Travel Broadens The Mind (2016Dec16)


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Friday, December 16, 2016                                               12:35 PM

I’ve often thought of traveling—they say it’s very enlightening, very broadening. But then I think of Paris, where being rude to tourists is a proud tradition, and remember that there are many places where Americans are, at best, tolerated. Tourists are people who have the leisure, and the wealth, to walk away from their own daily lives and go gawk at strangers in far-away places—it is easy to see how that would create resentment among the strangers, who have not enough of either to do the same. Unless we can all be tourists, occasionally, then resentment of tourists will last as long as resentment of the wealthy in general.

To be a tourist is, to a degree, a matter of saying to a community, “I am strange to this place—I may not even speak your language—but I have enough surplus wealth to come here and wander around.” You might as well have a sign around your neck inviting people to squeeze every last coin from your pocket before you leave. If that’s ‘travel’, then I could just as easily walk through a nearby center of poverty—in a Capitalist world, you don’t have to cover a lot of ground to become a stranger. Sharp differences in average-incomes lay cheek-by-jowl, geographically—and those differences make a greater foreign-ness than any change in mere life-style, though it be halfway around the globe.

For many countries and communities, tourism is a life-line, a way for them to stay head-above-water in a world that is out-producing them in other ways. But it strikes me as a false equivalence, a wrong path—in the same way that letting out rooms in your house is an easier income-increase than finding a better job, but it leads to other problems, other expenses, and makes you less likely to go out and find that better job. And, in the meantime, the chances of failing to resent the interloper who provides the new revenue, nice as they might be, are vanishingly small.

Yes, I am a homebody, as you may well have guessed by now. But I admit to the pull of adventure—all healthy young people should seek all the adventure they can find, while they’re still healthy enough and young enough to endure the hardships of having an adventure. That is especially so, since the young learn from experience, and the more varied experience you have, the faster you learn.

But tourism absent of great wealth is relatively new—born of the fifties, when hard-working Americans could take two weeks off—and were paid enough to take their families on a trip. At first it was road trips, camping trips: ‘See the USA in your Chevrolet..’, Rt. 66, Rt. 1 on the coast, and the Grand Canyon. But subsequent generations began to extend that to European excursions and before anyone knew what was happening world tourism had become an industry.

Now, however, the number of Americans who enjoy the security and income that vacationing requires has begun to narrow down to a small sliver of the population. Tourism is returning back to a preserve of the wealthy. Mobility in general is down—where large numbers of working families once re-located from state to state, looking for that fresh spring of economic growth that always included employment, we now have labor surpluses everywhere—and most new businesses needing less labor than they historically would.

In fact, the greatest instance of relocation-for-work was the recent ‘oil’ boom in Oklahoma—but that was mostly fracking. And now that Oklahoma is experiencing major quakes due to fracking, that business is losing employment as fast as it once gained it. America is no longer in motion—we no longer have a reserve of human kinetic energy. And that may help account for the sharp division of our politics and even the calcification of differing perceptions of reality we see in our recent current affairs—we understand each other less, because we mix less with each other than we used to. Perhaps there is an element of enlightenment to travel.

Or perhaps America could only remain a cauldron of growth while its people remained less settled-down than the rest of the world.

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