Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Travel Broadens The Mind

Having lived most of my nearly 49 years in the UK, life here in the USA has offered up many delights, some frustrations, and a generally broader outlook than I had before. I have traveled some, France, Italy, other places but mostly European, and always felt “European”; that is, comfortable with life in England but pleased to be a part of something greater.

Moving, as I did, to Oklahoma by way of Maryland and South Carolina where I spent time with friends in their homes rather than hotels in resorts, I came to understand the meaning of the saying travel broadens the mind.

I always thought this was about simply learning more. You know, new places, different people, stepping out of the box, so to speak. What I learned is that it’s rather more subtle than that. You can learn about lifestyles, scenery, languages etc right at home. No need to leave the sofa, actually. A laptop, internet connection and decent TV and there you have it …. Learning.

Here is what I learned.

I learned that everyone, every culture and society has faced very similar problems. From how to wire homes for electricity, through how to get kids to school. The simple things … heating homes, which side of the road to drive ….. In Malta, for instance, my then wife and I spent at least a week trying to work out the last. We got iteventually, they drive in the shade!

All of these, and many more are issues society works out answers to. Here is the thing though. They all come up with slightly different solutions. And guess what, they all work. Some things are done better in France than in the UK, America could teach the world about many issues, but has a lot to learn about others.

It lead me to realize that no one has a monopoly on the truth. That the solutions I had always relied upon were not necessarily the only ones, and may not even be the best ones. It taught me that when a problem appears to be intractable, just ask around, your neighbour might just have the answer. It demands you roll back your pride, you actually look better when you ask than if you don’t.

Liberating :)

One area that is in stark contrast here, compared to the Europe I know, is the disconnect that people here seem to have between their daily lives, hopes and ambitions, and the role their Government plays in all of that. Sure the Brits gripe about Westminster, the French do Tax avoidance as a National Sport, and the Italians change their leaders more frequently than most of us change our underwear. All though, do feel that the Government is THEIR government. There is a closeness (varies) but there is also a route to change it if it doesn’t behave to their satisfaction.

It seems not to be so in the US. I get that America is big. I have written elsewhere about the lack of understanding of the US that exists in the UK. Often, when asked by friends or family back home what it is like in the US, I am minded to ask “Which US”. The US of the Pacific Northwest, the US of the Bible Belt or the US of the Peoples Republic of New England? It is this lack of understanding that lead to an opinion poll in the UK predicting that the US would vote 80/20 against GW at the last Presidential Election, and astonishment when the results started rolling in.

I can’t help but feel that this “disconnect”, if such really exists outside of the imagination of this Limey, is damaging in a very profound way. If the people feel disconnected from their government, then to what extent might the government feel disconnected from, and not answerable to, the people?

I have the questions, but not the answers, although a few suggestions spring to mind :)

We might consider spreading out the government a little. Is it actually necessary, modern communication being what it is, for everything to reside in DC?

Could we leave the White House there and move a few bits around. Maybe the Supreme Court could go to Seattle, the Senate to Charleston, and the House to San Francisco. I would send FEMA to New Orleans and give each State a government department.

Maybe the last bit is hopelessly impractical. But wouldn’t those “Peoples Representatives” and Officials be rather more likely to have their minds concentrated on what is best for America if they were actually likely to meet Americans, rather than lobbyists and other Washington insiders?

During this election cycle it is pertinent to ask whether or not the US could learn anything from how elections are conducted abroad. Notwithstanding the size and scope of the country, the cost of campaigning here is astronomical to the point of absurdity. Especially preventing, as it does, any but the wealthiest and best connected from making an impact. In a country of 300 million people it is ridiculous to suppose that more than one person from the same family would rise to become the best suited to the role of President, yet this does happen here, frequently. I simply observe that unless the Bushes or Clintons (or Kennedys) have some genetic disposition to be brilliant Presidents, then somehow the system isn’t serving the country well.

As the biggest slice of expenditure, by far, is Media Spend, what say we just ban it? Yep, you did hear that right. A national primary, with the candidates given free airtime to submit their resume in each State in the few weeks leading up ( a few minutes per evening, networked, Primetime) and be done with it. Of course that would vastly reduce the hold that major contributors have over potential nominees …. Ho hum.

I know there are flaws in the argument. Just dare to believe. Dare to believe that something so radical might, somehow, be made to work …..


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this link, but unfortunately it seems to be down... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please reply to my message if you do!

I would appreciate if a staff member here at stevebsjournal.blogspot.com could repost it.


Steve said...


What is wrong with the link?


Anonymous said...

Have you considered the fact that this might work another way? I am wondering if anyone else has come across something
similar in the past? Let me know your thoughts...

Steve said...

What other way did you have in mind?

I wrote this piece that described how I have experienced other cultures, other solutions. It would be easy enough to turn inwards, and become threatened by exposure to new ideas, but I am not built that way.

Anonymous said...


This is a question for the webmaster/admin here at stevebsjournal.blogspot.com.

Can I use part of the information from this post above if I provide a backlink back to this site?


Steve said...

John ... Sure.