England is vast. Despite holding about fifty million people, most of the land is still dedicated to farming, and enjoys large exports to the rest of the world.
We complain about the variable weather that always comes with island life, but it gives us acres of fertile soils. From the air, the land looks terraformed: neat rectangles of colour.
Fifty million people is also a huge populace, mostly living in cities. The cities are vast and sprawling, with thousands of years of history behind them. Your local church can be a thousand years old as easily as a hundred. You can travel from town to town, city to city, with barely a break in housing.
An hour’s drive is a good trip. In ten hours, you can cross the country, even the long way. Rail travel is good, expensive and sometimes unreliable, but generally good. Motorway travel is excellent. Speeds are fast, accidents are infrequent.
Wherever you travel, you are surrounded by people. At most, you could be half an hour from people, a few miles from people.
I live in America.
American cities feel like English cities. There’s that mix of all-comers, the blend of cultures thrown together. Buildings, housing, stacked closely together. People rubbing shoulders on the bus.
Further out, to the suburbs, there is still very little difference. The houses are generally a little bigger. They’re less likely to fit the upstairs/downstairs template of English life. They’ll have proper garages. They’re made of wood. The urban sprawl surrounds the cities, giving families some breathing space and distance from the bustling city nightlife.
Further out still, there is more difference.
Because America is absolutely, staggeringly, incomprehensibly, mindbendingly vast.
Looking out of the window at the Rockies as you travel here, you can see the breathtaking landscape still raw and scarred, like the surface of Mars. It’s enormous, it’s beautiful, and it’s empty.
Travelling from city to city, it’s easy to forget this. Close the window, close your eyes, and move seamlessly from one identikit airport to the next.
But out there, people live. They live off the land, they live different lives. Farm fields roll over the horizon, without limit. Farmers have planes.
How far can you be from other people? How far can you be from help? How far from the nearest mobile phone tower?
If your family lives on a farm, miles from anywhere, how can you feel safe? Who will be the next person to drive by? If trouble came knocking, how long before anyone came to ask if you are ok?
England has a wonderful position of security.
America is different.
I don’t support the gun lobby. I believe that fewer guns mean fewer deaths. But I’m disappointed in polarity of argument, and the lack of imagination in recent commentary. One should try to see both sides of the picture to find where to draw the line.
I’m not making a point one way or the other. I’m saying: think.
Use your imagination.