Hello and good day!
We sell artisanal llama key chains in our shop and on our website. My wife brought them back from our last trip to Peru.
They are cute little handmade trinkets that we keep on a wooden display rack near our cash register. Many people add one to their chocolate purchase as a last-minute impulse buy.
Yesterday, however, a customer came in and bought a boatload.
I struck up a conversation with her, as I deemed the nature of her purchase to be unique.
"You're a llama enthusiast?" I asked.
"I am. Big time," she said.
It isn't every day that you come across a person who is passionate about llamas. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to know more about this interesting mindset.
"May I ask how one becomes a llama enthusiast?"
"No problem. I don't mind at all. You see, I have goats. And around here, coyotes hunt goats in the night. But if you have llamas, they protect the goats from predators. Llamas are very, very protective animals. They take care of whatever smaller animals are around. Sometimes they even try to keep me from getting near the goats."
"That is fascinating. Llamas are pretty tough?"
"Llamas are extremely tough and independent minded."
"They have a sort of noble and proud look to them too, don't they? Their posture is so straight up and down. They seem almost regal."
"It's true! And that is how they act. At least the ones I've had are that way. Very proud. Not docile at all. They are a lot to handle sometimes."
The customer checked out and we parted ways with a handshake and a smile. I thanked her for hipping me to llama psychology.
When she left, I was by myself, standing in our chocolate shop with salsa music playing on the speaker and rain falling heavily outside.
My mind fell on one of my favorite books, Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.
If you'd like a relatively brief and simple explanation for why some civilizations were able to conquer others, this book will give it to you.
It turns out that llamas, with their proud, stubborn, and ungovernable ways, played a key role in the unfolding of a great human drama.
Please consider this question.
Why do people in Peru speak Spanish instead of people in Spain speaking Quechua? We know it is because the Spanish conquered Peru and imposed their language on the natives. Had the Incas invaded and conquered Spain, it would have been the other way around.
So why did it happen the way it happened?
Jared Diamond believes that you can boil it down to essentially two primary factors.
The first is that Eurasia had good pack animals.
Cows, pigs, and sheep are extremely easy to herd and breed when compared to llamas.
As we've learned, llamas can be pretty dang ornery and don't submit easily to humans.
Also, bulls are tremendous beasts of burden. They are willing and able to pull heavy loads, which has all kinds of beneficial applications.
Llamas, on the other hand, are not beasts of burden. It's hard to harness them up and make them pull.
The natural gift of herdable animals led to a lot of important outcomes.
An efficient and readily available source of calories can support larger populations.
Larger populations give you a greater pool from which to draw innovative engineering geniuses who can discover and develop new technology, such as steel weapons and boats.
Ongoing proximity to pack animals exposed Eurasians to many strange and deadly viruses and allowed the population to develop corresponding immunities to new diseases.
But when you trace these factors back to first causes, the fact that llamas are naturally stubborn and proud becomes historically important.
The other environmental gift that was bestowed on Eurasians was a continent that is long horizontally.
South America and Africa are long vertically and Africa in particular has a huge desert separating the north from the south.
The horizontal length of a continent provides a long stretch of stable weather and farming conditions.
A sturdy, nutrient rich crop that grows well in one place can be effectively transported and farmed along a horizontal axis because weather remains roughly similar.
Cacao is a good example of this, it grows all over the world, on every continent, within twenty degrees north and south of the equator, even though it is indigenous to the Amazon jungle.
Transplanting crops north and south doesn't work too well.
By the way, the United States is also long horizontally and much of our country shares the same latitudinal line as much of Eurasia.
Additionally, because what is now the United States was originally colonized by European powers, the colonists were able to import crops and animals that had already been vetted for success during long experience.
This sped up the rate of progress.
The types of animals available and the natural axis of land masses are the essential determining factors for why some societies initially became stronger than others.
The next question to ask is why certain of the naturally stronger civilizations became predominant over others.
And now you get into questions of political systems and culture.
I'm a natural born, freedom loving American.
I value individual freedom because it has solid ethical underpinnings and also because from a practical standpoint, it works.
However, freedom without environmental advantages becomes less attractive.
Freedom is not a panacea. A freedom loving person must admit that.
I'll tell you why.
Out where we buy cacao, in the northern Peruvian jungle, it is a libertarian eutopia. There is barely any government out there and you can pretty much do as you darn well please with your property.
There are also very few paved roads, well-built bridges, or hospitals. You can't drink water from the faucet.
The electricity goes out for days on end just about every month.
Hard rains flood everything, including houses.
People die on farms from infections that we cure easily with anti-biotics in the United States.
I'd wager that given the choice, most freedom loving folks would choose to live in a semi-socialist state in the developed world rather than move out to the jungle and have absolute freedom.
Of course, the best of all worlds is a good natural environment paired with plenty of individual and economic freedom.
At its core, this whole thing is a question of nature versus nurture, which is ultimately what much of life boils down to.
You are born into a given set of circumstances that you have no say over.
You show up at a particular spot in the world and your parents are who they are.
This is every person's lot in life.
And then, we decide what to make of our lot.
For that which we are given, gratitude is the order of the day.
For that which we achieve through our own effort, pride is appropriate.
Thank you so much for time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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