On re-building Haiti from scratch… what are you talking about?

There has been an explosion of Haiti experts of late, the inevitable procession of talking heads and celebrities, pundits and media heroes that follows any disaster. So be it; there is nothing wrong with people educating themselves on an issue and sharing that education – even though we all know that this new found passion is, for the most part, likely to last little more than a couple of weeks.

But there is a potentially dangerous byproduct from all this: that an uninformed groupthink emerges, driving policy in an equally uninformed legislature in Washington.

Over recent days, there has been a fad to describe Haiti’s earthquake as a “man-made disaster” (Anne Applebaum), which has its roots in Haitian culture (David Brooks), which requires drastic solutions – a complete rethink and restart for Haiti, absorption into the US Commonwealth etc.

To which many others are beginning to fire back – what are you on about?

First of all, a man-made disaster. Seriously? I thought it was an earthquake.

Come on people… of course there are issues with building codes, and we know that earthquakes in different parts of the world cause different numbers of deaths. But earthquakes are NOT man-made. They are natural phenomena, caused by the shifting of tectonic plates. In the rush to be clever, such comments are horrifyingly callous. When the next quake hits Tokyo or California, will we dismiss that as a man-made disaster too? By that logic, is there ever such a thing as a natural disaster?

Look, sometimes bad things happen; we are mortal mammals living on an active planet, we do not yet have total mastery over our environment (although clearly the things we do have consequences for it). Of course such events are an interaction between man and environment. But an earthquake, in my book, remains a natural disaster.

Even more worrying, however, is the proposal that somehow Haiti should now be remade. That old structures of governance can be swept aside removing past patterns of corruption and wrong-headed thinking. Again – seriously – what is wrong with you people? Didn’t we just go through this in Iraq?

There are people in Haiti! They have history and culture and networks and relationships. You can’t just cover the island with asphalt and move its inhabitants to ‘New Haiti’ in Wisconsin. (At least, you might be able to but it would be an enormous crime.)

So, a plea. When proposing solutions for Haiti’s people, can we please dispense for a while with the vapid celebrity know-it-all columnists that the great newspapers of our time turn to in such moments. Let’s also have a few more Haitian voices, huh?

Take your Anne Applebaums and David Brooks’, and set them to work on an epic describing the lint they found in their naval this morning. I am sure it would attract thousands of avid readers, hanging on their every word identifying with their struggles. But for pity’s sake, take these blowhards off an issue which might have consequences for a nation on its knees.

I am obviously not alone in these thoughts. Amy Wilentz tackles these issues in the Nation, as does Matt Taibbi, and the author Mark Danner.

Now we need more Haitian voices.


26 responses to “On re-building Haiti from scratch… what are you talking about?

  1. Like Naomi Klein said: STOP THEM BEFORE THEY SHOCK AGAIN.

    I don’t think there is any stopping them, though. The US military is already there to see that PROFIT IS MADE and that means the well being of the locals is of no importance. Those idiots writing in our nation’s large papers know their role, and they are full filling it. For example, you will see them write about ‘international law’ when other countries break it, but never when it is the USA breaking international law.

  2. You are decidedly not alone in your thinking. There are many named and anonymous bloggers observing the same things.

    In the first few days after the quake I posted this to a friend:
    “Brooks column; I can be wrong but in my view it is an example of the meme I described. (I put it on the political site because it is so acid. ) http://talkingstick.gamountains.net/news. Brooks is a twit I always feel he is looking to justify his and his party’s policies. These people don’t need “Massa” and they don’t need corporate gentrification. They need respect and real no-strings aid to complement the numbers of volunteer aid workers. ”

    It is a replay of Katrina up to the gentrification.

    Keep your voice out there.

  3. Is it not true and certain that Haiti pre earthquake has been suffering….a loud voice [nature] has spoken to garner the attention of leaders, civilians, warriors and the world community.

    If we as people do not speak out and fight for the good of each other, community, humanity then perhaps the earth will speak for us.

    Presently we have everyone on attention, motives and intentions often come out of failed attempts previously to help and support yet guilt is often the best motivator to get us going on responding, forcing a change that perhaps should have come alot sooner from the world community, from politicians and people on the street.

    As big wigs, ngo’s, gov’ts, charities, pundits and so forth gather to rescue Haiti the real saving will be done silently and quietly and will not be reported on the news.

    Haiti will not be uprooted and transported somewhere else. Let’s hope wildly that it will be cared for and slowly heal, this can only happen from deep change within Haiti.

    “….step forward leaders of Haiti with your good words and policy, reclaim and remember who you are regardless….now is the time to not let sugar daddy’s and political naysayers bully you into a corner….”


  4. I have been shaking my head at the “man made” pundits for a number of days now. Some … well to suggest that the quack happened due to global warming, or as the result of drilling or some other wacked out idea well you just shake your head and wonder if anyone could really believe that …

    Then there are the ones blaming the building codes and government, saying that the buildings were not earthquake resistant enough. Hello? We are not talking LA or Tokyo here, we’re talking a fault with no significant activity in over 200 years. Of course the buildings were not constructed with earthquakes in mind. Neither are any of the ones here in the North East US most of which have some fault in or near them. No one, and I mean NO ONE expected a quake of that magnitude in that area. (For comparison I believe the one in CA that did so much damage a few years back was only a 6.8).

    Yea, some buildings could have been better constructed. Yea, the new ones probably will have some earthquake resistance, although it may not make a lot of sense in any kind of risk – cost analysis they’ll change the codes, probably throughout the region.

    Now is not the time to fix blame, or criticize response, especially based upon largely clueless talking heads. Now is time to take care of business and get done what needs to be done.

    • “I have been shaking my head at the “man made” pundits for a number of days now.”

      It’s a theological position that has consumed much of the Public and many of the Politicians and Pundits. Only mildly refined from Robertson’s screed.

      It is a vile mantra.

      • No, not a theological position. I doubt that many of the wackos making such claims would know theology if it bit them on the butt. It is a vile mantra, but more one of the clueless who have to blame someone. After all it has to be somebodies fault so they can be vilified and sued.

  5. If it costs one million dollars to save a sick child, is that the best use of money in such a poor country? Healthy people need help too.

    Long term, one thing to watch out for is a dependency mentality. Palestinians have gotten into that mode where they have been receiving aid for the past 50 years. At some point, the people of Haiti need to stand on their own. They need jobs. Building a factory might be the best way to help them.

    Giving food feels good, but if people can get food for free, why would they buy from local farmers? If local farmers go out of business, then they need more food aid.

    • I find it amazing that anymore can look at 10 minutes of videos and press coverage of this catastrophe and still imagine that we humans are not dependent on each other, much less chant “watch out” for “a dependency mentality.”

  6. Nice Post. Haitians really need help, they need us in the reconstruction of their city. I’m sure Haitians are so thankful with the response from the international community.

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  7. ” how are we going to rebuild something that was hardly built in the first place?” said Alexis on another networking site.

    Not only do we need to take into consideration where the help will go, but what the “help” is trying to accomplish. ‘

    Haiti was a natural disaster long before the earthquake disaster hit, thanks to years of governmental “help”.

  8. At this point in time a “dependency mentality” is the least of worries. Right now, the roads are blocked so farmers can’t get to market, and business leveled so people don’t have money to buy food. The focus has to be on basic survival needs, water, food, shelter, and medical care. In time that focus will shift to clean up and rebuilding, farmers will get their food to market again, and life will go on.

  9. The first thing I thought of when I read this article was a book I read on Katrina: There is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster. Almost the exact same ideas fuel that collection of essays. It talks about how racial and environmental issues magnified the hurricane into the chaotic catastrophe it was (and truly still is). The only difference is, the writers talk about making positive social changes (education, housing) to prevent its reoccurance, rather than eradicating a culture.

    My heart goes out to the people that have lived through the earthquake, and may have to live through “New Haiti.”

    Amazon Link to TNSTAAND: http://www.amazon.com/There-Such-Thing-Natural-Disaster/dp/0415954878/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264436779&sr=8-1


  10. Well said. I hope that we don’t have to go through another Katrina with money not being sent to the victims and 2 years later Hati still looks like a time bomb went off. But the mere fact that people are still not delivering the supplies and some are “afraid” to go into the mainland to deliver supplies, tells me…that this might be a replay of what we saw in New Orleans…only worse…Now our troops will be stuck in yet another country.

    It’s so disturbing. Thank you for alerting everyone with your bold post.

  11. “Man-made disaster” ! Haha !
    That reminds me of the time I went to Denver some years back, just a week before Christmas. There was something of a heatwave going on… clear skies, sunny days, temperature up in the 70’s…. and from my hotel room window I could look towards downtown, but couldn’t really see anything because of the sulphur-brown smog hanging over the city.
    One morning I had the radio on in the room and some moron of a presenter was complaining about the smog and said “It’s all caused by this unseasonal weather we’ve been having.”
    Duh !…. NO !!!
    And they give these people the power to vote ?

  12. Yeah you cant just steal an country because it was an earthquake. That would just make ppl “dislike/hate” United states more.

    The ppl of haiti should decide how to build up their country again and with help from other nations. No nation should decide how their future should be. And thats my thought.

  13. nobody shall decide but people from Haiti,
    thank you for sharing this,

    best wishes, 😉

  14. Research project H.A.R.R.P. That should give you some information on the possiblity of “man made” catastrophies such as this one.

  15. well we are also thinking about how we can help people out there.Though we have made some things but still much more needed to be done

  16. Could we just put all of these collective brains together to figure out what industry Haiti might develop that would allow it to function as a country with a basis on something other than tourism?

    My first thought was solar powered something: flashlights, lanterns, generators.

  17. I figure that this was going to happen. Media will put a spin on this for the US to “save” Haitians. It seems that this has come at a right time for US to go ahead and build a new puppet. We see what happened in Iraq, look at Afghanistan, and now let’s work on the Caribbean. We already have the Virgin islands, and Puerto Rico, so let’s grab Haiti. Rob them of their pride and history, and make it another tourist island. /sarcasm

  18. many things happen and we don’t have a clue, even if it’s right under our noses. since we are all connected in spirit, we are all involved, somehow. it is interesting how we’ve been through thousands of years of evolution and i feel like we’re just waking up to see things as they are, and some of us are still blind, not likely or not wanting to wake up…let’s stay positive and good things will happen. and do not forget: God is everywhere

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