Does Travel Cure Bigotry? Why Only the Rich Think So

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-​mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.

This is a quote from Mark Twain. A wealthy friend from San Francisco tweeted this a few days ago. I think this quote has a little truth, but is more endemic of class arrogance than anything.

travel cures bigotry prejudice and narrow mindedness says mark twainThere is a rabbit trail of reasoning that goes along with this quote, which I think looks like this: 1) Traveling exposes you to new cultures and new ideas. 2) The only reason there is bigotry in the world is because people are ignorant to other ways of doing things. 3) If forced to mingle with other people, you’re to realize that people all around the world can be nice, wonderful, kind, interesting and filled with all the positive qualities you and your family poses. 4) Once you notice this, your bigotry will evaporate.

One thing I realized while chewing on this quote is that, if it is true, then only the wealthy can be tolerant, for traveling is expensive. Some people have come up with plans to travel on a budget, but for most of us, traveling by plane and staying in a hotel or home-​stay costs a lot of dough. Therefore, rich people who can travel often are the most tolerant, middle-​class people who can travel once or twice a year are moderately tolerant, and poor people who can’t travel are bigots.

Rich Bigots Judging Poor Bigots

This is a mentality that plagues the élite, coast-​dwelling upper-​class. We already have a pre-​conceived opinion (read: prejudice) about people who live in the so-​called ‘fly-​over states’ (an expression that we can also read as prejudice). We think that they’re rednecks, ignorant, poorly educated, hate-​filled, racist, bigoted, intolerant lumps of humanity. The notion that traveling produces tolerance is simply an extension of this class prejudice. Southerners and Midwesterners are bigots, goes the reasoning, because they are poor and, being poor, don’t travel.

Before I tackle the flaws of this reasoning, I want to say that I do think traveling is good for the soul. Meeting new people and experiencing new cultures makes life exciting and livable. Paul, for example, traveled all over and wrote letters to varying people in varying cultures. It was he who advocated being all things to all people and championed tolerance. The seed of truth in Twain’s quote is that your bigotry is softened when you get to know new people who treat you with courtesy and respect.

The flaw in the reasoning assumes how bigotry forms. It forms by experience, not isolation. A man trapped on a desert island for years can never learn to hate chocolate. But he can certainly learn to hate coconuts.

Prejudice vs. Bigotry; Irrationality vs. Rationality

Common sense teaches us that there are two forms of bigotry; bigotry formed by experience (rational bigotry), and bigotry based on hearsay (irrational prejudice). Most people have rational bigotry. If I meet a man who looks and talks differently from me, but acts like a decent human being, I will like him and form a good opinion of his land, race and culture. But if I meet the same kind of man and he steals from me, abuses me or breaks my trust, I will form a poor opinion of him, his land, his race and his culture. This, while not necessarily right, is certainly rational and not endemic of ignorance, being poor or the lack of world travel.

Irrational prejudice based on hearsay is the only form of bigotry that travel cures (and this, only if the bigotry is incorrectly held). If someone tells me that mangos taste bad, I will avoid them. I am now prejudiced against the mango, not because I have experienced it, but because I believe the hearsay. If I taste the mango, my misconception may be cured — unless, of course, my personal taste is averse to mangos, in which case the prejudice is vindicated and I become a bigot towards the taste of mangos. It follows then that the act of travel—experience — can either foster a negative bigotry or a positive bigotry, but it cannot cure bigotry.

Travel Has Nothing to Do With It

Of course, the proper response concerning people would be to make decisions about them on an individual basis, and not extend them to entire swaths of people. The reality is that all men do this anyway, regardless of race, culture or class. That doesn’t make it right, but it does make it reality. The world spins on popularly held bigotries. Are old people really bad drivers? Believe what you want. I can tell you what the man whose car was totaled by the geriatric believes.

I’ll end by pointing out that the notion that people who don’t travel are bigots is, in fact, a bigoted idea. Rich people rarely travel to fly-​over states. Where do they go? France, Italy, Spain, Africa, China — that is, either metropoleis that are wealthy or steeped in culture and history, or impoverished nations that have a common characteristic; they’re not Western. This means that they rarely ever meet the tractor-​riding, hard-​working redneck who doesn’t travel and is, according to the coast-​dwelling, upper-​class person, a bigot. If they traveled to where the redneck lives and had a beer with him, then perhaps their own bigotry towards him would fade.

Oh yeah, and just for fun, here’s another Twain quote on travel:

You never saw a bigoted, opinionated, stubborn, narrow-​minded, self-​conceited, almighty mean man in your life but he had stuck in one place since he was born and thought God made the world and dyspepsia and bile for his especial comfort and satisfaction.

I’m half convinced he was partially describing himself there.

mark twain thinks that travel cures bigotry but that is itself a bigoted thought

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is best known as his alter-ego Oxhorn, author of popular machinima movies. When he's not wearing suspenders with a certain sort of finesse, he's reading, writing, blogging, doing web design, making movies and more often than not enjoying a classy drink with an even classier cigar. Watch his movies at oxhorn.com and feel free to stalk him on Twitter and Facebook.

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7 comments on “Does Travel Cure Bigotry? Why Only the Rich Think So
  1. AK says:

    Interesting. Personally I’d say Twain wasn’t really spot on. I tend to travel relatively much (compared to most people) and usually far away from “home” (I don’t consider having a “home” in the classic sense.) So from personal experience I can say that people aren’t any less bigotted simply because they travel. I’ve been to many different countries and you will always find other travelers who are simply bigotted douchebags.

    Why? Humans will be humans. Some humans are smart people, others are douchebags and no amount of travel can change that. It’s simply human nature.

  2. CSE says:

    I just recently heard this quote so I thought I would search around and see what the history of it was…low and behold, I came across your analysis.

    Your summation and analysis of this quote is likely taking a single line of scripture from the Bible and making a whole story out it without utilization of the surrounding passages. Taken literally, you are correct. Only those who travel can use it to either support or refute their previously held ideals. However, people that don’t travel also have set ideals based upon their own exposure, or lack thereof. I think there has to be a little literal latitude for this quote. The key component to it that is unsaid is that one has to be internally open to possibly changing one’s opinon of previously held bigotry. If not, then all bets are off. But, the original intention of this quote was merely to put the possibility out there that if one were open, then maybe upon exposure, whatever or wherever that may be, that person may enrich themselves to the point of being tolerant of differences in the world. A very idealistic notion but what famous quote doesn’t present something along the lines of ideal or philosophically pleasant. As with all quotes, the audience is that responds is typically the people that need it less. It is the people that are bigots that never read these quotes, and if they do, blow it off like so many lines of scripture from the Bible that are used in popular media today…

    • Oxhorn says:

      I’m totally comfortable with judging a quote by the quote. I love context. Context is the butter that makes bread tasty. However, some definitive statements need no context and can stand on their own premises, and this quote is one of them.

      I don’t need to know the context of Twain’s speech. Twain was making universal generalizations about all mankind; that travel cures bigotry, and those who are bigots have rarely traveled. Therefore, I am perfectly within the limits of logic and fairness to judge this quote by its words, and not by its butter.

      I actually agree with you when you say “one has to be internally open to changing ones opinion of a previously held bigotry”, and this notion confirms my previous essay. Travel has nothing to do with it. One who travels but is not open to correction will never change his bigotry, no matter what he experiences. This was one of the points of my essay.

      Twain himself was a travel lover and a good-​old-​boy hater. He used his love to employ bigotry towards his hate, and never thought of employing his love to cure his own hate.

  3. Val says:

    Well, you did some perspective to consider here. I do think that Twain’s line holds some merit, but as with anything that is oversimplified, it loses some accuracy in the attempt at brevity. I think that travel exposes one to a lot more information about the culture and country that produces a certain group of people. It may help to explain certains aspects of their idiosyncrasies, and that alone might allow an open minded person to see their former ignorance. But I believe bigotry is a poverty of spirit that affects all who feel insecure about themselves, and therefore feel they need to be propped up by some inherited value based upon their race, birthright, or citizenship. That way they can gain advantage without having to earn it. A person of true value needs no such crutch. They will earn the respect of others based on the merits of their own works, their own efforts, opinions, and ideas. These things are, I believe, at the core of the motivations in these areas. So in that sense, I agree with you to the extent that if you are a true bigot, then no amount of travel with cure you of this affliction, because wherever you go, you have brought your core insecurities with you. But to Twain’s point, if you are open to growth and learning new things, and willing to put your ideas and yourself out for judgement, then you can learn a LOT of useful things by traveling. In my own words, I would say that travel is the other half of a good education.

    • Oxhorn says:

      Excellent job, you expressed yourself perfectly! Great points, thanks so much for sharing. I agree with you 100%.

      The point of this article was to demonstrate that travel is really a luxury for the rich, and that to look down on those who don;t travel is itself a form of bigotry. After all, there are people who are very self secure, exhibit few prejudices, and yet have lived in the same little hamlet all their lives due to their poverty.

  4. DESIREE says:

    You simply refute this quote talking about arrogant rich people who travel to places that resamble their actual everyday life.
    Mark Twain trys to tell you that fear or rejection ar barriers that keep you from living life and learning about it.
    The budget you have to go overseas has nothing to do with your bigot or your will to be enriched by the experience. Generalise is not a refute.

  5. I’m afraid you might not quite “get” Twain, and your last quote seems to say you don’t know much about him at all. Far from only traveling the way rich people travel or from staying in one place, he was born in a decidedly middle class family and, after his father died when Twain was 11, spent his youth in and out of quite considerable poverty. He later worked as a riverboat pilot, so not only was he traveling all throughout the American middle west and Midwest, but he was seeing hardly the most hoity-​toity parts of that region of the country. And then when he was famous, he wrote several travelogues, a quick read-​through of which will reveal EXACTLY what his traveling experiences were.

    Regardless, “travel” in Twain’s day did not mean what we think of it as now. There were no such thing as “tourist traps,” no airplanes in which you flew first class and avoided all contact with coach and business class for the 12 hours you were on-​board, no luxury cruise liners, no bus tours that showed fat upper-​class “ugly Americans” the Eiffel Tower, the Arc d’Triomphe and the Bastille, and that’s all you need to see of Paris, here’s a McDonald’s. Travel in Twain’s day was much more akin to a pilgrimage — for rich and poor alike — than it is thought of today.

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