Just Visiting… Tourists, Travellers and Citizens on Planet Earth

Awareness of the brevity of life is one of those things that sets humans apart from all other species: We don’t just avoid danger because it gives us pain, we (may) avoid the smokes and go for the greens because it’s supposed to make us live longer. We can even trace the beginnings of human culture to the time when early humans started to bury their dead, even give them things for an afterlife that no one really can know anything about.

Philosophy has long thought about that, and admonished us to remember that we will die – the Baroque era’s “memento mori” put it concisely. Of course, this Christian religious  admonisment had rather different connotations from an Epicurean “carpe diem,” but both focused on how short life is.

Environmentalism, interestingly, is similar. It is common to hear admonishments of our short residence on Earth, and therefore of our responsibility to keep it in good shape for future generations. – We are just visiting, apparently. Trouble is, there are too many “tourists” in this world, actually – and when have you last cleaned up your hotel room for the next guest who is to come?

Responsibility, if you take it, if you have children and want to leave them a world as diverse and interesting as today’s, or if you care about humanity’s future prospects, is laudable. (Of course, for the same reasons, you can also want technology to progress and humanity to get independent of nature.) If we are to learn that there is a responsibility, and – maybe more importantly – pleasure, however, we first need to stop being tourists just here for a quick look-see. Of course, it can be fun, but it’s not a life.

Travelling may be a better image, for travellers at least want to get to know a place and its people, have a deeper connection. And still, it’s just a way of moving past, stopping only when they find a reason to stay around for a while.

A home, however, is made and not found. There’s more to it. You can travel the world – and there’s more and more people who try to show how special they are by travelling – but you probably wouldn’t find your perfect home. For our purposes, something else is rather more important again: You may be able to make yourself at home, at least enough for practical purposes, anywhere on this planet, but this Earth is still going to be the one and only home you do and can have.

So, we have a world that is – still – a diverse and fascinating place, and which has a lot of that diversity in our own backyards, if only we learn to see it. As long as we feel like we are only visiting, chances are we are only going to see the most eye-catching things, however, not take the time to get to know the places where we are, as they are. We need to become citizens, making their home on this world, developing connections to it – or actually, realizing that we are intrinsically a part of it for as long as we are alive, however we decide to think about it.


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