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Sometimes people move. Sometimes they move close, like down the street or the other side of the neighborhood. And sometimes people move further away, like the next town over, the next state over, or sometimes across the country.
Sometimes people move out of the country. Sometimes they move across the world.
I imagine someday they’ll move to different worlds altogether. Someday we may even move to comets. Sadly, we’re not there yet.
There are a variety of reasons why people pick up their things and go. In the olden days—the way olden days—people moved to follow food. Eventually we learned if we put fences around our food, it would stop moving. So in modern times, when food is plentiful everywhere, people move for more personal reasons. It could be for a job, to be closer to family, or just for a change of scenery.
Other times it could be for political reasons.
Sometimes people flee.
This topic has been on my mind a lot lately, the more we learn about the reach of the government under President Obama. It first popped into my mind a few weeks ago, when the three-headed scandal monster of Benghazi/IRS/journalist subpoenas was breathing its fire all over every newscast. I thought to myself, “This is getting scary,” and wondered for perhaps the first time in my life which country I would move to, if I had to. When the NSA/Ed Snowden stuff broke, the thought occurred to me again. It seemed like the only way to avoid being spied on by my government was to make it so that Washington was no longer my government. Now that we’re talking about Washington spying on European allies, I wonder if even leaving the country would be enough to escape Big Brother’s eye.
Regardless of where I’d go—and I’d have to think at this point it would be somewhere as apolitical as possible and remote—I’m not writing this because I’m already thinking of leaving America. I was born here. I live here. This is home, and the only home I’ve known. But what I’m wondering is, is the time to leave coming? When will it be here? And how will we know?
I’ll attempt to answer these questions in order. Call it JDM’s Guide to Becoming a Refugee.
1. Is the time to leave America coming?
Yes. You’d have to think so. I look at it like this: Since 9/11, we’ve had two administrations. Bush was really bad. Obama is even worse. Government overreach is only growing, and snowballs tend to roll down hills. If Obama isn’t the reason to leave, his successor very well could be. And if not his successor, his successor’s successor. At some point, it’s probably coming.
Governments the likes of our current one are untenable. Our government is simply too big, simply too powerful, and simply too interested in sticking its tentacles in a growing number of places. On its current track, Washington is bound to inspire one of two things: either (a) a state-sponsored attack by another country that’s tired of being drone-bombed and spied on; or (b) a bloody revolution, successful or otherwise, by American citizens fed up with the fact that votes for “change” every four years seem to be getting the same results.
Not to sound overly dramatic, but the only ways I can think of to get around these outcomes are to either: (a) pray for our government to bankrupt itself and defund its wars and spying programs, in which case we’ll probably all end up poor and eating crumbs out of dirty Snickers wrappers by the subway (not ideal); or (b) vote out the current crop of warmongers, con artists, and corporate puppets and replace them with a fresh, new, non-Republican, non-Democratic government respectful of human life, liberty, and privacy, with no ties to any big business whatsoever. Since Americans havent voted for such things in a long, long time—if ever—that leaves us with war, revolution, or praying for bankruptcy. Not sure I want to be here for any of those things.
2. When will it be time to leave?
That’s a tougher question to answer. It would be nice if the answer could be as simple as, “A day before they put chains around our necks and the robots on chariots start whipping us.” But it may not be that simple, and it may not be that obvious. People in Nazi Germany had all the reason in the world to leave. They had a Holocaust. And yet a good many of them stayed, and a great number did nothing about it. Sometimes there isn’t a singular event that forces people into exile, and sometimes, even when there is, people don’t know it or don’t respond to it. We may or may not have a singular event like that in this country. We may end up having a Holocaust, but we could just as easily end up having a long and growing train of abuses, like they did in the days of the American Revolution. If we want to be out of here before the next revolution starts, it may not be so easy to see it coming. The last one took years of buildup. The Civil War took years of buildup. We live in an accelerated age, but history is even more powerful than technology, and history likes to move slowly.
The time to leave will therefore be different for different people in different circumstances. If I was single with no kids, no job, and not a lot of family, I might pick up my stuff and leave tomorrow. I could get a job anywhere. I could live anywhere. What’s to tie me to a place that I think is ripe for chaos? When you have a family and a steady job and ties to a certain area and culture, the story becomes a little more murky. At what point do I want to give up the places I call home? At what point do I want to give up watching baseball and start watching pass-the-goat or whatever sports they have in other countries? Economics is a study of value. What do I value more? At what point does living free from fear have more value than staying in a land that’s familiar and comfortable? At what point do I think my family will be safer somewhere thousands of miles from southeastern Pennsylvania? At what point will things be so risky here that I’m willing to scare the heck out of them by moving them?
I can tell you I am personally not there yet. I am not in the process of packing up my family. But I obviously must be mentally preparing, or else I wouldn’t be writing this.
And with all that’s going on these days, I suspect many people are further along than me.
3. Finally, how will we know?
There’s a story about a frog in a pot. Someone turns up the heat one degree at a time, and the frog acclimates to each increase, until the next thing he knows he’s dead and boiling. That may be the situation we’re in here. It may be what we’ve been in for a long, long time. If Bush was bad and Obama is worse and the next guy is going to be more terrible than the both of them, none of these things will have happened in a vacuum. We’re only at the point we’re at because we climbed the mountain to get there. The media has helped us blaze the trail by painting the government’s actions as “scandals,” which are stories, instead of “abuses,” which are actionable. At what point do we realize action must be taken? At what point do we stop and say this frog of a country is about to boil?
Maybe knowing the government’s got access to your phone calls and emails is enough for you. Maybe you’d rather wait till the day when Homeland Security sets up roadblocks and forces random people to stop and recite the Pledge. Maybe you’re really patient and are willing to wait till the bombs from other countries start falling. You’ll have to decide what’s right for you. You never want to leave a country when you can be reasonably assured that you’re just being paranoid, but you never want to look back and think, “Boy, that fence on the border was meant to keep people in, not keep people out. I wish I had left. I wish I’d been paranoid.” So while the answer may come in different forms at different times for different people, the overriding answer is probably this: You will only know if you’re paying attention, and you’ll only know if you set your limits. If war or revolution or bankruptcy are coming, you’ll only know it’s time to leave by knowing the signs for each of them.
Those signs are becoming harder to miss with each bit of news coming out of Washington. It may or may not be time to leave America. But it sure feels as though that time is coming.