Jun 2, 2015

Travel: A Necessary American Curriculum

I wish traveling was a required life curriculum.  Not vacationing, but travel.  Sitting on a beach sipping mai tai’s is plenty needed at points in life, but that's not what I'm talking about. How is travel different than vacationing?  I think when you travel you have a purpose in mind.  Perhaps you want to see and experience things.  Different perspectives, different food, different landscapes.  Perhaps you need to move through something, a problem or the vague notion of one.  Travel is best a journey that helps to step out of the patterns of your routine, and engage in the therapeutic activities of wanderlust.  Perhaps you’re keenly aware of how fucked up things are in your life and your therapies are much more deliberate in nature.  For other people, like myself, you love to learn.  Learning is a paramount activity for its own sake and there nothing quite like experiential learning.  Remember that scene in Good Will Hunting, where Robin Williams says to Matt Damon, “you’re just a kid, you don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talkin’ about…I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel”  Experiential learning has a staying effect and an impression that's hard to replicate from other methods of learning.

Why should travel be required?  We’ve all met bigoted and ignorant people in life.  How much do you think those people have traveled?   "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." - Mark Twain.  Experiencing different cultures causes you to reflect on what has shaped you, and certain liberal rhetorics become more clear.  Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent takes on a whole new meaning when you see how little advertising there is elsewhere.  Sure other countries might be outright corrupt when you need pay off the cops, but at least its on the table and not so subversive.  Military-Industrial Complex, Consumerism, Narcissism… these are concomitant side-effects of American society.  I'm not here to bash ‘merica, but merely see it for what it is.  Take the emotion out of the rhetoric by stepping outside of your routine and truly see how your circumstances came to be.  Engage, if but momentarily, in a different way of living or viewing the world.  Go to some non-western 3rd world country and see how much happier people can be even when they have little material wealth.

I remember reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig in my travels to Fiji.  As an analytical person his analysis of the scientific process was eye opening to me.  Years later I read his follow-on, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals.  Lila touched on anthropology and explored a culture's values and mores in relation to other cultures, intellect, and biology.  These things take on a much deeper meaning when you understand just how different value systems of different countries and cultures can be.  It’s quite certain that nobody has it figured out, but surely some more than others.  When you see the connectedness and community of societies outside the Ayn-Randian dystopia, you can see that maybe you are missing something.  When reading Lila, I realized that most disagreements between persons stem from different value systems, different ways of looking at the world.  What I can see now is the black and white morality of a Christian derived US value system, is really bullshit.  Right and wrong is just a matter of what side you are on.  And the driver of war is keenly driven by our primitive aspects of ‘us vs them’.  Nothing codifies a group of individuals like having an enemy: in business, in sports, in nation building…  What does this have to do with travel?  You develop meta-attitudes and value systems that embrace other cultures.  You become a citizen of the world, not just the US.  

Do you travel?  Did you used to?  Do you have a ‘wish/bucket list’ in the recesses of your mind?  Dig it up, plan a trip.  Do you have a family?  There are a ton of resources out there on family travel.  Are you low on money?  There are resources out there for being a nomad on dollars a day.  Do you only have 3 weeks of vacation and use it sparingly.  That’s just a shitty excuse.  And a broken byproduct of the American work culture best known as the Paradox of Productivity.  We are the least traveled of any developed nation and its at our detriment.  Maybe you’ve read the top 5 regrets of the dying, most of it is obvious right?  The challenge is to step out of your routine, to make it a priority.  Or perhaps you’ve seen that paying for experiences is vastly better for you than material things.  By no means am I a nomad, but I live well within my means.  And I’d like to think I'm unconstrained by those trappings of American materialism.  Fuck your car, your house, your overinflated sense of self worth at your job, and go travel.  And travel with purpose. (When you do, feel free to share with me how flawed my views of contemporary American society are.)

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