San Miguel de Allende Books, John Scherber

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REASONS TO LEAVE HOME

          Every choice in favor of something is also a choice against something else. Is it this one or is it that one? To choose México as your place of residence means you decline to remain in the United States or Canada. I’m not going to deal separately with Canada in this chapter because I’ve never lived there and I can’t address the conditions that might cause people to move south, other than climate or cost of living.
            Some of these choices are strictly affirmative, and in that respect, they’re easier to make. For example: “I don’t have anything against the U.S., I just like México better. It’s more fun. I’ve got twenty years of retirement ahead of me and I want to spend it there.” This makes for a simple and guiltless choice. You simply put both options on the scale and pick the one that outweighs the other.
             I suspect, however, that the decision making process is rarely this easy.
            A slightly more complex decision, but still one easier than many others, is financial. I have said elsewhere in this book that I thought the cost of living here was about half that of many places in the United States. It’s probably about the same difference with Canada, unless you live in areas like Calgary, where the cost of living is inflated by the oil business, and then the difference will be even more favorable. That, in my view, is not the best reason to come, but for many it’s an important consideration. If, for example, you anticipate a 30% shortfall of funds when you retire, then coming here means you’ll have a surplus. You can save some money if you live prudently. And living prudently will not prevent you from taking full advantage of this climate and culture.


             Another simple reason is climate. It’s no secret that as you get older, cold climates become harder to handle. They affect your temperament and mental outlook, as well as your bodily comfort. In Minnesota, where I came from, ice is a more common ground cover than grass, which is not to say it’s more popular. Not only is staying warm more difficult there, but falling down quickly loses its charm after we turn fifty. People tend to become housebound in the winter months, staring out their frosty windows. The term shut-in, now rarely used, applies well in a city like Duluth, where the streets can be very steep, and once coated with ice, turn into a potential body luge for people on foot. The onset of global warming has gone unobserved there, although many people are still hopefully waiting for the thaw.
               Now we will get into more difficult and turbulent waters. Simply put, there are also societal and political reasons to leave. One is that you are simply sick of what the electoral process has become there. The rancor and nastiness of the “debate” has poisoned the process for many, and your neighbors who practice normal politeness and good manners in other circumstances can become bitter and abusive. Both of the two large parties encourage a kind of unthinking and offensive behavior as a way of appearing different from each other. It helps us to not listen to those who don’t fully agree with us.
             Before we go on, let me announce my own bias here. I am a political independent, which means I view issues on their own merits and I listen to no party. I am profoundly disappointed in both the Democratic and the Republican parties for the way they have disenfranchised the American voter and sold us out to corporate interests. As an observer, I don’t care to be told by any party what to think, particularly when they usually don’t believe themselves what they’re telling me. So as we continue, if you are inclined to say, “Wow, he really socked it to the Republicans,” or “gosh, the Democrats sure took a hit on that one,” I would caution you to put aside that kind of thinking. Virtually everything I have to say here is equally applicable to both parties.


             Now we can take a step back from partisanship and talk about democracy. As far as we know, in its purest form it originated in ancient Athens. It was a direct democracy, which meant that every citizen could vote, and most did vote in person on each issue, gathering in the agora, the market. No one was elected to represent a block of citizens. The phrase, One Man, One Vote was literally true. Women and slaves were not citizens, so they did not have the franchise. Only about 15% of the population could vote. This system began in the early sixth century before the current era and lasted until 322 B.C., when the conquering Macedonians swept it away. It had an effective lifespan of about 270 years.
            Democracy in the Roman Republic had a more complicated history, but most likely did not last any longer. A distinguishing feature was that, given the unwieldy size of Rome, their democracy was representational, not direct. People voted for a senator who then voted in the Roman Senate for the collective interest of his constituents, as is theoretically done in Congress today. And therein lies the problem.
             We have patterned our system on that of Rome and Greece, but because of the larger population in the U.S., we have had to opt for the representational model of the former. Naturally, we have embellished Washington DC with symbols: domes, columns, and classical porticos that evoke that ancient democratic tradition. Even an obelisk––the Washington Monument. At its inception, we also barred women and slaves from voting. And like the ancient tradition, ours has been undermined as time went on.
             Money aggregates toward a center; it piles up, as does power, which follows it. This growing pile always travels more slowly than events, so what happens is that over time there builds up an enormous roadblock of concentrated money and power. Because the owners of this weighty mass have discovered the means of accumulating both of these assets, they both detest and resist any¬ thought of change. This money is held in vast stacks by both Democrats and Republicans, and aside from their positions on social issues, it makes them act virtually the same behind the scenes.
             Yet changes in the world require that we as a nation deal with our ongoing business: environment, foreign opponents, economics, infrastructure and its maintenance, health care, education, science and technology. There are many more. Together these encompass the public business. The goal of this aggregated moneyed center is to stop any movement that would alter those conditions under which this money was accumulated. Its most fundamental aim is to continue the status quo regardless of any need for change.
              The Achilles heal of the Roman style of representative democracy, the one we use, is that it presents a highly efficient method of corruption. In Athens, if I wanted to buy votes, I had to go around and pay every voter five drachmas on the day of the vote (when they were mostly all there in the agora). This required carrying around bags of coins, since there was no paper money. In Rome, however, you only had to buy the representative, usually a Senator. It took much more money, but far less trouble. The job could be done in ten minutes. You do this by financing his election campaign, and he becomes your dependent if he wins. In the U.S., wealthy corporations fund both sides for this reason, since they can’t be sure who will win. Go on the Internet and look at campaign contributions to Congress from Monsanto, for example. They are nearly equal to both parties.
             The current population of the U.S. is about 310 million people, which are represented by 438 Congressmen and 100 Senators. Let’s do the numbers. Each Senator represents on average 3.1 million people, and each Congressman represents 707,800 people. Each of their constituents would like to trust them.
             But the reality is that this represents mostly an opportunity to get rich. As the Romans discovered, once this system of vote purchases has gone on for a while, at a certain point you no longer have a democracy. Instead, you have an ongoing auction, where the public interest is sold off daily at great profit to the smarter players, the ones who occupy the seats of the old senate house. Not surprisingly, the typical lifespan of one of these democracies is 200 to 300 years, after which point the moneyed interests have totally captured the system, and the game is over in every way except appearance. The ballot box becomes the fig leaf of unresponsive government.


            Our democracy was established in 1776. I am writing this in 2015. Once again let’s do the math. That’s 239 years, not an unusual lifespan for a democracy, since it’s always subject to attack from the forces I’ve described above. I am a great fan and student of the American attempt to create a modern version of these ancient systems. I don’t much like the outcome, but I didn’t expect to because I understand the pattern. It’s like death after a great life. You knew it was coming, and there is no reason to disrespect the effort that preceded it just because it didn’t last forever. These noble experiments all have their lifespans, and they are fascinating. But we the people now have to go on with what comes next.
            Here is where we stand now. The U.S. government has been coopted by the corporate interests that finance campaigns. We now have a corporate state. No officeholder represents the voter any more, they represent the people who pay their campaign bills. Democracy still persists in places at the local level, and occasionally among a few stalwart types in some state legislatures. I believe, though, that even on the first day of a new freshman Congressman’s appearance in the House of Representatives, he or she has already given too much away just in financing his winning election to ever do other than the bidding of his corporate sponsors. Our electoral process, from the beginning, no longer selects for the people of vision, courage, intelligence, leadership, and commitment. It now chooses the compliant––people who understand the system and will return the favor once in office.
            Both major parties are owned by these corporate interests as well. Sets of different social issues are displayed by each as window dressing to attract voters of varying persuasions. But behind the scenes, you will find haunting the halls of both these party headquarters the same representatives of Monsanto and big agribusiness, big oil, keeping clean alternative fuels at bay, and the healthcare industry, which now absorbs 17% of our GDP and is still growing. In 1950 that number was 3%.
            I will not call this a vast right (or left) wing conspiracy. It is, as history suggests, merely the natural course of any democracy, which has a limited operating lifespan. Naturally, Washington will continue to parade the symbols around, just as we would apply makeup to a corpse to mimic life at a wake.
            Preparing itself for the time when the broader realization that this is the new reality comes about, the government has now erected, in the name of 9/11, an enormous domestic security apparatus, part of which is the NSA, recording our phone calls, emails, and watching what we “like” on Facebook.
            The next set of reasons for leaving home is often generated by observations like these. Tens of millions of harmless Americans are growing increasingly uneasy as they watch their civil liberties ebb away, while millions more are trying to ignore it, hoping it’s not true or that it will go away by itself. It will not. Once people have concentrated power of this kind in their hands, they do not willingly give it up, even as they reassure us that they don’t intend to ever use it.


            México is also a former democracy that went past this point of no return some time ago. Because the revolutions here were mostly imposed from above, it may never have been a democracy to the degree the U.S. once was. So if these fundamental changes in our own political culture are making us uncomfortable, why is México in any way a better place to live?
              The answer to that may reside in the fact that México, not having been a victim of 9/11, has never had an excuse to erect that massive internal security edifice that girds Washington today. Can we imagine an NSA type of surveillance on all the people living here in México when the cable company can’t even deliver Internet a third of the time? This is also a place where different law enforcement agencies are reluctant to share information with each other and official computers are not linked. I am comfortable with different police agencies here running on Mexican time. That style has more humanity, even if less efficiency, and in this conversation, humanity has taken on an enhanced value, where efficiency can be ominous.
              We have progressed from reasons to leave the U.S. based on simple joys, down the list to arguments based on the lesser of two evils. What a range! No place is perfect, and sometimes we can be glad of that. We prefer our spymasters here to be good-natured and more relaxed. We want them laid back and knocking off for a siesta now and then. We want them to express a fuzzy humanity instead of the grim righteousness of Washington. One thing that helps make this possible is that this country does not wear a target on its back in the same way the U.S. does. It is not the policeman of the world, and it would not wish to be.
             There are of course, other reasons to leave, just as there are many reasons to stay. As you surveyed this list, you know which, if any, you resonated with, the ones that made the most compelling argument, the ones that made you stop and think about your own needs and condition.
             For me, because this is my list, it was all of them. For a closer look at the lifestyle in my own San Miguel, there’s a sample here: http://www.sanmiguelallendebooks.com/livinginsanmiguel.html

 

 
 
 
   
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