There are times when I think about what a curse traveling is. We live in a world where half of humanity- the white, western and privileged- can merely board a plane and land halfway around the globe to experience foreign lands of poverty and injustice from the comfortable perspective of a tourist. Most do so without even considering the effect that their presence will have on the local society that they visit. Though others may at least be conscious of what their decision to travel causes, this does not assay them of the guilt of their actions. The fact of the matter is that any ecosystem will change with the introduction of a new variable. When we visit a culture we turn them into a spectacle, dehumanizing them as a product of our curiosity. And in the act of it, eroding the very peculiarities of their culture that we came to see.
It is modern day colonization, a cultural imperialism that in some ways is worse than the economic empires of the 19th century. Before they were merely robbed of their resources and autonomy, now we steal their identity through the introduction of elements of our own. This can never be an equal process of give and take because the idea of the West has come to represent the new global culture and against this weight the Rest will never be able to compete. They call this force modernization, but that is only an euphemism for what is really happening, the homogenization of the world into a static and unsustainable monoculture of self-destructive consumerism.
In the end we will all lose, some will just have a more luxurious defeat than others. We are experiencing what in nature is best represented by the phenomenon known as red tides. When an abundance of nitrogen is introduced into an ecosystem it allows for the rapid and unchecked growth of a phytoplankton whose population is normally limited by the ecosystem’s natural constraints. However, when their population booms it causes the waters to become toxic for all other beings, killing off everything until the nitrogen becomes depleted and the system returns to its natural equilibrium. In the case of man it is the industrial nations which over the last century have come into contact with the limited resources that otherwise kept their growth in check. We are at the point now of toxicity. It will only get worse from here.
As long as I am allowing my words to ramble across these pages, I think I will continue. Ignore the incoherent stream of thoughts, it is the natural path for the mind of men to take. The plane is like a one-way door, a device usuable for one to traverse the world as they please while for others it, like the angels and the beasts in the myths of old, is a reminder that the laws of God do not apply equally to all of his creatures; that in fact, some are more graced than others. The westerner can spend a little money to visit a country that by global standards is wretched and poor and when he has had all that he can bare, he can leave just as easily. But for those who actually live in that wretched land, there is no escaping their lot in life. No plane ticket, no amount of money, no prayer can change their color or ethnicity to make them an equal in the eyes or logic of the white westerner. Even those who make it West and become affluent will never escape the stigma imbedded in the culture and values of mankind.
And this fact can only have two effects on those “others” in this world, shame and indignation. Both of which are the two worst poisons that could afflict the heart of man. Imagine how it must feel to have people come to your land, camera in hand, trying to capture what some other foreigner has objectified you as in some novel or movie or travel guide. You see in them a standard of living (at least in the material sense) far greater than you or your children could ever hope to attain. It is enough to cause you to question your own values, your own sense of worth. It changes your society, causing a split and disparity among people that were never really that similar in the first place. And now you have your own people guiding these foreigners about, exploiting those things abourt yourself that you were once proud of but now has been made into a commodity. All of a sudden you realize that you are poor and your ways are peculiar. All that you thought was the substance of what should be known has been made worthless.