The other day, my friend and deadly darts ace Straight Shooting Luke Smitherd left a really interesting comment on this post:
"My plan/dream is to move to the states in the next two years. But more and more I hear about an increasing conservative culture over there and it really makes me rethink it."It was interesting because it's my earnest belief that America remains far freer than Britain in all sorts of ways.
"I wouldn't say I was a liberal, I just believe in people's individual freedoms to live whatever lifestyle they want and believe in whatever they choose. I thought America would be a place where I could thinks and act more freely and get away from English cynicism and reservedness; but it's starting to look like it's more oppressive in other ways."
"I want to get say from small minded idiots, not find a load more."
Obviously, part of this is because I live in New York – which is one of the most liberal parts of the country. However, all across America there are so many ways in which the US grants you more freedoms than back home in Britain.
It's difficult to list them all – but here are a few.
America is more open-minded.
The United States doesn't have a great international reputation when it comes to racism and homophobia – but most of the negative stuff is undeserved.
This is because America is infinitely more diverse than England – where the population is generally white and Christian. As a result, most people over here are actually a lot less judgmental than Brits would be. When you meet an American, you can't take anything about them for granted – their religion, political affiliation, race or class.
For that reason, Americans are genuinely open-minded and curious when they meet new people, whereas in England they automatically make a shopping list of assumptions based on how somebody looks, dresses and (worse of all) talks.
"It's impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman despise him," the old saying goes – and it's true.
For example, I speak with a Received Pronunciation Accent (the Queen's English) and therefore am assumed to be a posh public schoolboy by all who meet me (despite the fact I went to comprehensive and grew up on a farm.)
We seem to have an inbuilt snobbery, us Brits, which means we're instantly peering down, or resentfully peering up, at those we think feel they are 'beneath' or 'above us.' (It's never about whether we feel they're beneath us or above us - it's how we assume they feel about us.)
And while you'll here horror stories from America – the Westboro Baptist Church picketing funerals with signs that read "God Hates Fags" and inner city kids becoming the victim of race-fueled violence – the statistics actually show that Britain has it worse for 'hate crimes' based on race or sexuality.
In the past year, hate crimes grew by 12% in the UK, and just 7% in America – and much of that was fueled by redefining 'hate crimes' to include people targeted because of their sexuality.
For me, the benefit of America being more open-minded is that they don't bat an eyelid at the crazy shit I do. Sometimes, I dress in a Victorian waistcoat, and I drive a gas-guzzling classic car. In Britain, people had a tendency to shake their heads at my 'odd' behavior (we love conformity, us Brits) whereas in America it's not just tolerated, but cherished.
(I can also walk down the street without somebody yelling 'ginger!' at me – which occurred daily back in Blighty!)
I feel more 'free' in America because I really do have the freedom to be myself without feeling like I'm under the microscope, which (whether it's true or not) I often did in England.
America protects more freedoms.
We Brits watch too much American TV.
This is why we have the mistaken impression that we enjoy many of the same freedoms as Americans boast about in their touted 'Bill of Rights.' The fact is, however, that we don't.
- We don't have true freedom of expression – just ask talk radio host Michael Savage, or Freedom Party MP Geert Wilders, who were both banned from entering the country for criticizing Islam. Just talk to spanking model Pandora Blake, who has found that the soft-core spanking videos she makes could be defined as 'extreme porn' by very loosely-worded legislation recently passed by parliament. Daft politicians are even trying to put the perennial Page 3 girl out of a job. Even worse than the legal wrangling is the frankly pathetic culture of conformist, 'political correct' fascism that tries to muzzle dissenting opinion – something we're all complicit in.
- We don't have true freedom of religion – just ask two Christian missionaries, who were threatened with arrest for handing out leaflets in a predominately Muslim part of town. In fact, we have an 'established' religion – the Church of England – which is the opposite to America (which, contrary to popular opinion, is a secular nation.)
- We don't have the freedom to bear arms – whether you believe in gun control or not, you can't deny that the right to own a gun is a freedom. That covenant is sacred to American society – a bond of trust between the government (that assumes – occasionally incorrectly – that people are responsible enough to own guns) and the people (who own guns so that their government can never overreach their authority, as the British forces did during the American revolution.) I'm not a big fan of guns, but I appreciate the sentiment that we, as individuals, are assumed to be smart enough to safely and responsibly look after a deadly weapon. In Britain, it's assumed we're too stupid and irresponsible, so the only handguns are carried by criminals.
- We don't have the freedom from self-incrimination – the Fifth Amendment in America establishes the right not to incriminate yourself, by remaining silent if arrested. In Britain, the process of arrest was changed in the 90s to basically establish 'silence' as inferring guilt – and the European Court of Human Rights declared "The court did not accept that the right to remain silent and the right not to incriminate oneself were absolute rights." Such a ruling would be unthinkable in America.
- Most notably, we don't have the freedoms protected by the Ninth Amendment of the American Constitution: Protection of rights not specifically enumerated in the Constitution. This basically establishes that just because the founding fathers hadn't thought of a particular right as being sacred back in the 1790s, it didn't mean it wasn't a protected, sacred right. A good example is the right not to be discriminated against because of your sexuality, which would have never crossed James Madison's mind when he penned the Bill of Rights.
And finally, in America you can do anything.
If you put your mind to it, that is.
In Britain there is, as Luke eloquently put it, a certain "English cynicism and reservedness."
We are a culture that elevates people to a certain level (the likes of Jade Goody, for example) but swiftly turns on them if they get too big for their boots.
It's not just Prince Charles who believes Brits should 'know their place' in the social hierarchy. Those who are successful and raise themselves on the socio-economic ladder are often dismissed as nouveau riche - while many middle class idiots still speak with affected regional accents and boast of their 'working class roots' even though they drive Audis and live in the suburbs.
In America, conversely, two things are different.
For a start, people value hard work. From the waitress in a café to the guy stocking shelves in the supermarket, nobody is looked down upon for working hard. Warren Buffett and a janitor could share the same elevator and the richest man in the world would not think himself superior to a man on minimum wage.
I discovered this when I first moved to America, and got a job waiting tables to make ends meet. I was dreading it – stupidly imagining myself to be 'above' ferrying food back and forth. Yet nobody looked down on me, thought less of me or mocked me. It taught me a valuable lesson in both humility and pride, if that's possible.
Secondly, people admire the successful.
If you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and become a millionaire despite the odds, Americans don't look at you as nouveau riche or complain that you've developed 'airs and graces' or forgotten where your roots are.
They think "good for him" and try and follow your example.
This also ties into my first point – about Americans being open-minded and not making assumptions about people they meet. This is because the guy in the ten-year-old Lincoln Town Car with the scuffed shoes could be the richest guy in the world (in fact, it's a description of Warren Buffett.) People assume money defines you in America. In fact, it's hard work –which is one of the reasons we suffer under such a brutal work schedule.
There are more freedoms I could list – I'm sure I'll think of a million of them when I'm driving into work next. However, those are just some of the more obvious – and I'm thankful every day for them.
I really, really hope Luke gets the chance to move to America one day, because I am certain he'll love it here.
He's smart, ambitious and charming and has everything needed to succeed here. What's more, Luke is a real character (when I worked with him, my colleagues would joke that he's the only guy they knew who made me look normal!)
In America, I think he'd find himself feeling more open and comfortable about being himself than he ever could in England.
I know I certainly did!