Friday, December 29, 2006

Travel Enriches the Spirit, Enlarges the Mind

I expect that this is a generalization that might not be overwhelmingly accurate, but it seems to me that many conservatives, especially conservatives of the radical, reactionary sort, have little interest in or exposure to foreign cultures. This impression has two sources, at least. Since the age of 22, I’ve lived and worked abroad for a significant number of years (full time for a total of about 13 years out of the last 30 or so, not counting extended business trips that add up to another year or two at least) and other than the American employees of multinational corporations, especially Southern and oil-industry multinationals, most of the Americans I’ve interacted with regularly overseas have been of a progressive bent: in the Peace Corps that was certainly true; in my law firm work it was harder to tell, but I was involved with an active Democrats Abroad chapter; at the World Bank, although there aren’t that many American employees, of those probably 90% or more of the rank and file are Democrats. (As with Peace Corps work, a World Bank career requires a certain egalitarian, inclusive mindset that almost always leans left.) But also, because I now live in rural Virginia, in a hotbed of reactionary, rightist radicalism, and I can see first hand how unfamiliar conservative folks are with the rest of the world, I tend to think there is a natural correlation between the bitter us vs. them, xenophobic arrogance that the extreme conservatives have and simple ignorance of the world beyond our borders.

I have always found international travel enlightening. I always learn something about the country and culture I’m visiting, and invariably I also learn something about our own country, either because of what I hear from the people I meet or because of what I observe from afar. And, as I mentioned above, I’ve been traveling since I was 22, the year I joined the Peace Corps. In fact, since 1975 there have been only 4 years (1979-82, covering the years I was in grad school and my first year of work in Chicago) in which I have not spent some time outside the United States, mostly in Asia but also in Europe and Mexico. Which means that my current travel streak began in 1983 (with a trip to France that summer and, on December 30th that year, my first move to Singapore). However, I realized not long ago that my streak was in danger of being broken. My last trip abroad was to China in December 2005. The end of the year was coming and I still hadn’t been out of the country. Coincidentally, though, I had signed up for the Under the Volcano Writers’ Workshop that begins January 5 in Tepoztlan, Mexico. It was a simple enough matter to go a week early—to see a city, Taxco, that I have not yet visited, and to get some writing done in advance of the workshop—to keep the streak alive. 2007, then, will be the 25th straight year in which I have spent some time outside the U.S.

And that means I'm off to Mexico today. I should be able to get online from time to time and I'm thinking that I will begin a series of short essays on policies I would like to see in America--from Iraq withdrawal, to death penalty reform, to health care for all. We'll see what I have time for in the next two weeks.

Note to conservatives: it would do you good to go take a look at how the rest of the world lives, and to find out what they think of us.

4 comments:

Mosquito said...

where in mexico are you going?

buzz...

Clifford Garstang said...

Mexico City and then Taxco for a few days, then mostly Tepoztlan for a week or so. You know Mexico?

Mosquito said...

Not all of it...it's a big country. I have spent a number of visits in two week spurts in the Guadalajero and Ajijic area as has my other co-blogger--Star. We had a mutual friend who was a native who introduced us to a number of interesting people who live in various parts of Mexico and South America.

We've been hoping to write more in the future on what's going on down there with the Zapatistas, Oaxaca, as well as the true democracy that is spreading throughout South America....

Have a great time...I'll be interested in your posts from an area of Mexico I have not travelled.

Buzz...

Anonymous said...

Liberal versus Conservative is no longer a valid means of deriving a political opinion, because the body politic has been invaded by opportunist on both sides of the aisle. Ideological liberals and conservatives are objecting to the methods used to achieve the spoils which are merely labeled left or right. The better educated and widely traveled person might be missing the point of reactionary conservatives, simply because conservatives fail to state what they are reacting to. A good is example is marriage for same sex couples. In general most people could care less, but this has been made an agenda item and painted right. If one where to examine this issue or any issue it seems to comes down to the interest of well funded multinational corporation.