Tag Archives: world

No country is perfect

3 Oct

As regular readers will know, my dream is to leave the US for greener pastures. I’ve had this goal for several years now and I’ve been working hard to make it a reality. When I first got serious about doing this, I remember brining Canadian immigration forms to my parents to show them. At the time my destination was Vancouver. I looked all around Canada and that seemed like a great place. The landscape around the city looked beautiful as well.

After a while though I changed my mind about Canada. Harper got elected PM and the more I thought about it the more the similarities between the US and Canada started to bug me. What really stuck in my head was that I heard somewhere that Canada has a political lag time of about 10 years behind the US. So wherever the US was 10 years ago politically, that’s where Canada is now. That would put Canada square in Bush territory. I realize how stupid this sounds; they’re two different countries with different issues, but Harper’s pretty bad and Canada has been becoming less liberal as of late.

With Canada off my list, my next destination was The Netherlands. They have a lot of great things going for them and I’ve always admired the Dutch. I was a little hesitant about the language barrier, but they all speak four languages, English being one of them, so I figured of all the countries to try and learn a language in, at least there’s the safety net of English in Holland. For a time I was trying to teach myself Dutch. I was listening to Dutch media, and I even put sticky notes all around my apartment labeling things in Dutch. As time went on I eventually changed my mind about the Netherlands. My language learning attempts weren’t really going anywhere, but more importantly the EU started to collapse. I figured it would be near impossible for me to get into Europe and find a job as a non-EU citizen while the economy was collapsing. Things might still go under if Greece, Spain, or Italy folds and the whole point of me moving is to try and avoid disaster.

England was never on my list for reasons that will be clear in a bit.

Next on my list was Australia. This is where I’ve been for the past few months. I was attracted to Australia because they have a higher standard of living and a higher standard of just about everything else compared to the US. The big draw, however, was the working holiday visa scheme. Basically, I could get a visa to Australia that would let me live/work anywhere in the country for up to a year. I figured this would be perfect as I could sample the country before taking the plunge and attempting to get citizenship.

(Yes. I want to give up my American citizenship and become the citizen of some other place. No, this is not your cue tell me why I should keep it. This entire blog is a litany of reasons why I don’t want to be a part of the US anymore. But I digress)

I have a map of Australia on the wall over my bed. I decided to try and shoot for Melbourne as the climate looked better to me and from what I’ve read/heard I think I’d like the feel better than Sydney or anywhere else.

The problem now is that Australia’s starting to sour on me just like everywhere else has before. Why? Their treatment of Julian Assange, their cooperation with the US, and the security state the are trying to build. My eyes are starting to turn to New Zealand as another possibility, especially since I just found out that they too have a working holiday visa program. I know that NZ needs tech people, their landscape is amazing, and they have even better in standards of living than Australia! Unfortunately, they’re not perfect either. Abortion is illegal and they’ve got internet police problems too, which brings me to the point of this post:

No country is perfect.

The only thing I can do is try and weigh the pros and cons of each country and try to see which one scores the most points. Here are some of the things that are important to me when shopping for a country:

  • Police/security state: This is by far the hardest. England is not on my list for this exact reason. Cameras everywhere. The US is building the biggest, scariest security state in history and is one of the main reasons why I want to leave. The more security state-ish a country is, the less I want to live there.
  • Internet freedom: This goes hand in hand with the above point. I want to live in a place where the internet is free and unregulated. I don’t want things like SOPA/PIPA/ACTA, etc. I don’t want anyone monitoring my internet usage or restricting it.
  • Human rights: I want to find a country that places a high value on human rights and dignity. This includes things like privacy and all the rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Especially important to me are things like reproductive rights like access to on demand abortion and contraceptive. I would also like to retain my right to own firearms.
  • Emphasis on education and a healthy society: I would like to find a country where people put a high value on access to quality education and see to it that children are taught actual science and not stuff like creationism. I would also like for the the people in the society to have a low tolerance for things like corruption, abuse of power, and apathy to the well being of others. In Holland, for example, I heard of an American backpacker who didn’t have much money for a hotel and so he slept the night on a park bench. In the morning he was woken by police officers. He thought they might arrest him, tell him to move on, or at worst beat him like they’re liable to do in America. To his surprise they had food and hot coffee for him and asked if he needed any help.
  • Lastly I’d like to find a country with a low level of religiosity. Generally, the lower the religiosity of a country, the higher the standards of living are.

No country that I know of meets all these criteria perfectly. Some are stronger in certain areas and weaker in others. At the end of the day it will come down to what I’m willing to make do with. I guess that’s all we can ever hope to do in life, make the best out of what’s available to us.

What is your “better world”?

23 Feb

Everyone, be they liberal or conservative, want a better world for their children, they just disagree on how to go about achieving that. At least that’s what everyone says, but I feel there is a fundamental semantics issue here. What exactly does one mean by “a better world”? That saying assumes we both want the same thing in the end and that we just differ on the paths, but I think that is a wrong assumption to make.

What do I mean by a “better world” coming from my liberal atheist point of view? Well my better world would be a world where people don’t tolerate corrupt politicians who lie to them, where war truly is the last resort and not the first option. In my perfect world people’s lives would not be dictated by their neighbor’s religion. The government would not institutionalize bigotry, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, or impose religious doctrine. My perfect world would be a place where race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religious preference, etc would not matter. Sure if people wanted to take pride in some aspect of their identity that would be fine, but discriminating against someone for that identity would not be tolerated. My perfect world would be a world in which people were guaranteed the things needed to survive, like food, water, shelter, clean air, and medical attention, but where the safety net was not so comfortable as to encourage living off of it. My perfect world would be a world where people were able to speak their minds without censorship. My perfect world would be a world where the government did not try to control your body, be it what drugs you put into it, or when you decide to start a family. In my perfect world the government would work towards improving the lives of its citizens through a strong public education system and strong environmental protection. In my perfect world the rich would not be punished for being rich, but the poor would not be left to die either.

Those are some of the things I have in mind when I think of a “better world”.

Yet when I listen to conservatives, their “better world” seems so….evil to me. I know it’s not nice to paint it like that, but it just honestly does feel like the antithesis to everything I hold to be good and right.

The trickiest part is how they will often use the same words I do when trying to describe a better world, but by observing their actions and how they vote, I’ve come to understand that there is at the very best a serious semantics issue.

I will put this bluntly. Based off of my observations their “better world” appears as follows:

A place world where only landowners have the right to vote, a world where everyone is assigned strict gender roles and forced to conform to them, a world where white men dominate and control every aspect of society, a world where the power of big government is used to police your bedroom and your body. A “better world” where minorities and women know their place, serving white men; a world where the government is the tool of the rich and powerful and where the poor are left to starve off and die for lack of medical attention, shelter, food and water. A world where public education is non-existent and where all the taxpayer’s money is spent buying bigger guns with which to kill people different from the white men. A world of order, control, and conformity, not diversity, change, and uncertainty.  A world where superstition and religion reign supreme, where the existence of fact is denied. A world rife with sexual repression and discrimination. A world where the environment existed solely to be exploited for profit until it was destroyed.

I’ve acquired this impression of conservatives after having watched them fight tooth and nail against promoting equality among the sexes, races, and genders. Throughout history they have always stood against anything that gave power to people other than straight rich white protestant men. They always vote to cut funding for schools and art and to use that money to make bombs. They fight any legislation that would prevent businesses from raping the environment that we all must live in. They fight against anything that would give aid and comfort to the poor who desperately need it, yet they will die defending the richest millionaires in the country. They always seem to fight against immigrants and anyone who is not white. They fight to enforce and institutionalize discrimination, they fight to enable big government to tell you who to love, who to have sex with, when to have children, where to go to church, what to read/watch/listen to in the media, and what to put into your body. They do all this while chanting “personal liberties” with a straight face. They claim to love democracy and yet they cheer people like Joyce Kaufman when they say “If ballots don’t work, bullets will!” and people like Ann Coulter when they say “We need to put more journalists in jail!” A better world would be one where people resorted to murder if they lost an election; where freedom of speech was non-existent and journalists who disagreed with you were thrown in jail??? Sure Kaufman and Coulter are just two people, but they do not exist in a vacuum. Their ideas have sway with a large group of people in the conservative party.

It just feels evil to me, pure evil. I’m not saying that conservatives are evil, I know plenty who are honest genuinely nice people, but I’m very puzzled as to why they think this would be a “better world”. I feel like I’d end up trying to argue axioms with them like suffering is bad.

Is it irresponsible to try and change the world?

18 Jan

A few months back, perhaps a year or so, I can’t remember, I got into a heated discussion with someone over politics and religion. Nothing unusual right? Well it was for me because, at the time, this was a person for whom I had a great deal of respect an admiration for, and to hear this coming from her blew me away. I’ve often thought about what she said from time to time, and it’s always bugged me. We had plenty of fights, but this one really stuck with me.

She told me something to the effect of “It is irresponsible to try and change the world because you might mess it up even more.” Just ponder the implications of that for a moment. Don’t try and improve things because to might make them worse. Sure you might make them better for people, but you could make it worse. What struck me immediately, though I didn’t tell her to her face, was the irony of that coming from her, a woman attending college with me.

She could go to school, she could get an education, she could vote, she could dress as she pleased, do what she wanted, etc. She was able to do all of this and not be married and pregnant at 12 because generations of women before her had the audacity to be irresponsible and fight for change. The next thing that struck me was just how convenient it was for her to be white, upper middle class, and born in the US in the late 20th century when previous generations had already secured the rights she now took for granted. Of course it doesn’t affect you too much if the world stays the same! You’ve already got everything!

And yet I was the irresponsible one for wanting to make it better, for feeling like having the power to change things for the better gave me the responsibility to do so. I’m sorry, but this just boggles my mind. Am I missing something here? Is it really irresponsible to try and make the world a better place because, heaven forbid, you find a way to actually make it worse than it already is?

 

Tourists…

31 Aug

I’m not sure why, but tourists have been on my mind a lot in the past 10 minutes. (So instead of getting some sleep I write a post about it) I grew up in a tourist town, Virginia Beach, VA. It’s not as big as Washington, D.C., but it have over 440,000 people living there. The city’s economy relied on two things: the massive military presence in the area and tourism. I never went down to the beach much because it was covered in tourists. All along the boardwalk there were shops selling cheap touristy crap and parking was a nightmare. We kind of looked down on tourists. They were like babies that didn’t know anything and made a mess. Admittedly this is kind of a stupid attitude to have when the tourists are bringing in money to support your town, but we still did not  respect them. Some people tolerated them, others wished they’d go home. I still feel most people think this about tourists all over the world, at least initially.

I was twelve when I first traveled out of the US. The trip took me to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein. The year was 2000 so traveling as an American was a lot easier. The terrorist attacks of 9-11 were a year away and we had not yet started invading other countries at will. Nevertheless, I was fearful of appearing as a loud, ignorant, spoiled American.  During the trip I trended to stay quiet and isolated myself from the tour group whenever possible. Unfortunately, a lot of the people in the tour group were loud and obnoxious. I remember taking a carriage ride up to Neuschwanstein Castle and over hearing another group of Americans complaining that they could walk faster than the horse pulled the carriage up the hill. (Then get your fat ass out of the carriage and walk!) I also remember that a lot of the people in the tour group would walk up to natives and automatically start asking questions in fast English. Yes, English is a lingua franca for most of Europe, but I felt this was still rude. How would you feel if a stranger came up to you and started frantically speaking in a foreign language without warning? There are people in the US that love to say “if someone is going to come here, they need to learn the language!” Mostly they are talking about Hispanics immigrating from South America, but I’ve always wondered if these people felt the same applied to them if they visited another country. (Most likely not because I find the people who get upset about these types of things seldom travel outside of their town and are very xenophobic)

That first trip was quite a learning experience. I have since traveled to Europe three times. All three times were when America was under Bush and after the invasion of Iraq, so I had to tread lightly (Despite supporting neither). In order to avoid that horrible American tourist stereotype I developed some personal guidelines for how I act when I’m in another country:

  • First off, and most importantly, I try to be humble. I am in another person’s country and home, I don’t tell them how things should be.
  • I tend to try and listen more and talk less. I find people really appreciate when someone stops to listen to what they have to say.
  • If I need help, I at least make an attempt to speak their language. I know I will butcher it, but I’ve found most people are amazed you even bothered in the first place. When you are open about your ignorance, but give it an honest try, you’ll find most people speak English and are more than happy to help you.
  • I try and take as little as possible. Traveling around Europe is not like being on an all-you-can-eat cruise ship, nor is it just a giant theme park. These are people’s homes. Don’t make a mess, take only what you need, and be polite.
  • Don’t complain about how things are different. If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s hearing my fellow American tourists complain about the lack of creature comforts everywhere. So your room doesn’t have air conditioning and they don’t put ice in your coke, deal with it.
  • Try the local foods, even if they may sound weird. I’ve been on trips where all the other people in the tour group wanted was American food. You get that all the time in America! We’re in another country! Try something new!
  • Lastly, I try not to look overly like a tourist. I know this is superficial and impossible to completely hide, but I try to minimize how much I stand out.  Most tourists are easy to point out. Their clothes don’t match what the natives are wearing, they have a camera out all the time, they’re wearing sneakers or a baseball cap, and they often have some type of fanny/belt pack.  I find a simple backpack looks a lot less suspicious and can hold a lot more of your stuff.

Religiosity vs quality of life

12 Mar

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a measure of the quality of life in a country.

Gallup poll compiled a ranking in 2009 of the most to least religious countries.

When I looked at the two, I noticed a trend. Some of the worst places on the planet, as measured by HDI were also some of the most religious places.

The US seems to be the obvious exception to the rule, but if you look closely at the US, you see the trend reflected there as well. The most religious states are also the poorest states.