Diary of an Expat, Part 63
Leaving the states again, reflections
So a few lessons from being back in the States for awhile (this is something I've done a couple times this year, for work and so forth, so maybe I am less of an expatriate than I ought to be)...

Roaming charges are ridiculous. My choice was either a) pay for 1 MB of data or b) pay the same amount for ten days of unlimited data via a prepaid SIM card. How the hell does that even work? What's wrong with your telcos?

Coffee is also a bit ridiculous. I wandered around to a couple different shops looking for suitable beans and all of them were pretty subpar. People often accuse Starbucks of having coffee that tastes burnt but I honestly don't know how you guys can tell because that's what you do to all your coffee >:[ Or it could be that Denver is just a coffee dead zone?


Airport security is bothering me less these days; anyhow, I find that it bothers me substantially less than customs does, and that's something that every country is complicit in — many of them far, far worse than the US. The UK, son, I'm looking at you.

One thing I will say, however, is that I presume most expatriates and travellers have something that, from time to time, reminds them of where they're from and why they'd like to get back there. You know, like a favorite food, or a favorite hangout, or a television program you can't get anywhere else.

For Berlin this special something is almost certainly the public transportation network, which I will be availing myself of anon. For the United States, however, it's a saying — a phrase, rather. It's the opening two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence.

This is a document that, for what it's worth, I'm not even sure Americans are all that familiar with, and that's a damned shame. It encapsulates two and a half concepts that are fundamental to the American character and I think too many people forget about them. They also represent a fundamentally different paradigm in thinking about governance.

One (and one half) bit of it comes from the bold declaration of the relationship of the government and the people: governments, said Jefferson, derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. That is to say, the government has no authority, no responsibility, and no rights beyond that which we choose to give them.

This social contract is fundamental to understanding why so many Americans have an antagonistic position with regards to their government, and indeed why this is healthy. In the same way as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches provide checks on the behavior of the other two, because the people are the ultimate owners of the government it is right and proper that the two share a border that is being constantly negotiated.

The one-half bit is an explicit understanding that when the government ceases to serve the needs of its people (that is, when it fails to accomplish its one and only goal, which is to secure their life and liberty) it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it. This is less relevant these days, but there is nothing special or immutable about our leaders; they are not divine, they were not appointed by a higher power, and if we do not like them we can get the hell rid of them (this in particular is something I think Americans are also loathe to accept).

The other point lies in the enumeration of rights themselves. Jefferson was not the first to articulate this position, but it is his phrasing that has tended to stick with us: not only that all people are created equal, but that we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights.

In other words: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and other such rights are not granted by anyone. We just have them, merely as a consequence of being human. All anyone can do is to take them away. This is I would argue why, in general, Americans are more militant about defending their rights, and why in general it is the side of preserving them that wins out, to the detriment of other things.

Phrases like "life, liberty," and so on are repeated by Europeans but from my discussions with them they are far more willing than I to accept restrictions on those rights, and also far more likely to see the government as an arbiter of what is and is not permissible, and less a guard thereof.

I realize that this is something I talked about the week before last, too, but being back in the States helped me solidify my position with a bit more clarity. i go back and forth as to whether or not the American experiment is successful, or whether or not it can even possibly endure, but it is rare that I doubt the sincerity or the properness of its ideals.
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