Damn. The longer I live in Mexico, the more I realize that I know less about it than people who don’t. Apparently it is a far simpler country than the one I live in, being summed up by pat assertions, neat statistics, and confident descriptions often bearing little resemblance to anything I see. Curious: Almost everyone who comes down here responds, “This isn’t what I expected.” To understand Mexico, it seems important to do so from somewhere else. Things are som much clearer that way.
I am part of an internet list of people who take a very dark view of Mexico, in many ways justified, but in many ways not. In particular, members of the list, like most of America, cannot conceive that there might be any intelligent life at all in Mexico. A couple of my (slightly edited) postings:
“We [my wife and I] dropped the car off at the Toyota dealership and to pass the time we walked to Plaza del Sol, a minorly upscale
shopping center in the suburbs of Guad. In it is one of the Gonvill
chain of bookstores hereabouts. There are many.
Wandering around, I noticed a book called Fundamentals of Circuit
Analysis—shrink-wrapped, but I’d guess about 600 pages of circuit
analysis. Next to it was Elements of Electronic Design or something
very close to that title, and many other such. A substantial pile of
Differential and Integral Calculus was at eye level, both the height
and pile suggesting that the store expected them to sell. Countless
high school books—Biology I and II, etc at length—were there for kids
going to private schools. (They feature purines and pyrimidines, the
genetic code, and suchlike primitivism. Thanks to ex-president Vicente Fox, public school
students get their books free.) I saw shelf sections labeled
Physiology, Anatomy, Biostatistics, Surgery, etc. Wandering by the
computer section, I saw many titles such as “Data Structures and
Algorithms in Java,” and Network Design, as well as inevitables such
as C++ and Visual Studio.
The store not being specifically technical, literature outnumbered
tech stuff. Most of the lit you would find in a Border’s was there:
Dusty Evsky, Twain, Kafka, all that, plus odd titles like Dracula in
Acapulco. Authors were well-covered. For example, I counted 12 books
by Mario Benedetti who, like a lot of South American authors, gringos
have never heard of. There were Elements of Esthetics, biographies of
Mozart etc, books of paintings of the Ashcan School and such, books of
all the usual philosophers.
All of this was in Spanish. It was not a store for pale bwanas. There
were plenty of people looking at the books. I was the only gringo.
Now, Mexico [according to the computer list on which I posted this] has a mean IQ of 85. That at any rate we are told. So do
American blacks. Does this compute? Show me a bookstore in America primarily patronized
by blacks with these titles.
This doesn’t make sense, boys and girls. IQ is supposed to predict outcomes. It appears not to.
I note that yesterday my family went to the local dental office, consisting of Hector Haro
(he’s on the web) and three dentists, all female, trained at U. Guad.
(Haro did postgrad in prosthdontics at U Md.) He has another seven or so girl dentists working for him in Guadalajara. Modern equipment,
absolutely competent as far as I can tell, speak English (how many US
students speak a language learned without leaving the US, or at all?). I read Steve Sailer on Mexico and expect to wake up in the morning and find illiterate doctors curing
people by sacrificing chickens. It ain’t so.
Somebody’s wrong. Either American blacks could do these things if
they weren’t culturally disadvantaged, or the IQ business needs a bit of work under warranty. Take your pick.
I couldn’t agree more. Permit me an eyeball rather than a numerical
analysis [of Mexico’s mediocre economic performance]:
Academic fervor in Mexico is almost unknown. Years ago I walked home
through poor sections of Taipei, and kids were at orange-crate
desks in the alleys to avoid some of the heat, studying. Mexicans, kids and
adults, regard studying as distasteful and regularly accuse those
who study of being snots, stuck-up, thinking themselves superior, etc. It
is an exact parallel of “You tryin’ a be white.” Apart from my wife
and stepdaughter, who genuinely are bookish, I have never seen a Mexican
voluntarily read a book, or seen a book in a Mexican home. This
applies to highly bright Mexicans, of whom there are a fair few.
Hoever, I live in a small, largely agricultural town. I’m not sure things would be a whole lot different in Waldorf, Maryland..
The anti-intellectualism is a subset of valemadrismo, a word derived
from “me vale madre,” meaning “I don’t give a shit.” It might be
described as comprehensive half-assedness. It is a stew of lack of
ambition, irresponsibility (as in not showing up on time, or at all,
and not calling), of short time-horizons (they don’t look ten years
ahead), a preference for corruption over work, a focus on just getting by, a
lack of interest in organized behavior (ignoring traffic laws, for
example). No push, no drive, no plan.
Whether all of this is a consequence of low intelligence might be
discussed. But without reference to IQ, it is an adequate
explanation. Incidentally, my wife agrees.
The astute reader might object that the two letters contradict each other. Perhaps, but they are accurate. A great many things in Mexico are contradictory, and many things gringos believe about the country are wrong. For example, many Americans believe that people here breed like oysters. Not so. The birth rate is wa-a-a-ay down. The stats show this. So does the eyeball. I know several women from families with ten or twelve siblings. They have two kids and want no more.
Many Americans believe that the Catholic Church bears responsibility for high fertility. No: Mexico is still Catholic and yet far less fertile, and it ain’t rhythm, friends and neighbors. The radio station of U. Guadalajara regularly urges the young to use condoms.
Mexico is thought to be a macho country in which women are badly mistreated. It certainly was. Watch Mexican movies from the thirties if you want to see the problem. Even a generation back girls weren’t allowed to go far in school because their function was to abrir las patas, open their legs, and nothing more.
But you have to keep your eye on these things. Today my stepdaughter’s prepa (part of the feeder system for U. Guad) is half girl, the university is loaded with girls, and I encounter lots of female lawyers, dentists, what have you. None of this is universal and among the poor, who are many, and in rural regions changes come much more slowly. But 1930 it isn’t.
Mexico is said, horribly correctly, to have a very low average level of education. It’s just a fact. From my bedroom window in the morning, I can see kids riding bareback into the mountains to care for goats. They don’t go to school.. This isn’t governmental policy, but it’s how things are.
However, this bleakness is hardly universal. It might be surprising to look at the tenth-grade physics text of my stepdaughter, in the free Prepa in my small town. (fisica General, by Hector Perez Montiel.) A few outtakes:
p. 5 “Faraday enunciated the following principle: electromagnetic induction is the phenomenon that causes the production of an induced electric current by the variation of the magnetic flux due to relative movement of a conductor in a magnetic field
p. 76. (below; scanner busted, but you get the idea) “With the displacement of a motion as a function of time, we form the graph to the right and calculate the instantaneous velocity after six seconds. To calculate the instantaneous velocity at any moment, we draw a tangent to the curve at the point considered; taking two points on the tangent we determine the slope, which is to say, the instantaneous velocity.” That, amigos, is differential calculus in vigorous embryo, and tolerable for the tenth grade. My translation is close to literal and a bit awkeard in English, but it isn’t in Spanish.
p. 63 “The vector product of two vectors, also called the cross product, gives as a result another vector which is always perpendicular to the plane formed by the multiplied vectors. By definition, the magnitude of the product vector is equal to the product of the magnitude of one by the perpendicular component of the other with respect to the first: |a.b| = ab sin theta…..” (Word doesn’t do vector notation well.) Now, a college book would give the cross product in determinant form, [(i,j,k); (A(1), A(2), A(3); B(1), B(2), B(3)]. Maybe American high-school tests do this. The foregoing isn’t altogether shameful, I wot.
p. 301, which I’m too lazy to re-scan, begins “Another interesting application of Bernouilli’s Theorem….” It may be most Americans can handle all of this. I promise that Natalia can.
Further along, incidentally, I find explanations of Heisenberg Indetermimacy, the Pauli Excluioon Prniciple, and (simple) problems involing Plancks’s Constant.
How badly does the above compare with an American high school in a small town? Maybe better, maybe worse, but we’re not talking Haiti. But, hey, everybody knows more about this country than I do.