Ask Kim Kierkegaardashian is an advice column by a mashup of the nineteenth-century existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and the reality star and fashion maven Kim Kardashian West. Are you suffering an existential crisis? Vexed about what to wear? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org (or address them to @kimkierkegaard on Twitter). Questions may be edited for clarity and length.
Dear Kim Kierkegaardashian,
Is it O.K. to move away from the U.S. to escape wildfires, COVID-19, and creeping authoritarianism? Stuck inside with the windows shut, trying to manage Zoom school, my partner and I and our kids are driving one another nuts, and the accelerating breakdown of American democracy is making us anxious. We have the means and job flexibility to move to Europe, where the kids can go to school in person and politics seem more stable. Should we dig out our passports?
On the one hand, using our privilege to escape discomfort, danger, and turmoil when so many others cannot feels like a bad look. On the other, like all parents, we want our kids to be safe and happy, and it’s not as if we don’t lean on our privilege all the time already. Who benefits from us feeling guilty about it?
Dear Euro Vision,
As I read your question, I’m sitting poolside beneath a bombproof, air-purified geodesic dome powered by an artificial sun—it’s where I come to think. And lately I’ve been thinking that the multiple crises facing our nation have no recent analogue other than a disastrous Fashion Week show I attended, in 2013, with a “domestic jungle” theme. (One of the dresses was made out of a dishwasher, and models dangled from the ceiling via a live-boa-constrictor-pulley system.) It was then that I glanced, for the first—but not the last—time, into the abyss of my soul.
Who wouldn’t want to get away from all this? Like me, you have the means to fly business class on Air Escape. So why stay in the wildfire-smoking-section, COVID-19-class seats of United States Airlines 2020, where you may be thigh to thigh with anti-maskers and climate-change deniers, and the pilot is an erratic white supremacist who has already killed more than two hundred and fifteen thousand passengers?
Because (you say) the exercise of your privilege is unfair to those who don’t have the means to leave. Maybe so. But what I’m getting from your question, Euro Vision, is that it may also be unfair to you.
Although it’s nice to have a life of safety and ease—I certainly enjoy mine—it’s just as important to lead a meaningful life. It’s so simple for people as wealthy as us to put distance between America’s ills and our own asses. But, although you can run from wildfires, COVID-19, and racist violence, you, Euro Vision, can’t run from the void in your soul.
What you are searching for is meaning, and moving to a place where you have few ties and little personal investment may offer only a frictionless path to a pleasantly meaningless life. On your government-subsidized European deathbed, will you look back on your expatriate existence and feel that it was all just a little empty?
What’s your purpose here on earth, Euro Vision? What does it mean for you to live in a place, to be a member of a community, to be a citizen? What values do you want your kids to learn? What is your life for?
Perhaps, in answering these questions, you’ll conclude that it’s more fulfilling to live in a country choking on wildfire smoke, saddled with incompetent governance, riven by social division, and overrun with a deadly virus—because these are our problems, these are our neighbors, and, if you stay here, you might play a part in making things better. After all, the philosophy of “every diva for herself” is part of what got us into this mess to begin with.
If safety and ease were all that we needed from life, I would stay in my geodesic dome indefinitely, fly only in private planes, and restrict my interactions to A-list celebrities, tenured philosophers, and personal staff who’ve undergone rigorous health screenings and agreed never to make eye contact. To be honest, I do do all these things, so I can tell you firsthand that it doesn’t make life spiritually easier.
I can’t judge you if you choose to jet, but I will suggest that you pay less attention to where on the map you should move and more to the movements of your soul. Remember, you still have to die if you move to Europe, Euro Vision. There will still come a time when you must face your conscience. And you are just as likely to have lived a life of despair in a place with cute sidewalk cafés and socialism as in our own troubled land—or in a geodesic dome.