PBS travel star Rick Steves has written a provocatively titled book Travel as a Political Act. Beautifully produced with lavish color photographs, Steves delivers what the title promised, although perhaps Travel as a Progressive Political Act might be even more accurate. He makes no bones about his progressive politics which he says he "picked up largely from people overseas," but elsewhere describes himself at one point in the '70s as a "25-year old hippie" which implies he picked up his politics early at the very least. (It would likely undermine the book's thesis to point out that many of his fellow hippies didn't have to go overseas to pick up their politics.)
Travel is broadening but seems at times self-selectively so. For example, Steves makes mention of talking to Palestinians and watching Al Jazeera but presents the Israel case not through the eyes of Israelis but through the disclaimer that America has the solemn commitment to protect Israel's security. It sounds as though his heart is with the Palestinians and Israel's case is dryly doctrinal. (My own disclaimer is that I haven't finished the book yet so there's possibly a different view in a later chapter.)
Steves argues that we should look at the view others have of us, which is fine. I think there is an aspect that we can't see ourselves nearly as clearly as others do and D'Tocqueville, to name but one, did us a wonderful service.
But it has to come from a trusted source. The turning point for me was seeing the world reaction to the America's attempt to enforce the conditions of the Gulf War ceasefire. The level of bitterness and anti-Americanism was far beyond what was warranted given Hussein's history. The Iraq War taught me was that what the world thinks of the United States is corrupted through a biased prism of media, of both a news and entertainment variety, and thus can't be the standard by which we measure ourselves.
Steves, a very likable guy, sometimes seems an apostle of relativism. A particularly egregious example is this: "While a U.S. Christian may be more concerned about abortion than economic injustice, a Nambian Christian would likely flip-flop those priorities." Which goes to my point about listening to a "trusted source" (such as the Magisterium). Since the theme of the book is for Americans to be more self-critical I'm sure he's not arguing for the primacy of the life issue. He's asking, unwittingly of course, for a universal, catholic church.
Anyway you can't say I wasn't warned. Now the trick is to finish the book since none of us should live in our own media echo chamber. How can I complain about his short shrift of the Israeli point-of-view while I do the same to him? (See my blog title.)