About America and Freedom; Thoughts from an American

A couple of months ago I wrote an open letter to the United States, detailing why I won't be visiting there anytime soon. While there are many great things to see and do in America, I can't bring myself to be seen as condoning the bizarre and frankly terrifying politics emerging from there. And beyond that, I'm actually just afraid to: I know London isn't the safest place in the world, but the US just seems like a whole other ball game. You can read the post in full here.

Fellow blogger and expat Grace came across that article on Twitter and it became clear she had some things to say. Grace is an American who recently relocated to Amsterdam, and the following is her response to my original article and an insight into life on the "inside".

Last week, I left the U.S. indefinitely.

I never really thought I would be saying that, but it’s true. As a girl who is in love with her hometown of Denver, Colorado, it freaks me out that I may never be living on American soil again. However, every time I leave the U.S. I am reminded of how broken the political system is.

I first came to Amsterdam in August of 2015, and from my first day I immediately felt safer in this city of sin. And when I say “first day” I literally mean my first day, it’s not an exaggeration.

I was staying by myself in a hostel on the Eastern side of town, and inadvertently I ended up having to walk back late at night by myself. Outside of the Tropenmuseum, there is essentially a concrete ditch that I had to walk by at 11:30 on a Saturday night, and I vividly remember steeling myself to walk quickly past this dark area into the safety of a streetlight, only to be thoroughly surprised that there was nobody there.

It was sad: I had been conditioned to expect potentially dangerous people lingering in the darkness.

Now don’t get me wrong. The Netherlands has a whole host of problems, including incredibly racist holiday traditions and systemic societal racism and sexism. The Dutch aren’t excused of this, but I will say that the Dutch (and the rest of the Western world), handle their shit a little better than we do in the U.S. At home, we live by the statement “freedom isn’t free”, then refuse to actually give up certain freedoms that would make life more pleasant.

A great example of this is gun control: if we gave up the “freedom of owning guns”, we would have more freedom to go to music festivals, see a movie, or even just go to school without fear of being mowed down in broad daylight.

Another example is health care. If we gave up the “freedom to choose” our insurance options and opted for a tax-funded system, we would have more freedom to take economic risks like starting a new business without being afraid of losing coverage.

The “freedom isn’t free” argument is inherently true, but those who tout it still live in the 18th century mindset. The price for freedom then was muskets for well-armed militias to fight against a government that they saw as tyrannical while building an entirely new system of governance. We live in the 21st century now though, and the price for freedom has changed.

Societies are built on social contracts: in order to live with other people you have to give up some freedoms, but doing so is mutually beneficial. Yes, you have the ability to kill your neighbor’s family and steal their things if you wanted, but that would put a target on your back so you wouldn’t do it. It’s better to cooperate and give up that freedom to kill so you can both live more pleasant lives. In American society, this concept is lost in ways that it applies to the 21st century. While we aren’t killing our neighbors for their canned food, we refuse to support our fellow citizens despite the fact that it would be beneficial for us as well. Rather than paying for a drug user’s treatment through tax initiatives, we put people who need help on the street. Rather than supporting healthcare for all, we let families go bankrupt over diseases they can’t control. Rather than giving up our “right” to own guns, we watch as 59 people die at a country music concert.

I live in Amsterdam permanently now, and it’s kind of crazy how much safer I feel here, simply from the fact that nobody owns a gun here. No matter where I go in the city, the chances of me being hurt by guns is dramatically reduced. I feel that the government is working for me in Europe, rather than working for large companies like Google. While I know there are innumerable problems in European society, I feel more free here than I ever have in the U.S.

As a white, cis-gendered woman that comes from a privileged background, that says a lot.

Grace writes over at Another Shitty Millennial Thing. You can follow her on Instagram!

[RELATED] Dear America; I don't know you but I'm afraid of you

[RELATED] Acknowledging my Privilege as a White Traveller

Have your say! Tell me your thoughts on travelling to the States at the moment in the comments below. Or, if you'd like to have your say on this topic in a separate post, send me an email and we'll chat!

american expat, expat life, expat problems, about america, united states of america

Photo by Alex Jodoin and Jenna Day on Unsplash

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4 Comments

  1. October 10, 2017 / 2:58 pm

    So interesting to read thoughts from an American – I think it also brings to thr front how batshit crazy the world is. I come from South Africa where in some cases it lives up to its rep of being dangerous and unsafe but in other ways, is largely misinterpreted. The world has gone mad, no where is safe, and the only way we can set it right is if humans actually talk and listen to one another. Blogs like this and open discussions are refreshing and needed.

    • October 11, 2017 / 10:40 am

      Thank you Meg! I agree, we need to keep talking about things like this so we can learn from each other. We hear so many dangerous things about South Africa but I do know there are good things about it too. I know there are good things about the US but right now I can’t see past the bad. Then I wonder if that’s hypocritical of me because Australia is no country of angels, that’s for damn sure. Probably I need to speak out more about my own country as well! I guess it’s hard for us to acknowledge the flaws of our own countries while also insisting it’s not all bad. Absolutely mad times we live in…

  2. October 12, 2017 / 11:33 am

    Great to hear the perspective of American on this issue. I can disagree on a lot of elements of Australian politics but I never felt unsafe or endangered by Australian politics (though again I’m afraid that may mostly come from my own privileged white background unfortunately…). I hope that I never feel like I could never return to Australia, even if I continue to spend most of my time in the UK or Europe.

    • October 12, 2017 / 6:09 pm

      Yeah, as I say, I feel conflicted about being critical of America when Australia is hardly better. Women, young people, indigenous people and other people of colour are still at risk, so is it not all a bit sanctimonious? Then again – saying nothing, achieves nothing!! Standing by and watching, as a privileged white person helps no one but privileged white people.

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