What Made This Country What It Is?

The Awakening of a Nation

…And The Uneven Slumber of a Notion


Warning! The Following is a Long, Poorly-Written Essay And Is Not Suitable For Those Without Time:

See the very bottom for a summary—>

One of my favourite topics to muse upon is precisely how a country and people came to be. I aim low, right? How did their society develop over the years, why they are where they are now, why this is like this and that is like that and, perhaps the most interesting question, why is so radically different from our own? Lacking an academic discipline that would enable me to answer such a question with any certainty, I have a few pet theories based purely upon my own observations and inconsistent logic.

Some explanations for differences are being parried back and forth in my mind.

Explaining differences in our societies with race is a laughable idea. Genetically, there is no basis for such a claim and the efforts to do so have been mired with prejudice and falsehood. Race is like an oily roadside pothole: though the surface may appear promisingly colourful and diverse, you’ll discover that its merely due to the whimsy of the light shining on it as the same water stews underneath. So race or genetics cannot answer these questions.

History is of high significance: intellectual advances, legal precedents, civil movements, political structures and the like. In Britain, the philosophical advancements in, say, utilitarianism provided a solid grounding for foreign administration and thus the maintenance of the Empire. In Germany, the current generation are the first to live in a united Germany – though are still not free from the angst of losing the second World War.

What I must find out is what movements, what key moments in history made Costa Rica the country it is today, because I believe that when one wishes to find out where something is going, it’s best to at least know where it came from.


A Brief Summary of What I Have Observed:


To call Costa Rican society simple would do it a great disservice and answer very little. But there is a simplicity to it. Rustic, maybe, would be a better word. Modern technology does not pervade life the way it does back in Europe. The road system, due to the prevalence of uneven terrain and hot climate, is rudimentary at best. Clothing is functional first and foremost and going shirtless in public is considered rude. Music is a somewhat uneven mix of cheap country Americana (very popular), Euro-pop, but, unsurprisingly, mostly Latin American. Housing is basic, wooden and occasionally quite crude. Most homes would have fridges and cookers, but televisions and telephones are less common.

The country is not wealthy. GDP (nominal) is roughly equivalent to Latvia… with twice the population of said country. Life expectancy is high enough at 77 years. Unemployment is low, but inflation is high. The country has enjoyed political and economic stability for quite some time. They are a nation at peace, yet they do not have much.

Obviously these are generalisations; cut me some slack here, it’s only my fourth day. So its certainly not  simple, maybe just rustic. But that doesn’t really answer the question I posed earlier does it?


Some Comparisons to Illustrate My Laboured Point


The main thing I can’t figure out is whether the country makes the people or the people make the country. For example: did the Dutch make the Netherlands or did the Netherlands make the Dutch?

Consider the climate: temperate, few extremes, no severe weather patterns to jar the senses and minds of the general populace. Could this breed stability and a rational society simply because they would have less mental health and physical health problems, thus less stress, less anxiety and the like? Then there are things like the terrain, the soil fertility, the woodland cover, the coastal regions, the precipitation and other such factors. What social, political and even psychological effects does this have on the populace? Then there are the same considerations about their immediate neighbours, heavily affecting the nature of the relationship between them. The extent to which the land makes the people cannot be underestimated. Geopolitics is not my speciality, but its a fascinating concept.

Going further back, the Roman Republic was allowed to flourish in peace largely due to the huge natural defensive wall in the form of the Alps, meaning they were free to progress without the raids and violence that plagued most other European tribes. Their land made them what they were more than they would like to admit.


Moving Slowly On


My questions about Costa Rica are the same. What social, political and psychological effects does the country have on the people here?

The climate is tropical, with a  rainy and dry season. Does this affect the work ethic as to work too hard during the day would be unsustainably taxing on one’s body. It is only rational to wish to rest in such heat and humidity. Homes, lives and transport have to be organised around the seasonal rhythm.

The roads are designed for horses in the mountains – and when the scenery is so beautiful and the horses so majestic, why bother upgrade? Where’s the authenticity in a 4×4 and air con?

The food is simple because the food is more than sufficient for nutrition and health. The Ticos (Costa Ricans) do not have the diseases of wealth and surplus (almost no diabetes, for example) and, as noted, life expectancy is more than acceptable.

Soccer is the game, possibly even religion, of choice. When all you need to enjoy it is a ball and some space, would one expect any different? It is the same everywhere else: soccer is popular because it is so very easy to play with friends, practice alone or just kick a ball against a wall. It is a game that can be enjoyed in the streets, in a garden, in a garage, on a pitch and wherever there is a ball, you have soccer. Like many parts of the world, it is the new, civilised form of tribal warfare. Great derby matches settle regional disputes. Even the basic unit of military, the squad, is used as the word for team. I firmly believe that the prevalence of such a sport reduces violence and civil strife and its proliferation should be encouraged… even if rugby is a far superior sport!

Religion plays an important part in everyone’s life; Catholic iconography is practically everywhere. Death is not seen as the end, merely the end of this life and the beginning of the next. Religion, when spread with peace and justice, can be a magnificent tool for social cohesion. In a country almost 95% Catholic, religious issues are rarely a point of contention and most people live happily under the (supposed) moral guidance of the Catholic Church.

The Ticos know how beautiful and pristine their country is. Unlike the Irish, for example, they know that what they have is truly special and they have the will to keep it that way. The Irish mostly don’t know what they have and are not doing the best job at maintaining what they have left. Maybe it’s hard to appreciate the Irish countryside when it’s rainy and overcast all the time. This could explain why the Ticos have not exploited their natural resources as much as they could have. Less wealth for more beauty? That’s a fair trade, me amigos.


If I Had a Conclusion, It Would Be Up Next


So my efforts to understand this country continue. The lay of the land and the natural conditions obviously play a big part in shaping a society; to what extent and what other factors are involved, I do not know yet. Of course, I do have more theories. I could, quite feasibly, discover that all I have postulated above is complete and utter nonsense, a waste of my time and yours, my initial questions woefully inadequate to begin with and my answers woefully inadequate. I have to say, I welcome that moment – because when I am able to disprove what I had previously written, then I know I have taken steps further towards truth and knowledge.

If you’re looking for that summary… good luck to ye, ye lazy swine. Try just scanning over the article and absorbing maybe four or five words. This is the selection I got from doing that very thing:

  1. Inconsistent
  2. Colourful
  3. Simple
  4. Generalisations
  5. Feasibly

See how effective that technique is for obfuscating my entire message? No? Then I cannot help you.



Filed under Brain Food, Soul Food

3 responses to “What Made This Country What It Is?

  1. Hello JB
    Have just printed out your blog for John Clay (have taken him lunch cos he’s got a bad back at the moment – we had a great old chat together)
    – logged on, on return, and, yes, have to admit that I did the classic and scolled right through to your cryptic summary – haha!!
    Loved reading all your stuff (well, let’s be honest, not all, but a fair portion…) and am more than relieved/delighted that your discomfort and travel sagas are now at least set in interesting landscapes and not departure lounges.
    Keep truckin’
    Talk to you soon
    love from me and all at Cobnor
    PS Am forwarding blog to Dinah and Peter, and the odd others…

  2. Vestin Hispants

    Yes – lay of the land and natural conditions but add ‘Guns, germs and steel’ to your list of required reading for a long look (global and since the Last Glacial Maximum about 12k years ago). x

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