My Turn: Terrified migrants – the crucible of our experiment in democracy

  • Thursday, October 1, 2015 1:00am
  • Opinion

The Juneau Empire editorial “Reckless Endangerment” opens positive possibilities for grasping the underlying human meaning of our beloved “American Dream.” An added plus from this thought-provoking editorial is how it opens doors to more profound thinking.

The global history of our fragile human sojourn on Earth is replete with desperate situations that forced huge groups of humans to flee, seeking safety and new opportunity. This, I think, is the source of our “American Dream.” Yet all continents, countries and cultures have gone through their own trekking for better places and second chances. Not only did the colonies of our U.S. eastern shores attract the religiously persecuted, but renegades and so-called “low-life” prison escapees and even murderers came along. Out of this huddle of masses of imperfect men, women, slaves, slave masters and some children, the miracle of a new form of government, democracy, was born.

As the editorial makes clear, some of those fleeing to the “New World” from 1492 even into our 21st century remained scoundrels and continued anti-social behaviors. Now, sociologists and psychologists teach us this is our “human condition.”

Historians and students of human behavior remind us we are all immigrants. Pope Francis has made us fully aware of this on his transient migration to our shores.

Biologists keep learning about the amazing annual migrations of sea turtles, butterflies, reindeer, African buffalo, sharks, whales, and both land and sea birds. They swim, run and fly in huge formations, sharing the leading edges and cooperating to assure what is best for the most. Such is not for fun and games. Their individual lives depend on it. They do this to assure species reproduction for the continuum of life itself.

Humans and other animal lives cannot be boxed into simple categories of good and evil, right and wrong, strong and weak, us versus them, and certainly not citizen or alien. The social accomplishments of American creativity and prosperity continues as new immigrants seize new opportunities, changing desperate behavior to survive into hard work and civic responsibility to thrive.

The magnificent changes in European social life after World War II, that were given a huge boost with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, are historical facts supporting these positive human behavior changes. I cannot explain these changes. Rather, I simply believe that feeling rescued, accepted and given a second chance promotes a lasting allegiance to and love for the place and people from whom you welcomed. Indeed, these welcoming people make up the majority of everyday humans who are decent, trustworthy and contributing citizens to their body politic. They are the global citizens of our shared humanity of trust and second — and even third and fourth — chances. This I believe.

The wonderfully thought-provoking “Reckless Endangerment” editorial closes with concerns about national security and culture. There is much deeper meaning to our search for human security. Wars, which perpetuate the practice of “might makes right,” no more assure security than fences, walls and even ocean-protected fortresses. Love and cooperation based on mutual trust — much like migrating birds, fish and mammals — bring security and lasting life. I believe that is the essence of our ongoing experiment in democracy. I am grateful to be a part of this here in our lovely city of Juneau and youthful state of Alaska in 2015.

• George W. Brown lives in Douglas.

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