Living in Hope

There's a story about a Jewish woman, a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Each day, she would mention things she planned to do, "after the war, when we return home." One of her fellow prisoners, becoming fed up with her naïveté, said, "Don't you understand? We're never getting out of here. We're going to die here." She looked at him kindly and said, "Yes, I know."

There comes a time when it is apparent that a given situation has gone beyond hope. At such times, there are many who console themselves by imagining a pleasant, but impossible, outcome. I first discovered this at age twenty three, when I visited a friend who was in a hospital, dying of cancer. He said that he was glad to see me, but was presently with his family. He invited me to, "Drop by on Monday." When I went to the hospital on Monday, I learned that he had died. He had known that he might not be alive on Monday, but had decided to plan on it anyway.

America's Best Hope?

Recently, I talked with a young American I know - a very bright guy in his thirties - about the present state of his country. As always, he cheerily talked of Ron Paul and how much he admired him. He referred to Ron's wonderful common-sense speeches and his clear, insightful articles and interviews. I agreed, and he went on to discuss how eager he was to vote for Ron as President. Reluctantly, I pointed out that, as much as I was inclined to agree that Ron was, to me, the only viable choice for his country in 2012, I doubted that there was any real hope for him to win.

My American friend agreed, but said, "Oh, I know that. But I can't face the world without optimism, and Ron's my only hope of optimism for the US. If there's nobody like Ron to root for, there won't be a US that I can return to some day."

That comment really stuck with me. Here was a guy who, had he lived in a previous era, would have been a highly productive citizen in the US. He would have taken pride in being an American and, with his intelligence and bright optimism, would have been successful in his own right, and would have given back generously to his community and his country. However, he left the US some five years ago, with no plan to ever return. Like the woman at Auschwitz, he continues to create a spark of hope in his own mind, while thoroughly understanding that a return to the US is simply not in the cards.

Who Fears Whom?

Economic forecaster extraordinaire Harry Schultz has a favourite quote from Thomas Jefferson: "When the government fears the people, that is liberty; when the people fear the government, that is tyranny." I think it's safe to say that the US is now thoroughly entrenched in the latter stage of its existence. In recent years, this has been no more exemplified than by the rise in the police state.

The Patriot Act (a euphemism that Ayn Rand would have been proud to have created for use in one of her novels) and successive laws have assured that anyone with a badge has the authority to detain and/or suppress any citizen indefinitely without providing a reason, "to protect the people from terrorism." Perhaps no one incident is more telling of the real intent of these laws than the couple who were arrested for waltzing outside the Jefferson Memorial in Washington. (What activity could be more indicative of terrorism than to express joy through dancing in a public place that was created to honour the Father of American liberty?)

Beyond Hope

Many Americans, like my young friend who supports Ron Paul so enthusiastically, have made the decision that, "You can't fight City Hall," and have quietly exited the country of their birth. My own country is small - with a population of under 50,000, yet half of our residents come from other countries - over 120 nationalities in all. Many have come here because of employment opportunities; yet, increasingly, many have a second reason: They are looking to get out of their birth country.

Many are from America, but there are others who come from every country in Europe. In the course of a day, I am likely to bump into a carpenter from Amsterdam, a hotelier from Vienna, a banker from London and a chef from Lyon. Each one still has a strong attachment to the country of his birth, but each one, at some point, looked into his own personal crystal ball and saw no future. Each left his birth country with a measure of sadness, but with the hope of increased liberty and opportunity in their new home.

Still, the majority remain behind, some of them doggedly so. I have an associate in the US who tells me, "I plan to stay and fight from within." He does not say what tools he has in his arsenal to assist him in that fight, nor whether he believes that there is hope for winning. He does, however, have hope. In 2010, he advised me that "people are really fed up and, after the election in November, it's all going to change. We're going to take back the country." He now accepts that the change was largely cosmetic; however, he again predicts that, in 2012, the voters will take the country back.

I'm afraid I'm a bit more cynical than that. I do not think it likely that more than half of Congress will be replaced by new, morally responsible people. Nor do I believe that a moral candidate will take the White House. After all, in order to win, you need to spend money, and, in order to receive large campaign donations, concessions must be made by your political party as to what policy will be after the election.

If, for example, a candidate, such as Mr. Obama, runs on a policy of the removal of troops from the Middle East, but his party accepts major donations from the military industrial complex, the warfare will continue unabated after the election, regardless of what was said in the campaign. Therefore, the major financial institutions, the military industrial complex and other large donors would need to somehow be removed from the political scene prior to the election, or no substantial change would take place. When seen in this light, "taking back the country" clearly is just as unlikely as "returning home from Auschwitz after the war."

Finding Freedom Again

Hence, the many people who have chosen instead to vote with their feet and have found new homes elsewhere in the world.

America was made great by pioneering people, mostly from Europe, who saw an opportunity. These people recognized that America was wilder, less settled, and had dangers of hostile tribes and the uncertainty of not knowing if you could survive, but there was one factor that made it all worthwhile: freedom. The freedom to pursue, with minimal restriction, the path of your own choosing.

As romantic as it sounds, it really does boil down to that one fact. America was made great by pioneering people from other lands who saw opportunity in freedom. Many of their descendants are now revitalizing that spirit and leaving America (and Europe) for new lands, and whilst most of those new lands are in the Second and Third World and some do not have all the amenities of home, there is one overriding attraction that is infinitely more valuable: freedom. Just as in the early days of America, the future advancement of the world lies with these pioneers.

Tags: history,