The Great Escape: Gustav Dore's "The Angel at the Sepulchre"
Harry Houdini's wild popularity no longer intrigues me. I am beginning to understand that most human beings are escape artists or aspire to be. No country embodies this more than the U.S.. We are a country of frequent moves and neighborhoods which change like shifting desert sands.
The massive outpouring of sympathy for the migrants flooding into Europe can be seen as mass empathy by escapists for escapees. Look at how much more attention and sympathy the migrants have garnered than those who have stuck it out peacefully amid the violence in Syria. Where was the outpouring of military, emotional and financial support for them from The West during the past five years?
Americans love a life of escapism. The escape from unpleasant urban/suburban life into virtual life, such as Facebook, is just a symptom of a longer standing pattern which started when the first European escapists landed here. That escapism, caused by greed and frustration, swept across this huge and sparsely populated continent within two hundred years, an eye-blink in previous human history. Unfortunately, for the established Stone Age communities who were living an ecologically evolved life here, massacre was unavoidable in the path of the escapist tsunami of people with cannons, rifles and explosives.
The boatloads of escapees now coming ashore in Europe are simply emulating America's ascendancy on a very basic level. The majority are economic migrants. They are motivated by materialism, as seen in Western-generated media, dominated by American technology and capitalist values. They want more. Among valid asylum-seekers are LGBT people who are attempting to escape lives in a religious prison under threat of death. Escaping from prison when you are innocent of any crime seems to be the definition of a legitimate claim to asylum.
The nomadic basis of the major world religions based in Judaism also contributes to the escapist tendencies of modern humanity. Ancient nomadic cultures always lived in tenuous ecological circumstances. The Old Testament can be read as a study of population growth and the conflicts it creates between competing cultures. As the nomadic people of Israel grew in number, so did the wars they waged with neighbors who lived in more established and fertile environments.The Egyptians and Assyrians lived in fertile river cultures when the Biblical Israelites were still roaming the desert with sheep and goats.
The recurring theme of escape from enslavement in the Old Testament carries throughout later Jewish history. The conflict of the psychology of nomadic tribalism in juxtaposition to constant integration throughout global societies seems evident in Jewish culture historically and today. The ultimate escape from a tomb by an executed Jew led to an ideology which offered an escape from Jewish tradition for those who felt dissatisfied with it. This escape from genetic tribalism to converting colonization won Judeo-Christians victory over the Roman Empire and the creation of their Holy Roman Empire.
America has been the vacuum into which humans have escaped for thousands of years. From Siberian land bridge migrations to modern immigration from Central America, human beings have come to North America in search of sanctuary and expansion. Europeans have migrated here in the millions since the continent was accidentally discovered. They too were mostly religious and economic migrants escaping rigid caste systems and rigid ideologies, based in the Catholicism of Rome or Moscow or Athens.
Most of us can look at our families and see escapism in action in America. We are often described as a mobile culture. The truth is that most parents with multiple children have one child who stays close by throughout the duration of their parent-child relationship while the others escape the nest to construct more independent lives. I refer to the escapee siblings as the 'Teflon variety'. They tend to remain unstuck from the day-to-day aging needs and deterioration of their parents in part through constant motion/escape with socially acceptable excuses. Very often the stay-at-home sibling has been a conditioned gay/lesbian child whose non-familial relationships have been deemed secondary to what they have perceived as their responsibility to their aging parents.
All this running away is fine until the planet gets so overpopulated that there are no longer resources or spaces for escape. This will be the challenge of the human species in the very near future. The measure of our evolution as a species will come when we are caged together by our own propensity to overpopulate and pollute our environments. Perhaps Stephen Hawking's fear of robots is related to the possible logical conclusion by the artificially intelligent that the human species is simply dysfunctional in its own ecology. If our new Frankensteins are built with the human potential for rapid and violent resolution of problems, this could indeed create the need for a new kind of human escape for survival.