Thursday, January 14, 2010

Edge of Empire

This term comes from a book I read a long time ago, in fact I don't even remember which one it was. It took place in Rome, well after it had ceased to be a Republic. Some character of renown had been exiled from Italy and was sent to "...somewhere up along the Black Sea or some other dark bleak place at the edge of the Empire." I have totally forgotten the book but that line has always stuck with me, because to me it has forever enshrined in my mind how most Americans look at the world.

Like the Romans of their day we view our country proper as a shining light of civilization, and those third world countries outside of Western Europe are strange dark places at the edge of the empire. Many people view them as inherently dangerous for Americans and yet they can't really put their finger on why. In a recent conversation someone mentioned to me that, ..."your an American in a third world country, of coarse it's dangerous." While I don't concur, this sentiment seems very pervasive with people I talk to.

Sure these places are different. Sure many of them are rife with political corruption and some odd laws that can make what seem trivial activities into crimes, most are not places where as an American you are going to be gobbled up by the bogeyman hiding in the darkness at the edge of the map. A little traveling usually reveals that the signs declaring "Here be Monsters" are far outdated, and with the rare exception most places are perfectly fine to travel in and are remarkably safer than even what once passed as civilized lands to our friends the Romans.

Exile from the "civilized lands" was a favorite punishment of the Greeks and Romans, and although not in use in America the perception of severity of the punishment is not lost on them. I think in many ways this is why people have the kind of reaction they do when I tell them where Kim and I are moving to. Why would you live at the edge of the Empire, when you could live in the light of civilization? I think that is really the question they are asking.

The answer is written in another form below. In line with this post I can only say that there is something to be said about frontiers, and even in Roman times there is a good chance that I would have happily left Italy for a quiet spot along the Black Sea Coast at the edge of the Empire.

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