Advantaged or disadvantaged? A couple days ago I wrote about a domestic violence training where Dawn Watkins (Director, Humboldt DV Services) talked about power, privilege, and oppression, and how that supports (or even encourages) tolerance for domestic violence. Dawn talked about how being part of a rural community, off the beaten track, and in hilly terrain, leaves Del Norte and some of the neighboring counties at a disadvantage when it comes to things like medical care, law enforcement response, communications, and travel options. One of the trainees said she was uncomfortable with the term, “disadvantaged.” Her people have been living in this area for thousands of years, hunting, fishing, growing food, raising families, and had everything they needed for a good life. It was interesting listening to the two of them talk about their ideas with open give-and-take.
Mentally looking for a bridge between their outlooks, I found myself thinking of “disadvantaged” or “underdeveloped” areas, where various people have come in and said something like,”Here, let us make things better for you.” Sometimes they are well-meaning people, like missionaries, social workers, politicians, educators, and health workers. Better health care is really the only advantage I can wholeheartedly endorse, and even then we have to be mindful of how that will affect their spirituality and other related traditions. In the other areas, when does the tinkering with their culture stop? Sometimes it becomes a way to further oppress those without power.
My mind jumped to cultures where they feel they have everything they already need for a good life. What happens when those cultures are visited by someone from an “advantaged” or “developed” culture? Some of the earliest explorers from European cultures were out there looking for new sources of raw materials, and new markets for the goods they were selling. “Look what we have — cloth, metal pots and pans, guns — you need what we have!” They created a need where there had never been one. Even missionaries — “You need our God, because He is more powerful and is the one, true God.” Reading and writing are great things, but there are verbal cultures who existed just fine without them.
There are some things, like medical care, that don’t take a lot of selling, because people want to live and be healthy. But business in general is very good at creating a desire for their products. Drink this beverage, you will be happy/sexy/smart/energetic/whatever. Advertising doesn’t really sell products, they sell a way of life, and they make it look so good. After a while, it takes serious disconnection to realize a person does not need all this stuff to be happy. Movies and entertainment present a consumerist lifestyle as the way things should be; so does the Internet and print media. We start to believe it. And suddenly all those cultures who don’t have all this cool stuff look disadvantaged. Underdeveloped. They are a fresh market for all our products.
What do you think?