When Information is Less than Informative

Last night, after checking out the Lolcats book release at my new co-working space, Parisoma, I headed over to counterPulse for:
“A discussion of African liberation movements and decolonialization [sic] from 1945 to the present, of political problems of the post-independence period—coups, civil wars, struggles against oppressive regimes, economic problems of post-independence, of cultural renaissance, and of links to movements in diaspora. Immanuel Wallerstein and Walter Turner and Will Grant.”
If you’re sitting there, thinking, “Hmm, that sounds like a big topic about an enormous continent to fit into an hour long talk?”, then you would be thinking correctly. It was an asinine assumption by the presenters that this kind of topic could be fit in to such a short talk. Africa is 20% of the world’s landmass and comprised of 53 countries. How on earth do you fit that in to such a short talk? Just trying to do one country like say, Burundi would prove difficult for this format. Then, toss in to the mix that the people doing the discussion were all Americans and you’ve got a recipe for a talk that was long on words, but short on content.
The panelists weren’t horrible, but they weren’t great. The most qualified was Immanuel Wallerstein, but his manner of talking was incredible slow and full of long, dead pauses that killed the momentum of what essentially a history lesson. Will Grant was alright, but he just seemed to be the token young guy full of zeal and again, most history. Walter Turner was the least qualified of the group and talked for about a third of his time on where he had traveled, a third on books that he’s read, and a third on loose history. Needless to say, he came across as having the least depth and thought in what he discussed.
That was it, just a lot of history that can be read anywhere, a smattering of facts and figures, and then little actually analysis. The worst part in all of it was how smothering the audience was, kowtowing to the “great knowledge” of the panelists. And it’s not that people in the audience were necessarily stupid, they’re just American and ignorant. If people are going to take a vested interest in a place like Africa, then they really need to educate themselves.
As it is, I feel that panels like these do much more harm than good. People come out of them feeling like now they’re informed and now they know, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Sure, they might join a Save Darfur campaign (which by the way is a messed up situation that is not as simple as right and wrong: Darfur region–victim, Sudan government–evil) but they don’t really grasp anything substantial. It also saturates people with piles of ephemera that can be looked up on Wikipedia. For instance, everything that Grant said about Zimbabwe, I had read on Wikipedia in about 30 minutes (you can too). But the audience that was there was much like family members whom I shall not mention that fear Wikipedia. Why do they fear it? Because it has facts. Not opinions, but facts. Facts are scary because the face you with truth and once you see truth, and you’re an intelligent person, you realize that you have to do something. You realize that the petition you signed to have Congress tell DR Congo to protect their gorillas was really a waste of time. And this is where it gets nasty because you know that really being informed is going to require getting your hands dirty and none of us in the US like that…
When Information is Less than Informative