TOLFA Segment 17 Travel

Segment 17 is about awe: that whereas it's vital to set the course of life by logic, by cool reasoning starting with the undeniable premise that each of us owns our own life, there are many aspects of the life we can then rationally and freely lead that we cannot understand and may never do so. So here, let's consider a few of the awesome things we can visit and see around this world - before we buy that ticket for space travel to others.

Just as we are moved to wonder when looking upwards on a clear night, so we must marvel when looking horizontally at this world's natural wonders. The most spectacular in North America may be the Grand Canyon; one can stand on its rim and gaze and gaze and gaze at the incredible sight that presents itself. We know how it was formed - by water, rushing through soft rock for millions of years - but the immense three-dimensional vista that we see, revealing aeons of history as well as endless dramatic formations of rock, a mile deep from top to bottom... quite blows the mind. It's not that we can't explain it (we can) but that the whole scene, taken together, makes up a totality that is simply amazing; it's ordinary, yet it seems like magic. We are whelmed by the sheer scale and majesty of it all.

Most cities have tall buildings now, and New York appears so often on TV that the sight of its skyline may seem too familiar; but the first time it's seen it inspires awe! It's great from any angle, but a really breathtaking view is from an airplane, on approach to La Guardia from the South. That flight path cruises up the Hudson at an altitude not far above the skyscrapers and it's almost as if one could reach out of the window and touch them; mile after mile of them, magnificent man-made canyons. Best time: evening, with the office lights blazing. It is truly like no other sight in the world. Of course we "know" about their construction, it's all on the record, they are there to conduct business and to make efficient use of the very limited ground space. But the result made this city unique, and famous worldwide; the skyscrapers are monuments to commerce and prosperity. A related good read is Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead"

Continue travelling East North East for another 3,000 miles and encounter next the South West tip of land in the British Isles, called "Lands End." Here the wild, rugged coastline of Cornwall points its finger towards the New World, typical of the cliffs and coves lashed by Atlantic wind and breakers. A few miles along that coast is the legendary castle of King Arthur at Tintagel, and not far away is the clifftop from which Marconi made the first-ever radio transmission to North America in December, 1901. Stand on that cliff, and contemplate the confluence of history: the ancient myths of island defenders, the endless conflict between rock and weather, the ocean leap men made in search of freedom, and the link they later forged to communicate between the two worlds. Awesome.

Another quick flight of imagination brings us to Rome. The first time you walk through the massive stone arches and see the interior of the Colosseum will be an unforgettable moment. You will be taken back 2,000 years in time, when the government of that day placated its people by presenting spectacles in that very place - 50,000 watched, every time. The elliptical floor could be flooded for mock naval battles, celebrating some triumph of Empire over its enemies, or more often used as an arena for conflict between men, animals or both. Often those fights were to the death; there died slaves, gladiators, lions, Christians - and as the blood flowed, the crowd was further brutalized by the sight and the Emperor would demonstrate his absolute power by signalling life or death at fight's end.

Today, governments still steal the peoples' money to erect giant stadiums in our cities, and still conflicts are fought to entertain them; happily a good deal less blood is spilled. Spanish bullfights are directly descended from the Roman spectacles, and are sometimes held in the very same arenas; Texas rodeos may be a distant relation and so may any boxing match. Here, in the midst of magnificent engineering not to be rivalled for over a thousand years, it all began.

Let's fly again, further East, soaring over the birthplace of three major religions (still squabbling) and over part of the Silk Route along which trade was carried for centuries between East and West, over the zone through which mankind probably passed in his earliest journeys from Africa towards, eventually, most of the rest of the world. Then appear the Himalayas, the highest land on the Planet; this is Everest, scraping the sky at over 29,000 feet, as high as airliners often fly. No climb for amateurs, this, but since Hillary & Tensing reached the top in 1953 it has been climbed by many - though still with some loss of life, as attended the earlier attempts. What a magnificent achievement!

Something else to wonder at, yet further East: Hong Kong, the economic marvel of the Pacific Rim. At the same time Hillary topped Everest, Hong Kong was a fishing town off the Chinese coast, ceded as a colony to Britain in 1897 for a hundred years; within a couple of decades despite massive immigration from the Communist mainland and despite almost total lack of food-growing space, its people had achieved one of the highest standards of living in the world. Why and how?

There's an explanation, but it's still marvellous. Combine a strong ambition and work ethic, low taxes and a relatively tolerant set of government laws (comparable to the Classical Liberals of 19th century Britain and the US) and a firm commitment to free trade with all - that's a recipe for riches. Hong Kong had built such a fine foundation that even after 1997, when the Communist Chinese took back the island, they left it as an "autonomous economic region" recognizing that what ain't broke don't need fixin'. Wonder at it; and wonder that so few follow its example.

Finally back in the US of A, here's Hawaii with the coast on fire; lava flows down from a volcano and boils the sea.

Volcanos provide evidence that this cooling Planet still has a super-hot interior, which is why in winter ground frost doesn't penetrate very deeply and so we can bury water pipes fairly near the surface. A few billion years back, the whole surface of the Earth was red-hot with molten rock, and as it cooled the chemical nature of the atmosphere gradually changed and life developed. Volcanos erupt when pressures underground force the lava upwards, and the pressures come from movement of continent-sized plates of the Earth's crust, crunching against other crusts and slowly pushing up mountain ranges (like the one which Everest heads) and changing the whole geography of the land masses on the surface. This is, as far as can now be told, how we came to be where we are. And of that, we can rightly stand in awe.

This short World Tour has perhaps whetted your appetite for more travel, real or virtual; and has shown no more than a tiny sample of the magnificent scenery carved by nature and man. For now, travelling absurdly requires passports, so don't leave home without one; when American society becomes free other peoples may follow a few years later and than all that nonsense will be ended and passports will be found only in the Museum of the Age of Government.

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