december 2001



Arjo Klamer 

< Inhoud >
 ˇ Do I Belong In A World That Is Universal? 
  ˇ Testing and Exploring Our Borders ˇ Why Borders Matter
 ˇ Illustration I: Versus the Imagined European Community?
  ˇ Illustration II: Justice Versus Care  ˇ  The Importance of  ˇ Border Traffic  ˇ Notes   ˇ References


The following is the text of the Socrates lecture that I gave on December 10, 2001 in Utrecht under the title 'In Holland stands a house' In this English translation I changed the title as its allusion to a well-known Dutch song is being lost.
The text is literally the one I read. I wrote it to be read. The boxes, like this one, are texts that I have added for reference and amplification. The text was not only intended to be read out loud but also to be read in an active interaction with music. An altviolinist - Esther Apituley - and a cellist - Bart van Rosmalen - were my 'discussants'. Together we wanted to explore the possibilities of an interaction between text and music. I saw a connection with the subject, i.e. the role of borders. Is it possible to communicate across the borders that separate texts from non-texts, like music? If so, what kind of communication is that?
Our preparation was minimal as we decided that we better let it happen. We only agreed on a format in three parts, as the text explains. Apituley and van Rosmalen began the evening by playing. I would step in and start reading my text that they had on their lectern. They would interrupt as they saw fit. They did so at various moments during the reading. The real dialogue was supposed to occur in the second part of the lecture.
When I began I did not have a clue as to what would happen and whether I would be able to stand on my own with my text. The chance of the music taking over, appeared to be significant.

[ Apituley and van Rosmalen playing an improvisation partly based on Luto Slawski. ]

The text:

Music... Music is not only intangible. It seems also untouchable and invulnerable. It has something of the sacred, something that transcends the here and the now. Words are so prosaic, especially where their meanings are concerned. I dread breaking in. By beginning to talk I feel like intruding and interrupting. Even so, I begin talking now. Why? Because we agreed I would. I am now acting in accordance with a social agreement. Consequently, I am changing the conversation, but not after promising that I will return to the conversation with music.

About conversation:
I am using the concept 'conversation' with emphasis and insistence. It denotes a way of interacting that is distinct. Economics, my discipline, is a conversation, or rather a bunch of conversations (economists, after all, walk in different schools and each school can be said to constitute a distinct conversation). If you want to be 'in the economic conversation' you have to adhere to its practices; that is, you have to respect its borders. The same applies to the conversation of music, or rather conversations as there are many different practices - classical, jazz, pop plus so many variations in those main themes - each of which constitutes its own practice, rules and norms, as a creative musician as Esther Apituley knows all too well.
The disadvantage of using 'conversation' is its colloquial connotations. People will think of purposeless chatter, the mere conversation that they are having. To avoid those connotations it is better to speak of 'discursive practices', the term that Foucault, Habermas and so many others use. It has a more serious flavour about it, and therefore appears to match better the practice of a science. Like Richard Rorty in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) I prefer 'conversation', though. It is the etymology of the word that I like. (1)

Conversatio actually means 'intercourse', 'manner of life', 'frequent abode in a place'. Conversation has been used to connote the action of living or dwelling in a place and, more interestingly, the action of associating or having dealings with others. The Oxford Dictionary cites Thomas Shelton who wrote 'you know the man by the conversation he keeps.' In this usage conversation is a synonym for company and that calls to mind Wayne Booth's title The Company We Keep (1988). 'To be in conversation' has the meaning 'to be in company with a certain group of people.' At least that is what I intend it to mean. I also like the term conversation because it does not conjure up something hermetic; a conversation is fluid and if it is bounded, the boundaries are fuzzy. A conversation may be a practice and then it may not. And you can be in different conversations.
Conversation also denotes 'occupation or association with an object of study, in the sense of close acquaintance.' Francis Bacon wrote of the 'conversation in books'. That meaning fits nicely as well. The conversation does not only refer to people talking but also to their reading.
Conversation can also mean 'sexual intercourse'. I must say that I did not expect that and do not think that it is appropriate to what goes on in the world of economists. The final entry refers to the more colloquial meanings of conversation: 'oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, ideas.' It can also mean a meeting or assembly. Although there is a great deal of chatter going on in the world of economists, this is not the intended meaning of conversation. Accordingly, I evoke the earlier meanings of conversation - with the emphasis on the association with company, having dealings with, and close acquaintance - in order for the metaphor to work for the further argument.
The implied concern is how we, humans, can be in sustainable conversations together. I base myself on the work of sociologists like Randal Collins (1999) who show how new philosophical ways of thinking come about in pretty much self contained conversations, and often in a clash between two or at most three of such conversations.

The lecture will consist of three parts. The emphasis of the first part is on the spoken text. That is where I can tell my story. In the second part we, Esther Apituley, Bart van Rosmalen and I, will explore the possibility of a conversation between the text and their music. In the third part their music takes over. Tonight music has the final say.

^  inhoud

Do I Belong In A World That Is Universal? 
Like music, a discourse is in need of a theme. The theme of this lecture is about borders. The message - I am telling you upfront so you are in no need to speculate and guess - is simple: borders matter. That may seem obvious when put so plainly. Even so, the thesis is problematic and controversial nowadays. Someone who propagates the importance of borders, risks to be condemned as a nationalist, racist, sexist, conservative, a creep, or simply someone who is out of touch. The world has to be one without borders. We are made to believe that we do not want borders because they separate one group of people from others, and inevitably exclude everyone on the outside. Everyone is alike, an individual with its own dignity; and every individual should be a citizen of the world !

Constrained by the time that is reserved for a lecture (and the patience of an audience) I had to restrict my characterization of this borderless way of thinking about the world. I might have referred to all kinds of universalising movements that are directed at crossing and erasing borders, like religion, communism and socialism, humanism, human rights, the arts (elements thereof), sciences, (neo-)liberalism. In all those movements those who participate are induced to think across borders, and to see borders as an impediment to the realization of the explicit ideals (like equal human rights for everyone; a world government with world citizenship, free markets all over, one God and a universal church, and so on).
Constrained by the time that is reserved for a lecture (and the patience of an audience) I had to restrict my characterization of this borderless way of thinking about the world. I might have referred to all kinds of universalising movements that are directed at crossing and erasing borders, like religion, communism and socialism, humanism, human rights, the arts (elements thereof), sciences, (neo-)liberalism. In all those movements those who participate are induced to think across borders, and to see borders as an impediment to the realization of the explicit ideals (like equal human rights for everyone; a world government with world citizenship, free markets all over, one God and a universal church, and so on).

I recall from my youth the little notebooks we got with on the cover a picture of coloured children's figures in a circle. Blue, black, white, red: they had a variety of colours. Hand in hand they stood, all equal. We probably got them to support the cause of UNICEF or UNESCO. The picture had to symbolize a world in which borders do not matter. Lately I read a government report on education that propagated the prioritisation of borderless thinking, that is, the thinking as if borders do not matter. It evokes notions such as multiculturalism, pluralism, multi-ethnicity, cosmopolitism, universalism, globalism, internationalism, digitalisation, and individualisation.
In this borderless world we are nomads who are at home anywhere and everywhere. The metaphor that rules is that of the journey. We are on a journey, on our way, searching and exploring. Who am I? A nomad. A traveller.

After having inhabited such a borderless world for many years, I ceased to feel at home. I felt uprooted. 'Where do I belong?' When the question came to me, it hit me between the eyes. At the time I lived a comfortable academic existence in a small university town in the Midwest of the United States. I was sitting in a café in the company of academics from various internationalities. A Cuban colleague had told us that she had lost a sense of self and thought of going into a monastery or something like that to find herself. While we all were ready to support her in her decision, a colleague from religion leaned over and posed her gently the question: 'instead of asking yourself who you are, why not try asking yourself 'to whom do I belong?' I do not know what she did with that suggestion at that time (she later did go back to Cuba to find out about her roots, got married and got pregnant), but I sure was taken aback. To whom do I belong? Where do I belong? Had I become a nomad who belongs everywhere and nowhere? 
That prospect, once a dream, suddenly seemed a nightmare. I was fed up with the wandering all over. Airports, that once were places of inspiration because there everyone is on their way to somewhere else - became depressing to me for that very reason. Airports were places for transience, not for belonging. I decided to return to my father's county, the Netherlands, and dedicate myself to that what is Dutch, my oikos, my home. I began to call myself a neo-traditionalist because I found myself pleading for a re-appraisal of traditions and for the importance of the work that communities do and require. I added the 'neo' because I had to acknowledge the modern insights into the changeability of traditions, the constructing and reconstructing of them. Nothing is fixed, everything flows; traditions evolve yet they exist and are important to recognize and respect.
I realized then too well how uprooted I had become myself in that international world that thinks itself without borders, in which Dutchness is terribly over - as a prominent Dutch politician suggested to me emphatically and enthusiastically - and in which the family is a hopelessly old-fashioned institution, as I got to hear in discussions with post-modernist friends. 'You tread dangerously,' some intimates entrusted me. 'You are moralizing.' After all, borders need to be crossed, transgressed, and erased. This is called multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity in intellectual circles. Let's get rid of the walls, the divides. As long as something is multi-this, plural-that, post-so, it is right. Neo-traditionalism? Get out of here. Don't turn back. Keep going! Avanti!
Why oh why? These arguments that once had seemed so obvious, ceased to please me. I kept asking the why question. Why do we need to advance? In the end what matters is what we accomplish in our immediate circle. Our children and friends will be our judges when we lie in our graves. Why then getting lost in that enormous, endless world? The own country as base for one's identity, a civilisation for oneself; the family as cradle of that same civilization. The boundless thinking: isn't it the case that humanism is boundless in principle. Freedom is boundless and the principle of human dignity is that, too. Universal human rights: do I need to say more.
The economy as imagined in economics, my science, is also boundless. Markets have no borders. Borders are from an economic view only impediments for unfettered trade, and with that for the improvement of efficiency and welfare.

I now realize that I bent the stick too far. At this occasion I will try to straighten it again. This is part of an endless search for balance.

[ Here Esther Apituley interrupted me with an improvisation.]

^  inhoud

Testing and Exploring Our Borders
Wat do you think? Does music reach further; does it go deeper than words? Can I, with my words, compete with the music? Don't I risk being upset by inviting Bart and Esther to comment and interrupt with their music?

As in every argument, in every conversation, in every meeting, I face the challenge to convey my intentions and my intended meanings. I have to cope with the noise that occurs in every communication, the ennui of not being moved, the despair of not being heard, the obligate words that come after. What are we doing here? Are we in a conversation? Or are we just trying to pass the time?
I do not know whether you and I are in conversation. We shall see. Whatever, I would like to exploit the opportunity that was offered me so generously, in order to investigate the possibility of being in conversation with a world that is totally different from the one that I know so well, and that is the world of music. Speaking about borders. It appears that there is a true divide that separates my world of the sciences from the one of music. That divide exists undoubtedly for good reasons. But, as I will argue, border traffic is crucial in order to realize the value of one's own territory. Presently we will see - and probably hear - what happens when spoken text and music are in conversation. What does music add? Does the music alter the meanings of the words. Does something happen with you, with the cognitive process that you undergo in a situation like this one? Can we manage without words? Without music? It is a fact that words are also sounds. Like music they can touch and stir the soul - and when that happens, it is hard to say precisely why, to have the words to say that, just as in the case that music moves us.

Granted, this part is self-indulgent. I would not have written this if the words were meant to be printed only. Spoken texts are different. An important difference is that when speaking I tend to be more conscious of those I am speaking to, or speaking with. As a consequence I make more of a conscious effort to establish my ethos, as the rhetoricians would call it, and to search for openings that we all can enter.

In the Jewish tradition, but also in the Scottish Enlightenment knowledge implies feeling, passion. Knowing emphatically it is called, or Verstehen. The moment of truth - time and time again nothing more than a moment -the experience of truth is short lived, each time again. Experiencing it requires a capability: one person understands better or different than the other - something like music, or science.
There is a difference between knowledge that serves a purpose, instrumental knowledge (knowing how) and knowledge for its own sake, pure knowledge. The latter reveals itself with the sense of 'yes, that has to be the case'; you feel it somewhere in your body - in my case it manifests itself in the belly or thereabouts. When that happens, it is as if the body is lifted; I feel light-headed. At times the experience is erotic.
We want to investigate borders, see what they mean to us. Like the border between the muse and science. I am a scientist. My weapon is the word, the text. Esther and Bart are musicians above all. We speak a totally different language, at least so you would say, and practice totally different disciplines. We do not know about a real dialogue between music and science - that is, not the scientific monologue about music or the music that is an intermezzo in a scientific discourse, but a real intercourse between music and science.
I wonder whether Esther and Bart can tell me something with their music, whether they can clarify something over and beyond what I can say with my text. What do they expect, I wonder? Do we have something to say to each other. Will we find a way of being in conversation with each other? I am very curious.

Why Borders Matter
My thesis is that without borders we are nowhere. Even arch nomads draw borders. They need them to allow for a distinction between dine and mine, to point at and shape social values. [Their borders may be imaginary as they are drawn in the sand; but just try to cross them and you know how real they are.] Even so, each border has something arbitrary and intervenes in the flow of human interactions. Every border violates something. Border traffic makes us aware of borders; border crossings can cause the dynamics of life within borders and can lead to a shift in the borders.

The economy is borderless. I am thinking of the economics of the textbooks. Demand and supply, the rational individual, homo economicus. Standard economics pictures individuals choosing what is best for them. Whether the counterpart isf Chinese, American, Dutch, black, white, native or alien, does not matter. What counts in the market is the best deal. If you want to favour someone, it is your business. You yourself are paying the price for your discrimination. Markets have the tendency to cross borders. Capital seeks the path of the least resistance. Every day again, billions of dollars flow across the globe as if borders do not exist. Open markets, free trade, are presented as the condition for maximal welfare. Countries who open their borders for foreign trade, do generally better. Globalisation, the world market, the network society, the multi- or transnational rule the economic imagination.

Economic theory and borders:
Interestingly, economic theorizing still presumes the existence of borders. It is a reason to distinguish open and closed economies and to consider international economics to be a separate field of study. Theoretically, however, you would expect that economic forces are geared to weaken borders and ultimately make them untenable. The argument is that ultimately the quest for profit will take over. Economic agents will seek out transactions that will generate the maximum profit for them. They will not respect borders and trade with any party that gives them the maximum profit. When some agents stop at the borders because they prefer to trade with their compatriots, other agents will exploit the profit opportunities that so arise by trading across the border.
A similar economic argument predicts the disappearance of dialects. When the trading occurs in a particular language, agents have an incentive to speak that language rather than their own dialect. Slowly but surely, the dialect will succumb to the language of the economy, as has happened with dialects in the Netherlands, Italy and Germany. The question now is whether Dutch, Italian and German will give way to the language of the international economy, English. This is already the case in the context of the European Union, where French is ceding to English the role of the leading language.
The challenge to economic theory, therefore, is to account for the persistence of local languages (like Frisian in the North of the Netherlands), and the revival of local dialects like Celtic) as well as for the endurance of borders of all kinds. Although there are economic theories to explain the disappearance of borders and the diminishing powers of national states, I do not know of any economic theory that explains why borders exist and why they are where they are. Might there be economic reasons why the Netherlands maintains borders with Belgium and Canadians insist on the maintenance of borders with the US, the dependence from the American economy notwithstanding?
(einde kader)

Now comes my intervention. I suggest labelling the economy as a specific sphere. It is the sphere in which we generate economic values, like income, a roof over our head and food to sustain ourselves. Think of the Maslow hierarchy. Think of economic magnitudes like economic growth, productivity, and employment.
Presently, this sphere dominates our society in various ways. Think of the commercialisation of public broadcasting and the universities, the privatisation of public transport and electricity companies, the emphasis on the economic significance of the arts as in the employment and the tourist revenues it generates. I am stressing now the fundamental borderlessness of the economy as conceived in my science. Just listen to the captains of industry: for them borders are only barriers that stand in the way of their transnational business.
Surely, the captains, neo-liberals, and human rights activists will acknowledge those borders in practice. However, I am concerned momentarily with the principle, the ideology I am inclined to say, of the borderless world.

The principle of borderlessness also rules in another dimension of lives. The world of culture, of high culture that is, of the sacred, the transcendental, the spiritual, is borderless, too, at least in the ideal sense. Think of values like the good, the truthful and the beautiful. For them we preserve specific spheres like the sciences for the truth, the arts for the beautiful, and religions, humanism I better call it in this context, for the good (although I should add that each of these values operates in each of these spheres). The sciences are without borders because the truth does not stop for borders. From that point of view it would be strange to speak of 'Dutch economics' since why would Dutch economists hold a truth that is different from, say, the Americans? The same can be said for the arts and music. Mondriaan had as a purpose to make art that would be universally acceptable, that is, art that would not be bound to a specific time period and cultural space. Whether he has succeeded, is another matter. Music tends to have the same pretense. The Japanese can play the Music of the Austrian Mozart just as well as an Austrian. Nationality does not matter to the sciences and the arts, at least it should not.
Justice, dignity and autonomy are other values that do not stop at borders. At least they are intended not to do so. The idea of God, or whatever transcendental idea, is borderless just as well in the sense that a God is not bound to any humanly constructed border whatsoever.

Borders do matter, however, in the social sphere. There they are actually indispensable. Borders are all over the social sphere, crossing it left and right, up and down, and diagonally. You and I draw borders around our private sphere. It is common to refer for this point to the work of Irving Goffman that shows us how we do so and what we do when someone crosses that border. We draw borders around our families, quite literally with walls, doors that can be locked, hedges and fences, but also metaphorically when we distinguish the in-laws - 'the cold side' as they are called in Dutch. Rituals like marriage confirm those borders. We draw borders to cordon off organisations, to indicate: this is us. And, of course, we also draw borders around nations.

From the perspective of the economic sphere, that is the sphere of the markets, borders are problematic and have a negative connotation. They have that, too, in the light of the spheres in which we generate cultural values, likes those of the arts, religion and the sciences. I now understand why Tinbergen, my erstwhile hero, saw in scientists the pioneers of world citizenship. Scientists, after all, do not want to respect borders that keep people apart. The truth does not respect borders either.
However, people are in need of borders socially. Without borders people would be lost socially, they would be without the attention that they can not live without. Without borders they would be left without a political community in which they can take part; there would be no democracy either. Without borders there would be no romantic love. I'd venture that we need those borders for the generation and realisation of crucial social values like commitment, responsibility and care. In the bordered community the members find out what commitment, responsibility, thoughtfulness, and a caring attitude mean.

Groups and community:
I find ample support in the theories and reflections upon the functioning of groups and the formation of the nation state. People form groups to cope with the uncertainty that they face. At least, this is a point that Siegwart Lundenberg makes in his survey of theories of the group (Lundenberg 1997). The group forms a common frame of reference and a collective consciousness and functions by virtue of various interdependencies. Families hold together because of a sense of mutual responsibility, a common history, shared tasks (like care for the children). Groups hold together as long as they produce shared goods, like a sense of membership, and values like a sense of responsibility, care, and mutual affection (and hatred?)
The family debate:
My wife and I, like most other couples, care so much for each other and our relationship, that we exclude others from it. In other words we discriminate against other potential lovers to safeguard what we have. It makes us possessive alright. Likewise, we have a very clear sense as to who are our children and who are not. The distinction makes a world of difference. We spoil, privilege, love and care for our children while we pay scant attention to other children. Call it discrimination, family-centric behaviour, but apparently we need to draw such borders for the sake of romantic love, the care for children, a sense of belonging, and so on.

I am engaged in discussions on this matter. My critics point at the contingent character of the borders that I and others draw around our families. In other societies, at other times they are less strict, relationships are more open and children are cared for by the community at large (think of Indonesian villages, for example). They suggest that these family borders can have a suffocating effect and other options should be open, like child care in centres and boarding schools. The argument has convinced me in that I realize that borders shift all the time; they are human constructs and as such are subject to change. There is nothing like a typical family. My own family is a case in point; it is a composed family with children of a previous marriage, a child from the current marriage, another child away, and a child that is a half-sister to two of the children. If you get confused, I made the point. Families are a complex beast. They come in all kinds of forms, in all kinds of compositions. And they are dynamic, shifting constantly with people leaving and dying, and people being born and entering. There is not much static about a family. Every family is doomed to fall apart. Every family has to interact with the outside world, seek partners in other families in order to sustain itself and to procreate. Families join by means of marriage and thus form new families. Each new family has to deal with the backgrounds, or cultures, of the original family and is therefore an instance of a multicultural experiment.
Anyway, most of these critics do not have children themselves. I realize that this argument is somewhat unfair but I can't help but pose it. (As the critics are friends, they would not mind.) The experience seems to matter.
(einde kader)

Even the seafarer, the world traveller, the scientist, the artist and humanist are in need of an 'oikos'. 'Oikos' connotes house in Greek, it is that limited community to which you belong regardless of your economic or cultural contribution and merit. The oikos can be a family, but it could be more than that. Some people find it in the church, a monastery perhaps, and nowadays more and more people are trying to realize their oikos at work. Nobody can do it all alone.
In this huge world, amidst 6 billion people, an individual is nothing more than that: one of those 6 billion people. You and I, every person needs special attention, in the form of recognition, care and most of all, love. I need attention for my scientific work, Esther and Bart undoubtedly want people to hear what they do. We all want to be in conversation with people we know or at least recognize, in which we are heard and can hear. Every conversation entails that some people participate, are in it, and consequently everybody else is out of it. To that end we cluster, we form groups, like families and nations.
The borderless world is uninhabitable.

^  inhoud

Illustration I: Versus the Imagined European Community?
'Dutchness is terribly over,' the Dutch person says who prefers to see him- or herself as a citizen of the world. That is why the European project is so important. Let's get rid of those national borders. We, the Dutch, want to dissolve in a larger entity. After all, international cooperation is good for peace - you could call that a cultural value - and is economically necessary. A little country can accomplish little to nothing in the global economy. That economy does not stop at the borders.
But those borders matter.
The question is, then: where do we draw them and what quality do we award them. How hermetic will they be, and how open?
To those who seek a borderless world and for that reason support the European project, I would like to point out that the European integration is about borders. The issue of enlargement is all about where the Europeans of the EU want to draw the border, whom to include and thus whom to exclude. It reminds me of the chant that we sang as boys in the schoolyard: 'Who wants to play along? For boys only!' No, the Bulgarians are not allowed to participate and neither are the Rumanians. The Russians? You must be kidding! European integration is about the staking out of fortress Europe. I am rather an internationalist than a European. That's why I am ill at ease with a European community.

The national borders mark the political space and with that define the political community. Those who are inhabiting that space, have a vote, are subjects of the political system, have to submit to the rulings of that system and have a right to whatever the system gives in terms of benefits and rights. The borders indicate who pays the taxes, receives the benefits, who can be punished, in short, who is committed and is a citizen. Borders matter fundamentally in this realm.
In case we draw these borders too far away, we may watch the unravelling of the Dutch civilization that Dutch citizens have woven throughout the last centuries, including its democratic and social qualities. The European space is probably too large and too intractable, and lacks the soul that is needed to guarantee a vital political community.
In a global economy where economically speaking borders matter less and less, small political communities appear to do better than large ones, on average. This is what the econometric research of Alessini et al. show. The likely reason is that small communities function better politically, are less prone to sustained corruption and tend to be more egalitarian.

The positive values of nation states and nationalism:
Nation states are not of all times. As a matter of fact, national borders came about only during the last few centuries. Their construction has worked better in Europe than it has in the Middle East and Africa. Benedict Anderson (1991, 1983) argues that the rise of the modern state was a response to the decline of religion and the influence of sacred texts and language. Where people of all kinds of tribes and ethnicities share the same religion and the same texts, they are less in need of national borders. In the middle ages people of Western Europe had one God, read one Bible and obeyed one church with the pope as its leader. With the fading of Latin, the rise of science, and the discovery of new territory, the grip of the church loosened and people were in need of other contexts to produce the necessary common goods (see also box on groups above). Monarchies made up for some of this, but they, too, had to cede for the modern national state, based on democratic principles. The important point to be stressed here is that people are in need to be able to imagine community. In the words of Anderson:

'In an age when it is so common for progressive, cosmopolitan intellectuals (particularly in Europe?) to insist on the near pathological character of nationalism, its roots in fear and hatred of the Other, and its affinities with racism, it is useful to remind ourselves that nations inspire love, and often profoundly self-sacrificing love. The cultural products of nationalism - poetry, prose, fiction, music, plastic art - show this love very clearly in thousand forms and styles.' (Anderson 1991: 141).

Anderson refers here to the phenomenon that people are willing to sacrifice their lives for country but would not even think of doing so much when their profession or their firm is being threatened.

^  inhoud

Illustration II: Justice Versus Care
Justice does not know borders; care does. The values of care and justice have to clash. The family Gumus had to leave the Netherlands because that was just. [Theirs is a famous case that caused a great deal of pain and anguish in the Dutch community. The originally Turkish family Gumus had been in Amsterdam for many years. Mr Gumus had made many Dutch friends as a tailor, the children had integrated well. Then it turned out they were illegally in the Netherlands and were ordered to leave. Their politically influential friends objected vehemently. It became a national case.] According to the responsible Secretary, everyone should be treated equally. This basic principle of justice compelled her to insist on their leaving the country. To those who knew the family this seemed harsh and heartless. They cared for the family and because of that wanted them to stay even if that meant discrimination with respect to families in a similar position but with less influential friends.
We will never resolve this conflict; yet we cope, for example by the formation of communities that allow and induce us to care and therewith to discriminate without feeling too guilty about that. By the drawing of borders, we make it possible for ourselves and others to belong to a family, a society, a people, a nation. Membership, like a nationality, is a fundamental possession of someone, notes the philosopher Michael Waltzer in the Spheres of Justice.

^  inhoud

The Importance of Border Traffic
Why then, do I seek border areas of the spaces and spheres in which I operate? Why do I try to change conversations, seek the company of scientists all over, and now challenge the borders of what constitutes the realm of economics as a science while I am stressing the importance of the oikos, of the community, the importance of being in the conversation and while I point to the fact that conversations are limited, at least socially? Why do I seek to experiment, to challenge the borders?
I guess I do so because in the experimenting, in the exploring I experience the borders all too well. Borders need to be challenged. More importantly, border traffic is crucial to keep communities alive. Consider the family. Any family that would keep the outside world out, is suffocating and will perish. A family needs new blood to stay alive. Even so, the family has to shield itself to procure a space in which care, a sense of responsibility and values like that can come about.
Likewise, airports can be stimulating because they are the generic places for border traffic but they will cease to be so without a clear sense of home, or oikos. I, for sure, need a sense of home. I cherish the identification with the Dutch community, the Dutch tradition and story not only because that gives me a space in which I can operate politically, but also that gives me a base from which I can operate internationally. The European community is too large, too fragmented, too diverse to count as a relevant base within and from which to operate.

Borders do not matter when something of subordinate importance is at stake, like the generation of profit, or when something large is concerned, like the truth, the good, and the beautiful.

By looking and going beyond our borders, we become conscious of how limited our space, our community, club, society, nation or whatever, is. That should not mean, however, that we give up our borders. Because then we loose one of the most important things we have.

We then explored how the combination of music and text worked. Esther and Bart asked me to repeat fragments of the text above and added their music to my spoken words. At first I lost a sense of what I was saying. The music proved to be overpowering. Members of the audience reacted furiously. Some of them wanted the music to stop so that they could get a better understanding of the spoken text; others preferred me to stop so that they could appreciate the music better.
We repeated some fragments and I noticed a change. I began to speak louder, with greater emphasis, and felt stronger about what I was saying. The audience seemed to notice the effect as well. When one person asked us what the point of this all was, I more or less repeated what I said at the end, yet with the music in my back, the words got an other dimension. All in all, it made a special experience for me. If anything, it showed me the limits of the spoken word and the power of music. Listening to one or the other is different. The words pull you into a more or less defined context in which they have to be placed in order to be intelligible. Music asks us to open up and experience a borderless space, that is, a space evokes an expansive experience.
Esther and Bart concluded by performing (improvisations on) work of Bartok.

Arjo Klamer is Professor of Cultural Economics at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
^  inhoud

(1) My source is the Oxford Dictionary.


  • Alessini, Alberto & Spolaore, Enrico (1997), 'On the Number and Size of Nations', in: Quarterly Journal of Economics, 112 (November), pp. 1027-56.

  • Anderson, Benedict (1991 (1983)), Imagined Communities, Verso, London 

  • Collins, Randall (1999) Macrohistory: Essays in Sociology of the Long Run, Stanford University Press.

  • Booth, Wayne (1988), The Company We Keep: The Ethics of Fiction, University of California Press, Berkeley.
    Goffman, Erving (1967), Interaction Ritual, Doubleday and Company, New York.

  • Lundenberg, Siegwart (1997), 'Grounding Groups in Theory: Functional, Cognitive, and Structural Interdependencies', in: Advances in Group Processes, 14, pp. 281-331.

  • Rorty, Richard (1979), Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

  • Staveren, Irene (2000), Caring for Economics: An

  • Aristotelian Perspective, Routledge, London.

  • Waltzer, Michael (1983), Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, Basil Blackwell, Oxford.


^  inhoud