Seven Years in America

[I suppose I should have written this about a month ago so that I would get the timing right, but as I've noted before, I'm kind of a lazy bastard. I like my couch and I like my afternoon naps on weekends, dammit...]

August 22nd, 2006. A young man steps off a plane after a 25-hour journey from the other side of the world, and for the third time in his life, sets foot on American soil. Thus began his journey throughout a nation that, until then, he'd only really seen from a distance. (Note to Americans: you people have got to figure out that your airport immigration system blows. When Heathrow Airport looks good by comparison, you know you've got a problem- and yet you insist on welcoming illegal invaders and lawbreakers with open arms?!?)

When I got off that plane seven years ago, I didn't really know what to expect. I was coming to the States to study for my postgraduate degree. I had many misconceptions about America, certainly, and I wasn't prepared for the shock I got when I discovered just how different America is from the stereotypes that are painted of it by the outside world. You really have to spend some time outside of the USA to understand just how skewed- often bizarrely so- is the perception that foreigners have of this country. If you listened to the advice given by a fair number of otherwise intelligent and reputable people of my acquaintance, you'd end up believing that Americans are all a bunch of fat, slobbering, gun-totin', Bible-bashin' rednecks who speak slowly and cannot understand words of more than three syllables. Thankfully, I was disabused of that particular stereotype rather quickly once I got here- so much so, in fact, that my sister now calls me a redneck. (Given that I speak actual English, and with a rather posh-sounding accent at that, this is an incongruent image to say the least.)

One thing I did discover, very fast, was just how much bigger everything is here. I still haven't gotten completely used to that. For instance, I learned how to drive (stick, of course) in Singapore, where cars are roughly eight to ten times as expensive as they are here. (No, I am not making that up, just ask my opposite number from back home.) They are also roughly half the size, or at least that's what it feels like. I have never quite gotten used to the sight of these bloody great SUVs whizzing past at 60mph (or faster) on ordinary roads (and in the snow to boot); the unfathomable appeal of the Cadillac Marmalade is still, to me, one of the great mysteries of life. The people here are bigger too- when you're used to spending time around stick-thin Singaporean Chinese, coming here to find that people are on average approximately twice the size does take some adjustment. So too do the meal sizes around here; every time I go back home, I can't tell whether to be pleased or irritated at the fact that any meal I order at a decent restaurant will actually be something that I can complete in a single sitting. Anyone who has ever seen me tear into a pound's worth of bloody rare Paleo bison burgers like a Carnifex through an Imperial tank will appreciate this.

I have learned much during my time here. It was here that I met some of my closest and dearest friends. It was here that I became a libertarian. It was here that I finally renounced atheism and moved to an open and humble acceptance of the divine majesty of God. It was here that I learned about Paleo eating and Primal living, and here that I came across the Red Pill, which forever changed my views of the world and my place in it. I have gained a great deal over the last seven years, things that I am deeply thankful for, things that I do not believe would have come to me had I lived in any other country.

Those good things have come at a price, though- often a price most dear. I have spent the past seven years away from my family, watching as those I care about the most grow old before my eyes. It is nearly impossible for me to think of either of my parents as "old"- somehow the label simply does not fit. And yet, every time I go back home, I see that my mother's hair is a bit more grey, that my father's physical energy is a bit lower than before. I see my sister growing up- she will soon graduate from college, in fact- and I wonder where the hell the time went as she somehow managed to go from a completely grass-green wet-nosed high-school graduate living an extremely pampered and sheltered life, to a (perhaps ever-so-slightly less green and sheltered and pampered) college student in the Midwest. (I maintain that she still has a wet nose. Literally.) I have seen my extended family fall apart from a distance, unable (and unwilling, if I'm honest) to do very much of anything about it, as squabbles over money and marriage destroyed previously unbreakable bonds of blood and brotherhood.

I have experienced personal loss and hardship as well, though again I have been far luckier than most. Like millions of others during the first stages of the ongoing Great Recession, I lost my job and spent about a month or so unemployed and wondering how to make ends meet. I was immensely fortunate to find something better very quickly, and within a few months I was working once more. My first job had been miserable- after the first 6 months, there was literally nothing to do for two years, a period of soul-destroying ennui that I look back upon with a mixture of scorn and regret. My second job was great, at least for the first year- and then, suddenly, it became terrible, as senior management turned the company into a political minefield and insisted on hiring accountants to do jobs that required actual brains and lateral thinking. I wasn't destined to last long there, and I was looking for a way out when the axe fell a little over two years ago. Once again, I was relatively fortunate; three months later, I was employed full-time once again.

When I joined my new firm, though, I was tossed into the fire, feet-first. The first three months were brutal- long hours, failing systems, lousy processes, demanding clients, the works. You name it, and it broke. And then it got even worse over the subsequent three months as my team fell apart around me. I remember that time as, in the words of Neil Peart when describing long tours, "a long dark tunnel"; I distinctly remember walking to work almost every morning last April thinking to myself, "if I have to go through one more day like this, I'm resigning tomorrow". Somehow, I pulled through- and then, thanks to a hell of a lot of hard work and some not inconsiderable time spent in the office on weekends during the summer when everyone else was surfing or sunbathing, things began to turn around. Slowly at first, then faster, until we got to the point where things were running smoothly and people were getting out at decent times again. Today, two of the three businesses that I supervise run virtually on autopilot; the third is in the best shape it's ever been in more than four years; and my clients know and recognise full well exactly who was responsible for the turnaround.

In the seven years that I have been here, I have seen deeply into this country and into its character. And I can tell you this with complete honesty: I never thought that I would come to love this country, or its people, as completely as I do today. Well, I suppose I should rephrase that. I never thought that I would come to love the ideal that this country once represented. There was once an idea that was America- the concept of a land of freedom, of peace, of liberty. This concept was, for roughly a century, as real and as tangible as the smell of the salt on the air around Ellis Island, but like all great dreams, it faded with time. It was slowly tarnished and ruined by the frailties and insecurities of the people of this country, who repeatedly chose the illusion of security over the reality of freedom, and in so doing signed the death sentence for the very freedoms that their fathers and grandfathers fought and died for.

It was here in America that I came to understand that freedom is more than just a buzzword, more than simply a catchphrase. It is worth fighting for, worth preserving at any cost. From the simplest of freedoms- the right to walk down a street without being harassed by the police for bribes, the right to enjoy the peace and quiet of your own home without having to deal with loutish and rowdy neighbours- to the most complex and difficult to understand- the freedom to associate with whoever you please, the freedom to defend yourself against external threats by any means necessary- this is a nation that once understood what it truly means to be free.

And it is in my recognition of what those freedoms mean that I also recognise, with great sorrow, something else: that within my lifetime, the freedoms that once defined and strengthened this land, will disappear. Conservatives like to believe that they can somehow stand against the tide of barbarism that is coming, that somehow they can stand and fight against the inexorable weight of history and "preserve this, the last best hope of Man on Earth", but they are wrong. There is no hope for this nation. It is dying from many self-inflicted wounds both great and small- imperial overstretch, demographic suicide, governmental strangulation of free enterprise, its bizarre insistence on letting half-savage barbarians roam its streets unchecked, the inability of the vast majority of its people to move beyond the bread-and-circuses spectacle that they call "politics" in this country. Whether by the hand of a foreign invader or its own people, this country will fall, and everything it once stood for, every ideal that once defined it as the light of Mankind, will disappear with it.

And it is precisely because of this coming fall that it is very unlikely that your humble servant the Didact will be sitting in front of a laptop 7 more years from now, telling you about what he has learned from his time in a land of freedom and grace. For the time of this country as a free and good land is long done.

That won't be the end of freedom- not quite. Freedom couldn't be extinguished by the surrender of imperial Athens to the victorious Spartans in 403 BC; freedom didn't die when Philip II of Macedon crushed the Thebans at Chaeronea. Freedom wasn't destroyed when Julius Caesar overthrew the last trappings of the Roman Republic and created the Roman Empire in its place; freedom didn't disappear when that same empire collapsed with nary a whimper in 476 AD. Freedom didn't vanish when the Turks destroyed Constantinople in 1453, it didn't evaporate when the French instituted the Terror in the aftermath of their "revolution", and it somehow survived both socialism and fascism. Freedom may be small and fragile, but it's amazingly hard to kill. The idea that Man is an autonomous being beholden to God and not government, and that therefore government derives its powers strictly from the consent of the governed, is still the newest, most radical idea in all of human history.

But make no mistake- if what I have seen over these past 7 years is any indication, freedom will be on the retreat for a good long while before we can put it back on the offensive, where it bloody well belongs.

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