The cancellation culture has been growing lately and more and more products, brands, people, and even countries are cancelled. This trend is based on the principle of morality – if a certain entity (be it a person, brand or country) does not support the moral values that we consider essential, then we should not follow, buy or visit the country in question.
As far as the experience of traveling and discovering new cultures is concerned, the cancellation culture is related to the actions of certain governments, which not only do not comply with Human Rights, but also place their citizens under a fanatical and often oppressive regime. But, the question that arises is – to what extent is it fair to cancel a country for not complying with Human Rights? How legitimate is it to label an entire nation based on the attitude and behavior of a government that, for the most part, was not chosen by its citizens?
The digital age has been strengthening the so-called “opinion bubbles”. Despite the romanticized idea that the world is interconnected, and that we live in the era of globalization, this is not the case. In fact, we are getting closer and closer to people who share the same opinions as us, and further and further away from those who think the opposite.
The exercise of putting in the other’s shoes or trying to understand the point of view of someone who doesn’t have the same context as us is increasingly difficult. If we stop visiting a certain country for the most varied reasons, (regardless of these) we will be enlarging these bubbles. In a more extreme sense, we will be promoting the creation of multiple “North Koreas”, countries that are increasingly closed in on themselves, where the space for freedom of expression does not necessarily need to be limited, but limited to its bubble.
At a certain point, in the future timeline, we would have countries where it’s not worth fighting for something better, because you don’t know better. As it happens today, possibly in North Korea.
Dialogue and communication between different nations and cultures have served as a bridge to progress and evolution. It is when we become aware of different ways of life that we question our own and allow ourselves to change to something we believe is better. Now, if we cancel a panoply of countries and cultures and simply stop visiting them, we will certainly be losing as a human species and we will become even more egocentric and closed in on ourselves.
The argument is valid that, when traveling to Russia, Iran or North Korea, we are contributing to the economy of these countries. But it is also true that it is not the amount that comes from tourism that sustains these regimes, as these are just crumbs in the great engine that controls these nations. Are we separating the wheat from the chaff? Among the most varied reasons that lead us to want to cancel a country, the vast majority of them are related to its government.
A nation is made of its citizens, its culture, history and traditions. By canceling a country, we are putting “everything in the same bag” and crossing out the opportunity to meet people who, because they come from such a different background, can add something to us. Traveling is an intercultural exchange where everyone wins – those who travel, but also those who receive those who travel.
The travel experience is highly subjective and each of us experiences it in a different way. But I think there is something common to all travelers – traveling makes us better people. Above all because traveling leaves us exposed. From one moment to the next we jump from the comfort of our sofa, the company of our family and dinners with friends and we find ourselves sitting on the side of the road, with a backpack, completely helpless. We are delivered to the world.
In front of us is a completely different reality, full of prying eyes, confusing smells, and traditions that are incomprehensible to us. Traveling exposes us to difference and, forcibly, forces us to normalize it. More than that, traveling teaches us to observe without necessarily having to judge. Let there be no doubt that traveling is one of the main weapons against intolerance and self-centeredness.
Is canceling a country the solution? The world is not a black and white map and the borders between countries do not delimit, and never have delimited, the good and the bad. At this very moment, while in Iran they are fighting for the “right not to wear the Islamic headscarf”, in Northern India, Islamic minorities are persecuted by nationalists and are fighting for the “right to wear the headscarf”. The world is often paradoxical and in it we will always find situations that we will never be able to understand.
Even more so, because we come from a Western culture that is characterized by a set of ideas and values that say little or nothing to other peoples. And this is a shoe that, no matter how much we travel and how flexible and tolerant we are, we can hardly take it off. Removing the Western lens is not easy, if not impossible, when the subject is Human Rights. With no other way out, traveling forces us to accept the human condition of “not understanding”, “not accepting”, “not agreeing”. And accepting this premise, while continuing to explore other coordinates and dress up new cultures, is one of the great lessons we can learn from this art of travelling.