The Reason Why Third World Countries Are Poor (A Rant)

Oh, east is east, and west is west, and never the twain shall meet...  —Kipling

     I had a western monk friend in Burma (alias Myanmar) many years ago, with whom I would occasionally converse cynically with regard to the situation in that country. He had formerly been in the Peace Corps, and once he informed me that conservative Republican governments have allowed the Peace Corps to continue to exist because being Peace Corps volunteers tends to make people more conservative. They realize that poor countries are poor not simply because of lack of resources or colonial oppression, but mainly because of the prevailing mentality of the people—including, but certainly not limited to, the people running the government. Entire cultures may be indifferent towards, if not positively averse to, forethought, rational planning, organization, critical thought, and actually solving practical problems.

     A typical Peace Corps horror story involved a medical officer in Nepal who learned that she had to dispense medications to female patients one day’s worth at a time, because otherwise, worthless lout husbands would steal the supply, sell it, and spend the money on liquor and cigars. It is not just abnormally foolish people on the leftwards edge of the statistical bell-shaped curve who can behave in an outrageously (to a westerner) short-sighted and crude manner, but cultural mainstreams, the hump of the curve, may be like this. There is a reason why Latin American nations, adopting the same sort of governmental systems as the USA or some European nations, nevertheless continue to wallow in political and economic chaos and squalor. And let’s not even consider the perennial, never-ending predicament of sub-Saharan Africa. Let’s not even go there.

     Some who watch the video interviews I’ve been posting with Brian Ruhe (“the Nazi Buddhist”) may remember the joke:

Q: How many Burmese people does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. They just stumble around in the dark and are patient about it.

The Burmese are an admirable and very respectable people in many respects, in some respects superior to westerners, generally speaking; but their nation is very poor, undeveloped, and “backward” not because of overpopulation, lack of resources, or 20th-century British colonialism, and not because they prefer Buddhist simplicity to economic prosperity, but because of their hopeless incapacity to organize and get things done in a reasonable manner. The primary advice I have given to westerners in the past who were planning on visiting Burma is “Be Patient,” because nothing works the way it’s supposed to. A certain type of tourist can occasionally be seen in that country with a sour, pissed-off, miserable countenance, caused by his bizarre, obstinate insistence that buses and trains should run on schedule, the air conditioning should actually work, the electricity should not go on and off at random, and so on and so on. It can get to western monks sometimes too. But the Burmese don’t seem to see anything wrong with that at all; it’s just the way it is. No need to do anything about it, other than patiently accepting it.

     Burma is not overpopulated, and is very rich in natural resources: fertile soil, enough petroleum to be self-sufficient, practically unexploited fishing grounds off the coast, forests of teak and ironwood, and some of the best rubies, sapphires, and jade in the world. It was easily the wealthiest country in Southeast Asia during the time of the British Raj, under the systematic management of the Empire; and when southern Burma was ruled by the British and the north was still ruled by Burmese kings, there was a flow of economic migrants moving southwards, out of archaic, sovereign Burma and into the prosperous British colony. But after independence in 1948, when the good people attempted to manage the country themselves, then Burma promptly became the poorest country in Southeast Asia. (Part of the problem was General Aung San, the famous Nobel laureate’s father, demanding independence as quickly as possible, turning down British offers to rebuild the Burmese economy after WW2 before the transition, largely because he wanted to be the first leader of independent Burma and wanted elections while he was still very popular and a kind of national hero. He has remained a hero if only because he and almost all of his Cabinet were assassinated before he could do much of anything.) Back around 1997 I was hiking through a forest in northern Burma with two old village guys, and when we would stop and set up camp they’d sit around conspiring against the military government—as though two elderly hillbillies could actually do anything against the military regime. Once I made the observation that the best Burma could do would be to beg the British to come back and take the place over again…which went over like a lead brick. These proud, patriotic, ethnocentric Burmese fellows didn’t appreciate my advice, regardless of the truth of it. They didn’t get angry though, of course, because the Burmese are extremely patient, and respectful of monks also.

     Anyway, the event that has inspired this little diatribe is a corroboration of the joke about light bulbs, which is not entirely a joke. As of the time of writing this, the Internet connection here has been failing every day, for several hours a day. It usually crashes around noon and becomes operational again in the evening. Consequently, since this started happening, I’ve usually had Internet access only in the early morning and at night (late mornings I’m occupied with feeding behavior, etc.). It has been like this for more than ten days, yet practically nothing has been done about it. I tell the senior monk here about the situation, and he says he’ll contact a (Burmese) lay supporter who knows about computers. Then that one doesn’t really know what to do, so another supporter is called to come on a later date, then another…. I tell the venerable senior monk that what is required is to contact the Internet provider and it could be rectified in one day, considering that the Internet works fine at night and goes off around the same time every day, and he replies that he doesn’t know the account numbers and such, so another monk in Fremont who pays the bills will probably have to do it…and nobody does it. Yesterday a Burmese guy showed up with a different modem, which also didn’t work. Today another fellow came to take a look, and informed me that he tried to call the Internet provider but was unable to do so. A little later he tried again, but the (Burmese) person who established the account evidently gave inaccurate information, so accessing the account now requires the knowledge of unknown misinformation. Thus far the situation has prevailed for many days; and again, it could probably have been rectified in a single day by an American layperson who actually is motivated to get things accomplished. Especially if he had set up the account himself, with correct information.

     But this is just the way things are in Burma, and among the Burmese in general, and probably among the people of many non-western cultures—even among some who are attempting to imitate western cultures. This is the way things have been for many ages, since immemorial time, and no amount of economic aid to developing countries or blaming colonialist Whitey is going to change that.

     I’ve been holding my tongue on this situation, aside from occasionally advising that something, like calling the Internet provider, should be done; but I’ve been continually tempted to tell the senior monk here, “This is why Burma is a poor country. Because this is how things get done there.” Or rather don’t get done there. The primary causes of the “backwardness” of third world societies are psychological, not physical. If the problem is physical, it could be an inherited, racially-conditioned physicality of the brain. In which case, simple education with western ways of thinking will be insufficient to change this situation, assuming that modernist globalists can justify indoctrinating all the people of the world to be like the westerners who are now the scapegoats for all the evil of the world.

     I may as well be even more politically incorrect here by pointing out that leftists in the west, and globalists in general, are extremely intent upon importing as many migrants from these cultures as possible, many of whom are fleeing the same backwards messes that their own psychology and attitudes have created and sustained, and bringing those same attitudes with them. The “progressive” theory is that all racial differences are purely superficial, and that everyone can fully integrate into a technologically advanced, harmonious, prosperous western culture; or else the theory is that importing these people will help to undermine and destroy a non-Marxist society, so that the utopian Brave New World may be constructed from the smoking wreckage. The first alternative is based more upon politically correct wishful thinking than upon empirical evidence; and in either case, mass importation of non-western migrants should be greatly reduced, if not positively reversed, if the west is not to degenerate into a backwards hellhole like the ones the economic migrants are fleeing.

UPDATE: The day I wrote this diatribe a supporter of the monastery finally succeeded in contacting the cable company. Today a guy showed up to see what the problem is, and evidently the wire underground leading to the building is faulty. It malfunctions during the day when the ground heats up, and functions at night when the ground is cooler. Anyway, it will now take approximately one more week for the cable company to come again, survey the area for underground pipes, etc., and then come again after that and dig up the old wire and lay a new one. So I was wrong in assuming that the situation could have been fixed in a single day, although it could have already been fixed by now. From a karmic perspective this situation could be interpreted as retribution for my excessive and not entirely wholesome preoccupation with using the Internet. Once in Burma, back around 2001, a dam in the town of Wun Dwin burst, causing a flash flood which ruined all my books stored there, and incidentally killed several hundred people, as a sign that I had too many books.


Q: How many Burmese people does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. In the glorious future of Burma, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will change everyone’s light bulb for them.

Q: How many Burmese people does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Nine; two to actually change the light bulb, one to fetch another bulb after the two break the first one, two nice Burmese ladies bustling about providing tea and advice that no one listens to, and four Burmese men standing around shouting directions.

Q: How many Burmese people does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Three; one to actually change the light bulb, one Burmese general to observe him changing it, and one photographer to take the picture for the newspaper. (Only people familiar with Burmese newspapers under the military regime would get that, because generals were continually being photographed “observing” factories, new irrigation projects, dams, computer schools, etc.)

Q: How many Burmese people does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Ten, because nine out of ten Burmese people have never seen a light bulb and wouldn’t know how to go about it.

Q: How many Burmese people does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Apparently more than 50 million, because there are 50 million people in Burma and the damned light bulb still hasn’t been changed.


  1. Bummer! But the universe has its reasons, an no doubt you will be back online when it is time for you to be back online. As Chas. Fort used to say, it steam-engines when it is steam-engine time!

    1. Yeah, it still hasn't been fixed, although a visitor here is letting me use the wifi hotspot on his phone for a little while. About one year ago a similar karmic coincidence occurred in which my computer mysteriously died when I was in Burma, causing this blog to be interrupted for over a month.


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