America’s veil of fear

A reader of The Economist, Tim Rooks, apparently an American now living in Berlin, just sent a letter in response to one of my recent pieces.

(The piece was about California’s prison overcrowding, itself an aspect of America’s incarceration rate, which is the highest in the world, surpassed only by the Soviet Gulag.)

An excerpt from the letter:

… since leaving the United States, I feel as if a veil of fear has been lifted. I am freer and safer than ever…

This caught my interest because the premise of my thread on America is that, like Mr Rooks, I often feel less free and safe in America than in any of the other places I have lived. And this, of course, is ironic, since many Americans claim or like to pretend that they have some special relationship with liberty.

It is also interesting because Rooks and I both seem simultaneously to be insiders and outsiders in America, and that tends to be a good vantage point for seeing that which is, as it were, hiding in plain view. (I, for instance, started my thread with two views from Hong Kong, here and here.)

Compare, for instance, what Jonah Lehrer says about outsiders:

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