Enclosures

This is an extension of my ZOO post:  Zoos are a collection of enclosures. Let’s consider the use of “enclosures” in our culture.

Some enclosures are necessary. Some actually work. Prisons are a necessary enclosure for most societies. Prison enclosures are used to separate society from dangerous others, or to punish by restricting people to harsh confinement. Until recently, mental illness was committed to an enclosure, i.e., a “madhouse”, an institution. That habit has been relinquished lately with good and bad results, less incarceration, but homelessness in the streets.  Enclosures are all around us.  Some are easily seen, others are obscured by subtlety.

Indian reservations are enclosures that deserve more examination than they have received of late. Initially they were used as “voluntary prisons”. Report in, or die. They were seen as benign, even kind, at the time. The Native American Indians were driven every Westward, until there was no West left. The ongoing battles in that process decimated their numbers. When given the ultimatum of surrendering to the boundaried reservations as their cause was lost, they reluctantly went. These were unwalled enclosures. Given shelter and food, the dis-spirited inhabitants stayed. This was a “soft” enclosure. More one of enticement and necessity than punishment and capture.

What is interesting, and deserves deeper consideration, is that these reservations continue to exist today more than a hundred years later. Having lived for some time in the West, I would observe that their continuance was from many factors. Early on, it was a form of subsistence when little else was available. It also was a refuge for the broken spirit, the depressed warrior and the defeat of pride. But as time passed, the reservation becomes an example of the creation of dependency by a welfare state. There were no bars or fences, only the hold of government paternalism. Whether there was something unique in the Indian psyche or it was simply humans succumbing to the ennui of public welfare, but nonetheless, Indians in sufficient numbers lingered and stayed generationally so that all over the country, reservations continue to exist.

The latest Indian reservation quid pro quo is a win-win bargain that allows gambling, outlawed elsewhere, to exist lawfully on the reservations. This self-funds the reservation, easing government costs, and gives the occupants an increased income and stability. Some Indians prosper like similar successful entrepreneurs. But in many cases, large Indian families, still arrive at the local deli in a Hummer or Cadillac Escalade to eat casual food and return to the reservation. Though by now it is clearly a voluntary enclosure, the Indian reservation issue has been mitigated, but not solved.

In the vein of thought that allows gambling on Indian reservations….this is a way to “enclose” that vice.  I would suggest that is how Las Vegas came to be. The early phase of Las Vegas was acceptable, because it was located in the remote desert at that time. It tainted no neighbors. It took long hours of driving to reach it. It was isolated. Its potential “infection” was neutered. It was enclosed by the desolate desert that surrounded it. We do that to vice and dangers. Las Vegas was its own prison. The voluntary inmates were no danger to others. “What happened in Vegas, stayed in Vegas” was its successful mantra. It’s a gambling reservation without Indians.

Anything dangerous or threatening to a culture gets put into an enclosure. The separation is necessary, the severity of the enclosure varies. The only legal brothels are also in the deserts of Nevada. Isolated enclosures, the “bunny ranches” are allowed by virtue of their distance and desolate desert surroundings.

Enclosures exist for the unwanted or the threatening. Apartheid in Africa was a kind of isolation by law and designated land. After the Civil War, American blacks were isolated in certain parts of American cities by virtue of real estate laws and economics. The “slums”, the inner cities, call them what you will, were also enclosures that served an agenda.

Look at any school cafeteria and you will see isolating “enclosures”.  There are generally the popular kids and the ignored.  The ignored tend to congregate just as the popular do.  If you look around keenly, you will see the various “enclosures” that have formed and been accepted.  No walls or moats, but inviolable nonetheless.

Medieval castles were often walled mini-cities that enclosed and protected a local population as well as royals against outside hordes that threatened attack.

Gated communities are self-walled.  Self-imposed isolation that both announces and defends…another voluntary enclosure not unlike the Indian reservation.

The “glass ceiling” is part of our enclosure vocabulary in women’s issues these days.

And let us not forget the classic enclosure of the last many decades….”the closet”…out of which so many have now come.

“Good fences make good neighbors.”, wrote Robert Frost.  But he also wrote. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”  I would  suggest that all cultures use isolation, separation with or without walls to purpose.  Enclosures, real or implied, are natural parts of a culture’s edifice.

Being isolated inside of an unnatural enclosure makes life therein a disorienting one.  It is life inside of a reality that is not “real”.  Thus adjusting to that life, adjusts one to an artifice, a simulacrum.  Just as zoo animals are prone to neurotic behavior, so all occupants in any of the aforementioned “enclosures” might very well exhibit behaviors that are necessary and natural within the enclosure, but dis-functional beyond its borders.  Enclosures have purpose to a society, but may prove toxic to its inhabitants and hobble their efforts to live beyond those walls when allowed.

Releasing zoo animals directly into the wild will likely result in their deaths by the natural inhabitants beyond the zoo.  Releasing the “mad” from the asylums only resulted in nomadic homeless.  Children, if they be isolates, need nurturing to return to a more convivial world.  We know prisoners are often given “half-way houses” to aid in the transition.  But all of the more subtle “enclosures” need the same.  Look around.  Make sure you are not in some as yet undetected enclosure.  Invisible walls, demarcations, waterless moats are hidden all around us….many of them of our own making.  Watch your step, lest you venture beyond them unprepared.

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