When the call came to "Go West, young man", I paid attention. That was in 2004. I was not particularly young, nor did I travel west from my English roots to my Oklahoma home from some desire to better myself, or take advantage of the American Dream.
I came to these shores because I fell in love, and the woman I am now proud to call my wife, is American. We had long discussions about which country we should live in, because we had a choice. The decision was influenced most heavily by the needs of her children, and the declining health of her father. So, Oklahoma it was, and has been these last eight years.
Those tempted to believe that settling in Oklahoma was easy for me could do worse than read this. Living in the Sooner State was never going to be easy. Oklahoma was the first State to pass laws forbidding the Courts from applying Sharia Law, yet they are also the State most keen to impose the Christian version of that Islamic dogma on the rest of America. Oklahomans do understand many things, but the phrase cognitive dissonance is not one of them. They struggle with irony too.
Yet I have now been here sufficient time to realise that my adopted State does not represent the norm. Indeed, there are more Americans living in a single borough of New York than there are in this entire State.
Despite this, and even with the knowledge that not all of America is represented by Oklahoma, what has surprised and astonished me is just how quickly this country has descended into a nation living in fear.
Prior to 2004, my view of America was, I think, fairly typical of most Europeans. We respect America. We are a bit scared of the power and influence you exert, but we like Hollywood and Hill Street Blues. We think you are loud and a bit arrogant with, quite frankly, not much to be arrogant about.
In short, we accept that America plays a role in the lives of Europeans, but we don't like you very much. That has a lot to do with American tourists. They are rich, loud and wear impossibly gaudy shirts and golfing pants ... even in restaurants.
That said, when we actually meet real Americans, the kind who can't afford foreign vacations in faraway places, or the kind who approach such opportunities with a more considered demeanour, then we find that we like you very much, despite ourselves.
I have long thought that this is simply because you are the same as us. You have the same hopes and ambitions as we do. You care for your families exactly the same. You want the same things ... health, happiness, education for your children and good care for your seniors. You want a job, and clean air, and peace. You no more like your young people dying on foreign soil that do any other peoples. We have pretty much everything in common, and we, the Europeans, don't actually like our own rich people either.
I have been told, many times and often by people who should know better, that I do not understand the American psyche. That I cannot, and even if I become an American citizen I still will not understand, because you have to be born to it, to be immersed in it in order to understand. Given that this is a nation built on immigration, that is not a view I have ever accepted, but I do accept that there is something I don't understand.
I do not understand why Americans both live in fear, and give in to fear so easily.
I wonder, sometimes, what are these Freedoms that all y'all are so proud of. I am told of, and have read, the Bill of Rights. I am reminded that Europeans do not have these freedoms enshrined as the supreme law of the land. It used to be that even progressive Americans would gleefully point to the surveillance society that is England, with all of the cameras in every public space. Funny thing is that I don't hear much about that particular aspect of British totalitarianism any more.
I never feel the need to defend the European way of life, but I do sometimes think it appropriate to mention that we do not actually feel that we are not free. Indeed, Europeans are at least slightly amused by the strident declaration of freedom. It feels like Americans think that no one can be free unless they live in America, the Land of the Free; and that is probably why we are tempted to think that you need to get out more.
Why for example, if Americans feel free, do they live in fear of their neighbors? Why do you arm yourselves to the teeth to go to the store? I know not everyone does this, but many do and they are usually the same ones who bang on the loudest about freedoms. Is it that a sizable section of society here simply wants the freedom to be scared of each other? Scared of brown people, black people? Scared of teh gay. So distrustful of their own identity that they worry about who other people marry?
Then there is the big one ... Terrorism! Except it isn't, is it? Terrorism might be a significant problem, dramatic and horrific when it rears it's head, but is it so large an issue that you will willingly abandon all of your freedoms, so that you may live free?
It might be worth stopping for just a moment, and asking yourselves why America is such a target. Are the terrorists jealous of the freedoms here, or might they simply be fed up of American (and British, we don't get a pass here) imperialism? I mean, if we quit interfering with, and invading their countries they might be a bit less inclined to fly aircraft into our tall buildings.
As horrific as losing the Twin Towers and all those lives was, and it was both horrific and shocking, was the Department of Homeland Security, and the Patriot Act, worth it? Were the deaths of 4500 US Servicemen and countless Iraqis worth it? Have we abandoned the rule of law to such an extent that those who lied, and are complicit in all of the American deaths, can still appear on Sunday Talk Shows? Was the wholesale abandonment of two hundred years of carefully guarded freedom worth the cost, because a guy in a cave was pissed? Especially when that guy was originally on America's side, and armed by the United States. At least on our side to the extent that my enemy's enemy is my friend.
We travel around the world exploiting other countries, and other peoples usually at the behest of American corporations, then when they get angry and hit back, we surrender our freedoms to the same corporations that started the trouble. Seems reasonable!
In the current debate on the activities of the NSA, raging both in this country and around the world, it is tempting to take sides. I have seen liberal against progressive on this issue, and I can hear the "other side" laughing. Whistle blower or traitor, neither label matters a damn. The individuals concerned are simply a distraction being used by the entrenched power to stifle debate. They are a tool that is being used to divide us and distract from the issues. While it might be the case that the government believes this massive intrusion on an unprecedented scale is necessary to protect us, my question would be "Protect us from what?"
It can't be to protect us from three thousand deaths on a very occasional basis, because the government shows very little appetite for protecting the people from most other unnecessary deaths and injuries. The number of people killed by terrorists is tiny, miniscule, and while each death is a trauma for a family, there are other causes that kill vastly more people, and no shiny new government department or data-mining program aimed at preventing those losses.
My nasty suspicious mind is tempted to wonder if, rather than trying to protect us, what they are actually about is trying to profit from us while maintaining a level of control that prevents a serious challenge to power.
It is not necessary, when seeking to enslave a population, that the people be shackled by the chains of totalitarianism. It is not required that a secret police resembling the Stasi, or KGB be created. It is only necessary that you scare the population to such an extent that they build their own prisons, in their minds. Chain the consciousness, make our attitudes become the ties that bind. Ensure that the people are so afraid of each other that they have neither the time nor the emotional capacity to question why they have to live this way.
It may be a Gated Community, but look at the swimming pool and the 50" TV in the den ...
Freedom .. You bet!