The lure of the West and its subsequent disappointment (for some)

Here’s a thought: the very people who rail the most against the restrictions imposed by the state in autocratic countries, the most vocal opponents of such regimes, the ones who crave an escape to the West, are the ones who fare the worst after emigrating to free, democratic societies such as those in the Western world. You can think of it as an inversely proportional relationship between one’s dislike for a government or a regime and their likelihood of doing well in a freer, Western country that runs on capitalist principles.

They, unlike those who make their own little worlds at home in spite of the surrounding conditions, those who make the best of the situation, these vocal dissidents have let themselves be defined by what they perceive to be the restrictions of those societies. In other worlds, their lives have become dominated by what they criticize; they themselves have become the voice of those restrictions. Their very purpose of being is now defined by those societies: they live to criticize them. Because of this, their transplantation into a Western society would be fruitless. I don’t say this triflingly; I saw this happen first-hand.

These particular people would quickly find the faults in such a society (because they have become wired to do this) and would become dissidents of the West, criticizing the overt commercialism (for example) of such a society. They would find no solace in the freedom offered there and would instead resort to vocal criticism of the faults of that society. They would make poor use of the facilities of that society, they would contribute little or nothing to its betterment, but would instead fill their days with discontented moans. They’d likely pen editorials about the shackles of the West, etc.

If you want immigration success stories, you should look for those who can find the good in any situation, those who in spite of the conditions imposed on them, managed with what they had, provided good lives for themselves and those in their families, and were bright points of light in those autocratic societies. Get those people in the West and they’ll likely do the same, if not more, with the opportunities provided to them in those free societies.


6 Thoughts

  1. Now, now, you are generalizing from the example of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. There are hundreds of thousands, probably millions of East Germans alone who fled from East Germany to West Germany during the Cold War who led quite normal and successful lives in the West. They were so desperate, they risked life and limb to escape the dull, dreary oppression of the German Democratic Republic. Yes, there were a handfull who became disillusioned and returned to East Germany, but… they were few.

    How about the East Germans who stayed in East Germany and made “their own little worlds at home in spite of the surrounding conditions” and their later difficulty in adapting to a reunified capitalist Germany? How does that fit with your thesis? No one has been moaning and groaning louder than they these last 25 years!

    Your description of people who only “moan” and “find fault” with the Western democracies may apply to some immigrant dissidents, but I feel it applies far more to so-called Western intellectuals who have spent their entire privileged lives breathing the free air of democracy, yet can’t find a thing that pleases them. Noam Chomsky comes to mind. It seemed while I was at university, these institutions specialized in turning out America-haters and excuse-makers for communism. These armchair revolutionaries wouldn’t dream of actually going over to live under communism.

    The utter collapse of their communist dream world has not turned them into democracy lovers. No, they have gone on to defend anyone who opposes the West. They can find no fault with Islamic terrorists, even going so far as to claim Western transgressions justify Islamic terrorism. They make excuses for Vladimir Putin as he annexes more and more territory from democratic nations. They work on the principle “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” These people make my stomach turn far more than some former dissident who can’t find his way in the West.

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    1. Stuart, I think you’re missing my point. I’m not talking about most immigrants. I’m talking about those truly vocal ones who play the dissident martyr in their own countries, who want to be the “voices of the opressed”, etc. Those are the ones who don’t do well in free, Western countries. To make it clearer, the more vociferous the dissident, the less likely he or she is to do well if they immigrate. Think of it as an inversely proportional relationship.

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      1. Well, Raoul, I think you have sufficiently narrowed down the pool to vocal dissidents who want to be the voice of the oppressed and who crave an escape to the West and who were fruitless there and whom you have personal experience of. I know you are reluctant to name names, but the number of people who can fulfill these criteria can surely be counted on the fingers of one hand. Besides the one I mentioned, can you point to any prominent individuals who fit your description?

        Speaking of my own experience (I mentioned my college days which ended in the early 1980s), I was a fierce anti-communist who defended the Western democracies and relentlessly “attacked” the Soviet empire through letters to the editor, calling into radio shows and attending demonstrations. Although I had a normal job and a marriage, I was consumed by this battle of competing ideologies in America. Well, when Gorbachev arrived on the scene and the Soviet Empire collapsed, I admit I was disoriented and confused. What now? Fukuyama wrote of the end of history! While most of my fellow anti-communists fell back into religious right-wing conservative politics, I gravitated towards environmentalism and even became a member of the Green Party in Germany. The attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 shocked me back into reality and made me realize the West was still under attack, this time by a new adversary. Since then Russia has risen again under Putin to become a threat.

        My point is that, yes, people can become defined by their strong-held beliefs and are disoriented when circumstances change. I have heard and even know of some East Germans who were frequently interrogated and harassed by the “Stasi” security police for their advocacy of democracy or their wish to leave. They were fired from their jobs, sometimes they lost their families through Stasi pressure, some spent years in prison. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many of these dissidents became disillusioned with the West because they felt they didn’t get the respect and financial support they deserved for fighting the good fight. Many of their communist tormentors received fat pensions for their years of service to communism while the dissidents got paltry pensions based on their truncated work history. I can understand their frustration and anger.

        I am very glad you are “hanging out” your opinions for all to see. I think the ability to hold and defend a well-thought-out opinion is a sign of a true gentleman. As you said yourself in one of your gentleman series videos, one has to be charitable to those who are less fortunate, not be egotistical and too judgmental. I feel a true gentleman stands up for what is right, no matter how unpopular. I look forward to more thought-provoking posts.

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        1. I would be interested in hearing of cases where the group of people I’m talking about fared better in the West. No names, just little vignettes.

          I’ve been thinking more about this, and I think there’s another factor: the lack (or perceived lack) of social support. These people had a well-developed social network of friends and like-minded people in the countries where they lived. When they made it over, that disappeared. Certainly no one’s going to coddle you in the West, hold your hand and say, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll show you around and help you figure things out.” If you don’t make it on your own, you don’t make it. Perhaps the cases you’re thinking of were lucky enough to be “inserted” into support networks once they came over?

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          1. You are asking me to provide you some stories of people “who rail the most against the restrictions imposed by the state in autocratic countries, the most vocal opponents of such regimes, the ones who crave an escape to the West,” but who became great successes in the West once they arrived. I don’t know of any dissidents who “railed” against the restrictions imposed by their authoritarian country. Most of the famous ones I know like Alexandr Solzhenitzyn, who simply wrote three books about the Russian Gulag prison system, or Natan Sharansky, who just asked to emigrate from Russia, could not “rail” against their governments because there was no free press or Internet to rail to at the time.

            Solzhenitzyn was already a fan of theocracy before he came to the USA, so it was not surprising he didn’t like it there. He used his commencement speech at Harvard to “rail” against American materialism. I guess the take-away is that “railing” only works where someone can hear you. He lived quite well, though, from the royalties on his books and speeches until he finally returned to Russia after the communist collapse.

            Sharansky eventually made it to Israel, started a very conservative political party and became a member of the Israeli Knesset. Later his party merged with the Likud Block and he held various ministerial posts until he resigned to head up various foundations.

            A story pops into my mind now of Manfred Krug, an actor popular in East Germany who applied to emigrate because he was miffed the famous singer Wolf Biermann had been “expatriated” by the East German government while he was on tour in the West. When Krug eventually made it to West Germany, he was able to continue his acting career, becoming a beloved police detective in a TV series.

            And Wolf Biermann comes closest to someone who as a popular singer could “rail” against his government until they had enough and took his citizenship away. He was never a big star in West Germany, but one has to say the competition was also tougher. He continued a comfortable life in the West and was even recently asked to sing at the German Bundestag in commemoration of German Reunification.

            Okay, Raoul, I have given you four examples of individuals who paid a high price for their discontent with authoritarian regimes, but who didn’t crash and burn in the West. How about (without names) telling me about the “crash and burn” case you have personal knowledge of? If you want to, you can send it to my email address.

            Your last comment about some dissidents having a social circle to help them certainly applied to Natan Sharansky. And all East German refugees had an elaborate government support network to help them on their feet in West Germany. Maybe Romanian dissidents had it more difficult because they couldn’t flee to a matching capitalist country full of Romanian speakers who could help them. Although again, the case of Egon Balas, a Hungarian-speaking Romanian Jew, springs to mind. He was an economist who displeased the Romanian government by writing too much about capitalist economics, was imprisoned, and eventually emigrated to the USA where he became a mathematics professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He wrote a book “Will to Freedom” about his life in Romania.

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