>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?
© Thomas Mullen 2010