Asylum

As the pressure builds inside this bubble we call the United States, I suspect more and more people are beginning to develop a tiny shred of understanding of what it might be like to seek asylum in a country other than one’s own. A person—gripped by fear, possessing little or no money, and unable to speak the language of a place she hopes will be a refuge—puts her faith in humanity that someone will offer assistance; someone will help deliver her from the hellish nightmare that caused her to abandon everything and everyone she has ever known. How would she react, upon reaching her hoped-for refuge, to being detained and treated like a common criminal, rather than an economic or political refugee? How would I react? I can only imagine my fear would be magnified a thousand-fold and my faith in humankind would diminish dramatically.  As we witness the deconstruction of democracy in this country, can we imagine a time when we feel compelled to leave everything we have ever worked for, to leave our birth families and our friends, and seek asylum in Norway or Iceland or Canada or Chile?

I call this country a bubble because we are insulated from reality by what we read and watch and are told. While a free press is integral to a free democracy, the benefits of a free press (which increasingly is in peril here) are delivered only when the people partake of what the press makes available. And the press must not only be free to report facts, it must actively investigate and dig to find them. Today, the free press is under intense economic pressure because “the people” are choosing not to support the press financially. Subscriptions are declining and advertisers are investing in non-traditional channels to reach into the pocketbooks of their intended victims. The result is an underfunded press and an uneducated populace. We don’t know what we don’t know and we don’t seem to care.

With a handful of exceptions, I think what’s left of the free press in this country tends to accept what they are told; they report accordingly. They are complicit, therefore, in the massive misinformation and disinformation processes that are taking place in this country. They, and we, buy the BS being sold by our own government. They, and we, accept carefully orchestrated information campaigns designed to pacify us and remove from our reach the weapons of recourse. Somehow, suddenly, the voting process in this country has become a hotbed of malicious manipulation; it cannot be trusted. The postal service cannot be trusted. Voting machines can be hacked. Ballots can be snatched and magically reappear with votes cast for the “right” or the “wrong” candidate. As the press reports on all manner of accusations made about the voting process, I believe the accusers are planning actual rigging and manipulation; that will offer “proof” that the accusers have been right all along. We are being carefully led to slaughter and what’s left of the “free press” is busy exploring accusations about the illegitimacy of vice presidential candidates and other such smokescreen distractions. If the “free press” ever turns its attention to the facts, the public will fail to read or listen, because we will be glued to “news” being delivered by QAnon or AlterNet or 1600 Daily or Anti-Fascist News. Those sources are not “news;” they are mouthpieces designed to slant “facts” to support their political perspective.

One of the definitions of asylum is “an institution for the maintenance and care of the mentally ill, orphans, or other persons requiring specialized assistance.” Given our refusal to acknowledge what we are seeing take place before us, perhaps that is the asylum we seek. But it will not be available to us, no matter where we go; arguably, we cannot prove we are mentally ill or otherwise require specialized institutional assistance.  The asylum we might ultimately have to see is  “an inviolable refuge; sanctuary; the immunity afforded by refuge in such a place.” When I arrive in Norway or Iceland or Canada or Chile, will I be detained, strip-searched, and placed in a holding cell for months while the authorities decide whether I will be permitted to stay? Will I be shipped back to an authoritarian regime staffed by thugs hungry for blood and the thrill of the screams of the tortured?  I suspect it will be both. Like every country facing an influx of refugees and asylum-seekers, my countries of “choice” will be overwhelmed by the flood of people fleeing in fear for their lives. The remnants of the free press will attempt to report on the travesty, but they will be silenced “for the public good.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. If the corruption becomes so blatant (but how could it become more blatant than it is?) that the people can no longer tolerate it, they might start a revolution. While that could start another civil war, it might instead trigger an intense national (or global) introspection that leads to a cleansing.

But until the majority of us realize that what we are all seeking is “an inviolable refuge; sanctuary; the immunity afforded by refuge in such a place,” we will not recognize that the asylum we desire can be right here. Until we are willing to share that refuge with other asylum seekers who have no place else to go, we will not find the peace that asylum should provide.

I don’t have the energy to weave all the threads of this meandering diatribe together. They form a fabric, in my head, but my fingers are incapable of stitching them together in a way that shows the cloth clearly. Asylum. I weep for all the asylum seekers, including those of us who one day may have to adopt that description.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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