Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Symbolism Abounds at the Winter Olympics

Perhaps there are those who will say it is a stretch, but for me the medal presentations last Monday night (Feb. 15) for the men’s moguls competition at the winter Olympics were steeped in symbolism. Most of the media attention was focused on the fact that Alexandre Bilodeau was the first Canadian to win Olympic gold on Canadian soil. He also knocked off the heavily-favored former gold medalist, Dale Begg-Smith, who had turned in one of his best performances. However, the fact that Begg-Smith and Bilodeau finished ahead of American bronze medalist Bryon Smith contained a hidden message that I doubt most Americans caught.

Consider Begg-Smith’s story. As a teenager in Canada, he was not only a skiing phenomenon but a tech entrepreneur. His coaches told him that he was spending too much time on his business and not enough on skiing. Perhaps his coaches were simply skiing purists that insisted on a total commitment to the sport. On the other hand, perhaps they suffered from that epidemic philosophical disease that promotes contempt for all entrepreneurs and vilifies all who seek to profit from voluntary exchange – in other words to accumulate wealth by producing far more for their fellow human beings than they consume themselves.  In any case, Begg-Smith and his brother/partner Jason decided to exercise their rights and vote with their feet. They moved to Australia where they could ski on their own terms and pursue their business interests as they saw fit.

It was symbolically appropriate that this man finished ahead of the American, because his life embodied a principle that Americans have forgotten. When the opportunities that he deserved were not made available to him where he was, he voted with his feet. He left his country and emigrated to one where he was free to pursue his happiness in the way that he wished to. This did not cost him victory on the ski slopes. In 2006, he took the gold medal in men’s moguls in Italy, having also become a millionaire from his internet business. Like most of the early Americans, he wasn’t deterred from leaving the country that stifled him by false platitudes about “patriotism.” He was proud of rather than ashamed of his desire to seek his fortune. Like our American ancestors, he was justly rewarded with victory on both fronts.

However, Begg-Smith finished second to an athlete who inadvertently embodied an even more American principle. While most Americans probably think first of government health care when they think of Canada, Alexandre Bilodeau didn’t just come from Canada. He came from Quebec – the French-speaking province that has smoldered for decades with the most American of all ideals: secession. Yes, the Parti Québécois espouses some of the precepts of social democracy that are ultimately hostile to true liberty, but the movement nevertheless recognizes one core American principle that most Americans have forgotten. The state exists solely to serve the individuals who comprise it, and the loyalty of those constituents ends where the state ceases to govern with their consent. Certainly, none of these ideas entered the mind of the talented young man who earned that gold medal, but that didn’t diminish the symbolic significance of a Quebec native besting an American.

Let me take a moment to congratulate Bryon Wilson. He skied magnificently and the difference between him, Begg-Smith, and Bilodeau (literally milliseconds) is too infinitesimal to have any real significance. All three athletes should be deservedly proud of the fact that they have achieved greatness in their discipline. However, I hope that somehow the allegoric message of this competition will burn itself into the hearts of every American. The two athletes that finished ahead of the American represented ideas that Americans have forgotten:

1. Let no nonsense about (false) patriotism keep you from pursuing your happiness.

2. To seek your fortune through trade is to seek to benefit your fellow man more than most other people do by large orders of magnitude. There is no nobler aspiration.

3. You have a right to choose not to vote with your feet, but instead to alter or abolish any government that fails to secure your rights or becomes destructive of that end.  In other words, you have a right to secede.

Should Americans rediscover these simple, uniquely American values, who could set bounds to the heights to which they could ascend?

Check out Tom Mullen’s new book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!


© Thomas Mullen 2010


Crusty said...

Secessionists are terrorists. What...do you want another Civil War?

Anonymous said...

Great column!

Claire M said...

You are so right about the very undeserved bias against entrepreneurs, and I applaud the businessman-skier as well, but as for the rest of the article I have to point out that Quebec is not even close to being an example of foundational American values. Quebec, with its language laws, has one of the most intrusive, statist governments in all of Canada. The equivalent in the US would be, say, California seceding so that its government could force businesses to post signs in Spanish only, so that it could outlaw the use of English in many contexts, and so that it could force taxpayers to pay for Spanish-only public schools. Yes, it might be the will of the majority, but it would trample individual rights nonetheless.

In British Columbia, on the other hand, there was talk of secession to get away from Canada's socialist policies and adopt a more libertarian government that respects people's right to property. In the US, I could imagine Texas seceding for those kinds of reasons, and I think that would be just fine... I might even try to move there if it happened.

Tom Mullen said...

@ Claire:

I put a disclaimer in there about Quebec espousing anti-liberty policies - did I go to easy on them? :D

Claire M said...

Yeah. I appreciated that disclaimer, but I do think you went too easy. Those language laws are really beyond the pale...

Tom Mullen said...

Boy, everyone is loaded for bear today. You should read some of the e-mails I got from my liberal friends. :D

Claire M said...

Yeah, I guess I'm feeling a bit feisty today. Permit me to fire just one more round:

>>"The state exists solely to serve the individuals who comprise it, and the loyalty of those constituents ends where the state ceases to govern with their consent."

Very true... But what does the consent of the governed mean when the mob rule of the majority tramples over individual rights? Sorry to keep beating this (dead?) horse, but I think that is what happened in Quebec. America at its founding was different because the founders recognized that there should be limits to democracy. As you say in your article, social democracy is prone to excesses, and when it comes to issues such as secession, I think that is entirely the point. I just don't see how you can find anything good in the kind of democracy they have in Quebec. To me democracy is worse than useless if there are no limits on it. It would be better to have an unelected monarch that is bound by laws protecting life, liberty and property than to have the kind of democracy that forces people to speak French... Don't get me wrong; I love the language, but I hate the laws.

Okay, I'm done now ;-)

Claire M said...

Full disclosure: I was living a happy life in Montreal when the Parti Quebecois government which was elected in (I think) 1980 so disgusted my parents that we had to pack up and leave to move to stuffy old Victoria, BC.. I admit it; I do have a bone to pick with the Quebec separatists.