Category Archives: travel

When travel narrows the mind

Dalrymple writes that there is nothing like mass travel for

destroying the value—educational, spiritual, æsthetic—of travel.

He notes also that there is no reason to suppose

that other cultures, when found, will necessarily meet with travellers’ approval rather than with, say, disgust.

He points out that when Sayyid Quṭb went to the USA,

it closed his mind forever.

And when Dalrymple visited North Korea,

it did not cause me to respect North Korean culture, which is a permanent mixture of Nuremberg Rally and Busby Berkeley, but to view it with horror and detestation.

Why travel?

Travel, says Dalrymple (from 0:38),

gives you some means of comparison. If you don’t know anything except the little bit of the world in which you were born and live, how do you know how to judge it?

American suburban ennui

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 07.34.56It was, writes Dalrymple, the

deadness that disturbed me.

The city had a centre,

but nobody lived there: after work everyone decamped to the suburbs, where they seemed to live in isolation from one another and where human relations, if they existed, were shallow and unrooted, as if everyone expected the neighbours to move away soon and so avoided deep attachments. The suburbs, quiet and spacious as they were, seemed to vitiate the purpose, or at least the pleasures, of living in a city, while not compensating for their loss by the pleasures of real country living. Even their comfort seemed suffocating, as if it were a kind of bribe, or an offer that no one could refuse, in return for living in the way that they did.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 07.42.15Dalrymple’s reaction

was purely conventional. I little thought that my complaint was that of hundreds or thousands of intellectuals before me. I was still a long way from my present realisation—it has taken many years and much voyaging to attain it—that every place is interesting.

Public transport

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 07.40.00existed only in a token way, and was useless if you couldn’t wait all day for it. To go anywhere, to do anything, a car was essential. Without one, you were like an anchorite in the Syrian desert. The suburbs were far too spread out for effective public transport without massive subsidies. This struck me as disastrous from the standpoint of quality of life. The car, supposedly a symbol of individual freedom, became an instrument of an informal servitude, adding two, three, or four hours to the workday: it added periods of isolation, frustration, irritation, and—frequently—rage. It is one thing to drive on the open road; another to be but one driver in a seemingly endless procession, thundering or crawling to and from work, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, spending a tenth of one’s waking life behind the wheel. The very sight of the traffic appalls me, and it would terrify me to have to participate in it. Perhaps such traffic is a quid pro quo for the great benefits of modern existence, and perhaps my horror of traffic is idiosyncratic, a personal taste, or merely snobbish; I have been fortunate in having been able to arrange my life so as largely to avoid it.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 07.44.27The possibility of living without a car has become for Dalrymple

a personal criterion of desirable city life. For this, a good public transport system is necessary; and that can exist only in a city with a dense enough population. Many have written about the problems of overcrowding, with psychologists performing experiments on rodents in cages to demonstrate the bad effects on conduct of lack of space; but the negative consequences of undercrowding in cities are less often emphasised.

The German longing to travel

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 08.04.20For several decades, writes Dalrymple.

it was impermissible for Germans to allude publicly to their sufferings during and immediately after the war, much of which must have been innocent, unless it be considered that all Germans were equally guilty ex officio.

The impermissibility of publicly expressed complaint was

a powerful stimulus of the Wirtschaftswunder.

It also left

a legacy of emptiness that all the reflective Germans I have met seem to feel. Perhaps it explains the German longing to travel, greater than that of any nation I know.

How to travel

Sexual adventurism is of course one feature of travel. So, too, is the need to escape, to wallow briefly in the illusion of freedom. Yet for Dalrymple, travel 'should be a philosophical activity and not merely a manifestation of restlessness or boredom'. He quotes Samuel Johnson: ‘It is by studying at home that we must obtain the ability of travelling with intelligence and improvement.’ And Pasteur: ‘Le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés.’

Sexual adventurism is, of course, an important feature of travel. So is the need to escape, to wallow briefly, and probably drunkenly, in an illusion of freedom. Yet for Dalrymple, there is a serious side. Travel ‘should be a philosophical activity and not merely a manifestation of restlessness or boredom’. Johnson: ‘It is by studying at home that we must obtain the ability of travelling with intelligence and improvement.’ Pasteur: ‘Le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés.’