A Different Kind of Poor

Today, one of the slides in one of my classes said:

When segment(s) of (a) population seems permanently ignorant, their state is labeled “info poverty” & has 3 characteristics:

1. Low level of processing skills, with reading, language, hearing, or eyesight deficiencies

2. Social isolation in subculture, leading to unawareness of info known to larger public, reliance upon rumor and folklore, & dependence on entertainment-oriented media like TV (italics mine)

3. Tendency to feel ftalistic/helpless, which in turn reduces likelihood of active info seeking

My question to the professor was this: does this second category suggest that reliance on traditional cultural knowledge systems, like traditional medicine, is actually a “reliance upon rumor and folklore” that results in permanent ignorance? No one, professor included, liked the implications of that statement. Suddenly, it seemed to smack of cultural supremacy. Some of the suggestions floated by my classmates included:

“This statement could imply correlation, not causation. These communities could be info poor for other reasons, too, but these factors could help us identify communities.”

“If a culture relies on oral tradition, not that there’s anything wrong with that, its just, information probably doesn’t spread as easily. They’re at risk for losing that knowledge.”

“We live in an able-ist society. Information isn’t made as widely available to people with handicaps like deafness.”

“Nope. This statement isn’t recognizing other forms of knowledge. In my culture, in my family, survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide, we knew about the Khmer Rouge through ghost stories. My uncle(?) was shot in the knee during the genocide. When my brother had growing pains in his knee, we associated it with my uncle, and history.”

It’s so good to have someone to back up the respect for multi-cultural knowledge!

Social insulation, having a space space with a critical mass of people who share your culture, is an important part of cultural preservation. And I would venture to say that what this author attributed to rumor and folklore, can easily and detrimentally encompass alternative forms of knowledge.

People thought acupuncture was crazy for a long, long time, no? They didn’t think that Chinese people, in five thousand years of history, hadn’t figured out medicine. Western doctors called it superstition because they didn’t recognize it. I would dare to say, however, it was not the Chinese subculture that was info poor in that case, but the rest of the world that didn’t believe in acupuncture.

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