All Books And No Play Makes Jack an Out-of-work Boy

Publicado en Future Challenges, portal web del proyecto sobre globalización de la Bertelsmann Stiftung, el 7 de diciembre de 2012.

The author would LOVE to thank Ligia María Orellana for her awesome drawings and her awesome self.

I have a friend who’s studying abroad, in Mexico. She’ll have a PhD in Demographic Studies before she turns 30. This is highly unlikely in Latin America and even less likely in Central America, a region with a profound disdain for academic work. She is, needless to say, a remarkable person. A Salvadoran, a woman born in the most densely populated country in Latin America, who holds a PhD in Demographic Studies, sounds ideal, don’t you think? Well, for her own sake, I hope she never comes back.

Drawn by Ligia María Orellana on Simeonistico.com. Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.5

Young men and women with academic inclinations are always outcasts; leave aside the iconic “egghead” image of glasses, quiet demeanor and pale pasty skin; leave aside that when I said “academic inclinations” your mind immediately yelled “NERD!” –  they are outcasts everywhere. Their condition worsens in countries like mine, where an intellectual inclination is often perceived as a waste of time, resources, and more frankly, as a waste of a good pair of hands. Is this cultural? Is this a reflex of our colonial past?

Drawn by Ligia María Orellana on Simeonistico.com. Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.5

Our economic system is oriented towards consumption of goods and outsourced services, not to production of any sort. Intellectual production is, then, nothing but a well-crafted piece of fiction. Our most brilliant minds get on a plane and leave for a country that offeres them a scholarship to help them come closer to the person they know they are meant to be. They leave with the hope of coming back with a well equipped, well prepared mind. Each and every time that happens, I sincerely hope they don’t come back.

Another friend of mine is in Chile, getting a Master’s degree in Psychology. She is 27 and she has got to be the most talented person I know. She draws comics, plays the drums, and is a published fiction author. Her curiosity is endless and the sharpness of her mind is more than evident when she gets into creative work. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her on a storyboard and that will remain as one of the best times in my life. However, in a country with technocratic aspirations trapped into a farmers’ market mindset (only what’s good, abundant harvest deserves to be nurtured so it can be sold), her talent was bound to go unnoticed unless she flew away. These, again, are the most promising minds of my country.

Drawn by Ligia María Orellana on Simeonistico.com. Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.5

Not only are bright people outcasted by the society they live in and the economic system that was imposed on them, but they are forced to live off their hope that one day their country will realize how necessary intellectual work is for getting the “progress” everyone is waiting for. Said hope, of course, is only nurtured by their (very few) peers. Depending on their field of work, their only option is either the academy (mostly teaching) or the government, which most of them oppose on principle. If they decide to do academic work, they will face years and years of waiting for a professor’s chair to turn vacant when an older, more experienced peer retires.

Drawn by Ligia María Orellana on Simeonistico.com. Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.5

My overpopulated, war-traumatized country has no jobs to offer a demographist or a psychologist. My severely anachronic country has no workplace for intellectuals, for innovators. No matter how much the media makes it cool to be clever now, intelligence in countries like El Salvador has always been a burden. An unnecessary one, they say. A path to walk alone. You get on a plane with your brains and your hopes; you leave your friends behind. You’re yearning to come back while the ones who cherish you wish and pray that you never do. It’s for your own sake. And it hurts like hell.