Given the amount of opportunity America has traditionally enjoyed, and its position of dominance on the world stage, why would anyone in their right mind give up their chunk of the apple pie? The list of selfish reasons is short, after all you can easily move around the world without renouncing citizenship. But for those Americans who believe the ideals that made this country great have become irrevocably corrupted, and that our current path is one that must be avoided at all costs, then abandoning the United States is a small but effective measure to redirect your taxes and productivity to a more preferable location. The obvious argument against this idea is that by throwing your vote away, you tip the balance in favor of the opposition. Therefore this is the ultimate measure of last resort, when you think the ship is sinking and bailing water isn't helping anymore. If the people are disinterested and unaware of the problems, then this may be the only answer for the disenfranchised individual.
America is undeniably great for many things. Our constitution marks the beginning of the age of Democracy and the spread of the belief that power must rest in the hands of the people. Our industriousness and natural resources provide inspiration for millions of immigrants wishing to build a better life and contribute to the American dream. Our melting-pot society and history of slavery provides a diverse stomping grounds to tackle issues of racism and inequality. Our wealth gives us unique opportunities to reflect on issues of the greater good.
Yet America has not learned the lessons of past oligarchies. That the dangers of wealth come from the poor. That alienating the majority can benefit the minority only temporarily.
One of our triumphs has been the breeding of a sated middle-class. The apathy of the majority encourages the excercise of power by the capitalist elite. As long as the rich pay taxes, the benefit to the lower classes keeps them quiet. The view that the United States is an equitable society is quite strong from the inside (unless you yourself are one of the disenfranchised). We have our share of social problems, but at least people have the ability to express themselves freely and make change through their vote.
Global society is quickly becoming more important than any individual country. The technological advances of the past century have been felt nowhere so strongly as in communications. As global interaction increases, so does global interdependency. America runs its game as if the rest of the world is just another player in the grab-what-you-can game of global industrial trade. Sure, we pay lip-service to freedom this and democracy that, but due to the American public's apathy, our government does things according to very short-sighted self-interest.
I wouldn't presume to suggest that foreign policy is about anything other than self-interest, but, even if we admit to utter materialism, what the world thinks of us is critical to our ability to pursue wealth. Calculating foreign policy out according to its effect on GDP is not only a gross oversimplification, it's a dangerous underestimation of our dependence on the rest of the world.
The abstraction of money as time progresses combined with an overly high concentration of wealth encourages the belief that an increasing GDP indicates an increasing quality of life. While on average this may be more or less true, we must not forget that free things may increase quality of life substantially while many scams generate positive cash flow without actually providing any benefit to anyone. Why the digression? Because the American government by and large ignores the question of what is really best for the people by jumping to the conclusion that the answer is in the economic numbers. The real question the government should be asking is what kind of societal environment is most conducive to progress.
The economy is merely a result of people's actions, an untamed animal. You can't control it anymore than you can control people directly. The idea is to create an environment where there is incentive for people to create and innovate. That is the foundation of capitalism. Freedom of ideas keeps people happy and encourages new innovations. That is the foundation of the American constitution.
Yet in America today we are seeing an amazing amount of special interest power shaping policy in favor of established institutions who favor the status quo over innovation. The Sonny Bono Copyright Act, DMCA, and the prolific patenting of obscenely obvious ideas is making a mockery of fair-use and reducing the number of new creations. Our society is becoming so litigious that insurance is skyrocketing, and people are scared to invest in promising new ideas because of liability concerns. The small business-person is being wiped out of existence by mega-corporations that achieve economies-of-scale through slave wages and predatory business practices. And while all this is going on, the media uses fear to divert attention to things like terrorism and crime which actually have far less impact on the average person's life.
The War on Terrorism
This is where it really starts to get scary. The War on Terrorism seems to be primarily based on two ideas. First we increase security at home to prevent more attacks, and secondly we root out terrorists around the world through brusque foreign policy and threat of force. Once we kill all the terrorists we will then be safe and can continue on about our business.
Is there something missing from this equation? Why isn't anybody asking where these terrorists come from? What could cause so many people to hate us so much as to fly planes into our skyscrapers? The implied answer is that those radical Islamic fundamentalists are simply crazy. They use what we consider to be immoral means, therefore they are not human and their hatred could not have any basis in logic or past American actions. You don't kill dandelions by ripping the heads off as viscerally satisfying as it may be.
Now this isn't about justifying terrorism or getting all touchy-feely with those bastards. Rather, I'd like to point out that these people were not born this way. At some point in their life, they had to come to believe that America was actually evil. I'm afraid it's not Islam or some other untouchable tradition that teaches them this, it's our systematic and total dismissal of their importance as people. Sure, there are probably lots of lies told about us, but they would not stick if we were really as even-handed as our administrations make us out to be. Americans don't give a shit about people anywhere else in the world, and instead encourage our government to pursue profit. We like the lip-service to good causes and freedom and what not, but the government knows that what really turns our heads are cheap gas and lots of jobs.
It would be a hell of a lot cheaper (and would buy us a lot more political capital for when we actually have to go to war) to start living up to our commitments and become good world citizens rather than continue to play worldwide monopoly. Let's face it, triple security and little wars all over the globe cost a lot of money without actually producing any nifty toys or serving a fancy dinner. Plus, if your wars go bad (which wars have a tendency to do in the middle-east), then all of a sudden a lot more people hate you then did before, and so you have to fight twice as many wars because there are twice as many terrorists, this escalation can only end in more terrorists or genocide. A better approach would be to do a little self-evaluation of what kind of actions we have taken that might piss people off, and do something to ameliorate those situations rather than disavow knowledge and pretend like we're oh-so-righteous.
Certainly we have to genuinely make a sacrifice to really satisfy the other people of the world. It would require a new way of thinking about foreign policy where we consider world public opinion first, instead of always maximizing economic benefit. This isn't coming from some high-horse moral supremist ideology, rather it is a highly pragmatic long-term solution to the problem of terrorism. I think we are plenty rich without making a dangerous gamble to see if we can get even richer. Let's use some of that cash to see if we can improve our image.
Of Course It'll Never Happen
Putting this idea into practice is as simple as the people demanding it. The problem is that Americans don't have time to gather all the facts and make informed decisions. Rather, all that's necessary to convince the majority of anything is a few sound bytes and a specious argument from an 'expert analyst'.
I don't know if the reason we aren't hearing more of the how and why questions from the mainstream media has anything to do with blacklisting or some other nefarious side-effect of the "with us or against us" doctrine, but I find it more than a bit unsettling. I feel ashamed to contribute my taxes and my ingenuity to this country, and I don't feel like there's much I can do to change the situation. I'm not sure where in the world is any better, but I figure anywhere with a little more civic involvement would be a breath of fresh air. I don't have the balls to do it yet, but soon.