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Athwart

Eat, Pray, Stay Home

by James Lileks

Consider the person who might have written these paragraphs:

Who needs to go anywhere? No one, certainly not you, not if you’re someone who gets mad in a Paris bistro because they don’t have ketchup to dump on the steak tartare you sent back because it was too raw, and not if you intend on bypassing the museums because the pretty pictures on the wall don’t move if you point your phone at them like a remote, and besides you’d only visit the Louvre to take a selfie of yourself with the Mona Lisa and hashtag it #LooverLove so your friends back home gush like opened fire hydrants while secretly plotting their own trip to Istanbul so they can photograph themselves making peace signs in front of the Taj Mahal, and won’t they be surprised to find it’s in India.

Yet we can’t stop buying tickets for planes that roar around the world destroying the environment so we can have a hot-stone spa experience in an Icelandic cave somewhere. But we can stop, and we should stop, and we must stop. Stay home.

Where do you think such a writer would fall on the political spectrum? If you think “leftish, and face first,” you’re probably correct. The blather above is a rough summation of an anti-travel screed by Lucy Ellmann on The Baffler, one of those websites that serve up rants that scroll for yards. While the author writes with energy, it’s the energy of someone you run into on the street who goes on and on about his dog’s sciatica. Ellmann’s bottom line: Don’t inflict your miserable Western self on the rest of the world.

Several points come to mind.

1) The author was described in her bio as a novelist from Illinois who lives in Scotland, so apparently some exceptions are made for the proper people. But the rest of you? You’d punch a bartender in Prague if he didn’t serve Bud Light.

2) The people who excoriate stupid Americans for taking a European vacation are the exact same people who excoriate Americans for not having passports.

3) The people who think the world is being ruined by Americans’ going to Prague for a day are usually the same people who applaud Angela Merkel’s taking in a million migrants.

4) You’d think people on the left would want as many Americans to visit Europe as the airlines could take, so we could be informed of our deficiencies. On Twitter, I am lucky to read the occasional plaint of a Yank who has been set upon by wise Parisians demanding an explanation for America’s descent into madness. Sure. Uh-huh. Oh, it breaks the hearts of the French to find themselves disappointed by Americans:

“Mon ami! Zut. Yes, zut, and may I also say, ‘Alors.’ We adored you before, with all our hearts! The way you liberated us from Fascism, took over in Vietnam so our colonial history was forgotten, gave the world Jerry Lewis and Barack Obama — we loved you uncritically with all our hearts, but now this Trompe? The pulling out from l’accord de Paris? The planet! You have killed it!”

Sure. Uh-huh. What’s that black smoke in the distance? Looks like some nasty carbon emissions.

“Burning cars in the suburbs.” Gallic shrug. “What can you do?”

Lest I seem parochial and clichéd, I love France. I love Europe. It’s not just the cradle of Western civ, it’s the well-preserved bedroom of teenaged Western civ before it went to college and learned why it should hate its parents. But, apparently, I shouldn’t go there, because we bring our own cultural biases in our fanny packs and soil the world when we look at a Finnish menu — jjiieriitiilkkki, 5 euros — and ask the waiter to translate.

It’s really not travel that bothers some on the left. What bothers them are the people who can step out of the house each day without feeling as though they’re bound by a million gossamer strings of problematic privilege. The people who do not examine every single second of their mortal allotment for manifestations of the innumerable -isms that ought to inform their every move. There are people in Fargo who are, at this very moment, eating a taco without having an internal dialogue about immigration. Can you even?

Mind you, most people on the left don’t scour their own actions for ableism, lookism, speciesism, and all the other modern sins. A few Facebook comments or tweets are sufficient to inoculate them against self-doubt. The other day on Twitter, a smart liberal media critic was chiding Today’s Youth for discovering works of the past and getting conspicuously outraged. He noted that people at the time saw then what they see now. Slow your roll, Junior; we were proto-woke in ’77.

Whereupon someone barged into his Twitter feed to point out that the trans character in Dog Day Afternoon was played by a (hiss!) cis male instead of an authentic genuine trans. It wasn’t enough to have a sympathetic trans character in a big-studio Pacino movie in 1975; one had to deplore a 42-year-old casting decision.

It’s not what you do. It’s not how you treat people. It’s not whether you travel intending to learn something about a foreign place. What matters most is a lemon-sucking, joy-devouring, misanthropic view of everyone whose blithe enjoyment of life stands in the way of Great Justice.

Great political strategy. You can imagine the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate: Are you happier now than you were in 2016? Yes? Well, let me tell you why that’s wrong.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

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