I’ve finished my series of posts on Central Asia. (You can find the full list here.) I wanted to write some sort of wrap-up and it may as well address what’s been bothering me about the whole trip and the region. The problems faced by the region are immense. But it’s an absolutely fascinating place to go, also being one of the richest regions in terms of culture and history. However, there’s an utter disconnect between this and the utterly blank mental map that most people have of the region.
As I’ve mentioned before, we as an internet are not informed on the region and don’t care enough. It’s easy enough to shopping-list the more sinister reasons people give for not being interested:
- “They’re an inferior race” — most people wouldn’t say this explicitly but some give you the courtesy of bluntness
- “They’re Muslims” — aren’t all Muslim countries the same? Why would you want to go to several
- “They’re terrorists” — cue the jokes about me being on the ASIO watchlist because of the stamps in my passport
- “They’re savages” — hello Pam Geller
But of course, none of these apply to you, dear reader, right? You and I can give some better reasons (some of which I’ve discussed here):
- Information overload — how many more frakking stories am I meant to learn about?
- Compassion overload — how many more frakking people do I have to care about?
- Care being easily attenuated — our brains are designed to diminish concern with distance
- Lack of background knowledge — without context, stories become little more than factoids.
- Lack of cultural familiarity — it’s hard to care about places/people not featured in the pop culture I consume.
- Not having been there
I think this is where the importance of travel comes in. There’s a lot of ironic hipsterism about travellers about the alleged cost to society of travel (especially travel to poorer countries). Apparently it’s travellers who are single-handedly responsible for global warming (I suggest researching which industries are the most responsible). Travellers bring social ills (eg. Facebook and insolence) which interfere with the Cultural PurityTM. Travellers contribute to crass commercialisation all because people want to eat. And so on.
And yet the last point from the list is crucial and to me easily outweighs any negatives (perceived or otherwise) of being a sheltered, tacky tourist in a poor country. I don’t fully agree with the overused Twain quote that “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” — I’ve seen too many people retain their bigotry in their travels. But going places gets you personally involved in other parts of the world — and your interest is likely to be maintained. Being informed about other parts of the world is not a chore after travel since you’re genuinely interested in a way that’s not possible for humans without personal involvement. And this is so crucial to solving almost any problem facing the world that this alone makes me think more travel is always good.
Even a small personal interaction from a brief stopover can have profound effects (see my post on the Karamoja Effect). Most importantly, it becomes a lot fucking harder to bomb a country back to the stone age if you’ve been there for yourself.