If I were an Anthropologist…

29 Jun

I would probably come study Cartago

Originally passing through for motorcycle repair, gas, and to see the church, I ended up staying the night when I met a mechanic who offered me passage for the night. What I found was a pleasant city almost devoid of alcohol or bad influence.

What’s unique about this city is that it is very clean– no grunge, no old man asking for money to spend on alcohol. It is straighter and well kept. People were inside at 7:30. I saw one painting, families on their porches. No dogs barked as I walk past, nothing menacing or unknown here. I keep coming back to it: is this what a world is like without alcohol? No crime, no grafitti, no trash– a beautiful set of churches and parks and historic structures. I saw an at-risk age group of teenagers… on the church steps talking. Maybe symbolic of something: is this what Christian values holds together?

I imagine hard social indicators would reflect this tranquility I observe intuitively: inequality, unemployment, crime, dropout rate, teenage pregnancy, etc. (Notice we don’t really have any indicators for well-being other than money– here it would be high income per capita, if my suspicions are correct. Most people own their own variety stores.) Often times cities in the developing world bring opportunity but also huge areas of underdevelopment. “There are some barrios, further out,” affirms the mechanic, “but in the city everyone works.” Neat to see how development works without much external influence.

There was plenty of local variety in the shops and services provided. It is a full-out city with 170,000 population, (which floods with people for a yearly ceremony August 1st- more on this soon!). I noticed by riding around that there was no hotel offerings, no fast food or chain vendors, mechanics abound, all of which suggest a unique 20th-century pre-globalization feel (pre-Americanization? pre-Industrialization?). I wondered if Ticos would be frustrated by this lack of common services or lack of imports , but from talking with them it seems that they know and appreciate very well their local vendor scene.

Appreciation- this is the sense I felt on my short stay there. By human nature it is very hard to find, and culturally even harder to think about. I know I won’t have time to stay and be with them to find out, but perhaps grad school at the Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza (CATIE) would permit some further exploration. If you are more interested in Cartago, it’s wikipedia page is short but nice as a visual: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartago,_Costa_Rica I hope you enjoyed this brief description, as always leave comments and check out the pages for more Costa Rica!

-Eddie Miller
Costa Rica 2009.



4 Responses to “If I were an Anthropologist…”

  1. Edward D. Miller July 1, 2009 at 1:51 am #

    Your intuition about Cartago, the oldest city in Costa Rica, is probably correct–they probably HAVE figured out a very good way to live with one another in a healthy way. I imagine their “happiness” , “satisfaction”, and “love” for one another is quite high. These things are worthy of being measured, compared and contemplated. What economic, social, political and geographic factors tend to improve them or hurt them. Hopefully the new generation of economists will broaden their focus, away from the sole focus of older economists on the GDP, and study more important things besides money and goods and services. I agree that YOU could advance our understanding of these things, whether you do grad school in the “Rich Coast” or not.

    Here is some stuff I found from surfing a bit:

    this economics paper compares happiness with the UN’s Human Development Index


    Happiness.org – World Database of Happiness

    8,0 Denmark
    8,0 Malta
    8,0 Switzerland
    7,8 Iceland
    7,8 Ireland
    7,6 Canada
    7,6 Luxembourgh
    7,6 Netherlands
    7,5 Mexico
    7,5 Sweden


    Adrian White . . . analysed data published by UNESCO, the CIA, the New Economics Foundation, the WHO, the Veenhoven Database, the Latinbarometer, the Afrobarometer, and the UNHDR, to create a global projection of subjective well-being: the first world map of happiness. . . . The meta-analysis is based on the findings of over 100 different studies around the world, which questioned 80,000 people worldwide. . . . It is worth remembering that the UK is doing relatively well in this area, coming 41st out of 178 nations. Further analysis showed that a nation’s level of happiness was most closely associated with health levels (correlation of .62), followed by wealth (.52), and then provision of education (.51). The three predictor variables of health, wealth and education were also very closely associated with each other, illustrating the interdependence of these factors. There is a belief that capitalism leads to unhappy people. However, when people are asked if they are happy with their lives, people in countries with good healthcare, a higher GDP per captia, and access to education were much more likely to report being happy. We were surprised to see countries in Asia scoring so low, with China 82nd, Japan 90th and India 125th. These are countries that are thought as having a strong sense of collective identity which other researchers have associated with well-being. It is also notable that many of the largest countries in terms of population do quite badly. With China 82nd, India 125th and Russia 167th it is interesting to note that larger populations are not associated with happy countries.

    The 20 happiest nations in the World are:
    1 – Denmark
    2 – Switzerland
    3 – Austria
    4 – Iceland
    5 – The Bahamas
    6 – Finland
    7 – Sweden
    8 – Bhutan
    9 – Brunei
    10 – Canada
    11 – Ireland
    12 – Luxembourg
    13 – Costa Rica
    14 – Malta
    15 – The Netherlands
    16 – Antigua and Barbuda
    17 – Malaysia
    18 – New Zealand
    19 – Norway
    20 – The Seychelles
    Other notable results include:
    23 – USA
    35 – Germany
    41 – UK
    62 – France
    82 – China
    90 – Japan
    125 – India
    167 – Russia
    The three least happy countries were:
    176 – Democratic Republic of the Congo
    177 – Zimbabwe
    178 – Burundi
    Source: University of Leicester

    another ranking, for both happiness and satisfaction — “subjective well-being”:


    another ranking:


    For any venture to be SUSTAINABLE, probably the most important factor is the health (which to me is quite similar to “resilience” to the inevitable stressors of change), WELLNESS (or “love”) and sustainablity of the HUMAN RESOURCES that surround it. By this measure, Julio’s organic farm is NOT sustainable, because it is not supported by a sustainable community with the ability and interest to carry-on the good work that Julio and his daughter are doing (should something happen to Julio’s health or energy.) Sustainable development should not depend upon expats or one person; healthy, empowered COMMUNITIES that have figured out how to relate to one another with health and wellness are essential! Those of us in “rich” countries who don’t want to ‘collapse’ probably have alot to learn from countries with less GDP per person but a higher ‘happiness quotient’ or ‘spiritual health quotient’ or higher ‘physical health quotient’.

    PS. the CATIE link that works is:

    • eddiemill July 3, 2009 at 11:06 pm #

      If not for happiness, what do we live for?


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