The term “agnosia” refers to a family of neurological disorders that have to do with the inability of the brain to recognize, understand, or even think about certain things. Someone with prosopagnosia cannot recognize or identify faces. Someone with hemiagnosia is unable to see, act on, or even think about one side of the world around them. And so on.
For the most part, these are very rare conditions; however, I would like to draw attention to a growing epidemic of a type of agnosia that has not been adequately studied, or even recognized, up to this point: ptochosagnosia.
People suffering from ptochosagnosia have an inability to recognize, understand, or even think about poor people. There is some evidence that it may be related to damage or under-development in the anterior cingulate gyrus.
This disorder is not localized as a perceptual, memory, or cognitive impairment, but a combination of all of these. People with ptochosagnosia regularly forget that poor people exist, they exclude the very idea of poor people from all of their reasoning processes, and they cannot identify poor people or the traits or characteristics of poor people even when they are presented directly to them.
We see examples of people who show the symptoms of ptochosagnosia in the media all the time, and it seems to be getting more and more frequent.
Recently, John McCain said that there is no longer any need for a post office because everyone uses iPhones and email, and that it is time to “phase out” the post office. It simply doesn’t occur to him that there are plenty of people, most of them poor, who do not have iphones or easy access to email.
In Dallas, local conservative talk radio host Mark Davis said that anyone who cares enough about our country can find a way to vote on election day, even if it means waiting all day in line. He insisted that anyone who isn’t willing to wait all day in line just doesn’t care enough about democracy, and therefore deserves to not have their vote taken. It doesn’t even occur to him that many people, usually those in the worst-paying jobs and who are closest to poverty, do not get to choose their vacation time or sick days and could quite literally be fired if they just decided not to go to work on election day.
In a number of states, governors are pushing laws requiring photo identification for people who want to vote, asking the question, “Why is it so terrible to make people prove that they are who they say they are?” It never even crosses their minds that photo identification costs money, and that no matter how inexpensive it may seem when you are a governor or any other politician, when a person is choosing between eating for a night and paying to process the paperwork for a photo id card, that person chooses to eat.
The examples could go on and on. Clearly, this is a neurological epidemic of completely unrecognized proportions. We need to identify people who display the symptoms of ptochosagnosia and figure out how to cure their disorder. Or if that fails, then we can at least treat the symptoms.
Or if that fails, we can at least vote them out of office.