Travelling Toms

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

14 November 2012

This is the time of year, in the west at least, when the travel supplements in the weekend newspapers pullulate with advertisements for skiing holidays.  Come the New Year and the end of the Christmas festivities, they will be hard at it again, this time with what they imagine are enticing invitations to book up for spring and summer vacations in exotic locations you would be hard put to locate on a map.

What about this idea for size then?

Tourism is simply cultural voyeurism, travel writing  the soft porn that kindles it.

The following passage is from an article [author unknown] on the modernization of infrastructure promoted in West Africa by F.D. Lugard, when he was Britain’s Governor-General in Nigeria from 1914 to 1919:

“The life of a villager there [in Nigeria], centred on a group of huts in a small round clearing, was physically shut in to a degree unknown in Europe. Moreover, the constriction was permanent, varying not at all with the seasons. There was the forest, impenetrable to the eye, fifty or a hundred feet tall, on every side of him. His only means of movement were the tracks, two or three feet wide, that led to the next villages. The building of a European road transformed his life. It opened up a vision of hills to the north, hitherto quite unknown to him though only a few miles away.”

You will notice that only men lived in these villages, but let that pass. The road may have transformed his life, but was it for the better?

The ancient Chinese philosophers also had a go at this topic. Here, in the translation by Arthur Waley, is chapter 80 of the 道德經 Dao De Jing (also transliterated as Tao Te Ching) “The Classic of the Way and its Power”, which was written around 250BC:

“Given a small country with few inhabitants, he [the Daoist Sage] could bring it about that though there should be among the people contrivances requiring ten times, a hundred times less labour, they would not use them. He could bring it about that the people would be ready to lay down their lives and lay them down again in defence of their homes, rather than emigrate. There might still be boats and carriages, but no one would go in them; there might still be weapons of war but no one would drill with them. He could bring it about that ‘the people should have no use for any form of writing save knotted ropes, should be contented with their food, pleased with their clothing, satisfied with their homes, should take pleasure in their rustic tasks. The next place might be so near at hand that one could hear the cocks crowing in it, the dogs barking; but the people would grow old without ever having been there’.”

Alienation from one’s work, the lack of job satisfaction, the daily grind at mind-numbing tasks just to keep the wolf from the door – it is as a result of this that, during two or three weeks of annual liberation from the monotony of factory or office, people today desperately hanker after faraway destinations, theme parks, Disney Lands, the Club Med, Las Vegas, the Costas, all of them unreal fantasy worlds remote from the dreary routine of everyday life.

According to another passage, from Chapter 47 of the Dao De Jing, “the further one travels, the less one knows”.

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 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Capitalism in practice  (4 July 2012) 

5.Ladder  (21 June 2012)

 6. A tale of two cities (1)  (6 June 2012)

 7. A tale of two cities (2)  (7 June 2012)

 8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

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