Western refugees: Yes, that's a thing.
Almost a decade ago a guy called Balaji Srinivasan popularized the term voice versus exit.
Hailed as an all-encompassing framework of individual optionality, “voice vs. exit” celebrated inventions like Bitcoin and other technical breakthroughs, which gave us the tools to opt out of antiquated and corrupt institutions.
Inspired by contemporary books like the 4-Hour Workweek and earlier seminal works like The Sovereign Individual, young westerners embraced technology as a means of liberation; liberation from their 9-to-5 job, their banking institution, their landlord and, ultimately, their jurisdiction and country.
The thought process started out as something like this:
“I hate showing up at the office every day. Why not quit and relocate to Malaysia where I can 10x my lifestyle with a fraction of effort?”
They called themselves, digital nomads, but in reality this moniker was an euphemism for something way less glamorous.
Think about it. Their fathers and grandfathers never felt the need to move or “exit”. All their needs were met right there in their home country. Plentiful jobs, savings, white picket fence, big families – it was all great.
Millennials never got a taste of that. It was a big disaster right from the get-go. No wonder the idea of settling down never quite bode well for them. Settle for what?
Their desperation was of the quiet, drawn-out kind. It was not food that they starved for, nor convenience. Their life starved of meaning, ownership, freedom. So when the opportunity presented itself, they promptly bailed out. They dumped their happy pills, packed up their laptop, and bought a one-way ticket to a more human-friendly country.
Those digital nomads were the Western world’s proto-refugees.
“Wait, did you just denigrate the plight of refugees?”
No, I’m not equating the life of a digital nomad – with their MacBook and lattes – to that of a refugee. Refugees from war-torn regimes escape their countries because they have no choice. Digital nomads relocate precisely because they have a choice.
A refugee is one who “seeks refuge in a foreign country,” according to Collins English Dictionary. Would you agree then that a refugee is one who has lost the option to return home?
The reason I belabor the point of what constitutes a refugee is because of what happened after 2020.
Take this guy, for example. Let’s call him John.
“Yikes, they won’t let me in the supermarket without two face diapers,” says John. “I better move somewhere where they don’t make me choose between suffocating and starving.”
You don’t have to agree with John’s estimation of face diaper safety. All you need to recognize is that, in his mind, there is little choice. If he doesn’t leave his country, he will either suffocate or starve. That is the predicament of his worldview.
Let’s look at another scenario, this one happening pretty soon in an EU country near you:
“Yikes, I have no central heating, no petrol, and no food,” says Alice. “Not unless I apply for government-approved energy rationing. It says here, I have to scan the QR code of my health certificate.” Alice pauses in disbelief. She takes a good look at her two kids. “How do I leave this gulag?”
Neither Alice nor John wanted to leave their home, but they don’t have a choice. Alice and John are refugees in the making.
Which brings us to countries like Australia, Canada, and the UK. What those jurisdictions share in common is that they prevented their citizens from leaving their country at some point during the last couple of years.
So let me ask you this:
How do you describe a situation wherein citizens fear that their government may imprison, suffocate, starve, or freeze them?
Let’s not mince our words, ladies and gentlemen. This is war.
This war has been going on for decades, silently, covertly, unconsciously. And, in its final innings, it now emerges from the shadow for all to see.
As we know, war causes displacement.
We should expect to see more and more of them going forward. People living out of their suitcase, travelers whose notion of “home” is something different to what we remember from only a few years ago.
But there is no mistaking what those Westerners are. Refugees, that is.
Okay, time for some housekeeping.
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