October 24, 2007

This European trip began, as so many things begin, in Warsaw.

On the one hand, the point of traveling is to experience new and different cultures, meet new and different people, and try to understand “how the world works.” On the other hand, I’ve only got a few days in the country, and I don’t even speak Polish (my half-hearted attempt at Learn Polish in 28 Days notwithstanding). Nonetheless, there is this pressure to “learn something” when I go to a new place, and thus to be able to make some kind of blanket statement about a people or a culture.

Confirmation bias is tough to avoid. I’ve heard stories about tourists who go to African villages, seek out the most run-down buildings and most impoverished-looking people, and take a picture. Thus, they confirm their prior belief that Africa is run-down and impoverished. It’s a sensible thing to do when confronted with the above-mentioned problem. It’s just not reasonable to expect that within a day or two, you can develop some understanding of what a group of people are “really like.”

How is this relevant for a libertarian-minded individual in Warsaw? One word: Communism. I have spent so much time and energy believing that Soviet-style Communism was a force for evil in the world that evidence of this conclusion is what I’m really looking for in Poland.


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