Why I'm Not Moving to Canada

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in Arthur on 1 July 2006

Looks like things are going to get worse here in the United States before they get better.

Military adventures abroad kill many while proving little. Fundamentalism of the most noxious kind is fueled by a political system growing more cynically manipulative by the day. Education declines along with America’s innovative capacity and global standing. The dollar declines as the deficit rises. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer, not as some unintended side effect of economic policy but rather as an orchestrated result. Access to foods and nutrients that work is directly challenged by chemical and pharmaceutical industries who enjoy more attention from Congress than does our nation’s health. Real estate prices rise along with college tuitions, rendering class mobility less fluid than ever, while credit and healthcare industries cost individuals a majority of their income.

Is America really such a great place to live, anymore? Perhaps not.

At least a real estate agent friend of mine doesn’t seem to think so. Although she’s selling multi-million-dollar fixer-uppers here in Park Slope, Brooklyn, she’s already planning for her family’s exodus to Toronto, where healthcare and housing are still within reach of the upper middle class.

And it’s hard to blame her. Who enjoys being a citizen - a participant, really - in some of the things America does around the world? Who wants to be a member of a club that is in the process of outlawing gay marriage along with second trimester abortions? Do you want your kids going to public schools where, if Senate Republicans have their way, creationism will be taught in science class along with evolution? Worse, as America’s oil, currency, and nuclear proliferation wars expand, a military draft appears inevitable.

Isn’t this about the time when sane, progressive Americans begin to think about migrating to our northern neighbor?

It’d be particularly easy for an independent contractor like me. I can write from anywhere. I’ve even gotten a few teaching offers from Canadian universities. Many of the churches and synagogues up there even embrace interfaith dialogue and more metaphorical understanding of sacred texts. Hell, the originator of modern, bottom-up urban planning philosophy herself, Jane Jacobs left New York’s near-perfect West Village for Canada. Wouldn’t life be better for me, my wife, and new daughter up there? Don’t I owe it to them to create the best life circumstances for them?

Even if I can answer those questions with a resounding “yes,” I still don’t think it’s right to leave the United States. Sure, in the worst case scenario, someone may look back on this essay someday the way we look at letters written progressive-minded Jews of 1920’s Germany. It’s not persecution that progressives have to fear from the future, but unwilling participation. It’s not that we’ll be singled out from the masses but that - through laziness or sheer lack of will - become part of them. That the choice between Hilary and McCain will just numb us or our children into passivity, and we will become the very thing we now live to defy.

From where I sit, however, escaping the United States for Canada is about as selfishly American an action I can imagine. All I’d really be doing is admitting defeat and leaving the scene of the crime. Instead of taking responsibility for what my sick nation is doing abroad as well as where it is leading its own people, I would be shrugging it off as someone else’s problem, and leading my family towards greener pastures. I could even do something romantic - like head to some war-torn starving region and feed babies - even though I might be more helpful addressing the root causes here at home for some of the factors creating that situation.

In fact, being part of a dying civilization can be fun. There’s a lot of ways for an empire to decline, and like the arc of an orgasm, it doesn’t have to be all bad or all destructive. Still, it’s in that first moment of climax that we remember who it is we’ve actually been fucking (or fucking over) as well as the circumstances that got us there. Any lying or exploitation involved confronts us in a rush. We are exposed - at least to ourselves, and usually to anyone else around. It is the moment of comeuppance.

But, like I’m suggesting, this does not have to be thought of as a bad thing at all. In fact - like the “9th Step” in A.A. where the recovering person has to go to each of his friends and admit all the shitty things he’s done to them - it can be a really liberating thing. No more fronting. We can handle the truth.

The sweetest gift of decline, a far as America is concerned, is that we can finally give up the pretense of being the best at everything - the world’s beacon and all that. Sure, it’s nice for the world to have a role model and some sort of leadership, but we really aren’t very good at that - and the cognitive dissonance between the way we present ourselves, our actions, and the way we feel about ourselves is leading to a schizoid national identity.

Besides, it’s far better for the world and America to become siblings. At 200 years and change, we’re the baby brother, anyway. Think of how much less stressful it would be to promote global peace in partnership with other nations instead of so unilaterally. (Admittedly, the United Nations is too corrupt and dysfunctional an institution to manage the world’s crises, as well, but this is in large part because of American refusal to offer support or cede authority to the very international institutions it helped devise.)

Like coming down off a particularly deluded acid trip, America’s comedown must be handled as gently as possible. This could prove difficult in the face of ridicule and wrath from some of the nations and peoples we weren’t very nice to on the way up. So like a school bully who has been revealed as less-than-invincible, we may have to suck it up and take the humiliation. But our response will be crucial to our finding an appropriate and fulfilling role in global affairs.

In short, we’ll have to grow up. What feels like a fall will be, in actuality, our ascent to a more mature relationship to everyone around us. Just as we once matured from being a colony to becoming a colonizer ourselves, now we will face the bigger test of becoming a sustainable federation of states. Do we have enough to offer the rest of the world to justify what we ask in return? It will be our ingenuity and goodwill that wins us favor, instead of our military and economic prowess that enforces it.

This could make for some scary reckonings and a bit of collective writhing on our own petard, but it should also make for some interesting times. Level heads with positive visions and constructive solutions will be in short supply. It’s too easy to abandon this place when the chips are down - and especially hypocritical to do so after a life spent eating Twinkies, watching Gilligan, and burning oil.

The American experiment may have suffered a great setback, but I’m not ready to give up on it, particularly when the possibility for continuing it as something other than an empire is before us. The fat lady is indeed singing, but instead of running out of the theater to beat the traffic, I’m going to sit right here through the curtain call, tomatoes and all. After all that, the real and good work of cleaning up the mess we made of things will begin.