Bali without Bali

Here is an advertisement for vacationing in Bali that I saw in the subway last week. What I find so disturbing about this image, and many like it, is that the people and the culture of Bali are completely cut out of the picture. It is a banal luxury setting that could just as well be in Cancun or Tahiti. Once I thought that the whole point of travel was to encounter other cultures and peoples. And also to contribute to the local economy. In this case, however, one has no opportunity for any interaction and most likely there is no benefit to the local economy either.

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One response to “Bali without Bali

  1. Craig June 8, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    The fault here is not in the sky, as it were. It’s this.

    “Once I thought that the whole point of travel was to encounter other cultures and peoples.”
    >> For certain kinds of people, with a wide-ranging view of the world, yes. For the vast majority of any humans from any human culture, absolutely not. In fact, the presence of “foreigners” is the biggest turnoff when it comes to travel.
    Just as true in New York as it is in Toronto or Seoul. How many Koreans love going to Cambodia, but for the presence of Cambodians? That’s just how humans are. The mistake was in assuming otherwise. That’s bubble-living talk. Actual people by and large unfortunately don’t think this way. Some do. Most don’t.

    “And also to contribute to the local economy.”
    >> The only economy any traveler ever thinks about is his/her own. Full stop. This is also natural, to be expected and fully human: All humans are the same this way.
    Some have other goals, but “travel for high-minded charity” has never been the goal of any traveler, from what I’ve seen.

    This marketing program is very well-targeted. It appeals to the real reasons people want to travel. Those reasons are always narrow and self-interested.

    I personally don’t ascribe to them, but it pays to be aware of other people’s actual motivations and concerns.

    This is why many liberal policies fail, and many well-meaning gestures fall flat. It’s also why, in the end, many people who espouse beautifully idealistic solutions end up despising the people they’re intended to help and having deep contempt for them, whether social workers, teachers, politicians or academics. It’s why the middle-class and elites in places like China can come up with a million excuses as to why “China is not ready for democracy – yet” – as in, the majority of the people don’t think like cloistered, privileged elites yet. The problem is that they never will, and unless taxi drivers and labourers strip the elites of their monopoly on power – forcefully or shockingly at the ballot box, if necessary – then nothing ever really changes.

    Such dreams and the policies derived from them are well-designed for abstract humans that exist as metaphors for Platonic perfect shapes, but rarely are they appropriate for actual, living humans.

    I recall a professor I knew in the US. She was surrounded by like-minded fellows. In her district, the Republicans won in a gargantuan, crushing landslide. She was aghast and shocked. She said she had no idea how they could possibly win – she knew nobody who was a republican.

    And there’s the problem.

    The truth is that, in the end, the masses are what the masses are. Whether liberal or conservative, elites and the privileged are usually so disconnected from the actual, real people that they have no chance of understanding why society does what it does, and it’s why either right or left, most top-down solutions are heavily resisted by those below and are ultimately useless. If it doesn’t bubble up from the bottom, no solution will ever mean squat. It’s just another top-down policy rammed down the throats of people who, choking on it, will reject it the first moment they’re allowed to breath.

    Democracy is, at its core, ugly and base and real. It’s one of the reasons we talk a good talk, but are largely terrified of actual voters and actual people. The liberal left is just as guilty of this as the reactionary right. In fact, it may be worse. Idealism is something actual people never accept.

    And this post is a perfect expository example of this process in action. Neither of the author’s assumptions ever at any point for any number of people had any reality. It’s only possible to have believed these things if someone lived in a personal bubble without contact with people in the street.

    Think old, mildly racist, small-minded, banal TV_watching, gossiping, mundane Aunt Mae or Ajumma Park. That’s human reality. It’s been that way since the 8th millenium BC, for the 100,000 years prior to that, and it’s true today. It’ll also be true 100,000 years from now.

    It’s in the nature of the beast.

    Anything else is just window dressing.

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