Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Blog Post Feedback from Students

After publishing my last poverty essay on this blog, I encouraged friends and classmates to read it online and give some constructive feedback on the article. To be honest, I never really thought that anyone would actually read my last blog post and only remotely hoped that they would check out this blog site.

Surprisingly, a few actually did take time to read the essay and sent me their thoughts on the world poverty issues I addressed in the post. Spending a few days to respond to their messages, I thought that it might be useful to publish their constructive criticism and my responses to their concerns...

The first feedback discussion on the blog post entitled "Why the World has Poor..." took place between myself and a fellow engineering classmate, Matt.

Matt's Initial Message:

"It is certainly interesting... however part of India's problem in regards to poverty and social justice is the caste system. Do not get me wrong, I think it is good and noble to go and provide clean water to the people of India (or anywhere for that matter). At the end of this project and projects like it however there will continue to be classes of people who will remain poor, in all senses of the word.

Now, is this to say to not go, and that projects like this should not occur? Of course not, but the realization by us all must be made that until social reform occurs, the halt of the spread of disease and poverty will remain elusive. Will it help with disease? Most certainly, but unlike what your blog claims, providing clean water to your target group will not address the "big picture".

... I hope you don't take this as criticism... if you do, feel free to censor me.

My Response:

"Here's my rebuttal:

(1) True, the caste system is a problem. However, the poverty argument in the article is more general in that it addresses WORLD poverty and how this model fits to India. There are TONS of factors that work into this on a country-by-country basis. The main idea of the essay and Sach's book is how the poverty gap has widened over the last century. I probably generalized a lot in the blog post, but it would take me weeks to go into detail on specific poverty issues... and I'm sure everyone would still have more factors to add to the list.

(2) Yes, social reform is needed. I'm not arguing that it is or isn't important, or that clean water will fix all of India's problems. If you look at the UN's Millenium Goals, clean water is only one of 7 ways targeted to cut world poverty. India's "underlying problem" that I mentioned in the blog post is "poverty", not water issues. Water issues are a result of poverty.
Cleaning up the water primarily helps the health issues. I did not state in the post that it would end poverty... you may have taken that out of context.

(3) The main goal of my statements at the end of the post is that we cannot withhold knowledge from a country that is dying because of lack of appropriate technology.

I know you enjoy playing the devil's advocate on this one... I'm just pumped that someone actually read the article. :-)"

Matt's Follow-up Response:

"Good re-post. As to taking your statement out of context, I vary well may have, I am attempting to do the whole "multi-tasking" thing with varied success.

All in all, the book by Sach sounds very interesting. And as a general comment on your summary of the work, I think with the comparative lengths, you did a great job."

My Additional Response:

LOL... thanks for the constructive criticism... words are meant to be scrutinized. ;) I keep hoping that more people will visit my blog from time to time. The more discussion, the better..."

Matt's Final Message:

"Your last comment is SO true. I am in an ethics class reading a piece of work by T. Beauchamp, and he comes to a similar conclusion in his section concerning health care coverage. He makes the claim that no matter how wrong ANY health care system is, with the public involved in the process through open and active communication, the system will eventually reach a point where 'everyone' is happy. Perhaps a little idealized, but nonetheless it reinforces what you say regarding discussion."

The next thread of discussion on the blog post came from a business student, Jason:

Jason's Initial Message:

Do you realize that by fixing the contamination problem of India's water will just help the earth to its carrying capacity even sooner? Don't want to be a Debbie Downer, but I'm just saying... Survival of the fittest?
(sarcasm was used...)"

My Reply:

"Interesting point... and I've actually heard the population argument used before, but let me counter-argue with this:

Family size is inversely proportional to a mother's level of education. So as women become more educated in developing nations, they choose to have less children. Providing poor areas with clean water is just one way to decrease poverty in 2nd and 3rd-world countries. A drop in poverty will lead to the women of these countries to seek additional schooling, which will cause the family size to decrease.

In the States, the average number of kids per mother is around 2-3. In India, the average number is around 6. In Africa, the number is huge (somewhere around 8-10). As you can imagine the population issue can be resolved just by getting people to go to school.

Thanks for reading my article. Woot! Now I'm up to 2 people who actually visited my site..."

The final set of feedback messages were sent by a biology graduate, Richard:

Richard's Initial Message:

I enjoyed reading your article, Julia. I agree with much of what you write, but I'm curious about your conclusion: "It is our social responsibility to share current knowledge of appropriate, sustainable technology in order to halt the spread of disease, poverty, and social injustice." Although most efforts would have the best of intentions and hopefully the best of results, could this statement not be viewed as a modern reinterpretation of "the white man's burden" if by "our" you mean the developed Western world and not just humankind as a whole? I see what you mean regarding social injustice, but I fear that with the current political climate in the world, the change to many parts of the world would come in a new form of imperialism."

My Response:

It's interesting that you bring up this point as we are constantly debating it in class...

So yeah, the social injustice part of my statement is a tricky one and we're running into problems with it in my design class. Our biggest debate is:

"Should we introduce new technology that might infringe on India's current culture and way of life? What makes our (the Western world) ideas better than theirs?"

To be honest, we haven't found a good answer to this question yet and I doubt anyone really has.

You make a good point and I can't really argue against it. For the purposes of this project, we're forced to look at the fact that people are dying due to water contamination. Solutions to this problem range from changing government policy to convincing people to use a toilet or latrine.

In a sense, we can't really introduce a new technology in the region without somehow affecting their culture, government, and society. Whether or not this fits under the "social injustice" category is a matter of labels.

It's a fine line between helping people and "imperializing" their way of life...

(btw, if you think of a good way to introduce technology without infringing on their core values, culture, and beliefs... please let me know. I am constantly looking for a good solution to this issue.)

Thanks for reading my article! (Woo-hoo! I am now up to 3 people who have looked at it...)"

Richard's Response:

Actually, I do not agree with the idea that all cultural values hold equal merit. While we can certainly try to be respectful, we also can recognize when something is unfairly harmful (of course the extreme cases such as honor killings are easier to spot out than more subtle practices).

For instance, I have met and made friends with many women who have adopted use of a headscarf while in public because of their Christian or Islamic beliefs. Unlike the stereotype, I find many of them to be just as strong-willed or even sassy as any other individual. However, when I see the wearing of full burqas in Iran and elsewhere, enforced through threats of violence and death, I find that crossing the line. Yet, should the UN or the US send troops in to liberate such women?

The problem besides needless aggression and bloodshed is that these practices are just one aspect of a much larger cultural difference. Such change cannot come easily (nor necessarily painlessly). That lack of understanding is a big part of why the occupation and rebuilding of Iraq has been so turbulent.

I don't think there is a straightforward answer of what to do. Probably the best option would be to introduce any new cultural intervention, whether it be technology or belief, to trusted cultural leaders of the population. Convince them of its value, and they can decide the best way to disseminate it to the public. This will not prevent all cries of imperialism, and certainly from an outside perspective, can seem just as perverse as any other subterfuge, but it seems at least more like a scalpel compared to the hatchet of old."

My Final Reply:

Several valid points, my friend..."

If you would like to leave comments or feedback on any of my blog posts feel free to leave a comment on this blog, email, or facebook me. I appreciate constructive criticism and try to encourage discussion on any of the issues addressed on this website.

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