Presumably, we arrive at university in the pursuit of knowledge. We herd from lecture to lecture acquiring the information that seems so crucial for our future. But underlying this well trodden path to enlightenment and understanding exist many obvious problems. For example: How can we truly know anything? What is the place of experience in this institution of head knowledge? And how can we be certain of the knowledge we acquire? Philosophers and theologians alike have puzzled over these profound questions for centuries, so if you find yourself musing about the intricacies of epistemology, you follow the tortured footsteps of greats like Plato, Descartes, Hume, Kant e.t.c.

The poor of the world, I believe, present a real example of the essence of this challenge to really know something. One little taught fact about the world is that most people living on this planet are poor. And this is the kind of poverty that most of us would find totally unacceptable if it lived next door. Thankfully, New Zealanders are far removed from the poor who typically crowd the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Simply put, these people lack adequate nutrition, shelter and clothing; they are susceptible to disease and early mortality; and their footing on this planet is delicate, for the margin separating them from catastrophe is thin.

True knowledge of the poor of the world might be considered difficult to attain. Most of us have never met the face of the destitute, the impoverished, the hungry. The closest we may come is a tour-guided photo opportunity en route to London or what we occasionally see on television. While at university, we can study the statistics and treatises of social scientists and historians, we can read the works of Third World novelists, we can even philosophise over the definition of poverty. Yet true knowledge of the poor almost demands to be lived to enable us to truly comprehend its significance. Once 'known', it becomes the kind of knowledge that never needs to be revised for end-of-term exams. Rather, it leaves an indelible mark on your life altering priorities, outlooks, maybe even your hallowed expectations of future living standards. You might even vote differently from your parents!

Throughout these columns, we hope to explore the reasons as to why we should concern ourselves with the knowledge and destiny of the majority of humans on this planet. In the process, we might furnish you with an alternative basis upon which to start your quest for knowledge and so avoiding the inevitable imprint which constantly justifies capitalism. Until then, simply know that the poor exist.

Robert Bentz Ashe

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