Now that’s a shocking, click-baity, title for an article. How can anybody find something… problematic from the father of American Literature? Well, it all starts with this picture that a former grad school acquaintance of mine posted on Facebook:
When taken at face value, I guess that’s true. Travel DOES open you to new people, ideas, and venues of charity. However, based on my experience I’m hard pressed to be enthusiastic over this quote, even if I’ve traveled my fair share in life. This article does an interesting job trying to dismantle the quote by way of positing that if it is the case, then the rich would be the least bigoted people on Earth and the poor would be the most. Of course in an age of budget air travel (especially in Europe) and hostel culture, the point kinda drops like a lead balloon. Yet the author hits on something when he talks of how despite all the culture those rich acquire from going to places like Lisbon or Barcelona, won’t extend to kindness of whoever is in ‘flyover country’.
That’s exactly what I think happened to my cohorts in my graduate school programme.
Like me, these people took the risk of traveling to an unknown country to learn new things, meet new people, and acquire new experiences. However, as time winded down and people were preparing for their return stateside, I had a conversation with one of my classmates. We opined about the rather magical (for youth at times is very magical) year behind us, and lamented we would have to leave where we were. Then, I stated that it would be a pity really, because after all this time learning to be more open towards other people different from us, they would resume the prejudices they already had of America once they hit the tarmac.
They would resume what I would call their: “Petty Little Bigotries”.
That’s the tragedy of it all. You travel the world, you do all these things, you meet these new people, get these new ideas, and then you go back and resume business as usual holding contempt for a good portion of your home country. It’s even worse since we all majored in CONFLICT RESOLUTION, and what better way to apply what was taught to how you interact with people back home. But nope, let’s go to DC and take jobs there, advocate and enact policies we know is good for the masses even if we dare not to go out into the world of commoners. The only time we would deign to interact with them is if we have to drive through them on our road trips.
If I didn’t know any better, that kind of travel doesn’t destroy bigotry, it inverts it. The other is no longer the foreigner on a distant shore, but the neighbor at home. What I would assume to be feelings of alienation and melancholy of domestic life (I know the feeling), is ameliorated by the excitement only travel can bring, leading people to wonder why home cannot be like somewhere else. It doesn’t only happen with well-to-do 20-something college students studying abroad, but also people like these guys:
Remember them? That’s Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who murdered fourteen people last December. That’s a picture of them moving through customs at Chicago O’Hare after traveling to Saudi Arabia in 2014. Clearly such travel to Saudi Arabia, a country which won’t even let Christians, Jews, or any non-Muslim enter into it, must’ve slaughtered their bigotry. Yet it didn’t, it just inverted and allowed them enough gumption to plan what they planned and killed who they killed. Then there are those who participated in slaughtering Parisians last November too. A good number of them did some traveling too, and their bigotry? Clearly still there, and again inverted to inflict harm on their neighbours. Spare me the alienation bullcrap, because I don’t remember any Honky who studied abroad invert their bigotry enough to shoot at their fellow Americans.
I COULD say that’s an extreme version of what I saw in my cohorts, but I think their version brings forth much more sinister undertones. You know those European countries that no doubt contributed to the destruction of their bigotry? Well… they are currently being overrun by individuals who indulge in magical pastimes like Taharrush and murder. In turn, it’s compelling local governments to tell their citizens to dress appropriately, fine those who defend themselves, set up safe zones at festivities, and national governments to censor news online. Those individuals I speak of? Well, they’re pretty goddamn silent about all of those things, and invert their bigotry once again. Now the migrants are the others they shouldn’t be prejudiced to, but the locals in those countries. Yes, those very locals that have paid into those systems and societies are now the ones they must be bigoted towards. Any grievances on social media will be looked at, any protests will be dispersed, and towns no matter how small must deal with the influx of migrants. Do they honestly think that these developments will allow them the same exhilarating experience their first time? What of future progeny? They may not have that luxury; in fact it may even be worse. It may not do anything to destroy their bigotry.
And in the meanwhile, the Frontier everybody from the political establishment and the media neglected and never took seriously? It’s pushing back. It’ll be an unfortunate battle between ne’er do wells who have vegetated in one corner of the Earth all their lifetime.
When it comes to travel, Mark Twain? You’re wrong and full of shit.