Geographical Labels on Social Movements

This occurred to me when I was discussing "Americanization" that's occurred in Europe since I first visited here in 1979.  I'm travelling Europe by car rather than train or RyanAir/EasyJet for the first time, and using the freedom to retrace my steps.  Luxembourg was my first EU stop (from Iceland Air), where I slept on a park bench.  Then I tried sleeping in the Bern Switzerland train station, was kicked out, and brought home by a 300 lb red headed swiss deutsch taxi driver who showed me snapshots of nude teen boys all evenining....  ok that's a digression best described over a tall beer.

Anyway, in discussing the fact I'm travelling by car for the first time, I decided it's silly to apologize for that.  The highways are jammed with Europeans in cars, stopping at rest stops, lining up at McDonalds and fueling up.   The experience driving in Europe, other than the speeds on the Autobahns and freeways, is pretty familiar.  The speed is familiar compared to my drive across West Texas.

Anyway, in discussing the "typical American" (my friend Gitte in Denmark was asked by her kids, 17 and 22, whether my family fits that label), or the a-typical drive across Europe, I'm suddenly struck by this insight.  Humans give geographical labels to social movements.

It makes perfect sense.   Over centuries, plagues and fashions and traded inventions arrived from another "place" and changes occured slowly enough for mankind to talk about "occidental" and "oriental" for solid goods, like silk or wool.   The sheep giving the wool from Scotland has as little to do with the silkworm in China as a Big Mac has to do with cheese fondue.   But the geography is completely relative and arbitrary, and as energy access allows us to shorten distances in time, the geographical label is just quaint.

In Vermont, the "true Vermonters" complain about non-Vermont-ness (you have to have your parents to have come from Vermont, more difficult to arrange than a green card - I'm an Ozark Mountain "flatlander").  Williston Vermont, where the big-box stores are found (Staples, WalMart, Dicks Sporting Goods, Best Buy) is referred to as "New Jersey" by the Cool.

In literature, it's called "The Other".  Camus' "L'etranger" is one of the easiest to read French books for an American of my literary/language skill.   I'm sitting at a coffee table across from a francophone literature specialist Ph.D (my wife)

Camus never addresses the relationships between the colonial or the colonized.   Although the protagonist's crime is to have killed an Arab, in Oron Algeria, the crime is never North-vs-South.  The reader is led into a strange exotic place, and finds a protagonist who would be as alienated in any suburb of Paris as he is in Algeria.   The Other is the literary term which replaces the geography, the universal recognition of a subjective enlightenment.

Change/Same.  Same/different.

Riding in a train, you have a constantly changing scene.  But watching the view from a train, or a car on the autobahn, becomes familiar, and stopping to rest makes the change of scene.  When I travel, I like to stop at friends houses.  It's the perfect marriage of same and different, a gout of familiar and new.

Everything can be classified as "familiar" or "unfamiliar".    As we grow accustomed to something, it becomes more familiar.

A television in Nigeria is no more disposed of than a trombone, flute, or violin in Fresno... not labelled M-Waste for musical, or E-Waste for electronic, or western or eastern or southern or northern.   The culture we have adapted around musical instruments reflects that they are rare and valuable and best kept in a closet if you don't know someone who needs it.  That's the way the rest of the world treats cell phones - the way Europeans and Americans treat musical instruments.  The way they treat them is no more "South" or "Eastern" than the way you eat a bagel with chopsticks.

This is the destruction of time and space, and our "familiar" and "unfamiliar" ordering of sequences makes us all strangers.   The teens who want to peek at internet models in Cairo will tweet the same World Cup score as the tourist guide in Machu Picchu, who will tweet the same World Cup score as an Afghan or Malyasian or Beijing policeman.  The score does not come from the East or North or West or South, the score is about a round object, a ball, like the one we live on.

Let's stop classifying trade based on unfamiliar skin color, the way we have learned to accept integrated sports and battlefields.  We are all L'Etranger.

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