I’ve always liked maps. Growing up we had a world map on the wall next to the kitchen table, which we would study and quiz each other about (capitals, flags, etc.). Back then, Russia was still the USSR, Ukraine was still behind the iron curtain (along with those ‘stan’s), and Pluto was still a planet. I know, stone age.
I came upon the map below as I’ve been following a string of articles/posts about the Midwest and the importance of local knowledge. Summary:
- David Brooks (you might recognize him from PBS), defines the Midwest as “that region of America that starts in central New York and Pennsylvania and then stretches out through Ohio and Indiana before spreading out to include Wisconsin and Arkansas.”
- Bill Easterly at AidWatch calls Brooks out, and rightly so.
- Razid Kahn at Discover Magazine suggests we consult the following map to draw the line between the East Coast and Midwest.
This map is great, and while it isn’t a perfect standard for regional delineation, it reflects a lot more knowledge than a well-intentioned East Coast journalist.
Moral of the story? Local knowledge matters. Local knowledge is the knowledge that people in a given community have developed over time, and continue to develop. It is based on experience, often tested over centuries of use, adapted to the local culture and environment, embedded in community practices, institutions, relationships and rituals. In business, politics, science, journalism, economics, and development, local knowledge matters. Grand plans fail because they rely too heavily on centralized knowledge (over-confidence of central planners) while ignoring local knowledge.
A warning from Mr. Easterly:
So just to sum up how far a columnist can get without local knowledge, Mr. Brooks has produced some interesting facts that were not facts about a Midwest that was not the Midwest.
(Just to be clear, I have nothing against Mr. Brooks. He just happened to make an honest mistake we can learn from.)
BONUS: I looked through some of the data from the Pop v. Soda v. Coke map. Turns out a sizable minority of my fellow Illinoisians call soft drinks “sodie.” Three even call it “Bumpkin.” If you are one of them, please explain yourself.