Somewhere Pilgrim or Anywhere Tourist?

“All who wander are not lost” goes a current bumper-sticker.

Despite its groovy cachet, “wandering” is not an especially good use of time or resources. All who wander may not be lost, but a good many are. Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years as a punishment for its faithlessness. “Wanderlust” indicates, among its several connotations, a lack of commitment to duty and a desire to live without the usual contingencies of productive life. Wandering is often simple escapism.

Sure, we all experience moments or even seasons of anomie and even acedia, the morally flaccid world-weariness of medieval monks and contemporary teenagers. Trauma can bring with it a disengagement from the usual life pursuits that pretty much define who we are. Spiritual doubts may cause us to drift or wander in a religious or psychological sense. But wandering is not meant to be a permanent process; it is meant to lead somewhere.

British sociologist David Goodhart has recently divided modern western people into two types: “Somewheres” and “Anywheres.” Somewheres are those anchored by tradition, nation and faith, while Anywheres are those who profess no particular devotion to their time, the past, or the world outside them. One of the seismic events of our times is the increase in the latter type and the gradual diminution of the former. Highly gifted Anywheres have captured most of the levers of power in our culture—entertainment, media in general, the schools, corporations and the technology sector.

Somewheres, on the other hand, are in retreat almost everywhere. Those who espouse traditional Christian morality and behaviors are routinely threatened in public, silenced in college classrooms, ignored by advertisers, and blackballed by Hollywood elites.

The Somewhere-Anywhere fissure now taking form in our culture is reflective of older typologies, one of which is crucial to grasping the nature of these divergent worldviews. This is the distinction between the “tourist” mentality and the “pilgrim” mentality. And while most of us combine both perspectives in our approach to the world around us, we are at the same time primarily one or the other.

Are you at base an Anywhere Tourist or a Somewhere Pilgrim?

Let’s flesh these types out a bit. The quintessential postmodern tourist conducts his life as a procession of discrete pursuits that lack, for the most part, a governing theme. All places, times and events are understood as material for his inner “journey.” He rarely understands the world around him on its own terms, but rather sees it as an extension of his own will to power (the ideology he has received). He does not venture beyond his first language, his only conceptual framework, and commands little beyond a deficient vocabulary. He is ideologically driven and hence Manichean (black-and-white) in his understanding of reality. His appreciation of other kinds of people is limited to the degree that they serve his ideology. His selfies are first and foremost himself placed in front of the statues, memorials or natural wonders that he visits, though rarely understands.

Despite an apparent “openness” to the world, the tourist has little interest in the inherent value of the “other.” He is not bound by the strictures of traditional morality or social convention. Convinced of the historical superiority and unique authority of his view of the world, the tourist often sees existing social and natural structures as malleable and instrumental rather than fixed and worthy of respect.

The postmodern tourist is profoundly individualistic. He is “on his own” in the universe, a psychic state in which he takes pride. Traditional values were always reinforced by the mediating institutions of communal life, but our tourist-Anywhere has little loyalty to local activities or collectives. The three “necessary societies” of Catholic social teaching—family, nation and church—are usually afterthoughts to him. “State” for him has replaced “nation.” His parents, or more likely his grandparents, bowled on Tuesday evenings and joined friends at the Moose or Elks lodge on Friday. Such things do not cross his mind.

There are hard and soft versions of the tourist mentality, depending on the extent to which these characteristics are held by conviction or by conformity. The common factor among those who share this worldview is the contingent and changing nature of everyday “values.” Lacking abiding principles, Anywhere-Tourists consider themselves free, or “liberated” from social norms. This is why you see many of them constantly fiddling with their personal image and physical appearance. They are first in line to adopt as normative those behaviors that until the-day-before-yesterday were considered extreme or at least in bad taste. They are simply passing through a world of “givens” that are theirs to use or discard. They are cultural and political dilettantes.

The world, like everything else in the Anywhere lexicon, is a construction of one’s own, self-referential determination. That he carries a miraculous iPhone, wears clothes that would never wear out if they didn’t come with rips and tears, smiles through teeth of near-perfect alignment, are of little wonder to him. These things were all here when he arrived, and for all he knows are mere artifacts of the material universe. In some sense, he even believes they were created naturally with him in mind.  

In many ways, today’s tourists are the exact descendants of the “Ugly American” that earlier anti-capitalist theorists wrote of. Constantly on the move internally and externally, they brush aside the particularities of those around them and seek to mold the world after their own evanescent fashions. Today’s tourists, however, are not like the bumbling rubes and Bermuda-shorts poetasters of yesterday; they are much too degage, too detached.

Tourists are thus self-contradictory: by outward profession they are tolerant of non-traditional ideas and practices, while in fact their apparent liberalism masks a dogmatic aversion to beliefs and lifestyles that oppose their own. In the world of the Anywhere, in the words of one social critic, ‘everything is permitted but little is allowed.’

So here he is, our Anywhere-Tourist. Untroubled by notions of metaphysical truth, he skips through life tasting this or that and experimenting with multiple versions of selfhood and reality. Much of his consciousness is limited to social media, while his loyalties, such as they are, are sustained by shifting abstractions such as “socialism,” “diversity” or “spirituality.” Though he fancies himself at ease anywhere, he is often psychologically homeless. All of this comes with a price, however. It is not inconsequential that many young people today feel uprooted, depressed and isolated, and that the suicide rate for the 18-34 year cohort is at an historic high.

Take a thousand Anywhere Tourists, remove their electronic devices, and set them in the Yukon wilderness. Provide them with basic manual tools, food and clothing. It is unlikely that they could survive one winter, let along recreate a functioning society like the one that birthed them. Think Lord of the Flies.    

The Somewhere, on the other hand, is the pilgrim. This person is anchored in time and space. Like his tourist antitype he sometimes wanders, but always in search of Home. The archetypal pilgrim is the Biblical figure Abraham. From his land of birth in Ur of the Chaldees, Abraham traveled northwest to Haran and then southward to Canaan. God spoke to Abraham, promising him that he would be the progenitor of a great people in possession of a land of their own. He may have been the “Wandering Aramean” of Hebrew literature, but all the while Abraham sought a city “whose builder and maker is God.”

What distinguishes a pilgrim from a tourist? First of all, the pilgrim is committed to the good of the place where he resides. His travels have, for a time at least, come to an end and he sinks his roots locally. He may know that religiously he is a citizen of another kingdom, but he understands his present calling to be a life of service to those around him. In the eighth century BC, the southern kingdom of Israel was destroyed and her people went into exile in Babylon. All seemed lost. But the prophet Jeremiah counselled the people to build homes, start businesses, and seek the welfare of their new land. That is, they were to assume the mantle of pilgrims, happy exiles!

Today’s pilgrims are the common Somewheres of our cities, suburbs, towns and farms. They take their identities from their place, their vocations, their friends, their chosen local commitments. They do not understand those who extract their essence from their gender, their race or their political party. To them, this is a wholly inadequate basis on which to establish personhood. For such attitudes, Somewheres are demonized. They are constantly assailed by their Anywhere cultural superiors for their white privilege and cisgender tendencies, and shackled with accusations of unappeasable guilt.  

In the new dispensation upon us, Somewheres are the maligned, the ridiculed, the forgotten. They are the butt of Comedy Central jokes, the “deplorables” of the liberal political establishment, the intellectuals’ middle-class Babbitts and Stepford Wives. Yet it is middle America that drills their tourist-despisers’ oil, makes their cars, builds their homes, waits on them in stores and restaurants, cleans their bathrooms, grows their food, prays for them and provides the sons and daughters who protect them from dangers foreign and domestic. It’s likely that a Somewhere pilgrim helped an Anywhere put on his chains the last time our tourist came across a mountain pass.

Anywhere-Tourists aren’t merely not concerned with the survival of the civilization that made their lives possible, and which their ideas and behaviors would render them incapable of reproducing, but are actively hostile to norms and beliefs that lie behind their own moral outrage. After all, the categories by which they judge the culture around them are borrowed, as has often been pointed out, from the Judeo-Christian heritage they would destroy, though those categories have been severed from their transcendent authority. It might be said that biblical attitudes toward sin and heresy are the remaining husks of which the Anywhere mindset is constructed.

A representative Anywhere-Tourist is Al Gore. He quite literally wanders the globe hawking his catastrophic theories. Lacking a historical perspective, Anywheres thrive on sudden and dramatic events, and so their default line of argument lies toward apocalypse, the corollary for which is social coercion and central control by large government and its agencies.

A representative Somewhere-Pilgrim is the late Norman Borlaug, the unpresuming Midwestern farmer who settled for years at a time in a few critical locations around the world while developing strains of genetically modified grains. Estimates vary, but it is generally settled that Borlaug’s work has spared millions of the world’s poorest people from starvation, malnutrition and blindness while raising the economic fortunes for millions more. That’s what Somewheres do.