Might exploring other cultures be the key to building awareness that the world does not revolve around two intractable groups in a zero-sum game?
On Wednesday, an angry mob stormed the Capitol Building in the United States to interfere with a peaceful transition of power. The republic of the United States for the past two hundred years has been the spearpoint of human progress and development. It is an inheritor of five thousand years of western civilizational development, that began in Mesopotamia in a cradle between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. As the most powerful republic ever to grace the earth, as well as having the powers to destroy it, it holds a unique responsibility and place in the history of humankind.
This piece will not be an analysis of fickle political affiliations. Instead, it will serve as a reminder of the importance of the pursuit of knowledge, which has allowed us to ascend the ladder of human enlightenment. It will also seek to demonstrate that the tribalism and crude self-survival which have evolved into us over millennia as cave dwellers are still very present…And must be actively kept in check.
The events at the Capitol stung in a way that was wholly unfamiliar to Americans and the world. They laid bare the vulnerability of not only the physical spaces of our most holy ground, but also psychologically invaded our petty sense of exceptionalism. It was yet another reminder of the fragility of rational systems against ignorance, and especially of the dangers of psychotic demigods who serve as puppeteers to the masses.
Humankind’s search for knowledge has brought us the sciences, humanities, and arts of all forms. It is what allowed us to move from caves and into rocket ships to space. The pursuit of knowledge was greatly aided by the ability to recount the past through language, first oral then written. We have always been able to learn from our mistakes by reflecting on the failings of our past. Civilized societies need continual reinforcement to their foundations. This includes an honest approach to history, critical thinking, and even just ensuring that a large enough swath of society actually reads. Without this we are vulnerable to downfalls of ignorance of all sorts and severities.
Plato’s ‘allegory of the cave’, which dates back to 375 BC, is as relevant as it’s ever been. The allegory describes a group of people who have lived chained to the floor of a cave all their lives, facing a blank wall. They watch shadows projected on the wall by objects passing in front of a fire behind them and give names to these shadows. The shadows are the prisoners’ reality – but they are not accurate representations of the real world. Those cave dwellers who seek truth aim to understand and perceive the higher levels of reality: natural sciences; mathematics, geometry, and deductive logic; and the theory of forms. However, the other inmates of the cave do not even desire to leave their prison, for they know no better life.
As a member of two societies – I am both a 14th generation American, and an adopted citizen of Peru (a particularly dysfunctional political system) – it is impossible not to compare these two very different caves and their two different sets of prisoners and realities. In fact, it was only weeks ago that I stood outside the Peruvian congress as hundreds of thousands of the country’s youths protested government instability brought on by a quasi-coup that had ushered in the fourth president in five years.
Peruvians have been forced to feel deeply their erratic and dysfunctional government over generations. They feel this through deep poverty, lack of basic infrastructure, and rampant corruption. One part of my reality lives and sees the depth of bad government in a banana republic, while my American side sees a segment of that population descending towards a post-truth world, dangerously playing and being led by the shadows on the wall.
Exploration and varied human experience build awareness. Awareness that the world does not revolve around two intractable groups in a zero-sum game such as the rigid partisan divide we see in the United States today. We need to explore and engage with those who think differently than us, whether as neighbors or across oceans. Exploration of other countries exposes us directly to the impact of both good and bad governmental structures. Exploration makes us more empathetic to the human experience.
At SA Expeditions, we want to “awaken the explorer in all of us” because we believe that traveling to new places and learning new cultures can benefit humanity. We want to help enlighten the world through deeper and further exploration of our grand planet; exploration that goes beyond those self-imposed cave walls.
About the author: Nick Stanziano co-founded SA Expeditions and serves as its CEO. Originally from California and a nationalized citizen of Peru for a decade, he straddles two worlds. Nick has a BA in Global Studies from the University of California, and a trans-global MBA from Saint Mary’s College of California. Nick believes that tourism companies of the future have a responsibility to accurately portray the human struggles of the countries to which they bring travelers.
You can see his entire portfolio of articles here.