We had a natural disaster here in West Virginia on June 29th. Call it a “land hurricane.” Eleven days on, many thousands of families still don’t have electricity. In the Greenbrier Valley, when the storm came, we were set to host tens of thousands of people for a high-end golf event. Many folks were sure it would be cancelled, given the gas, water, and food shortages that developed quickly after the storm. It wasn’t. Thousands of visitors in Cadillacs and Lexus SUVs showed up to clog the roads and share the limited supplies of water, food, and fuel. Residents waited in 5-hour gas lines and lost public water service because of too much stress on the system. When they complained, Greenbrier owner Jim Justice said “This event is very important to our state. This didn’t take away from helping you — it has helped you.”
It occurs to me that this whole crisis brings the problems with a tourist economy into sharp focus. As it is, tourism is built on the prostitution model; the customer and the pimp (e.g., resort owner) have all the power in the relationship. The prostitute is responsible for making the customer happy no matter the circumstances, and the pimp is responsible for making as much money as possible no matter the circumstances. There is no mutual respect among customer, pimp, and prostitute. In fact, there is often mutual derision and disrespect.
I wonder if it’s possible to develop a form of tourism that works on the model of an old-fashioned host-guest relationship. A host-guest relationship is built on mutual respect: a host sacrifices for the comfort of a guest, and a guest respects and recognizes that sacrifice, bringing a gift as a token of appreciation. If a host is ill — or indisposed by a natural disaster — a polite guest will not hesitate to cancel visiting plans. How would a respectful, host-guest tourism work? Has anyone tried it? I’m curious.
Thomas Jefferson wrote on August 10, 1787 a letter to his nephew Peter Carr containing number of interesting bits of advice regarding the young man’s education, including:
3. Moral Philosophy. . . . The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree, as force of members is given them in a greater or less degree. It may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body. This sense is submitted indeed in some degree to the guidance of reason; but it is a small stock which is required for this: even a less one than what we call common sense. State a moral case to a ploughman & a professor. The former will decide it as well, & often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.
4. Religion. . . . Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. . . . Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of it’s consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no god, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort & pleasantness you feel in it’s exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you.
5. Travelling. This makes men wiser, but less happy. When men of sober age travel, they gather knoledge which they may apply usefully for their country, but they are subject ever after to recollections mixed with regret, their affections are weakened by being extended over more objects, & they learn new habits which cannot be gratified when they return home. Young men who travel are exposed to all these inconveniences in a higher degree, to others still more serious, and do not acquire that wisdom for which a previous foundation is requisite by repeated & just observations at home.