Saturday, October 13, 2007

Internal Monologue Book Club: Three Cups of Tea

I've been meaning to blog about this book I recently read for some time now. Three Cups of Tea is about Greg Mortenson, a mountain climber turned activist who builds schools in Central Asia. I liked this book for a number of reasons:
  1. It depicts the people of western Pakistan and Afghanistan in an intimate and humanizing way. With all the messages and images we get of terrorists, Taliban, etc. it's important to realize that the vast majority of the people in these regions are extremely poor and far more concerned with surviving and bettering their lives than with ideology. It seems this books is a great primer on this region of the world, though not being an expert I can't properly critique the picture the authors paint.
  2. The book depicts an American doing something GOOD in this region of the world, and acting with humility, determination, and a sensitivity to local customs. Given the behavior of our current administration, it is refreshing to see this kind of thing.
  3. It depicts in stark relief the power of Saudi money to build madrassas that often have a fundamentalist or Wahabbist agenda. Often, the schools Mortenson helps build are the only places rural Pakistanis and Afghans, especially girls, can get a secular eduction. But he and his allies arer clearly out-gunned financially by the madrassas being built in the same areas. They can offer free room and board, as well as nice uniforms and a shiny new building. This makes their lure very powerful to the rural poor, who don't get many services from the government or outsiders and must often struggle just to survive. When I fill up my gas tank, I think that some of the money I'm spending goes to support these madrssas. That is really annoying.
  4. The book talks about one person making a difference in the world, and that is inspiring.

Sometimes it seems that individuals are too small to make a dent in the problems the world is facing. But of course the enormous currents of change flowing around the world are simply the aggregated actions of many individual human beings. Sometimes, by describing social and economic change using metaphors grounded in natural phenomena ("the tidal wave of global capitalism"), we can fool ourselves into thinking that they are natural phenomena over which we have no control. This is not true. Behind every "inevitable trend", there are probably a lot of people working very hard to make it happen, and who are profitting from it.

My favorite example of this is "Moore's Law" about the doubling of semi-conductor density approximately every 18 months. It's often presented as some sort of natural phenomenon, like gravity. But the fact is, semi-conductor companies like Intel and AMD spend billions of dollars on R&D to make Moore's Law happen, and make billions of dollars in profits from making it happen.

That is not too say that stopping or changing these kinds of trends is easy. But it does happen and can happen. Anyway, I've strayed somewhat from the topic of the book, but I highly recommend it. It's a very intersting story and is filled with a lot of information about places in the world that I've heard a lot about, but don't actually know much about.


Anonymous CAI Volunteer said...

Here's your chance to do some good to help "Dr. Greg"! There will be a fundraiser for Greg Mortenson's non-profit, Central Asia Institute, on September 25, 2010 in Santa Clara, CA. It is a gala event with lots of great entertainment, food and gifts. Get tickets before they are gone at

8:58 AM, August 26, 2010  

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