Wednesday, May 12, 2010

JDM on Common Humanity (or the lack thereof)

From John D MacDonald's final interview, conducted by George Vassallo and published in truncated form in USA Today under the title "The Pen Behind Travis McGee." It was subsequently republished with the missing parts restored in the June 1992 (#49) issue of the JDM Bibliophile:

GV: As a world traveler, what observations do you have on other countries that you have visited?

JDM: One basic observation. It is ridiculous to go trotting about the world and come back with the idea that people in all places are just like us and want the same things. There is no common humanity, no gauge that fits us all. The Kashmiri Hindu and the Kenya tribesman and the Amsterdam merchant, were they miraculously given a common language would find their concepts of life and time and destiny so variant, meaningful discussions of ideas would be impossible. Only when you clearly understand this can you begin to comprehend, for example, a group of school teachers in Iran setting fire to a theater and burning hundreds of their young pupils to death. Or a fakir who has sat in the public square all day all his adult life, following the passage of the sun that has burned out his eyes, by the feel of the heat on his face. My best observation about other countries and cultures is that the more you learn about them, the less you comprehend them. The instant tourist has no doubts.


  1. Lovely quote -- unfortunate typo (for "like") in third line of JDM's response.

    This site is wonderful, Mr. Scott, and is among the finest author resources -- not just JDM -- on the Web. Write on! And: Right On!

  2. Typo fixed... and thank you for your kind words. I'll keep this going as long as they let me!