Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Relativity

The fact that a Honduran read and commented on my blog entry from a couple weeks ago was extremely beneficial for me. First of all, it kind of surprised me (I had gotten lazy and started letting myself forget that what I post here is not a private message to my family, but completely in the public domain) and it reminded me to think carefully about what I write. That, in turn, got me thinking a lot about what I posted last week, how accurate it might actually be and whether or not it was fair to both sides of the issue.

I get the sense that I can be pretty negative here sometimes, which could give someone the misconception that I look down upon Honduras or Hondurans. This is definitely not true, and the interesting thing is that in real life (IRL) I’m an extremely optimistic person. It’s just like the newspapers, I guess…. what is news always about? War, tragedy, economic problems, and occasionally sports. The good news, often the very best news, gets neglected because it’s not as interesting. Really, the absence of bad news is about the best you can hope for most of the time.

I realized one important flaw about what I wrote last time, which was essentially how it sounds like I’m blaming the school system for everything. This was actually more of a problem with my way of thinking before and not just a thoughtless exclusion, but I got to thinking more about it, and the truth is that what I see as the situation in the schools is more like a reflection of the same issues that permeate the society as a whole. It’s all part of the same system. To wit: the aspect which I perceive as problematic is the tendency towards paternalistic treatment of the “lower” classes. This presents itself a lot in the classroom because the teachers are generally from a different class than the students.

A funny thing about Honduras, in fact, is the existence of classes because most people aren’t even aware of them or haven’t thought much about it. When I sometimes ask pointed questions to try and get people’s opinions, I’m often met with simple incomprehension, like, “What do you mean everyone on Honduran TV has really white skin? Isn’t that normal? Aren’t light-skinned people just more attractive?” etc. It’s more subtle than the outright racism in some other countries; more insidious, and so ingrained that it’s just taken for granted. I’m absolutely sure you could trace this back to precedents set a long time ago, foundations in the country’s social history that have probably had lots written about them by people who are more expert about this kind of thing than myself.

Like I say, it’s not that there’s no good news about Honduras. It’s a free society that has a long history of relative political peacefulness. A lot of the corruption has been getting rooted out lately and exposed in their admirably free press, which may not be perfect but is probably better than our own at this point. The fact that it’s taking the country a long time to catch up with the rest of the world, so to speak, is often seen as an inexplicable problem that must be due to some grievous errors on the part of the people “in charge”. The fact of the matter is that we’re not just talking about economic changes that are taking place, or physical changes. These are cultural changes, and that takes a hell of a long time.

Going through these changes is a slow process because people are like that. The laws of physics say that the tendency of an object is to remain in its current state – if it’s in motion, to remain moving, if it’s at rest, to remain at rest. We call it inertia. People have inertia too, and lots more than any normal physical object. People resist change in their lives, and large groups of people display cultural inertia as well, resisting change even more effectively than one person by his or herself. Why do people still employ slash-and-burn migratory agriculture, despite how many times they’re told that it’s bad and unsustainable? Because that’s the way they’ve always done it, since like FOREVER, before the Europeans even got here! That kind of inertia needs patience and time to overcome.

Some people might be tempted to cite those poor countries in Asia that are developing at the speed of light. The thing is, from what I understand they were culturally ready to do this before the technology made it possible. In fact, all the countries that were culturally ready by the beginning of the 19th century have pretty much joined the race at this point, whereas those that weren’t, mostly haven’t. No amount of technology is going to do much about this. It reminds me of the computer center some people have talked about building here in Agua Fría, where I have 9th grade students that can’t write a complete sentence to save their lives! To me, the investment in a computer center seems frankly obscene when there’s a halfway functional school system to fix first, that could really use that money. Am I the only one who feels this way? We need to think a little harder about priorities.

On some days I think the best thing we could do for these countries is to meddle with them as little as possible. If I may arrogate myself to claim this, the main problem Honduras has, “el problema” as it were, is America. Why? Because they’d probably be a lot happier just doing their own thing here if they didn’t have to worry so hard about keeping up with the rest of the world. I appreciate the fact that social justice as well as basic sanitary conditions of living need to be assured, but the truth is that isn’t what seems to be bothering people the most here.

No, what most Hondurans really need these days is more money. More cars, more cellphones, more stereos, etc. I personally know people whose income would probably classify them as some of the poorest people in the world, who have spent two months’ worth of salary to buy better cellphones than mine (granted, I have the cheapest one you can possibly buy). Again, priorities. Congratulations, America. Why is it that our cultural values that I hate the most are the ones we’re the most adamant about spreading around? Einstein proved that position and movement are totally relative. He should’ve expanded that theory and just said that EVERYTHING is relative. Hondurans might not feel so shitty about themselves if they didn’t have our shiny happy people with their expensive clothes and toys on all their televisions, and our products on all their billboards, and our crap in all their stores. But the fact is that their biggest point of reference to compare their own country to is the US, and we’ve somehow tricked them into using our standards to prove that relatively, they don’t measure up.

Am I the only one with the creeping suspicion that this is bullshit?

3 Comments:

At 8:10 AM, Blogger Aaron Ortiz said...

LOL, no man, you're not the only one, but culture envy is ancient; the grass is always greener on the other side of the mexican border/great wall of china/mediterranean/etc...

 
At 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, you're not the only one. It's embarassing and frustrating to realize the ideals and values we grew up with and identify with are not the same "american values" being seen by other countries...even to the slightest extent.

Sam

 
At 8:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gabe,

You might not have noticed at the time, but you had a Honduran living in the states responded to a posting once before. It was quite a while back. It is cool that folks would find it interesting enough to respond to.

BTW, I talked to Santiago on the phone tonight and he received the organic farming brochures you sent him last fall. But unfortunately the photos I sent never arrived. Bah!

Pap

 

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