Thursday, July 28, 2005

Traveling Thoughts

Traveling puts me into a philosophic mood. Didn't someone say that an untraveled life is not a life worth living? I wouldn't go quite that far, but traveling certainly opens up the eyes. Why else would we urge the young to travel and experience the world? Even the armed forces used to advertize the military by pointing out how much fun traveling could be. Now that the military travel is no longer fun the recruiting posters have changed to focus on more traditional education opportunities.

But traveling is educational, too, though often in unexpected ways. For example, we learn a lot more about our own countries by traveling abroad than we learn about the foreign places we visit, at least if the travel experience is a little bit more than the "Eight Countries in Eight Days" tours. You go abroad and by doing that you create distance to your homeland. After a while you start seeing its rules and institutions, for the first time perhaps, as just one possible societal arrangement. This alone is worth the price of a ticket to somewhere exotic.

The first thing I always notice when I arrive in a new country is the color of the light and the second is the way the air smells. But the third is, always and everywhere, the manner in which all kinds of cultures see their way of doing things as the only possible one, as the natural one, as obviously inborn and genetic. And every culture sees the rules and traditions of other cultures as silly or at least quaint and exotic. Which is really very funny when you think about it.

What makes it less funny (in the ha-ha sense) is the fact that many of our current politicians don't get this joke. To get it you must be at least prepared to travel, and George Bush has made travel unnecessary for world domination. Instead, he is trying to run the whole world as if the only natural, immutable and possible societal and market arrangements are those prevailing in the United States.

And this makes neither him nor us very popular abroad.