Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Development I: the Modern Mexican Parable


A great anonymously written allegory, illustrating how “development” is a loaded term and concept. It also is a nice simple parable that illustrates the value of taking time to enjoy life as we pass through it, rather than relegating enjoyment to a retirement endpoint. Working hard and just getting by economically, as many of us do, does not preclude enjoying the scenery or the need to “follow one’s bliss” in Joseph Campbell’s famous phrase. I originally presented the parable as is but have since substituted nationalities for job identifiers at 99’s wise suggestion, since the story is certainly not meant to impugn the American (who happens to be the investment banker: its not as if Mexico doesn’t have investment bankers) as somehow supremely representative of corporate managerialism nor romanticise the Mexican as uniquely representative of an idyllic autarkic lifestyle (one could easily substitute other nationalities, such as Australian and East Timorese, for example); the characters simply represent systems of thought and practice whose interaction serves to question development orthodoxy and point the need for a more enlarged understanding. Indeed, the nationalities is a distraction and buys into the divisive separation of pitting one nation against another instead of solidarity and connection for what is a cross-border, transnational issue.

Part Two forthcoming: Is Geographic Space Developmental Time?


“Development”: The Investment Banker and the Fisherman (amended)

The investment banker (hereafter the Banker) was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.

Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The Banker complimented the Fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Fisherman replied, only a little while.

The Banker then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?

The Fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The Banker then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.”

The Banker scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.

Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the Banker replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then?”

The Banker laughed and said that’s the best part. “When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions … Then what?”

The Banker said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

18 comments on “Development I: the Modern Mexican Parable

  1. michaelgreenwell
    5 July, 2007

    i likeeeee

  2. Dave On Fire
    5 July, 2007

    I may print this to show anyone who tells me to get a “proper job” again, ever.

  3. peoplesgeography
    5 July, 2007


  4. homeyra
    6 July, 2007

    :) :)
    Is this material from your class?

  5. 99
    6 July, 2007

    There are a lot of Americans who identify with the Mexican in this story and a lot of Mexicans who identify with the American in this story. I’d even go so far as to say that a study might show the percentages equal from society to society… possibly skewed to the more economically robust societies, but also weighted in the other direction from the number of immigrants to those societies. This is a parable about values, and so very unfortunately, humans everywhere divide up about the same in the matter of selfishness vs. altruism, or greed for what thing they find most inspiring.

    While not forgetting that “Americans” must be impeded and “Mexicans” encouraged in order to prevent things like, say, “Somalians”, I think it is best for the people of the planet not to place so much emphasis on the badness of one or some societies that this fact is forgotten. Merely shifting the abuse to new places isn’t going to cut it.

    I know, easy for me to say as an American, but I’m right anyway.

  6. peoplesgeography
    6 July, 2007

    Brilliantly put, 99, couldn’t have said it better myself. I entirely agree and that is why I emphasised that I presented the original story “as is” with an important qualification that you have expressed so well. Homie, yes, I do use it in teaching! :)

  7. 99
    6 July, 2007

    Wouldn’t the parable then be as clear, and maybe more effective if we replaced “American” with “plutocrat” and “Mexican” with “prole” or “villager” or “peasant” or “Ordinary Joe”?

    For most of my adult life I have been hollering about the culpability of America in the misery of the third world, and I have certainly been screaming it till my pipes are blown in recent years, but, truly, in my ceaseless wish for alleviation of harm to all sentient beings, it has become apparent to me that it is HUMAN greed that must be dealt the blow to pull it out of the fire now. Always has been, but with the planetary emergencies hanging over us now, it’s that much more vital.

    I’m so hot for this Live Earth thing is because of its potential to begin bringing consciousness into alignment across the globe. Are you going to the Sydney concert? Are your students excited about it? Am I off in a cloud again?

    BTW, I have hated Campbell’s glib little catchphrase since shortly after it first became so popular. Not as much for what he meant by it as for how it is taken, still taken to this day. Too many use it to shrug off the damage of doing whatever the hell they feel like doing. My catchphrase has always been:


    Seems to me we see pretty much eye-to-eye on quite a lot, and I have to tell you that helps me maintain some vitality in this evil mess we have to call our world. Past couple days I have been entertaining myself that there will be a global outcry for Al Gore to run for President, that the sentiment behind dropping all this warring and oppression in favor of all nations, all peoples, using all our energy toward solving the climate crisis. I feel as though such a thing would really just flatten the bugs ruining the world right now… give us all a desperately needed break from the hate while we try to keep a habitat for it. I gotta think this stuff. Can’t even move if I don’t.

  8. peoplesgeography
    6 July, 2007

    Excellent idea; duly amended with the insight that the nationalities is a distraction and buys into the divisive separation of pitting one nation against another instead of the solidarity and transnational consciousness-raising required. Thanks, 99. More on Live Earth shortly

  9. homeyra
    6 July, 2007

    Here is another story. Ok, on the light of the above you can change the Mexican nationality, or the US setting, but keep the Iranian :)

    Once upon a time two poor students from Mexico and Iran were roommates in a US university. After graduation Pedro and Ali went back to their respective countries promising to invite each other as soon as they could afford it.
    After a few years, to Ali’s big surprise he receives an invitation from his friend: two first class tickets for him and his wife to Mexico City.
    In Mexico City airport, they were picked up by a limousine and taken to this posh villa overlooking the city, where he was received by Pedro. After a sumptuous dinner they sat on a balcony with a panoramic view.
    Ali is incredulous, “How did you manage all this?”
    Pedro smiles, pats Ali on his shoulder and leads him to the edge of the balcony and tells him, “see that tall building over there?”
    Pedro wink and says, “10%! ….do you see that bridge?
    .. and so on. Ali goes back home feeling not a little envious.

    A year later, Pedro receives an invitation from his friend Ali.
    To Pedro’s amazement, a few days later Ali’s private plane arrives to fly him and his family to Tehran.
    Upon their arrival the Pedro is taken by a helicopter to Ali’s huge compound on top of the city. Pedro can’t believe his eyes, everything is magnificent.
    After dinner, served by Maxim himself, Pedro asks Ali, “now, you tell me, how the hell did you manage all this?”
    This time Ali smiles and takes Pedro to the window, “do you see that bridge over there?”
    “No! What bridge?”
    Ali winks, “100%! …. see that huge building over there?”
    “No! There is no building over there.”
    Ali chuckles, “100%! …”
    I don’t know what happens next!

  10. 99
    6 July, 2007

    Wow! Somebody listened to me! What a rush! :-P

    Homie, dear, that story is going to keep me awake wondering!

    LIVE EARTH! Let’s roll!

  11. homeyra
    6 July, 2007

    If the super-smart-alien 99 needs clarifications, this means that I should explain:
    Pedro has put in his pocket 10% of the budget of the projects he was in charge of.
    His Iranian friend took the whole 100% :)

  12. Servant
    6 July, 2007

    Bwwwwwwwwwwwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhaa Homey!

    Now I have to clean coffee off my keyboard thanks to you!

    Thank you for making me smile. There is something new under the sun.

  13. peoplesgeography
    6 July, 2007

    :D Thanks for the punchline (I benefited from clarification, too). Great stuff.

  14. JollyRoger
    7 July, 2007

    HAHAHAHAHA…. excellent.

  15. peoplesgeography
    7 July, 2007

    Good to see your mirth, Jolly Roger :) I was just thinking of you and your prediction about the US when coming upon this site that actually advocates it:

    Ex Unum, Pluribus by Matt Kirkland

    Welcome to Ex Unum, Pluribus, the grassroots movement dedicated to dividing the United States into smaller, more functional nations.

  16. 99
    7 July, 2007

    Well, this little corner of California is splitting off and the John Butler Trio is going to be our government! The stadium in Sydney is packed to the rafters and his performance was so good, I thought I might be about to die. LIVE EARTH! The crowd goes wild.

  17. peoplesgeography
    7 July, 2007

    You’re watching the telecast, too, 99? That’s great. The JBT are great. I also enjoyed the performance by Sneaky Sound System but won’t be able to watch it all.

    It has been an absolutely gorgeous sunny autumn day today in Sydney, great for the concert-goers. We’re in teaching break after the exam period and between semesters now so I haven’t spoken to my students for over three weeks, but I imagine that many would be going.

    Watch out for Crowded House, not sure at what point they’ll be performing.

    I would have loved to see Midnight Oil perform, Peter Garrrett (lead singer) is now a Labor Member of Parliament here so their performing days, at least as a whole unit, are over.

    Missy Higgins is another one to watch, a very promising talent.

    My view on climate change and human responsibility is that most of the common-sense sustainability measures to counteract climate change will have benefits whether climate change itself turns out to be natural or human-caused. I think the skeptics are understandably concerned with potentially draconian regulation in response to this ‘crisis’ and a loss of autonomy but it need not be so. Achieving a cleaner environment, a more sustainable energy policy, reduced carbon footprint and fewer resource conflicts can only be a positive outcome, while the price of inaction if it turns out that human activity is what is definitely driving it is just catastrophic.

  18. 99
    7 July, 2007

    I’m watching the netcast. Every minute of it. Crowded House is playing right now, and they’re the last band of the show. I kinda liked the Sneaky Sound System too… oddly… not my kind of music. And Missy was pretty good. Wolfmother was just awful. I’m really liking Crowded House a lot. I’ve never even heard of them! Obviously they’re seriously famous in Australia! :-P

    But, man, I’m blown away by how good the JBT was. Outstanding! I’ve seen him on YouTube before and liked him, but, sheesh…. Maybe because of the fairly disappointing stuff that went before, but, yikes, that was one fabulous performance. No off notes on the singing. The drummer is amazing. Great bass. And that kid can get more out of a guitar than almost any mortal. I so completely approve! OMG!

    The polar bears are drowning! There ain’t a one of us worth a polar bear! We sin against nature every time we turn around, and none of them ever has. If there is a way to stop them dying so horribly, just that one thing makes it worth it for everyone to do what it takes.

    Am I missing something? Is it not, as Gore says, scientific consensus that human activity has contributed to this global warming, and that we can do things to mitigate it, turn it around? If that is so, of course, it still doesn’t mean they are right, but it does mean we’re irredeemable assholes if we don’t do what it takes. If the consensus is as advertized, then skepticism is not skepticism at all; it’s something much more pernicious.

    Besides. Do we do, or do we don’t have to come together as humans across the globe to smack down the profligate wasters and killers? The force of the intent of billions alone is enough to stop them.

    I remember singing Tracks of My Tears, all the way through, with Smokey Robinson and about 70,000 people when I was a young woman. It was enough to blow the lid off the whole Bay Area that night. No crime. The cops amazed and happy. I think it was from all the good will blaring out of the Oakland Coliseum. So.

    I went to town this afternoon and nobody knew about Live Earth. They were thrilled to hear about it. I musta talked to a hundred people. I’m just sick that nobody knew about it. I feel like going walkabout and yammering my head off to all the clueless oafs who don’t even know that a planetary rock concert to stop global warming is going on. Sheesh.

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This entry was posted on 5 July, 2007 by in Development, Neoliberalism, Political Economy, Political ideologies, Racism.

Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"


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