Tolerance and Poverty – Thoughts from Mexico

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

Within days of posting my last contribution Finn and I had the fortuitous opportunity of visiting the excellent Museum of Tolerance in Mexico City. Fully admitting I had no idea of the museum’s existence, it would almost seem synchronistic to come upon such a relevant institution so soon after contemplating tolerance in my latest blog. Fortunately I resist meant to be claims, as to do so would justify all of the bad of the world as well as those happy little moments we all cling to.

What an Excellent and Thought Provoking Museum

The museum chronicled the rise of the National Socialist regime in Germany and through the holocaust (an occurrence worth describing in detail in traditionally anti-semitic Catholic countries) and on to the genocides and mass-slaughters in Rwanda, ex-Yugoslavia and Cambodia. We even learned of the 1911 murder of over 300 ethnic-Chinese settlers in Mexico. The museum was well presented, meaningful and quite heavy for my eight year old.

Hierva el Agua in the Oaxacan Hills

Contemplating equality while negotiating the quagmire of Latin America’s widespread poverty and rigid class system exposes an obvious link between intolerance and desperation. In no way do I retract previous concerns about the actual beliefs of fundamentalist muslims, however it should be no surprise to anyone that adherence to extreme ideals must appeal more where daily conditions are desperate.

Latin America was long ruled by a tiny elite and governed from the pulpit. Platitudes and political posturing have carried on, but life has only gradually improved for large swaths of the population by extricating corruption from public institutions and increased social investment. Equality – as a principle – simply must include economic opportunity. This may even mean reigning in extreme wealth at one end of the spectrum in order to alleviate crushing poverty at the other.

As Mexican Immigrants mistreated in the north, it is brave and important to remember the culture of blame that has occurred in Mexico as well.

As we react to violent intolerance in our own society and around the world, let us not forget to maintain a conversation about providing real infrastructure and opportunity to the less fortunate. The liberal economic model certainly won the cold-war and this is probably a good thing, however when we ask people in marginal economic situations to take risks, the least our society can do is offer a cushion when some of the risks do not work out.

And to my friends who believe government has no role in the economy, I encourage you to travel to the slums of the world where people are effectively self-governing; terrible insecurity, private armed forces and mismanaged or no waste management are all consistent elements of society without collective investment. Additionally, those same marginal populations are breeding grounds for militant movements.

Mexico City from the Air The city is running out of water!

Referencing back once again to my concerns about Islamic beliefs – it sometimes surprises me even greater violence doesn’t emerge from the vast squalor and poverty in countries such as Pakistan and Nigeria. The obscene violence derived from poverty in Mexico, Honduras and Brazil is well documented and occurs without the benefit of some glorious afterlife. Add the promise of concubines in a glorious afterlife and its it easy to see how poor young men will sign up!

Started in 1910, the Revolution Monument is Mexico’s ‘Arc de Triomph’

Recent statistics have suggested the wealthiest 80 people on earth hold more wealth than the lowest 3.5 billion. This concentration of wealth is very well explored in Thomas Piketty’s book; Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I am certainly not advocating for any radical economic shift (we can list the many times these have failed), but as global hysteria increases with conflicts in Eastern Europe, the radicalization of the Islamic world and violence in slums almost anywhere, I would hope the conversation would include a genuine conversation about economic rights. Much as the Marshall Plan was successful in fortifying liberal democracy in Europe after World War 2, I hope we can see the value of investing in humanity, rather than offering platitudes about ‘rights’ being interpreted as a small elite simply keeping their wealth!

Lastly, I would like to thank Mexico for another wonderful visit. During this trip we stayed with a family and enjoyed Spanish classes in beautiful Oaxaca. As compared to Cusco last year, we could clearly see the success of fortified public institutions and stability in Mexico, versus those of Peru. It would seem the sooner we can globalize human rights in a palpable sense, the sooner we may tackle the many frightening issues facing our global community. At its best Latin America is the embodiment of unity and diversity. At its worst it can be the ugliest of humanity.

Finn in Spanish Class

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