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The Rusted Iron Curtain

Robert Kaplan illustrates the interesting idea of a line in the guise of a border between the United States an Mexico. He describes the chaos of some border towns and the de-centralized or outright disappearance of order or sense of place in his piece, “The Rusted Iron Curtain”. The idea of an invisible line that divides peoples and their progress is interesting and can be noted in our own communities. In the places we occupy, in the limits of our cities and towns, we limit our exposure to what is outside the invisible line, the border, while we limit our activities to the social rituals of our surroundings.

In the uncontrolled regions, Kaplan paints a picture of disorder, largely due to American exploitation of Mexican land for drug havens and dangerous, polluting factories. What we will not have in our towns, we will readily take from others. In this way, social control is monitored by ourselves and our policing peoples within the borders of where we live. Once outside that town or border, we circumvent the codes of our own citizens by looking at others as just that, “others”, “them”, “they”.

A border becomes visible when we look for it, but when we choose to cross over and stop seeing the line, we too pass over a line that is even more outside our gaze. We are no longer citizens then, therefore, we do not see the social contract with others and all lines of order become a blur. In understanding social control and how comparing these border towns to any of our own is beneficial, we must understand that we first must police ourselves and our actions. We rely on the approval and acceptance of those within our borders.

If we feel or have been made to feel as if we have crossed a line into misbehavior (such as committing a crime or acting in ways non-compliant in our city) we then turn to others to draw a line. Michel Foucalt, especially researched social control and the use of symbols and the gazes of others to surveil us. This is in line with Kaplan’s observations and those that can be made in our own cities. Technologies of all kinds-medication, electroshock, lobotomies, behavior modification, management practices, and computerized surveillance and record-keeping-are put to the service of control.

Like all systems of power, these disciplines employ a ’gaze’ a form of scrutiny exercised by those with power upon those without power (Garner, 2000, 433). Though Kaplan may observe the landscape of the border and make observations, he does more in noting that what is seen by him as a construct of American influence, monitored by Americans, and scrutinized by them at the same time. In our own cities we do the same. We may come and go from our humble homes to bigger cities or college towns to drink and to even possibly engage in acts we would never do in our own community.

Then it is in our nature to watch the news and recoil when we hear stories of the calamities and crimes outside of our own safe havens. We shake our heads and do not realize that we have turned inward and against those outside our borders, even if we have contributed to its sinister state. It is interesting that we turn on others in differing cities in conflict instead of collectiveness. We are so very Nationalist about who we are and where we come from that we become trapped by it. Only by looking outside our borders and seeing “others” and “otherness” do we feel that we have a true sense of self.

We monitor our own behavior in these walls while we allow authorities to monitor us. With this we reject what is outside of us, this is someone else’s problem, someone else’s community. In this way we are trapped. Kaplan title and mention of the “iron curtain” can certainly be compared to Weber’s “iron cage”. “Humankind may be constructing its own iron cage: Ironically and tragically, our own presumed success or progress can trap us” (Sociology Professor, Weber, online). Therefore our own success as a citizen can become repressive in our own community success at the expense of those around us.

This is the case in Mexico, where with all technological progress and policing of the borders, the thin line becomes blurred. We want cheap labor and drugs that can be got from this country. We condemn this country, but we have a part of the creation of chaos there and we are too trapped in our own progress and success as Americans to see it. In conclusion, a border can be drawn in any place and even in our own minds. We see what is visible and, through the simple symbol of a border, we are restrained and controlled. We have little concern once we cross over the real or imagined line into another city or another country.

It is not our concern, our gaze is fixed upon what we know and who we believe we are. This prevents us from caring about what is done after the crossing, as we have already crossed a line in our social contract that allows us to be out of control. We blame others for problems that we have either helped create or we exacerbate them by condemning “others”. It is only in our own city and the sanctuary of our own common minds that we see the symbol and react to it by behaving. This is the symbol of being within a circle without lines.

Without the circle, we lose the symbol and we cross the line and never gaze backward. Works Cited Robert Garner, “Michel Foucault” in Social Theory: Continuity and Confrontation. , (2000), Toronto, Ontario, CA: Broadview Press. p. 433. Robert Kaplan, “The Rusted Iron Curtain” in Rhetorical Visions: Reading and Writing in a Visual Culture, (2007). Eds. Wendy Hesford & Brenda Brueggemann, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. pp 260-264. Sociology Professor. “Max Weber”. Accessible online <http://www. sociologyprofessor. com/socialtheorists/maxweber. php>. Last accessed 29 October, 2008.

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