On the Road to Nowhere?

As truly nomadic peoples like the Maasai in Kenya and the Gypsies
in Europe are being targeted as threats to order and democracy
across the world, the question being asked in the United States is,
can a nation that is fueled by the nomadic yearnings for the
frontier also develop and sustain meaningful communities?

According to David Watson, writing in a superb issue of
The New Internationalist (April 1995) devoted to
the topic, the answer is a defiant no. ‘The European invasion of
America essentially financed the emergence of capitalism,’ he
writes. ‘In the process, old cultures were entirely uprooted,
indigenous peoples slaughtered and displaced and whole regions
pillaged.’ Watson goes on to say that this bulldozer mentality has
created a society where ‘today’s post-modern nomad channel-surfs or
wanders in cyberspace, no longer worrying about the world outside
or even believing it exists.’ In Watson’s view, the crucial
community-building question of ‘Who are we?’ remains unanswered
because we are all too busy moving on.

But what are the trade offs of staying put? In a provocative
essay about the study of history in The New
Republic
(Feb. 1, 1993) author Joseph Brodsky argues that
adapting the circular, wandering patterns of the nomadic tradition
to our learning styles would rid us of the tyranny of linear,
rationalistic thinking that in his mind has dulled us into becoming
passive dupes of the state. ‘The best reason for being a nomad,’ he
writes, ‘is not the fresh air, but the escape from the rationalist
theory of society that is a blithely idealistic flight from human
intuition.’

Original to Utne Reader Online

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