I want to engage in a small act of subversive imagination. I hope you will play along.
Let’s imagine that we did away with social barriers. Let’s just imagine no dress codes, no private clubs, no private schools, no exclusive churches, no real estate red-lining, no segregated neighborhoods.
It is just a game of imagination so we don’t need to get too anxious.
But lets just pretend that anyone who wants to can walk into any club there is anywhere, with no restrictions. Let’s pretend that anyone can walk up your street and mine and knock on any door without fear of police harassment.
It is just a game of pretend so let’s keep going with it.
Let’s pretend that anyone can swim in your neighborhood swimming pool; that anyone can drive around your suburb without being profiled; that anyone can walk on the beach or swim in the lake out in front of your lake house because all shoreline is public access; that, in fact, anyone can purchase or rent a house or apartment next to yours without the neighbors or the banks or the realtors maintaining the boundaries that they do.
Imagine that anyone can walk into your store, or your restaurant
or get-away, even if they dress and smell like someone who lives on the street.
Like I said, it is just a game of pretend so there is no reason to get agitated…yet.
Let’s just pretend that any kid from any neighborhood in any town or city can sit next to your or my kid at their school, especially if it is a clean, well-furnished private or parochial school, or even a segregated suburban public school.
Let’s imagine – it is just pretend so we need not get weird about it – that other than the little bit of private property you and I may live in, that the invisible barriers of class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality are not actually there like the trip-wires on an alarm system that they really are.
You know what would happen, don’t you?
It is so obvious, isn’t it? When we imagine the disappearance of such standard boundaries then we realize it would not take any time at all
before we realized that we are utterly interdependent.
We would suddenly realize, without our usual social barriers that create distance between us, that we are mutually dependent. That is what vulnerability does: it stripes away pretense and rubs us raw with the knowledge that what happens to ‘them’ happens to us.
If all those social barriers were gone it would take no time at all to realize that we are in a world of hurt with each other and that we had better get our act together or we are all going down together. Sure, keeping the boundaries will allow some of us to go down the path of destruction more slowly than others but what good does it really do to have a stateroom on the Titanic?
The distance between the fear that drove Dylann Roof to murder nine strangers and the fear that wields power on Wall Street and in the Capital Rotunda can be measured in millimeters. All of us have a vested interest in reinforcing social boundaries and it is rooted in our fear of vulnerability. And yet, our mutual vulnerability is what could save us.