Importance of Boundaries

If you introduce a chemical (eg penicillin) that attacks the ability of bacteria to form cell walls, they lose their cell walls. This kills the bacteria. Why?

Any productive entropy resistant dynamic has an internal economy of connected mechanisms that need to make certain assumptions. The assumptions are often of the form that things deliberately excluded will stay gone, and that things produced will stay available for your use. That is, that investments are protected from destruction by the outside environment. This is accomplished by setting up barriers that insulate some part of the world from leakage or interference. Here are some examples:

  • A clean room has a barrier that prevents circulation of air except through controlled processes, this allows you to invest in the creation of specially conditioned and dust-free air and be sure that your industrial processes will take place in that clean and controlled air.
  • Legal property rights allow economic actors to make investments in things they will need in the future without much having to worry about losing them to theft.
  • Process and interface boundaries in computer science allow you to invest in carefully constructed and fragile data structures that you can be sure will not be damaged by wayward programmers or segfaults in other processes.
  • A living cell creates certain chemicals and proteins with it’s internal mechanisms that it expects to be able to use in the future. It also excludes certain chemicals so that its processes can assume they won’t mess with them. The cell wall contains and protects these investments.

If you dissolve the cell wall, the cell dies because it is no longer able to capture the gains of its own labor and profit from its own investments. Barriers and investment protection of some kind are necessary for life or any other form of productivity. Lack of barriers is death.

A nation-state or community is itself a living thing: investing in good people, getting rid of bad people, and organizing them into social structures. Barriers to entry, exit, and interference allow these investments to be made and guaranteed, which allows super-individual social structures like civilization to live. The first civilizations were farming communities that built walls and armies against raiders.

A proposal to dissolve all controls on entry and exit from communities and nations is similar to the proposal to dump Penicillin in a bacterial colony. Soup composed of homogenized life-bits is not alive, despite being constitutionally indistinguishable from life (for a while). Mind you in the case of civilizations, removing one set of walls does not kill it, because civilizations are quite robust, and will find other ways to discriminate, but it does make it harder to live. For example, if we require companies to hire representative samples of the population by race and gender, and they will do things like put all the people they would not have hired in one of the less critical departments, to keep the effect of segregation in the critical departments, but they still have to pay for it, and it is less stable.

Things without boundaries rapidly become unthings.

This piece by a fellow writer was reposted from our previous blog.