Alligator in Peru wanting

Peru Post 2: The Wanting

I’m still out in Peru!  This post sort of sprang out as a result of my conversations with the people here and thinking about development.  You won’t necessarily learn a lot more about Peru, but at least there are pictures!  (Hopefully I didn’t use any of the same pictures as last time…)


Small alligator in Iquitos
We have this odd habit in the “developed” world of talking about the “poor” like they’re something else.  Not necessarily that they’re less than human, but that they’re a different kind of human; that they’re people in a different category.

It happens with a lot of topics.  Like when a solution for purifying water comes along and we wonder why the poor so illogically reject it.  Something stops us from grasping the reasons why someone may not want to carry a large modified straw around all day to suck up less than an ounce of pure water a minute.  Or from understanding why they wouldn’t be willing to bother adding chlorine to a well every time they go get more water.
We also get confused when they aren’t willing to give up a couple cups of tea every day to save a little bit more.  Or give up some sort of cultural event or ritual to spend the money on school uniforms or mosquito nets.
Sure, all of the proposed solutions make a fair amount of sense.  Until we apply the ideas to real people.

Peruvian Flag lowering ceremony
Flag Lowering Ceremony
I’ve talked to friends who stop bothering to purify their water when they go to foreign countries.  I know plenty of people in the states who wont give up soda or cigarettes to save money.  I know that human logic requires many more inputs than simply “what’s good for you.”
So why do we keep treating the poor like they should be logic machines, never tiring of doing the healthiest, happiest, most useful things available?

Imperfect Contentment

Although I did, and still do, see lots of people here in Iquitos that seem to be pretty grateful as a whole, spending more time with them has revealed aspects that perhaps they don’t show to tourists or people who they think can get them micro-loans.
This makes sense.  If the quantity of substance inputs a person has in their life isn’t directly correlated with how logical they act, perhaps it has little to do with other elements of psychology.  (I’m making an assumption that substance inputs don’t affect much, but this seems to keep popping up in happiness tests, popular psychology, etc.)
Through talking with and interviewing people, it’s pretty clear that the people here really do want more, independent of advertising, and probably even independent of what their neighbor has.
After all, any time there’s a discomfort, there’s potential for improvement.  Here in Iquitos, the water doesn’t run all day, it runs in the morning, sporadically through the day, and never at night.  Who wouldn’t want reliably running water, even if they didn’t know it existed?
Unloading the docks at Iquitos
Unloading ships at the docks
People get sick a lot too, and not everyone can access health care.  Nobody has found a perfect cure for cancer, yet we still really want one.
Are these people grateful?  Many are, but just about anything that can get the descriptive label of “romantic” seems to be, at best, an exaggerated truth.
I think we sometimes confuse acceptance with gratitude.  Rather, I think sometimes we confuse acquiescence or remission with acceptance.  As far as I can tell, gratitude is an acceptance of “what is” and the subsequent application of the label “good.”  Hence our ability to be grateful not just during, but for trials.  The people that seem to have truly accepted their lives seem to be the grateful ones (they also seem to be the ones less interested in attending classes to improve things.)

Needy Rich

Just to bring this home, I think it’s just as useful to point out how often we put “rich” people in a different category of humans, and how problematic this is as well.
One seemingly logical statement people seem to make (usually in exasperation or disgust) is the idea that rich people have “enough,” so why do they want more?
Lush forest Well, as much sense as it would seem to make for rich people to just quit wanting anything, we still see Warren Buffett building his empire and CEO’s trying to increase their pay rather than cut it.  Millionaires keep trying to be billionaires, and it seems we can never be personally secure enough.  Even when you’re on top, like Bill Gates, you still want more.  Has Bill decided to kill the company, give his products away for free, or stop getting paid?  I don’t think so (someone check for me to see if he still gets paid.)
Sure, not everyone seems to have an infinitely insatiable thirst for increase, but it makes sense that if there are people living in abundance want more, then there are probably people living without abundance probably want more too.
We don’t have “rich” and “poor” people as much as we have “people that have wealth”, and “people that don’t have much.”

Discontent and Development

Huts over the water in the Amazon
So with that in mind, I’m not sure how much advertising contributes to the wanting.  In almost undoubtedly increases it, but I don’t think that wanting would go away if we got rid of the social pressures associated with having stuff.  Does not innovation often occur before someone can pressure the innovator into wanting his invention?
It’s like a briefly mentioned above, if there’s a pain, there’s a desire for relief.  Whether it be reliable water, air conditioning, continual electricity, clean food, stable housing, eradication of diseases, access to entertainment, clean air (even though I’m in the Amazon, all the vehicles here burn fuel pretty poorly and the air isn’t great,) carpeting, computers, education, or a corruption free government.
In this context, development makes sense.  If we can bring some of these things to others, that’s almost certainly a good thing to do.  There will be better ways than others to go about this, but all of those things work pretty ok as an end goal.

The Wanting

This sort of development, though, may ignore the bigger problem.  We will always have social problems so long as there’s scarcity.
Commerce in IquitosPeople often think of “scarcity” as not having enough to satisfy everyone’s needs.  But needs are almost a moot point in the way the world works.  Scarcity means not having enough to satisfy people’s wants. 
Until we want no more than what is available to us, we will continue to have problems.  There will be room to fight over resources.  There will be discontentment over the distribution of wealth.  There will be competition to have more, and winners and losers will result.
The solution may not even come by having an overabundance of stuff either.  If the rich keep looking to get more even after they have a ton, then will we stop the wanting once we all have diamond encrusted swimming pools?
If we really want things fixed, we’re going to need to change us.

How Do We Change Us?

Our options seem to be fairly limited here.  The only entity or process I know of that really changes the “who” of a person is God (it’s usually referred to as a “change of heart”.)  It’s as Ezra Taft Benson said:
“Only the gospel will save the world from the calamity of its own self-destruction.  Only the gospel will unite men of all races and nationalities in peace.  Only the gospel will bring joy, happiness, and salvation to the human family.”  (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson[1988], 167).
But we know that the problems will continue.  Christ made it pretty clear in Matthew 26:11 when He said “For ye have the poor always with you, but me ye have not always.”
Barge at the docks in Iquitos
All the boat pictures come from a port at Nanay
So if you want great job security, go help the poor.  They ain’t going away.
But just because poverty wont go away and wanting will continue throughout the world, that doesn’t mean you need to be a part of it.  You can make your own choice on what you want, and how grateful you are. 
Look at what you have, accept it, and recognize it as “good.”  If you have a hard time recognizing something’s goodness, it’s almost certainly because you still need to venture closer to God with whatever is ailing you.
But don’t be stressed when you can’t successfully appreciate everything right away.  If it was easy, we wouldn’t need our whole lives to perfect it.
(sorry there aren’t links to a lot of the things I talked about.  The internet here is pretty slow, and it’s hard for me to get them in.  Maybe I’ll come back to it when I get home, because there are a lot of potentially good stuff to look at if you’re interested.)
Keep seeking truth.

You may also be interested in:
Peru Post 3: The Spectacle
Peru Post 6: Death and Disease
Money as No Object

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