Friday, September 14, 2018

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

Should you flee a country due to war or poor economic conditions, or stay and fight?

The world is awash in refugees, in a worse way since World War II.  Refugees are fleeing various African and Arab countries, trying to get to Europe, where no one is shooting at them, and economic conditions are much better.   Venezuelans are fleeing to other Latin American countries as basic staples in life (other than gasoline) cannot be found on store shelves.    Muslims flee Myanmar due to violence  and genocide.  Look at any part of the planet, it seems, and people are trying to escape.

This has, of course, put a lot of pressure on countries that are not at war, and are more economically successful.  One reason for the rise of nationalism across the planet is the reaction to the influx of refugees, particularly in mono-cultural countries.  Folks in Nordic countries are not suddenly becoming racist, they are just waking up to a world where everyone isn't blond-haired and blue-eyed and speaking Swedish - and it is jarring.

But the question remains, on both a personal and national level, should you flee a war-torn country (or one even in economic decline) for a better life for yourself, or stay and fight for a better life for your country?   The question is a valid one, I think, as one reason why these various dictators and autocrats are able to stay in power as long as they have is that the best and brightest (and wealthiest) people often flee, leaving behind only those loyal to the government.

Venezuela is a prime example.  I had clients there, and they were among the country's elite - or at least the middle-class.  They could afford to work around economic conditions, at first.  But they were also the first to find refuge in other Latin American countries (or the US) and could afford to leave early.   As a result, there was a "brain drain" on the country, as well as an economic drain, leaving the country poorer in wealth and in spirit.  It also meant that for each person who left, there was one less person to oppose the Maduro government.

As a result, the people remaining suffer more - and are even more powerless to effect change.  They too, leave, eventually, fleeing by bus for Colombia.   Pretty soon, all that will be left are the government officials and the military.   So long as soldiers are paid, Maduro stays in power.   Once they start to starve.... well, all bets are off.   And sadly, the only people who seem poised to take power are would-be dictators who are even more corrupt than the present government - ex-military officers who even the Trump administration turned their nose up at - and that is saying a lot!

If more people stayed and fought, in places like Venezuela or South Sudan, maybe real change could take place.  When they flee, the "bad guys" end up winning, as the opposition is that much weaker.

Of course, this is easy to say, hard to do.   We were watching the mini-series War and Remembrance a few years ago, starring the very under-rated Robert Mitchum.  It was the sequel to the series Winds of War, both based on books by Herman Wouk.   The frustrating part of the sequel were the episodes starring John Gielgud, who plays a Jewish scholar living in fascist Italy.   Gielgud's character continually plays down the risk to himself and his family, arguing that the fascists would not go so far as to harm him (and of course, at the time, Nazi atrocities were mere "rumors").

You find yourself screaming at the television, "Get the hell out!  Now! While you still can!" - because you know how the series will end, with Gielgud trudging off to a gas chamber.  In retrospect, it is easy to say that he shoulda got while the getting was good.  Leave and don't look back - your life is on the line.

And on a personal level, that is the mathematics going on, in every part of the world today.  Do I want to stay in a country while the economy slowly melts down and wait for the secret police to come fetch me and torture me to death?  Or do I want to live in a war zone, while religious zealots decide who is the one and only true God - at gun point?   Or do I leave for better opportunities and a safe and healthy life elsewhere?

Or suppose the country I live in is merely overpopulated with people with no job skills and no hope?  It is in my best interests to flee to another country which offers refugee status, an apartment and a monthly stipend.   And to what extent is such largess the merciful and kind thing to do, versus acting at a "bug light" attractant to potential migrants?   These are not easy questions to answer.

It is a pertinent question for anyone these days, even folks living in the United States.  It may seem we are a long way aways from living in a Police State - where your every move and thought and Facebook posting are monitored by the government, and you await that knock on the door at midnight.  On the the other hand, we have a President who calls a free press, "the enemy of the people" and wants Op-Ed writers to be "turned in" by their newspapers as "traitors" to their country.   And while the secret police are not knocking on my door just yet, if you are here illegally, you have every right to be frightened these days.   Are these mere shadows of things to come, or just an aberration that will be corrected in short order?

Many Americans claim they will "move to Canada" if things get worse in the US.   Of course, Canada might have other ideas about this, particularly if people start flooding the border, as many illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers in the US already are doing.   From what I understand, you can migrate to Canada pretty freely, if you have a certain amount of money you pledge to invest in the country (the US has a similar policy, which is why Eric Trump was selling Condos in Trump tower to the Chinese - claiming an "investment" in a personal residence would qualify them for citizenship).

So, again, if you have the money, you can afford to move away.   The question is, when is the right time to move?   Clearly, in Venezuela, the time to leave was years ago.  But people stay on, hoping things get better at the next election - not realizing that elections can be rigged, negated, and elected bodies abolished overnight (or courts, as is the case in Poland and West Virginia).

And of course, this begs the question, what happens when we run out of places to run away to?  Canada is a fine county, of course - very liberal and very caring.  However, it has simmered on the edge of civil war itself, in the past few decades, as the people of Quebec aired their grievances.  How long will it be, before this world-wide trend of nationalism, right-wing thinking, and new dictatorships also infects Canada?

I guess I can only hope I shuffle off this mortal coil before the shit truly hits the fan.  Or perhaps, I will shuffle off this mortal coil, like John Gielgud's character, on the way to a gas chamber.

It is hard to say.  It is hard to know when to stay or go.