Can Belonging Save Us from Ourselves?
Traveling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of place: an affect to be intoxicated with the new sights and sounds, but I am not - For the hole within me goes with me wherever I go.
– from Self Reliance by Henry D. Thoreau
Council for the Town of Canmore passed a motion to restrict overnight camping in vehicles on public land on May 7
In the June 10 edition of the National Post there was an interesting article on people living in their camping vehicles on public land all summer long.
Living in any number of Western Canada’s mountain towns has its advantages — namely, access to adventure — but it includes a list of challenges, including finding a place to live that’s affordable. And so, when rental rates start to climb, purchasing outright is out of reach and vacancy rates slide towards nil, some people are living out of their vehicles, parking on municipal and Crown land in order to live the dream without going broke while doing it. It’s leading, in some places, to standoffs between those who say they’ve chosen to live in their vans or live there out of necessity, and municipal councils that are trying to be receptive to public complaints over the van lifers. https://nationalpost.com/news/vanmore-mountain-towns-van-livers-co-exist-in-a-delicate-balance
This article got me thinking about two issues: housing affordability and the whole idea of not being rooted to place – what it is to live with no sense of home? of not belonging? of not feeling, deep in your bones, that you are part of a place? Now, while housing affordability is clearly a good political issue if you are a candidate in an election [as I am] it just didn’t resonate with my Club of Rome persona. So, instead, you get stuck reading about belonging or rather, the lack thereof, as expressed by peoples’ insane [to me] desire to constantly travel and find yet another perfect view for their photo album collection.
In the interest in ‘fairness’ I will admit that this writing has no intention of being fair. I will simply propose to you the following provocative statement:
Your need for constant travel is rooted in a deep disconnection to the land and people where you live.
Now, to be clear, I am not talking about travel to see a new baby, or a funeral or a business trip or a once in decade tour of Paris or Machu Picchu. I am talking about the travel that is a type of escape from yourself, a type of travel you, as the quote from Thoreau shows, that is your substitute for the healthy self-examination best found in the woods and hills of your backyard as you walk with your neighbour or sister on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. This picture of mountain climbers near the summit on Everest makes it clear: our insane need to “find ourselves” at the far end of the globe is not dubious in terms of filling “that hole within” that Thoreau refers to, but is clearly absurd when so many people are doing the same thing as you. In effect, this ‘solution’ has created a new ‘problem’ – mass tourism that destroys the very thing the tourist has come admire and enjoy.
Traffic chokes the Hillary Step on May 19/2012. Some climbers spent 2 hrs waiting:
234 people reached the top on this day – 4 died.
Last month there was a new development: three Western climbers were involved in a bloody brawl at 21,000ft with an estimated 100 Sherpas. Ice picks were brandished, rocks thrown and the snow stained with blood. Swiss climber Ueli Steck – one of the world’s celebrated mountaineers – was hit in the face with a stone.
The fight broke out after an altercation higher up the mountain, when the three climbers crossed paths with a group of Sherpas laying ropes for wealthy clients, who will pay up to £50,000 for the trek. Angry queues and criss-crossed ropes are now a common sight. All the evidence suggests that Everest is at risk of becoming a towering symbol of human intrusion, rather than endurance. Hillary and Norgay famously declined to say who reached the summit first in order to share the credit. Now people are elbowing each other on their way to the top, often with scant regard for their own safety and that of others. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/mounteverest/10082953/Everest-waiting-time-two-hours.html
Personally, I find this insane. While I do not mean that all the individuals climbing are ‘nuts’; just that a society where people have a need to do this kind of thing at such a mass level is just not a sign of health. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not against all travelling. I certainly did my share of traveling when young, which I think is a GREAT way to mature and learn when young. However, like all youth in the past, I did so with almost no money. That meant, while in France, sleeping at youth hostels and eating baguettes and cheese on the front steps with a cheap bottle of local red wine. Back then there were no crowds, as I biked from small town to small town – because it was fun and all that I could afford. It’s different now. People travel like crazy and demand comfort. In doing so, they risk destroying the very beauty and culture they came to see. Here is a case in point.
BAR HARBOR, Me. — Residents of this scenic coastal town have struggled for the last several years with a conundrum familiar to anyone living in a beautiful place that attracts tourists: How do you maintain its essence when crowds threaten the very qualities they come to enjoy? https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/31/us/bar-harbor-cruise-acadia.html
There are many more examples of the above, but you get the idea. Here is another perspective. There is much research these days that much of our unhappiness, that sadly often become mental illness, stems from being alone – from not belonging. Belonging is complex – but at its foundation is the sense that “I” and the place I live, are one. Here is a quote from a book that I strongly recommend reading – by Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
In effect, humans have dragged a body with a long hominid history into an overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep-deprived, competitive, inequitable, and socially-isolating environment with dire consequences.
And in Alone Together by Sherri Turkle we hear this commentary about our modern society:
“But when technology engineers intimacy, relationships can be reduced to mere connections. And then, easy connection becomes redefined as intimacy. Put otherwise, cyberintimacies slide into cybersolitudes. And with constant connection comes new anxieties of disconnection,”
As a final argument for not traveling for the sake of mere titillation I remind you that the genius of Dante, whose epic poem The Divine Comedy became the foundation for the Italian language, was lit of fire when he was banished for life from his beloved Florence – for him, to not live in Florence was a banishment into the Hell he so vividly portrayed in this poem. And don’t forget that Socrates, a foundation stone of Western Civilization, took poison rather than leave his beloved Athens.
So, let’s be more like Dorothy, who when she wanted to leave Oz and return home, had only to say:
There’s no place like home.
There’s no place like home.
There’s no place like home…