Haiti Does Not Deserve This

15 Jan

I confess that I spent much of today grumpy about David Brooks’ incredibly unhelpful op-ed in the Jan. 14 New York Times, entitled “The Underlying Tragedy.”

At first read he sounds rational. He sounds considered. He’s read Bill Easterly’s latest book. He sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.

At first glance, David Brooks seems to stand out as a voice of reason against the backdrop of Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh, with their over-the-top, self-righteous and inflammatory arrogance. Leaving aside for the sake of this post Brooks’ outrageous conclusion that we should engage in “intrusive paternalism”, the part that gets me is that when you think about it, their messages all boil down to the same thing.

Their message is: Haiti brought this on itself. Haiti deserved what it got.

And I just do not have words strident enough to convey how wrong that is.

No, it wasn’t the voodoo…

It wasn’t the corruption or the graft…

It wasn’t promiscuity…

It wasn’t Haiti’s “progress-resistant” culture…

It’s not divine retribution…

God did not make this happen…

I think it’s incredibly important that we not allow ourselves or our constituents to believe that somehow Haiti is complicit in it’s own tragedy:

Haiti doesn’t deserve this.

Pass the word.

12 Responses to “Haiti Does Not Deserve This”

  1. Mo-ha-med 15 January, 2010 at 6:57 pm #

    Passing on!

  2. Carole Turner 16 January, 2010 at 2:18 pm #

    I Posted a post today titled “FYI, The Pact With The Devil is Complete Bull Crap” because you would not believe the number of people I know that believe this crap.

  3. Ian 16 January, 2010 at 7:51 pm #

    Where do you find time to write this? But am glad you do. Haiti will bring out the best and the worst in organisations …. mostly the latter I fear. Having lived and worked there, I have a few things to say, but not as eloquently as you!

  4. morealtitude 17 January, 2010 at 1:42 am #

    I find it interesting to note that in his benevolent-paternalist argument, brooks somehow manages to avoid commenting on the USG’s past adventures in neocolonialism in Haiti, specifically the bits where varying Haitian governments of varying repute have been propped up using G.I. Joe firepower. Funny. I guess it must have slipped his mind. After all, it’s worked so well for Haiti up till now.

  5. MP Dunleavey 17 January, 2010 at 8:25 am #

    Hi, I’m the editor of DailyWorth (www.dailyworth.com), and I’m doing a short piece on whether it’s secure to donate via mobile phone. Your blog is often quoted about giving–I’m hoping you have a moment to respond to me, or point me to someone who might have some good info on this. P.S. I agree with you about David Brooks. Oy.

    Many thanks,


  6. J. 17 January, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    – Mo-ha-med: thanks, man!
    – Carol: actually, I would believe. I grew up in Michigan…
    – Ian: some guys watch sports; some guys play video games. I blog.
    – Morealtitude: It’s like we actually know each other…
    – MP Dunleavey: Thanks for your question. I think your safest bet is to only donate via direct sources. In other words, go directly to the Red Cross homepage to get the number for donating via text message, rather than simply following what gets RT’d on twitter. Letme know if this misses the point of your question.

  7. Evan Axelrad 18 January, 2010 at 1:21 am #

    That piece irked me as well. It is absolutely absurd that he dedicates more attention to picking out unconvincing trends which deride Haiti’s endemic culture than focusing on the very really impacts of colonialism and Western intervention, which left Haiti debt ridden and unstable.


  8. Holli 18 January, 2010 at 2:55 pm #

    Though I agree that Haiti doesn’t DESERVE the devastation they are facing – you must acknowledge that Port au Prince was effectively a disaster waiting to happen according to siesmologists. Corruption led to shoddy construction and this has lead directly to the extent of devastation. Better built buildings would have held up better to the quake. This is well documented.

    When ever do we hold the leaders of the developing world accountable for what happens to their people? In the West, every leader is looked to and blamed when they deny their people.

    Over $5billion has entered Haiti over the years and NOTHING has come of it.

    What about prevention aid? Where were all the governments and NGOs BEFORE the quake – rebuilding to ensure this widespread diaster didn’t befall the city, when many knew it was just a matter of time…

    • J. 18 January, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

      Holli – I don’t think that anyone with knowlege of pre-earthquake Haiti would deny that it was a terribly impoverished place with lots (and lots and lots) of very serious challenges.

      But I do also think that just chalking it all up to despotic leadership is a bit too easy. It too easily lets us off the hook for having to actually think through why Haiti was as bad as it was or acknowlege the complicity of many developed nations in that situation.

  9. placenta sandwich 18 January, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    Oh my god, I know. That article. Actually, it somehow managed to be, simultaneously,
    (a) outrageously offensive
    (b) completely predictable, for David Brooks.

    Like, I was calling the lines from each subsequent paragraph before I read them — accurately! Pretty much lost it when I read “intrusive paternalism,” then said “oh David Brooks has such a boner for Intrusive Paternalism, I bet he’s about to tell us about the Harlem Children’s Zone again,” and…LO AND BEHOLD.


    • J. 18 January, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

      Pretty much…

  10. r 8 July, 2010 at 7:38 pm #

    One evening on my way from Carrefour to Petionville I picked up a blanc hitch hiker who went on, spittle-flecked, about a toilet design he had perfected that would change everything for Haiti, but no one in the country was interested, so it was their own damned fault if people lived and died in misery. I found myself wondering where, on the continuum between ranting bog builder and silver bullet effectiveness, was the organization I worked for. Should we do more or less or better? And then I wondered who the hell we thought we were to even ask those questions.

    No one deserves an earthquake and only a fool like Pat Robertson would think Haiti deserved one. Earthquakes and tsunamis just are. But if Haitians didn’t deserve an earthquake (and they did not), then what do they deserve? And who gets to decide? So far, the answers to those questions aren’t very good.

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