final conclusions represent the very most significant challenge faced by the west.  You cannot just wrap up these significant concerns in a blanket of social justice without considering the larger geopolitical implications.

        He said looking at America, we broadcast the notion of the American Dream across the world, “yet when people arrive here, they’re thrown into something different. They see that it’s different. There is no American Dream.”

        This is the typical anti-American screed from the left.  And to hear it come from yet another well-off American liberal seeking meaning for his life in the care of disadvantaged people requires a slap back to honest and objective thinking.  Go ahead and go out into the world and care for those people.  You get all my support and accolades.   But stop returning back to your comfy and prosperous home to criticize it into bringing in more of the subjects of your pursuit of meaning.

        There are a lot of American Christian Missionaries going out into the world to help people.  Yet they don’t come back and complain that their home country is the problem.  They don’t come back to demand that we make their lives easier by importing the subjects of their charity work so they have a much smaller commute and can do their work from the comfort of the country that others seem so quick to criticize.

        I am tired of this American-hating conclusion that constantly percolates primarily from the American left… the same people most responsible for actually reducing the access to the American dream.

        1. wdf1

          Frankly:  There are a lot of American Christian Missionaries going out into the world to help people.  Yet they don’t come back and complain that their home country is the problem.

          What is your sampling of American Christian Missionaries that allows you to draw that conclusion?

      2. Don Shor

        I was reading the article, thinking this guy is very idealistic but has gained a perspective that could be of interest. Take away messages were, perhaps, to treat immigrants decently, recognize their motives for coming here, acknowledge their contributions to our society, and also see his broader point about how communities form and function everywhere regardless of income and circumstances.
        And then I read Frankly’s reply. My reaction to that was much like yours.

      3. Biddlin

        Again, proof that some of us are excessively impulsive, hate driven and mono-maniacal. He hates Americans who don’t share his vision of America, hates them if they don’t share his vision of the world.  I am certainly not wealthy or elite. In some quarters, I’m not even considered very liberal. I travel as much as possible, to experience different cultures, play music and if I can help build a milking shed or fix a water pump, I’ve been known to do that too. Once again, what civilised people might call simple charity and being a good neighbour, so-called “Christian” values, no?

        I may not share Phil America’s dream, but I respect his right to dream it and am extremely suspicious of the motivation of anyone so threatened by it that they would post such an impassioned rant. This is, blessedly a pluralistic society and has been since the first Europeans set foot in America. As our society has evolved, we have forcefully rejected any system of class that suppresses the free exchange of ideas, most especially unpopular ones, like emancipation, women’s suffrage and civil rights. Indeed the arrow of history in America points to expansion and extension of rights and accessibility to ideas, not suppression or containment. In my experience, the best way to share and spread ideas and dreams is to take them out in the world and show them off. Hat’s off to Phil for his work and a less convivial gesture to those who would smother dreams and visions out of fear and ignorance.



        1. Frankly

          You should be more careful throwing around the word “hate” as it indicates your possible hatefulness for people that don’t share your views.

          The fact is that I don’t hate people… I just hate bad behavior.  And related to that I hate displays of hypersensitivity, lack of common sense, lack of objectivity, lack of introspection, irrational arguments and those that are prone to personal attacks when they run out of arguments.

          I hate the use of emotional arguments and emotional messaging as a primary driver to influence policy.  There is a practical and quantitative assessment of every decision, and the feelings of stakeholders are only one of many criteria that need be considered… not the primary thing.  Decisions made from an emotional basis are always sub-optimized.

          But I really hate unfounded, myopic and hypocritical criticism of this country.  I see the exact connection… the things that have made the US so successful that a full 25% of the inhabitants of the planet want to live here are in decline because of a lack of value perspective of those that are already here.

          I’m all for that individual struggle to escape the devastating awareness of meaninglessness, but please stop making every thing a reason to criticize the US without any balance in the argument.   I hate that.

      4. hpierce

        You’re right, DP… Frankly is probably incorrect about political motivations.  At least directly.  It may well be that he intends to posture himself as someone who identifies with the poor and disenfranchised, despite his ‘privilege’, and speak out through his art on behalf of those people.  We’ll see, perhaps, over time, if he eschews fame or fortune in using the proceeds from the sale of his art to help those people.  If not, he may be a hypocritical mercenary.  Or, he may be a ‘saint’.  We’ll see, in time.

        Most of the truly great people who came from privilege, truly identified with the plight of the poor/disenfranchised, gave up all the riches they had, for the benefit of the poor, and took on their poverty as their own. They didn’t look back or attempt to profit, monetarily nor by fame, for their choices.

    2. Matt Williams

      Islamic extremism and terrorism clearly refute this open borders utopia vision.

      Frankly, would it be accurate to also say that “Christian fundamentalism clearly refutes this open borders utopia vision”?

      1. hpierce

        Probably at least as accurate as saying “Jewish fundamentalism” clearly refutes it.  Or Atheistic/Agnostic ‘fundamentalism’ refutes it.  Or “secularism” does.  Pick a target, and there is a good chance I can point to a country and/or society that does this.

        BTW, other than being a resident of El Macero, what is the criteria for belonging to the El Macero Country Club these days?  Of course (pun intended) there are good, valid reasons for ‘some’ exclusivity.

        1. Matt Williams

          First, living within the boundaries of El Macero has never been a criteria for EMCC membership. Second, I’m not a member, so the following is only a guess, but I believe the criteria is basically having your name put forward by existing member(s).

          1. Matt Williams

            BP, I’m not sure, but I believe the membership buy-in is minimal these days. Regarding monthly fees, there are two levels of membership … a proprietary membership, which comes with golfing privileges as well as the right to vote on Club business matters … a social membership, which doesn’t include either golfing or voting privileges. The monthly cost of the proprietary membership is significantly higher than the social membership, and a social membership is quite reasonable these days.

        2. South of Davis

          hpierce wrote:

          > BTW, other than being a resident of El Macero,

          You don’t need to live in El Macero to become a member of the El Macero Country Club (many members live in Woodland and West Sac).

          > what is the criteria for belonging to the El Macero

          > Country Club these days?

          Paying dues period (you can be black, white brown, gay or straight and they will sign you up and take your money the day you come in, unlike the Burlingame Country Club and the SF Golf Club that still make sure that at least one relative is in the Bohemian Club or PU Club before you get on the list and over years need to host a series of parties for the membership committee to prove you are worthy of becoming a member)…

      2. Frankly

        Common sense combined with even a modicum understanding in human nature and the human condition easily refutes the open border concept.

        I was a big Star Trek – Gene Roddenberry fan.  In the Next Generation the story was a bit of the liberal utopian vision.  People of the most extreme different cultures all getting along in an enlightened system of rules… and nuanced adjustment from many collaborative discussions.  Then he wrote the Deep Space Nine stories… those depicted his actual opinion for reality.   And it was one of ongoing tribal conflict.

        Having worked for several large and small organizations, I completely noted the importance of organizational culture on the success of the organization.   Those that adopt and grow a model that works well, if they want to succeed, turn the model into almost a corporate religion.  Just talk to the Nugget owners and managers to understand this.  When a new employee walks through that door it is absolutely essential that the employee be assimilated into the Nugget culture.

        The US is like Nugget in that we have had the benefit of adopting a culture (collection of values and views) that has made us the most successful and powerful nation in the history of the world.  That must be protected.  Immigrants must be assimilated into it.   Open borders ideas basically say that our culture is not valuable enough to retain and we can just incorporate all people from different tribes and somehow this will be a better world.  That is so clearly absurd that it demands aggressive rebuttal.

        1. Alan Miller

          “I was a big Star Trek – Gene Roddenberry fan . . . . . When a new employee walks through that door it is absolutely essential that the employee be assimilated into the Nugget culture.”

          Like the BORG?


          BTW, I loved the Deep Space Nine Episode where the Enterprise and the Romulans joined forces and fought Phil America.

    3. Dave Hart

      Nationalism and cultural bias inevitably lead to violence.  Look at the beating heart of conservatism in ISIL.  Or National Socialism (NAZI) in Germany.  All good examples that nationalism and cultural bias must ultimately rely on violence to survive.  I can’t think of an example that contravenes.

      1. Frankly

        Read the word “peaceful” Dave.  Nationalism and cultural bias does not lead to violence unless the culture is one of violence.  There you go again making the US to be something much worse than it is.

        1. Don Shor

          Nearly all of the terrorists in the world are acting on behalf of ethnic/nationalist separatism or ideological extremism, often both. Usually there is a history of suppression and a condition of powerlessness as well.

        2. Matt Williams

          Frankly, while I agree that painting the US with a single broad brush makes no sense, we certainly have a long history of substantial periods where our culture was indeed one of violence. George Wallace is an emblem of one of those periods. George Armstrong Custer is an emblem of another. The Rock Springs, Wyoming massacre of 1885 is yet another. Prohibition was another. The KKK’s obsession with the threat of the Catholic Church, spreading anti-Catholicism and nativism was yet another.

          The list is long, and continues to this day. The US is not immune to the vagaries of human nature.

        3. Frankly

          Matt – this is creative list… but you are really grasping at straws and strawmen, IMO.

          First, let’s set some statute of limitations on examples… really? going back to the 1800s?  You claim this list are examples of violence from nationalism?  There are so many arguments to this that I am dizzy just thinking of them.

          The US is and has been primaility isolationist.  We just want to be left alone.  Our nationalism-generated “violence” generally only gets demonstrated when we are threatened.  There are only some rare and small exceptions to that consistent history except during our Western expansion as a very young republic.

          If there is any argument here, it is our quick finger to proactivly prevent threats.   And this includes our meddling in the affiars of other countries to protect economic interests and to prevent the spread of ideologies that are not only threatening to us, but to global peace.

          Here is what I think is going on…

          You and others have either bought into this narrative that the US is more bad than good… or significantly bad… or you are plagued with humility and guilt that prevents you from accepting American exceptionalism… or you just desire a global utopia so badly that you are compelled to level the playing field at all costs.

          Whatever the impulses that drive this need to paint the US as negative, bad, mean, violent, unfair, racist, expansionist, xenophobic… it seems to be largely irrational… amplifyihg the 10% missing in the 90% full glass.

          Absolutely nowhere else on the planet nor in history have humans been as free and as prosperous as have Americans.  And what have we done for the rest of the world?  Really, do you want to start making lists?  And for every unfortunate American attrocity you can list, I can list many, many more… most that are orders of magnitude more attrocious than the worst America has been a cause of.

          The fabulous American system has corrected and bounced back time and time again.  But we are not paying homage to the things that caused it to correct and bounce back.  We are attempting to transform it into the standard issue European liberal state, but with a progressive’s utopia flavor, while just ignoring thelong history of absolute European failure.

          It is time to get back in touch with those traditional American values that have sustained us and made us so fortunate.  There is absolutely no problem with nationalism or any other “ism” that is jusified and proved as being the best.

          1. Don Shor

            The US is and has been primaility isolationist. We just want to be left alone. Our nationalism-generated “violence” generally only gets demonstrated when we are threatened.

            Not even remotely true. The US is the dominant hegemonic power in the world, and has often intervened in the affairs of other countries for reasons that go far beyond any direct “threat” to us. There was no threat from Iraq. And these lists demonstrate the complete fallacy of your statement:

          2. Matt Williams

            Frankly, you are redefining the original premise, which was “Nationalism and cultural bias does not lead to violence unless the culture is one of violence.” Each of the examples of systemic violence stem from the culture of the United States at the time. Post hoc restriction of the source of the violence to purely/exclusively Nationalism because of the cultural roots of systemic American violence fails an intellectual scratch and sniff test. Further the jingoist argument you put forward when you say, “the US is and has been primarily isolationist” very clearly points to the root cause of each of those chapters of extreme systemic US violence within its borders. With the exception of Prohibition, each of them are variations on the recurring theme “the only good [insert ethnic/racial group here] is a dead [insert ethnic/racial group here]”

            In addition, if you look at the World’s current examples of violent extremism, Nationalism really doesn’t play a role. ISIS/ISIL does not advocate for any Nation. It is Pan-National. Don Shor’s statement, “Nearly all of the terrorists in the world are acting on behalf of ethnic/nationalist separatism or ideological extremism, often both. Usually there is a history of suppression and a condition of powerlessness as well.” is really only accurate if you remove the word “nationalist.”

          3. Don Shor

            As Europol, the European Union’s law-enforcement agency, noted in its report released last year, the vast majority of terror attacks in Europe were perpetrated by separatist groups. For example, in 2013, there were 152 terror attacks in Europe. Only two of them were “religiously motivated,” while 84 were predicated upon ethno-nationalist or separatist beliefs.

            These are ethnic groups advocating separatism with the goal of establishing independent, ethnically-based nations. Hence my use of the term ethnic/nationalist. This is also true in Asia. ISIL does, in fact, advocate for a caliphate, and is only pan-national in the sense that it wants to annex parts of existing nations. Among these separatist movements where Islam is the religion, it is central to the nationalist identity. Separation of church and state isn’t a strong value in most of the rest of the world.

            The common identification of terrorist groups as “Islamist” is simplistic. Just look at the fighting in Yemem right now, and try to identify the principal actors as to their ethnic and religious motivations.

          4. Don Shor

            Seemingly reasonable analysts have said that ISIL’s ultimate goal is Saudi Arabia. Although the borders there are just lines drawn in the sand by Europeans decades ago, the Saudis are now literally fortifying them with a wall, 600 miles long. I don’t think anyone in that region is imagining a world without borders at this time.

          5. Matt Williams

            Don, what ISIL advocates for goes far beyond “the sense that it wants to annex parts of existing nations.” Rather, on June 29, 2014, ISIL proclaimed itself to be a worldwide caliphate under the name “Islamic State.” In doing so ISIL claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide and that the legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the caliphate’s authority and the arrival of ISIL troops to those emirates, groups, states, and organizations.

            That is seriously pan-national.

          6. Don Shor

            There is a wide gulf between their rhetoric and their tactical ambitions. It would be a huge mistake for the US to get sucked in to their rhetoric and base any military policy on it. And ISIL isn’t Al Qaeda.

          7. Matt Williams

            Don, you have changed the discussion topic … which was “Nearly all of the terrorists in the world are acting on behalf of ethnic/nationalist separatism or ideological extremism.”

            With that said, as a separate and different discussion topic … guidance about how the US should officially respond to ISIL’s rhetoric, I agree with your statement.

      2. Dave Hart

        Frankly, what I said stands as objectively true.  If the U.S. or any other country has not succumbed to all out fascist behavior, it’s because of the fact that there is significant rejection of nationalism and cultural bias (xenophobia) as state policy and among the population.  The worst examples of nationalist and xenophobic policies at the state level are Nazi Germany, Fascist Japan, 1990s Rwanda, Pol Pot in Cambodia.  Principled rejection of xenophobic and nationalist ideas are associated with the liberal tradition of open-mindedness.  Normal, regular people like you and me in Germany did not start out with the goal of what would ultimately occur. But that is where that kind of policy leads. I reject your notion that peaceful intent can control these forces of nationalism and xenophobia.


        1. Frankly

          Dave – you use only the most extreme foreign historical examples that have absolutely no connection with the US to make your point?  You are absolutely wrong, IMO, that any rejection of nationalism and cultural bias has had anything to do with any violence the US has been involved in recently (in the last century).  In fact it is just the oposite… the shining city on the hill has given of herself to save the world… multiple times.

          And to your comparison of US citizens to German citzens that supported Nazis… I am at a loss to even respond.

          Do you not attribute a single positive difference to the American system?

          You and others seem so determined to reject American exceptionalism that you weirdly make up your own history.

        2. Dave Hart

          I submitted these as the WORST examples how nationalism and xenophobia play out when given no restraint.  Fortunately, our political landscape here has not yet allowed our society to deteriorate to the point as cited in the worst examples.  The U.S. idea of exceptionalism and popular fear of Islam, combined with ignorance of the languages, social nuances and relationships across Asia and in the middle east has arguably made a bad and difficult situation worse.  The U.S. is no longer regarded as the “shining city” outside of the U.S.

          You are delusional if you believe that German citizens of the 1920s and 1930s are any different than you or I.  For heaven’s sake, Frankly, I grew up in Kansas where almost everybody was German and even I don’t presume to think that what can happen one place can’t happen another except for the politics and organizing and discourse that happens.  We are all capable of it.  We are all capable of doing the opposite.

          I attribute the fact that rebellion in our early national history set what I call a positive tone.  I also think some of the best of what U.S. citizens say and do is drawn from the experience of those who ran away from dictatorial powers in Europe at a certain time in history and immigrated here without papers.  There are many great Americans who weren’t actually born here like Thomas Paine.  At the same time I’ve read enough to know that underneath some of our proudest history is some pretty nasty motivation.  1776 was as much about the freedom to own slaves and the freedom to take the Indigenes’ lands against Britain’s wishes.  I see the good and the bad and that is why I condemn xenophobia.  The bad actors in my book are no longer the slaveowners and profiteers but multinational corporations who buy elections and fund a government that misinforms its citizens.  If that’s the kind of society you want, you are correct to be quite happy the way things are.

          I’m not making anything up, but I have read history for grownups based on source materials and first hand accounts that aren’t sugar-coated for school children.  You might want to try that.

        3. tribeUSA

          It seems to me that most of the recent conflicts around the world are a direct response to attempts by western interests to expand their hegemony over more regions–Ukraine and the middle east conflicts are examples of this; a substantial (if not major part) of the populations of these countries reject imposition of the western internationalist NWO being forced down their throats. So it would seem to be a trade-off–it appears that the internationalists are winning, and we can look forward to a world of techno-serfism for most; following the current trend of consolidation of assets into the hands of fewer and fewer people–loyalty to tribe or nation are discouraged; by being loyal only to self/family with weakened loyalties to community and cultural tribe; then organized resistance to this corporatization of the world and consolidation of wealth is weakened, and the megalith of NWO internationalism continues–we will be taught to be grateful for our serfdom role (given a prettier name) and toil in our soon-to-be-surveilled cubicles, where performance efficiency measures will be updated and logged by the minute for most of the worker drones. Perhaps once the hold-out nations capitulate to the western NWO, there may be fewer wars then there have been in recent decades while we have been on this course of enlightened internationalism. On the other hand, choosing the path of personal and community loyalty to our culture and nation may, under the direction of fanatics (the nazi germany analogy) continue the temptation to international conflicts and wars. Perhaps adoption of moderate culturalism and nationalism can reduce the occurrence of such wars.

          I think we have all have been taught about  the dangers of extreme nationalism, and there are historical examples of the disasters this can lead to. Internationalism has been and is being held up as the panacea to the problems of nationalism; the apparent upsides are marketed by universities and the corporate community and by our politicians; very little mention is publicized by these groups of possible or real down-sides to internationalism–it seems to me that, based on the historical record over the past few decades, internationalism is leading to the concentration of economic and political power into the hands of fewer and fewer individuals, and these individuals will inevitably succumb to the temptation to further leverage and consolidate their power, leading to abuse of power and a miserable oppressive dystopia for most people.

          I come down on the side of a moderate culturalism and nationalism, and proceed cautiously into a more unified world economy and culture (we’ve been going to fast over the past few decades, with a lot of damage incurred)–a wide diversity of types of governance and economic structures among different nations should not only be tolerated but encouraged; these are basically cultural/economic experiments, other countries can learn from what works well and doesn’t work well in these other countries. On a related note, it has been claimed that a connected global economy is more resilient than separated national economies–perhaps this is accurate; on the other hand a collapse of the global economic system would be a mega-disaster; no other countries/independent economies that could be turned to for help (stakes are higher!)

  2. Tia Will

    I see no need whatsoever to categorize Phil America. I truly regret not having heard him speak. As a person who seems to be quite like minded about the significance of borders and the belief that they are artificial constructs defined so as to benefit those who are already comfortable, and to keep others out, I do not feel the need to paint him as either a hypocrite or a saint.

    Perhaps he is, just as we each are, just a single human being with all the contradictions and foibles that each of us have, expressing himself using his unique set of privileges, talents, gifts and insights to communicate and make encourage the improvements he sees as possible using the opportunities that have been presented to him and those that he himself has created to present a vision that few of us share. For that I applaud him.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      We weren’t comfortable 300 years ago, and many weren’t comfortable 50 years ago. Many still stuggle.

      If more countries embraced capitalism, democracy, individual rights, and a legal system, more people would prosper.

      1. Davis Progressive

        i guess, but essentially what migrants are doing is embracing exactly that.  they’re just tired of fighting against their own despots to do it.

      2. Dave Hart

        TBD, I really have to question your reading of history and understanding of how economies and societies develop.  With the exception of Canada, nations in the Americas developed under conditions of  U.S. dominance through the Monroe Doctrine.  Countries that are dependent on nations and powers outside their borders are susceptible to internal corruption of their own ruling elites.  Former British colonies that remained in the Commonwealth (Australia, Canada, New Zealand) did much better than colonies that won their “independence”.

        I don’t buy the simple answer that these countries just have to straighten up and fly right.  Most of our immigrants are coming from countries that our ruling elite through financial, military and economic policies have savaged or ruined or made into economically dependent colonies.  Once on top, the G-7 or whatever they refer to themselves nowadays are not inclined to let anyone else in on the club.  Immigrants from these countries are often the more motivated, can-do kind of people because they are desperate enough, and resourceful enough to figure out what they have to do to survive and git ‘er done.

        If we’re not willing to give these people a good reason to stay home, then we should embrace them with both arms wide open.

        1. Frankly

          This is a bunch of BS.  So your point is that the US exploited these other contries and we are responsible for the plight of the foreign poor and so we should just open our borders and allow everyone in?

          Do you understand how the global economy works?  I think not.

        2. Dave Hart

          Frankly, I hope you reap all the benefits of NAFTA and the new TPP.  Best of luck in the brave new corporatized world.  You might want to bookmark this discussion because if the TPP and sister trade deals pass, I suspect even you will be complaining.

        3. TrueBlueDevil

          You’re saying we caused the Irish potato famine, or put Tito in power? We put the French or British aristocracy in power?

          BTW, it was Britain that committed the Royal Navy to stopping slave shipments and the slave trade, right?

          We savaged China and India? Singapore? Sweden? China and India are doing much better, the later doing quite well when they abandoned their socialism experiment. Right?

          Ethiopians thrive here, while I read rumblings that Somalians are wrecking havoc on the peaceful, liberal citizens of Minnesota. It doesn’t sound like they are thriving.

          I believe the countries that have thrived are those that adopt capitalism, democracy, and the rule of law, whether that is Singapore, Hong Kong, the Chech Republic, Israel, Panama or Australia.


  3. Anon

    He said looking at America, we broadcast the notion of the American Dream across the world, “yet when people arrive here, they’re thrown into something different. They see that it’s different. There is no American Dream.”
    When they arrive here, they are thrust into the same places they are thrust into all over the world – directly into the slums and the tent city.

    Now the question is “What is the American Dream?”  Too many people who do not live in this country (or even those who do!) think that Americans live as is depicted in Hollywood movies, which is not true.  Many (I daresay most) Americans live in very, very modest circumstances, hunt for their existence (need to bag a deer or moose to keep winter meat in the freezer), live paycheck-to-paycheck.  But what makes this nation great is that most of us pull together in a crisis, would die to protect our freedoms, and feel it is important to help our fellow man.

    A perfect example of this is what happened immediately after 9-11.  The nation galvanized into action, with many from all over the country coming together to rescue trapped people and to identify the dead.  Local restaurants provided free food to the rescuers.  Many signed up for the military, ready to deploy overseas to hunt down those that did the killing.  Those civilians on the airplane flight over PA, headed to do damage to the Whitehouse, gave their lives to bring the plane down before it reached its planned destination.  Many firefighters and police responders died that day attempting to rescue survivors of the Twin Towers/airliner collision.  I will forever be proud of our nation in how we handled 9/11’s immediate aftermath.

    He called for understanding about “this line and this fence around the world that divides people and somehow puts something between us and them.” He questioned why we treat them different, why we have hierarchies, borders, and he also began “thanking migrants for lending us a hand to help build our dreams.”

    I think this statement shows this young man to be very idealistic but not very realistic.  Yes, in an ideal world, everyone would be able to move freely from country to country.  But realistically there are good and cogent reasons for borders, too numerous to list here.  Just to name a few: control influx of immigrants running from oppressive gov’t that would overrun an accepting country’s ability to absorb that many immigrants; drug trafficking; human trafficking, etc., some of which helps migrants from being exploited.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “I think this statement shows this young man to be very idealistic but not very realistic. ”

      the same could have been said for a lot of people.  the founding fathers.  steve jobs.

      the point you make is an interesting segue back to the story of bill habicht who posted below, bill was told the rotating shelter was idealistic but not very realistic, they don’t tell him that anymore.  i think we accept a lot of crap and find excuses not to make things better with these kinds of attitudes.  this kid is trying to at least represent and give notice to the plights of others – i think that should be encouraged, not poo-pooed.

  4. Bill

    I heard his talk and found it quite interesting and even learned a few things in the process. He had an art installation where he videod immigrants personal stories. I would’ve loved to see some of those. If anything, his idea of creating an online database of immigrant stories seems like a good one. I,  for one,  could probably use some education in this arena via these first hand stories. It might help to inform how I view policy issues at the national/state level.

  5. TrueBlueDevil

    He won’t identify who he is, which is interesting, yet he claims to have had a large art exhibit. What is his background?

    I also find it interesting that of all the places he settled, he hung out in Bangkok, known worldwide for its cheap sex trade and forbidden escapades. Are we to believe a wealthy young man was a saint among the downtrodden of Bangkok, while he hung out with the Mafia, prostitutes, and drug dealers?

    The word that comes to mind is slumming.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “The word that comes to mind is slumming.”

      the word that comes to mind is judgmental.  he is neither asking for a handout nor running for office, so why does it matter?

    2. KSmith

      Where does anyone call this guy a saint? And, yeah–what DP said. Why does it matter? His hanging out with these people gave him a certain perspective that he reflects in his art and that has given him a different way to think about the world. Why the pearl-clutching?

    3. Miwok

      Thx, TBD, for stating my feelings with more tact than I would have used.

      Being an “artist ” is more than declaring yourself one, just as a bunch of 20 somethings declare themselves “philanthropists” by buying a Susan Komen T-Shirt.

      KSmith, I think the reason to not glorify these people is they are selling air.

    4. Tia Will


      He won’t identify who he is, which is interesting,

      The same could be said of you. And yet you are willing to make completely unsupported negative comments about him. Interesting indeed, and says much more about you than about him.

  6. Don Shor

    For terrorism to establish and succeed, there are usually certain economic and social conditions that prevail, and certain beliefs that have to become accepted.

    — Our situation is desperate and hopeless, and only violence will change that.

    — The end goal of greater freedom or autonomy justifies the means of violence, even if innocent people are killed.

    — The use of violence is justified because ‘our people’ have been subjected to violence. Revenge supports the ongoing cycle of violence.

    — It is ok, or even honorable, for me to die for this cause.

    So poverty can be a factor in perceiving hopelessness. Authoritarian or totalitarian regimes can foster a sense of desperation. The use of extreme policing, torture,  and military suppression can lead to acceptance that violence is the only answer. The absence of democratic means of enacting change can push people toward greater rebellion, and then violence.

    Growing up in a place where foreign powers have invaded, occupied, bombed without precision, and instituted authoritarian and feckless governments can certainly lead to core beliefs that violence is the only answer.

    And many religions can lead to an acceptance – even a sanctification – of death on behalf of a cause.

    Military action against terrorist groups may be necessary, but can also foster conditions that increase recruitment. Continued poverty and police-state tactics just make things worse.

    Of course we need to have borders. There are lots of practical reasons for that. But there is nothing wrong with promoting the idealistic principle of commonalities across humanity, which is what I see this speaker doing. I certainly don’t see any leap from that to hating America, nor is there any conflict with our basic values as I understand them.

    I doubt he’s advocating for open borders, though he’s certainly welcome to come here and discuss his views in more detail. I expect he’s just urging that we treat immigrants to our country, legal or otherwise, with more respect, and try to understand their motives for coming here. Probably their motives aren’t much different than those of our grandparents and their grandparents.


    A small percentage may be coming here for criminal reasons or to engage in terrorist actions. We have a robust Department of Homeland Security that has vast powers and a huge budget. Taking enforcement action against immigrants because of a fear of terrorism is pretty inefficient and probably not very effective. DHS has other tools.


    1. Frankly

      A thoughful and nuanced stream of consciousness… that hits some points, and glosses over others.

      Hoplessness develops and weak people are easily convinced that the more successful are responsible.

      Have you experienced the typical human response to the “I just want to be left alone” attempt?  Maybe you can fly below the human assessment radar.  Maybe you become skilled at balancing the attention you might otherwise develop… especially any based on envy or greed.

      But what if you are just gloriously succcessful?  What if your personal achievements outshine everyone else by a few orders of magnitude?

      Here is what I know about human nature… if you are notable but continue to attempt a position of isolationism or humility… you will generate more envy and greed and inspire more people to want to knock you down.

      It is jut a common thing.  We like to see the Mets win the the Yankees lose…. until the Mets start to win and Yankees start to lose… then we want the oposite.  We humans are wired to cheer for the underdog.  We we are wired to grab the people up high and drag them back down in a misery loves company fit.

      American liberals want so much for the US to be loved.  It is killing them that they are stuck in this nation of bold and brash and big and direct and briming with self-confidence.  But liberals are irrational in their remedy.  They live in a country that is orders of magnitude more successful, more noteworthy, more good, more relevant, more leading… and most of all… more winning.   This is the truth… and making a case for all the bad about American as a way to bring it down to a more humble and equal comparison to others is just making the othes angrier, more envious and more determined to break us and pull us down to their level of misery.

      We have no choice but to beat them back down to reallize that their insecurity is real and self-imposed.  We are the Yankees and we need to keep beating the Mets until the Mets learn to play the game the right way.   There are no shortcuts allowed.

      The Mideast is plagued with a backwards culture, so are many of the countries that generate the most US imigrants.  If they come here they get to play on best team and they need to assimialte to that team.

      I will never appologize for the copious American exceptionsim that exists.  I will also not support the silly attempts to amplify our problems as a way to make us equal with other less capable nations.

      1. Don Shor

        I just prefer a more balanced view of our history and our international behavior. We have a lot to be proud of, and a lot to answer for. I don’t get the sense that you acknowledge the negative at all.

        I also don’t think people become terrorists because they envy us.

        1. South of Davis

          Don wrote:

          > I just prefer a more balanced view of our history and our international behavior. 

          I think that everyone will be better if they can step back and look at “more balanced” view of EVERYTHING.

          I am proud to be an American, but not proud of EVERYTHING we have done on the international stage.  Last year I read a great book about the Dulles brothers that talks about a lot of stuff I’m not proud of and I think every high school student should read “war is a racket” by (a distant relative of my wife) Major General Smedley Butler (anyone can read the short book for free on line):

          Another good short link on the history of war and money is below:

  7. Frankly

    TribeUSA: I come down on the side of a moderate culturalism and nationalism, and proceed cautiously into a more unified world economy and culture (we’ve been going to fast over the past few decades, with a lot of damage incurred)

    Dave Hart: I hope you reap all the benefits of NAFTA and the new TPP.  Best of luck in the brave new corporatized world.  You might want to bookmark this discussion because if the TPP and sister trade deals pass, I suspect even you will be complaining.


    I agree with Tribe on this, but I also share a small bit of Dave’s gloomy predictions of gloom and doom for the march of economic globalism.

    I think societal and economic optimization is going to require a careful and significantly thoughtful policy approach that balances the costs and benefits of internationalism/globalism verses nationalism/isolationism.

    I have read a great number of recent articles on the subject of “place”.  The introduction of this topic came from one of our more intellectual city leaders exploring a future vision for Davis.  I find it fascinating that many Davisites clearly vested in celebrating and protecting the uniqueness of Davis and the state of California are also those that reject US nationalism.  I cannot tell if it is intellectual dishonesty, or just some emotional ignorance to the obvious hypocrisy of position.   I think it is mostly the latter… but then maybe there is some rational perspective that has yet to be explained to me… why we feel so strongly to design and protect a perfect city-place, but then reject the notion that our nation-place is worthy of similar protection.

    We are all both individual and part of many collectives.  I am me, but I have responsibility and connections to my family, my friends, my coworkers, my neighbors, my city, my region, my state, my country, etc., etc., etc…    We can visualize this by drawing concentric circles on a page representing each of these individual and tribal entities we are connect with and share some responsibility for maintaining a connection.

    The US has become so successful because it has been a system and culture that advocates emphasis on the freedom of the individual.  We draw the circle around self with a big, fat permanent marker.   We are not constrained by the cultural norms of other places that drag back the individual to prevent the negative emotional tug of humiliation, envy and resentment… because EVERYONE has relatively the same access and opportunity to pursue the same.  People of many other cultures see us as rude and disrespectful… but we just reject their view that the individual needs to pull back and get in line.  At least that is the way it has been until we experienced the resurgence of the ever present collectivist waiting for the next crisis to again try and ultimately fail.  Some can see the opportunities in the dynamism of freedom of individual pursuit, while others can’t get over their anxiety of the thought of themselves or others being left behind.  Egalitarian impulses are ultimately destructive to individual freedom… and without individual freedom the entire system/culture becomes unable to sustain itself from lack of progress from innovation and growth. 

    The US is the shining proof that the emphasis on the individual is righteous.   And this part of our culture demands the utmost protection because humans tend to be tribal and emotionally destructive.   First we have to care about self.  If we cannot fulfill our selfish human needs, it is much more difficult to move to help the upstream tribes.  That is a big reason why so many other cultures remain stuck in third-world status… a more collectivist culture that constrains the individual for the “good” of the tribe.  It is these relatively broken cultures that are prone to violent displays of nationalism.   The US has largely solved the riddle… the dance of individual freedom and tribal harmony.  It is not perfect, but it is better than all the rest.   We are a nation of mostly individually-secure people.   We are peaceful except when needing to protect our security.

    Nationalism born of prideful pursuits based on individual insecurity are more often violent; while nationalism born of prideful pursuits based on true feelings of security are simply protective.

    The behavior of fans at international soccer games is a reflection of this.  Tribes of fans from insecure nations are often physically violent… while those of secure nations might just yell loudly.  

    Interesting that Dave Hart says that current US residents are no different than Germans in the 1930s and 40s as Naziism took over.  He and others attempt to paint US nationalism as the same stuff.  But it is not the same stuff.  It is nothing close to the same stuff.  And if you study the history of WWII, it was clearly aggressive nationalism born of the insecure individual (the Axis powers) combined with the lack of justified nationalism of the more individually-secure allied countries that allowed Germany to grow so malicious and destructive.

    It appears that the EU is unraveling after the Swiss decoupled their currency from the Euro.  The lessons from this probable failed EU experiment are not that internationalism is dead, but that secure individual justified nationalism has been given insufficient consideration and support… and that individually-insecure nationalism has been given an inappropriate seat at the same table.  Greece is not Germany nor Switzerland… yet Greece drags them down with equality demands.  

    Back to this point about economic internationalism versus economic isolationism…  it is a common debate in most of the west these days.  And like the Swiss, some are moving toward more protective nationalism/isolationism.

    But we cannot check out of the global economy even as it causes pain of lower wages for American workers as labor becomes an international commodity, and income gaps grow because store owners sell to a larger customer base.  But what we can do is to put a greater policy effort on domestic economic development.  We should do much more to help small local business start, grow and develop.  We should embrace small local operators that provide jobs and inject money into the local, regional, state and national economy.  We should better educate our workforce.  We should stop the flow of illegal immigrants that drive down wages.  We should demand a strong military to protect our borders and our freedoms.  And we should insert ourselves into the politics of other nations or territories that threaten our safety and our interests… only to protect what is ours.  
    It is a balanced approach that we require.   But today, on one side are the giant corporations lobbying to break down the barriers of economic nationalism so they can be more profitable.  And they are supported by this weird collection of people demanding protection of place while also advocating open borders, military reductions, rejecting US nationalism and denying that the US has a culture worth protecting.  There are plenty of people complaining about the former… my goal has been to raise hell about the latter.   And this is why I responded so strongly to this Phil America.  He is not just idealistic, he is dangerously ignorant and in good company.

    The US is justified in demonstrating a strong nationalist persona.  We are still that shining city on the hill.  We are in decline because we don’t do enough to honor and protect those things that made us strong and successful, not because we are violent in protection of it.  We deserve a right to protect what we have earned.  And we should respect other countries rights to their national identity, but they need to stay inside their own borders and work on improving their own individual security… and get used to a world that will continue to grow flatter and more international.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      How will the EU deal with radical Islam? Even the liberal French can no longer bury their heads in the sand.

      And how will they deal with a potential pull out of Greece?

      1. Don Shor

        How have they dealt with the myriad separatist movements in Europe, including terrorist organizations that have killed far more Europeans than “radical Islam?” How have they dealt with the ETA in Spain, the IRA in the UK?

          1. Don Shor

            Yes. Not all “radical Islamic Terrorists” are the same, Frankly. But just with the ETA, there have been thousands of attacks, thousands injured, hundreds killed over many years. So in what sense should I not ‘equate’ them?

        1. Frankly

          The Basque region is a unique historical region within the borders of Spain that speaks a different language.  How does that compare with new Muslim immigrants that have no geographic claim or connection working to spread Islam and Sharia law and a global caliphate?

          This isn’t a “separatist” movement unless you are talking about separating heads from shoulders in the name of Allah.

          No, they will not be able to “deal” with this like the ETA and IRA.

          1. Don Shor

            they will not be able to “deal” with this like the ETA and IRA.

            That is exactly how they will deal with it. One small terror cell at a time, using our current arsenal of surveillance, interdiction, and arrests. And perhaps trying to work, separately, to assimilate the immigrant community more fully into their societies. There is a growing recognition that the isolation, high unemployment and economic privation of the immigrant communities of France is probably a factor in the radicalization of their youth. As it usually is elsewhere.

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          The problem is that radical Islam doesn’t just have a beef with France, or Sweden… they have a beef with everyone, including their own people who they don’t think are devout enough. They kill innocents in Africa, the Philippines, Malmo Sweden, Marseilles France, you name it.

          America does seem unique in that we’ve been able to integrate many Muslims into our society in a peaceful manner. But we’ve also had some terrorists who were just very poor at making effective  bombs … if they were better at their trade, we’d have far more bloodshed. Then we also have Eric Holder and President Obama calling Fort Hood “workplace violence”, not terrorism.

          When they effectively hit the London Eye, the Tube, the Eiffel Tower … then there will be change. I don’t know why they don’t immediately bar anyone who has gone to Syria, Yemen, or elsewhere to wage terrorist acts… why they don’t bar them from re-entry into their country.

          Some think the base problem is that Islam never went through a reformation like other religions, hence they are often stuck in the 9th century.

      2. Frankly

        Assuming there are more acts of terrorism (which I expect), I suspect that European nationalism will grow and nationalist politicians will win more seats and the French will increase immigration restrictions and deportations.  The first move will be to treat terrorism as a greater law-enforcement challenge.  Then western liberals will begin their claims of xenophobia and unfairness and that Muslims are peaceful and being victimized.  And the cycle will just keep repeating until eventually it becomes clear that we need WWIII when Saudi Arabia is overrun and Israel is nuked by the fanatics.   And then again we can thank head-in-the-sand western liberals for another period of millions of dead Jews and others.

        I think Greece pulling out is just the tip of the iceberg.   The EU is starting to unravel.

        1. Don Shor

          More likely their national security agencies will quietly expand their work with ours, and much of what they will do will be unseen by anyone.
          Nice of you to blame liberals for everything, as usual. What would conservatives be doing about it?

        2. Frankly

          In general, conservatives support a tougher and stronger military response for any attack on or threat to any US citizen or US interest.  And in general, liberals think we should wait and see while talking it out… and try to ignore the problem in the hope it will just go away.  And if there is an attack, to treat it like a domestic crime.

          Neville Chamberlain versus Winston Churchill.  One got it wrong (the liberal) and one got it right (the conservative).

          Now I would agree that Bush got it wrong going into Iraq, and Obama had it right to wait and see.

          But conservatives were generally less supportive of pulling the troops out of Iraq or Afghanistan too early because of the fear we would have to go back again… exactly what is happening.    So Obama got it wrong.

          I do know some conservatives that are also prone to demand that we stay out of other countries’ business.  But my point is that liberals tend to want to wait before sending in the troops to put an end to the threats and malice… and this often results in greater death and destruction.

          1. Don Shor

            But conservatives were generally less supportive of pulling the troops out of Iraq or Afghanistan too early because of the fear we would have to go back again… exactly what is happening. So Obama got it wrong.

            Then you, and they, have learned nothing.

        3. TrueBlueDevil

          Clinton was hit 4, 5, 6 times, did nothing, and what was the result? We had a chance to hit Bin Laden, but there might be a few innocents killed… Clinton decided not to pull the trigger. And hence we got 9/11.

          Bush played offense, which seemed to keep some of the wackos at bay, and then Obama goes on his world apology tour, and pulls out plans for a missile defense system in Poland or the CRepublic, and got nothing in return. Nothing! We were negotiating with ourselves, how foolish. Then Putin comes out of his lair, no surprise there.

          When BO did have OBL killed, what did his team do? Blah blah blah, blab like little school girls over what a great job they did and how they did it and what they learned. Another amateur hour, I could hear the dozens of rats crawling back into their holes. If they were smart they would have kept their mouths shut, or spoken of how amazing OBL was at hiding his information, unbreakable code, impossible to break. Impossible. OBL was a genius! … meanwhile, they would hunt down his henchmen and take them out. No, blah blah blah to the liberal media.

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