Flight AND Fight

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My last piece, “Time to Run,” provoked a lot of reaction, almost all of it positive, but some negative.

The readers who liked it wanted advice on where to run. That’s a tall order and I’ll come back to them in another piece.

Those who didn’t like it brandished a few arguments that ought to have a stake driven right through them immediately.

Here goes, point by point.

1. Running away doesn’t help

1. Actually, running away is often the best response to a bad situation.

Speaking practically, when a dump truck turns into your drive, mows down your rhododendrons and heads toward you, do you stand your ground yelling Sicilian imprecations at the driver until he rolls over you too? Or do you leap aside nimbly, take a photo, and call a lawyer? You have as much chance getting through to the poisonous shills in DC with constitutional arguments, as you have charming a rabid pit bull with Shakespeare.

Speaking theoretically, your body and brain are hardwired to either put up or shut up, a “fight or flight" response built into the structure of the autonomic nervous system. That is the physiological term for what you think of as your “lizard brain.” Fight or flight is the either/or response that helped your ancestors survive. It’s not the best way to tackle complex problems, but when it gets down to basic survival, it’s a handy guide.

And how do you know when your survival is at stake?

Check your gut response.

[Just make sure you're not mistaking your complexes, fears, prejudices, and impulses for your gut.]

2. Running away is only for the rich

2. Actually, the only people who can afford to stay put are the rich. If they have a problem, they can afford the 400-dollar-an-hour suits needed to sort it out. If they can’t sort it out, they have the means to tie up their opponents in court long enough to do a disappearing act.

As for our dear leaders, fight the government in court, post 9-11, and see what happens if you’re poor or middle-class.

Unemployed? The rich don’t have to worry about jobs. They have money enough that they employ other people or live on their investments.

Dollar collapsing? No problem.

The rich have access to alternative investments and financial instruments you never heard of.

Too busy to watch the market and too confused to know whom to hire to do it? The rich have access to money managers whose kids have more money in their piggy bank than you have in your house.

The rich can afford not to worry about the government. They have enough to buy or bribe their way out of trouble anywhere. They have tangible assets that go up in value during inflation. They have antiques and jewelry they can cash in during a depression. They have income-producing businesses that free them from the whims of the job market. You have a three-month safety net. They have enough to live out the rest of their lives comfortably.

And when they can’t, they have the contacts and friends who can bail them out or set them up in something else.

3. Things are not so bad

3. Not as bad as what? The Great Depression? There are plenty of people who think we’re in for much worse times than the Great Depression.

But what does it matter if things are not as bad, just as bad, or much worse than the 1930s? Leave the measuring and the hand-wringing to tailors with chubby clients. It’s enough to say the times are likely to be as bad as any you’re likely to live through.

Which is to say, bad enough.

4. Things are worse elsewhere

4. This is pure hearsay. Most of the people who are telling you this have never lived anywhere but the US.

And probably not many places in the US.

The airwaves are thick with pundits whose money is not where their mouth is. They’re telling you to stay put and foot the bills at home….

They’re telling you from France…and from Canada… and from Japan…and from Singapore…and from New Zealand…and yes, from DC — and any of a dozen places where the far-sighted and the deep-pocketed fled long ago.

Or, they’re telling you to stay put from inside the belly of the beast. They’re part of the infernal money-machine on Wall Street that depends on yokels like you keeping the casino going. Meanwhile, the money managers have their assets in life-insurance or in a sock.

Don’t be a fool. If you want to know how things are somewhere else, talk to people who’ve lived there. Research the place. Go visit it. Go — or don’t go. But decide for yourself. Don’t let someone else’s idle opinion decide for you.

5. It’s too late to run

5. Too late for what? It’s never too late to visit a foreign country. If nothing else, it’s an education of a kind desperately needed with all the chauvinism and xenophobia in the air. If you’re young, it’s the best possible time for you to try your chances abroad. Why stay home and let the government stick you with the bill for things you never bought? If you’re a small business man, why market to a debt-racked population, when foreigners are sitting on piles of dollars, desperate to get something for their money? Why defend the values of the free market in a country that rejects it? Plenty of smaller, less grandiose countries have respect for hard work, foresight, innovation, and thrift.

It’s easier to follow the old rules in a new language than it is to learn new and ever-newer rules in your old tongue.

Granted, if you’re retired or have children, your situation is a bit more difficult. But that still doesn’t mean you can’t weigh your options. No one is talking about pulling up your roots forever and fleeing to the jungles of the Amazon. But, if you’re portable, why not consider living somewhere else, maybe part-time. It could save you some money and give you a perspective that could change your life. A US passport is welcome in many countries and can be held along with the passport of several other countries. Why not take advantage of it? If nothing else, you’ll see how other people manage on much less than what we have here.

6. Running away is shirking your duty.

6. This is a peculiarly despicable objection, coming from people who’ve done nothing at all in the way of duty to their community. The most sanctimonious about civic duty today were the greediest back then, in that orgy of government-backed gambling that wrecked the economy. It’s akin to the taunts of treachery against antiwar activists, and it’s completely false.

It’s simply not true that you can’t help your country from abroad. The very fact of being an American abroad helps international communication. See for yourself, hear for yourself what others think. Judge for yourself, from how others live. And let them see, hear, and judge you. Know what your money has done unseen by those at home.

See the ravages, the blood spilled. See the good done. Find out what it once meant to be an American and find out what it is today. Join forces with activists abroad and learn that their struggles and yours are not different. There are many countries where electronic surveillance is not as far down the road as it is here. Your voice might grow bolder and more confident, far from home.

The rest of the world has its own problems, true. Some of them are grave. But it’s here in the US that activism is most sidetracked by partisan politics, insularity, grandstanding, and politically correct insanity. Really and truly, there are few countries in the world outside totalitarian regimes that are as conformist, pervasively and fundamentally, as this country.

I’d rather live under a benign despot that left me to my own devices from day to day, than in a democracy where I’m spied on and manipulated constantly. I may have theoretical rights, but much good they’ll do for me if they’re strangled at birth by spies, PR flacks, and thought-police.

Meanwhile, half these so-called rights don’t exist any more, even in theory. A government that monkeys around with habeas corpus, privacy, bankruptcy procedure, eminent domain, and contracts is signalling loud and clear that it has no respect for the rule of law. It’s telling you as plainly as it can that it’s arbitrary. It’s telling you that it’s a mass state and not a constitutional republic. It’s telling you that it’s on the auction block.

Which part of all that hasn’t got through to you yet?

There are times to fight and there are times to sit out the battles for the sake of the war.

On the sidelines, waiting and watching, you who have left, you who will leave, may do more to keep alive the spirit of freedom abroad. There, in soil more fertile than any in your native land today you may discover America once again.

Lila Rajiva [send her mail] is the author of the ground-breaking study, The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media (MR Press, 2005), and the co-author with Bill Bonner of Mobs, Messiahs and Markets (Wiley, 2007). Visit her blog. All responses to email are posted at my blog in the comment section after the relevant article, with personal information omitted to ensure privacy.

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