Tag Archives: pundits

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.