Controlling the movement of people

For the mediaeval serf, movement wasn’t an option unless your Lord moved you. If you didn’t like how your feudal master behaved, you could not vote with your feet. You had to stay where you were put, and live and work there your whole life. You could be moved of course if you were marched into a war, but you wouldn’t get any say in that, either.

These days we don’t need permission from Barons and Counts to move around – at least not within the countries of our birth. We generally need permission to move country, and countries want to control who can move where. Young, qualified, able bodied people are more welcome than others. The rich are always welcome to move and the poor are discouraged. Unless we need them for something. Plenty of industrial projects have been built on the backs of very poor workers. From the Irish navvies digging the canals to the modern Eastern European fruit picker, those with power like to move those with less power about to work for them.

It’s not so very different to the mediaeval model. Companies replace baronies, and the scales are bigger, but the effects are much the same. Now if you want to change country it’s not a baron who needs to write a letter of consent, but a company that will employ you.

We’re told it’s for our own good, and our own safety – to make sure we don’t have too many, and that we have the ones who are needed, and to keep the dangerous ones out. Our mediaeval peasant friends were told that it was about eliminating vagrancy and crime, and it meant there wouldn’t be rough, unruly people from other places coming into their place and making it all worse. Nothing much changes.

Much of the terror we experience in the west is home grown. We’re encouraged to think it sneaks in across borders to attack us from outside – something other, that we could keep out if we tried hard enough. Americans are more likely to be killed by other Americans than by anyone from ‘away’. We’re more likely to die to air pollution, traffic accidents, heart attacks and our own lifestyle choices than we are to a terrorist.

Freedom of movement can really undermine exploitation. If workers can move, then screwing someone poorer becomes that bit harder. It can help people remove themselves from wars – which are generally harder to sustain when no one is there to fight. It can help people get out of toxic systems, and escape persecution. Freedom of movement has the potential to be a source of good for the vast majority of us. It’s never been popular with feudal overlords because it undermines their power.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

4 responses to “Controlling the movement of people

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I was reading about the development of railroads in England and its affect on people.

    One of the things it changed was the people having ability to move to where there was more jobs, and also for even poor workers to live farther away from work as a result of commuter trains and the intermixing some of the different classes.

    It also changed society by shifting more and more people to the industrial cities, increased the sheer size of industry by allowing shipment of large amounts of both raw materials and finished products. It also allow industry to be built farther from markets to more out of the ways places where land was cheaper.

    The mass movements of people created more crowds of strangers, which broke up the feelings of neighborhoods where everyone had known everyone. Villages suddenly were empty out of entire generations of people as jobs beckoned elsewhere . Also sometimes large numbers of strangers moved back in further disrupting the society of villages and small towns.

    Then the was the growing difference of towns that got railroads and those that did not. There was development of nearby suburban towns for those that chose not to live in the cities where their businesses , or their work was in. Last but not least, was the development of mobs of often rowdy holiday people.

    Thus began the feeling of being rootless, isolated, without community social support of others of your class. Later this would be added to by tram lines, street cars, now automobiles and high way systems.

    • Nimue Brown

      Yes indeed. It’s noticable here that the one town that has most of it’s mediaeval buildings (Tewksbury) does not have a train station….

      • Christopher Blackwell

        Historic districts survive mostly because they become backwaters for awhile, only later to become discovered and gentrified into chick in areas later on.

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