Rich people often say one should travel, since it “opens up your horizons.” To we poor people, I say that you should read, for in doing so you travel time as well as space, and for a fraction of the cost.
More than that, you travel a world much less spoiled by modern Western cultural putrescence. In books, you will find a virgin world, untouched by contemporary fads. There you can find Chinese people binding women’s feet without shame, for no feminist has yet told them to blush. You can find Cynics walking the polis utterly naked, since no capitalist has yet convinced them that stuff is superior to stuff-less-ness. You can find Franciscans talking to birds, because no psychologist has told them that to do so is crazy, since birds are not people.
You can find thinkers talking to thoughtful men, because no Darwinist has told them that to do so is useless, since men are but animals, no better than birds. You will find Achaean poets singing Iliads, since simple words poorly honor the gravity of Trojan heroes; and Christian hermits dwelling silently in the desert, since simple songs poorly honor the gravity of the eternal God. In books you will find a truly exotic world; a world you wander as a sojourner, a guest, and never as a native.
Culturally Colonizing the World
This sort of traveling is vastly superior to that which involves airplanes and standing in lines. I say this not merely considering its relatively more economical status. Rather, it seems one cannot travel at all these days unless it be through the mists or arcane parchment.
For the most part, “progress,” which, as far as I can tell is synonymous with whatever fashions are current among white, college-educated westerners, has rendered most of the world rather dull. Between the Western colonial empires of yesteryear and the Western cultural empires of today, all the earth has been nearly transformed into a massive amusement park for America. There one can visit and experience interesting food and peculiar languages, but he will never encounter anything likely to truly offend him, some custom, habit, or belief that will cause him to realize he has truly left Kansas.
“Progress” has annihilated all such habits and customs in order to make a sanitized world suitable to Western sensibilities; and wherever such habits still exist, Westerners immediately institute campaigns to end them. Western academics have to reach all the way back to the Crusades to find a reason for the Islamic world’s hatred of the West. However, the Islamic world is not bothered by medieval Western pieties, but by modern Western perversions. It is the crusade to destroy the entire Islamic way of life and to replace it with a materialist occidental hedonism that is the source of much Muslim ire.
The West has lost all patience for foreign ways. One need only think of the offense Americans take at the practice common in North Africa of female circumcision. If it is not my business what Americans do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, I am not entirely sure why it is my business what Arabs do in the sovereignty of their own kingdoms. The Western mind has become, perhaps more than in any point of its past, uncompromisingly bigoted.
“Bigoted?” you say, “Why, how can you claim we are more bigoted than past souls; we hardly kill anyone anymore!” Neither do Westerners argue with them. Rather, we mock them. The Western mind views any position that is not its own unworthy of consideration. If it is not accepted among a modern secular culture, it deserves nothing but mockery; and if it is worthy of mockery, it is worthy of hatred. Does one disagree with gay marriage? He hates homosexuals, and is probably one himself, if not also a pedophile. Does one believe transsexualism to be somewhat unnatural? He’s just some Paleolithic beast, or worse, a theist, a man who talks to fairies in the sky.
We no longer have “interesting friends with interesting opinions.” Instead, we have enemies. For proof of this decay in public rhetoric, please see the Facebook.
Substituting Suspicion for Sympathy
In the former unenlightened times, the most absurd beliefs were conscientiously refuted with formal logic, for in former unenlightened times, even absurd beliefs were considered worthy of formal logic. Thomas Aquinas may have disputed over the number of angels that could dance the Kalamatiano on a pin head, but at least he was cordial enough to dispute. If anything, such debates over silly things attest to the openness of the antique mind, just as the unwillingness to debate attests to the limitedness of the modern.
Showing sympathy, even for apparently silly questions, has given way to showing suspicion, even for apparently penetrating questions. This is the lesson to be learned from a college education, where Fyodor Dostoevsky is read only to see how he fails to measure up to a feminist standard of gender equality, since he secretly hates women, or a communist standard of proletarian appeal, since he secretly hates the poor. He is never measured against the standard of being a sad Russian, a standard to which he rises quite excellently.
The humanities programs of most liberal arts schools have become remarkably inhumane, for, if my experience is to be generalized, it consists in little more than spitting in the faces of one’s eighteenth- and nineteenth-century grandparents for not having had the good fortune to be born as their own twentieth-century grandchildren. The modern education consists in little more than ridiculing the past to assure ourselves of the validity of the present insanities. It is our own version of George Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate.”
Travel So You Can Preen
I sense that today’s youth are urged to travel precisely because of how little they will gain from the experience. All the world has been tamed. To travel these days is to watch tigers pacing in cages. In old times, a Roman traveling in Greece might find himself returning to the Palatine a licentious Cyrenaic, much to the disquiet of his fellow Romans. Nowadays, an American traveling to Westernized Japan will find himself returning merely a pretentious American who speaks too much of Mt. Fuji.
There is little to be gained from either probing the corners of our little planet or from pressing the minds of our little academicians. If one wishes in a moment of daring to open his mind to the writhing passions and longing thoughts of the human spirit, tortured and tempered by so many years in so many places, let him attend to the grey hair and blind eyes of dead men, who long ago and not so long ago penned so many curious and penetrating reflections, all in hopes that some hapless youth might stumble across them.
He may find that, in his hands, every good book is a spell book, making the reader a necromancer, raising before himself the spirits of the dead, and a conjurer, summoning up from the waters of time vast and vanished lands, born pure and immortal in the arms of naïve curiosity and childish equanimity.