There has been much talk about solving America’s immigration problems with a wall along the southern border with Mexico. The talk began in 2014 when the presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted, “SECURE THE BORDER! BUILD A WALL!” He would go on to claim that, if elected, he would make Mexico pay for its construction.
Millions of potential voters got excited. They were told the wall would be solid concrete, extend a thousand miles, and be more than thirty feet high. It would keep out criminals, drug smugglers, and illegal immigrants aiming to take advantage of our job market and social benefits. Finally, we could protect ourselves!
Over time, and with Trump’s becoming President, the talk changed a bit: the wall would be made of steel slats, not be so high, extend not nearly so far, while Mexico would be made to pay over the years through trade arrangements of some kind. For now, Americans would have to pay billions for its construction.
Critics weighed in: the wall would be an engineering nightmare, it wouldn’t solve any serious problems (criminals could still tunnel or boat or fly in or just cross the much longer Canadian border, as always), while illegal immigrants (including a substantial number of Chinese) mostly arrive legally but overstay their visas (knowing that our government will make little effort to apprehend them). Critics said the money could be better spent. Trump tweeted: “A WALL IS A WALL.” Except, as we shall see, when it is a symbol.
That said, the nation should protect and control all of its borders. It has a duty to its citizens to keep out foreign undesirables. Without adequate borders, America ceases to be an adequate container: i.e., the “melting pot” for the world’s variety that we claim to be. A social “pot” of that kind cannot have “cracks” lest the heat (generated by the friction of variety) dissipate—and no melting occurs. Edinger puts it alchemically: “We really are a grand alchemical retort that is attempting to forge into a unity all the various strains, nationalities, and races of the world.” The United States is an experiment on a national scale with the eventual goal that “the vessel must be the planet, the whole world.” (An American Jungian, 216).
Let us note that the alchemists—whose wild fantasies intuited not only chemistry but also psychology, even sociology—were concerned that their experimental vessels be “well sealed.”
When we turn to the physical individual, the same principle applies. Every cell of our bodies, as we learned in biology class, has a cell “wall” without which it cannot function to support life. We have an outer layer of skin, our largest organ, a kind of wall that protects us from the environment. Indeed, all of our organs—when healthy—coordinate with an immune system that detects and determines what does and does not belong to the body.
But it is here in physical nature that we begin to see what the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall, the Berlin Wall—and Trump’s Wall—do not sufficiently address. Cell membranes are semipermeable; our skin breathes. That is even why we have an immune system, because there are substances with which we are always and necessarily interacting. Any national barrier, therefore, should be “semipermeable”—even though protective or “well sealed.”
That can be achieved by controlled openings or ports of entry for immigration. We can argue over who and how many should be allowed through those ports. In fact, the argument is part of the “heat” that melts antagonism into cooperation.
When we turn to the psyche of an individual, “wall” symbolism is even more complex. The psyche’s equivalent to the body’s skin is the “persona.” (See my book, The Body, 52) Although the Latin word persona lies behind our word “person,” it originally meant “mask.” Jung used it to refer to our social mask that interacts with the world—meeting its expectations as much as possible while protecting us from having to reveal what is genuinely private.
A young or unsophisticated person may resent having to meet social expectations. But a well-developed “persona” does not exactly conform to convention but expresses something of who we are behind the mask. In this sense, it is a “semipermeable membrane” serving the life of the individual while, at the same time, contributing happily to one’s culture.
Within the psyche itself there are “borders” of great importance. Between conscious and unconscious contents, there is at the very least a threshold between the ego’s ability to function (with the aid of the persona) and the “shadow.” This is what Freud called the “It” (Latin, the Id) and Jung chose to call the shadow so as not to sound too technical. He also wanted to make some contact with the world’s literature where there are always “shadowy” figures around causing difficulty. They personify those more primitive forces within us that are part physical instinct and part psychological urges that do not serve adaptation to the world in which we find ourselves but may actually try to destroy it.
In literature, these are expressed as the “Mr. Hyde” who undoes the civilized “Dr. Jekyll.” In scripture, the shadow harbors our “sins” that may be out of sight but never out of mind—and of which we really need to be reminded by the world’s religions (or by our dreams, if psychologically inclined).
It is essential, therefore, that there be something of a barrier between our “light” conscious intentions and the “dark” doings of the shadow. Yes, the barrier can be semipermeable since our instinctual urges also carry vitality and emotional color. But we need a proper balance.
Now, if someone has by fate reached the highest political office in the land, a position requiring carefully considered responsibility to the nation and to the world as well as the language and deportment commensurate with the dignity of that office and—nevertheless—compulsively tweets whatever comes to mind in the middle of the night IN ALL CAP’S, then that person needs a better “wall” between his ego and his shadow.
He will actually know it himself (unconsciously). For, as Jung has demonstrated, the psyche contains beneath the primitive shadow creative forces in favor of civility—archetypes that have brought us (haltingly and by many detours) this far. These deeper unconscious powers seek a proper balance within each of us and within the nation as a whole.
It follows that President Trump (and his followers who think they now have permission to be politically “incorrect,” even rude) very much needs a “Wall.” But, like all of us when not aware of what is happening, he thinks the solution lies outside him along the southern border where what is “undesirable” keeps crossing the borderline. Were he a reflective man, our President might take resistance to his wall as a clue that better “border control” needs to be established, first of all, within himself.
Finally, there is within the psyche an important border between the personal part of the psyche (consciousness and its shadow) and the transpersonal part (the archetypes). It is symbolized by the veil before the Holy of Holies in ancient Israel’s temple and preserved today as the altar railing in a church. Only consecrated persons dare cross it lest they become burned (i.e., identified or inflated) with “God’s almightiness.” I take this as a clue that the unconscious psyche at depth is sacred and that the archetypes are what have always been called the “gods.”
But there is a warning here that one must not carelessly cross the border between what is profane and what is sacred. The ancient Greeks were terrified of that kind of trespass, lest it result in hybris—claiming too much for oneself and offending the “gods” (i.e., the archetypal forces within the psyche) who then take their revenge. The Greeks' antidote was an attitude of humility.
Let us also be terrified when anyone in high office claims too much for himself or herself, boasting I am the smartest or the best at anything. Because there is this sacred “Wall” that needs to be kept intact; and it cannot be too strong or too high or too long. Fortunately, it has “ports of entry.”
WANT MORE? Read Edinger's essays in my edition, An American Jungian: In Honor of Edward F. Edinger, where this Jungian thinker explains what is happening in the world.