I came across a cartoon in the Economist today…
…under which was written:
The conventions highlighted a new political faultline: not between left and right, but between open and closed…
Across Europe, the politicians with momentum are those who argue that the world is a nasty, threatening place, and that wise nations should build walls to keep it out. Such arguments have helped elect an ultranationalist government in Hungary and a Polish one that offers a Trumpian mix of xenophobia and disregard for constitutional norms. Populist, authoritarian European parties of the right or left now enjoy nearly twice as much support as they did in 2000, and are in government or in a ruling coalition in nine countries. So far, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has been the anti-globalists’ biggest prize: the vote in June to abandon the world’s most successful free-trade club was won by cynically pandering to voters’ insular instincts, splitting mainstream parties down the middle.
One misrepresentation, in both the cartoon and the text, is that people have been building walls. They haven’t. The walls have been there since time immemorial. What’s new these days is that some people (politicians mostly) have been demolishing longstanding existing walls. They have been making private property into public property.
So the cartoon would have been more accurate if the people on the right hand side were shown with a very old wall – like the Great Wall of China or Hadrian’s Wall – around them, and the people on the left hand side were shown demolishing the wall and letting people in. That would have been a truer picture.
Also, speaking of real walls, just an apposite an image would have been of two houses, one of which has a locked front door and barred windows, and another one with open doors and windows, and a sign outside saying: “Need somewhere to live? Step inside and make yourself at home!” In the latter case, private property becomes public property.
How many people really want to do that? How many people are going to buy a house, only to let absolutely anybody walk in and live in it? Hardly anyone, I imagine.
Which reminds me of another story I came across today. It was about a whole bunch of airliners that had been forced to land at Gander airport in Canada on 9/11. There were about 50 of them, full of passengers. All in all, some 10,000 people. But the little town of Gander only had 10,000 residents in it. So what happened?
What we found out was incredible…..
Gander and all the surrounding communities (within about a 75 Kilometer radius) had closed all high schools, meeting halls, lodges, and any other large gathering places. They converted all these facilities to mass lodging areas for all the stranded travelers.
Some had cots set up, some had mats with sleeping bags and pillows set up.
ALL the high school students were required to volunteer their time to take care of the “guests.”
Our 218 passengers ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 kilometers from Gander where they were put up in a high school. If any women wanted to be in a women-only facility, that was arranged.
Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were taken to private homes…
Phone calls and e-mails to the U.S. and around the world were available to everyone once a day.
During the day, passengers were offered “Excursion” trips.
Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbors. Some went for hikes in the local forests.
Local bakeries stayed open to make fresh bread for the guests.
Food was prepared by all the residents and brought to the schools. People were driven to restaurants of their choice and offered wonderful meals. Everyone was given tokens for local laundry mats to wash their clothes, since luggage was still on the aircraft.
In other words, every single need was met for those stranded travelers.
It’s a heart-warming story. Small local communities opened their doors to the stranded passengers, and made them as welcome and comfortable as they possibly could.
So what’s the difference between Gander’s sort of ‘open’ society and the kind advocated in the Economist?
At least one answer must be that at Gander the stranded airline passengers were only going to stay a couple of days, not indefinitely. While in the sort of ‘open’ society advocated in the Economist they were staying indefinitely. I doubt if Gander would have been happy to see its population double overnight, and stay that way. It was a temporary state of emergency.
Also, if the people of Gander had food, blankets, and even spare rooms and beds, it was because they owned more than a sufficiency of such things. And if they could take them for hikes and boat trips, it was because they owned cars and boats.
And also, this seems to have been the voluntary response of a little community (except perhaps the high school students). Maybe some people didn’t join in. It certainly doesn’t seem like the Canadian government stepped in and requisitioned houses and schools and food and blankets.
And how did the passengers respond once they were back on their plane and flying out?
One of our passengers approached me and asked if he could make an announcement over the PA system. We never, ever allow that. But this time was different. I said “of course” and handed him the mike. He picked up the PA and reminded everyone about what they had just gone through in the last few days.
He reminded them of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers.
He continued by saying that he would like to do something in return for the good folks of Lewisporte.
“He said he was going to set up a Trust Fund under the name of DELTA 15 (our flight number). The purpose of the trust fund is to provide college scholarships for the high school students of Lewisporte.
He asked for donations of any amount from his fellow travelers. When the paper with donations got back to us with the amounts, names, phone numbers and addresses, the total was for more than $14,000!…
As I write this account, the trust fund is at more than $1.5 million and has assisted 134 students in college education.
Again, they could do this because they personally possessed $14,000 or $1.5 million that they could voluntarily give away. Private property again. If they had owned nothing, they could have given nothing.
And it wasn’t really a ‘gift’. It was repayment.