Me versus the State
I have visited Eastern Europe on a number of occasions. My elopement led me to Prague and my “English as a Second Language” tutor led me to Belarus. Most would love to count Prague among their list of conquests. Most could not point to Belarus on a map if their life depended upon it. I must admit that I too was poorly educated about the former soviet region when I first traveled there in the summer of 2005. It was for that reason I was mildly stunned by the impact my time there would eventually have on my personal and professional dedication to Democracy.
Among dozens of older Belarusians eager to learn a language they had once been forbidden to speak, I came into contact with myriad college-aged students eager for some face-to-face time with the visiting Americans. We hosted our lectures in one of the local churches fully aware that the infamous KGB was surreptitiously integrated amongst the student body. Their aim; to ensure we were abiding by their zero tolerance policy for religious or political speech. Ignorantly, I was at first quite surprised by the old soviet style extremism. It took only one visit to a Belarusian government agency however to fully appreciate the fanatic state control we were working with. Perhaps in some other article I’ll delve into the details of two of our teachers’ near deportation to Siberia on one such occasion.
Visitors were far from the only group of people who had learned to take the soviet extremism at its word. My Belarusian students were keenly aware of the national policies, careful to refrain from questionable speech inside the church, or any physical structure for that matter. It was only at the local park, on an afternoon walk that they were remotely willing to divulge their true attitude toward the Belarusian Government. While countries such as Armenia, the Czech Republic and Ukraine had gradually stripped themselves from the clutches of communist control, lesser known regions such as Belarus had been inadvertently left in the hands of dictatorial, soviet leadership. Thanks to its inconspicuous nature Socialism, in its most bitter form had been left to fester in Belarus. And the few people who did care to change the dynamic were forced to share their concerns, plans and values in secret. Even then, it was only left to young Belarusian imaginations what they were truly missing outside the Belarusian borders.
So inside the span of a couple of years and several precious weeks, I was exposed to something far more potent that any text book or all-knowing professor had ever afforded me. I was laid face to face with the image of collectivism, socialism, Communism. I recall questioning my Belarusian friends’ knowledge of Democracy. In print, their schoolbook definitions were spot on. No doubt, it far exceeded the response one might receive from the average American college student. But something struck me. The Belarusians seemed able to define Democracy but they did not seem as able to comprehend it. They understood that something was lacking but even then, individualism seemed utterly foreign to them. And it occurred to me, while the average American might struggle in their ability to define “Democracy,” I imagined they would notice the difference if freedom were suddenly and wholly stripped from their clutches. This brings me to my present and ever-growing fears for our nation.
Freedom is not being bluntly stripped from our clutches, rather slowly and deceptively one small morsel at a time. It is for that reason it continues to go going perilously unnoticed. I fear we are slowly losing sight of what it means to be an American.
Once, to be an American meant that a person bore an instinctive protection of the individual. It was worth sacrifice even unto death. Underway in this country is an attack on “individualism.” The argument for collectivism is enticing. It is also on the rise. So why should it be avoided? Because we, as individuals are so much more than the state would have us to believe. Indeed, it was that same sense of state superiority which led our forefathers to these shores in the first place. Just as living with one’s parents might indefinitely provide some otherwise unavoidable life stress, collectivism removes the need for individual responsibility, for effort. It sounds nice at first, doesn’t it? Of course, most of us could agree that the penalty of living with our parents indefinitely would in due course exceedingly outweigh the benefits.
It is imperative that young Americans take the time to address the issue of what it truly means to be an American. What is it that sets us apart from the rest of the world? It is time that our young people stop allowing the agenda driven schools, textbooks, professors, pundits and The Administration to think for them. With a government offering more and more hand-outs every day, an astute young American ought to be asking “why.” After all, the parent who keeps their child into old age is rarely thinking about what’s best for the child.
So the next time you are invited to entertain the notion of collectivism, socialism, equality versus equal opportunity, think back to those Belarusian students; unable to voice their own opinions and unable to see themselves as something separate from the state. Ask yourself what you are willing to sacrifice for the enticements the government has to offer. Only a fool could convince himself that our leaders are not looking for something in return.