The inevitable post about Haiti

Even in the sunny south of the world, we still get the news. We also get the shit that goes with it.

Before I go on any further, however, I must send my most sincere condolences to the people of Haiti. I know they’re not worth much, but I wish you all the best anyway.

There are three things that piss me off endlessly about the situation in Haiti. The first, not surprisingly, is the way the news coverage is handled. As in the case of all disasters befalling black, third-world populations it tends to go one way: Pity, followed by a nice helping of ‘blame the victim’.

It’s strange how anything ‘African’ gets portrayed in the global media. Around here, an attack on a group of footballers 2000km away led to the british press wondering if we were able to handle security come the world cup. There then seem to have been calls to, in all seriousness, supply¬† bullet-proof vests to foreign nationals visiting here in 2010. Never mind that Angola is another country, in another part of a huge continent. Never mind that the attack happened for reasons wholly unrelated to any concept of concerted, global terrorism. We’re all ‘Africa’ and thus all the same. One huge village of fly-blown children and dust, surrounded by charismatic and beautiful wildlife. We either worship or shoot depending on our primitive moods.

Haiti, it seems, falls under the same curse. Poverty, it is agreed, is the cause of all the suffering wrought by nature. And the cause? All local. Haiti’s dictators were all greedy, its government too corrupt to even institute a building code. Never mind that Haiti was never allowed, even for a moment, to run as a sovereign nation. Never mind that the dictators were all introduced (at the expense of democratically elected leaders) on the instigation of outside powers. Never mind that the country is too crippled by debt (which it, unlike the whole of the ‘first world’, is forced to repay) to do more than merely lurch along. And never mind that its major economic sectors are constantly being destroyed by cheap imports dumped on their shores from other countries (something Haiti is literally obliged to allow under the terms of their enforced debt-repayment). Its all their own fault.

Now that the inevitable disaster has ocurred, of course, the other side of the old colonial paradigm, pity, comes to the fore. So the world will help. Begrudgingly, with the minimum of effort expended, but help nonetheless. Then, as always, the rest of the world will forget about it and leave, leaving the very same structural conditions that caused the mess in the first place unchanged. Its what I always think of as the reverse goldilocks: If they cared more, they would do something truly imperialistic and take the place over properly. If they cared less, they would leave alone and possibly allow some sort of local solution to the country’s problems. Instead, they care just enough to fuck things up with greedy and short-sighed policies but not enough to actually do anything fundamental once the inevitable fruit is borne.

So all Haiti gets is a handout, five minutes of media attention, a lot of superior pity and the blame squarely placed on their own shoulders. The rest of the world, especially the US and Europe, get to feel good about themselves and then go straight back to not giving a fuck. And their media sell this worldview over and over and over and over…

The second thing that pisses me off (acting, as it does, as a twisted complement to the first) is religion. In the case of Haiti, I have heard exactly two responses: ‘thank god it didn’t happen to us’ and ‘those heathens deserved it.’ The first is annoying because it attempts to package the suffering of others into a tidy moral lesson for us: be thankful for what you have because others don’t have it. Of course, God is also usually held as responsible for things like earthquakes. So the actual message is more like ‘god loves you so much that he killed thousands of people merely to teach you to be thankful that he didn’t kill you’. Which makes God a sociopath. Yay religion.

The second is, horribly, closer to a ‘rational’ explanation of God’s seeming attempts to snuff out a bunch of innocent people. He did it because their religion pissed him off. Which makes the moral of the story more like ‘god killed these folks because the didn’t believe what he wanted them to. And I’m cool with that.’ Which makes both you and God sociopaths. Yay religion again.

The final thing which pisses me off is you. You phone in to justify the deaths by blaming the victims. You use a tragedy to make yourself feel better by invoking the blessings of a deity. You blame the victim for blaming the world. You swallow the nearest explanation for something based more on your own prejudices than its ability to explain. You pay a pittance to charity, feel better and then forget all about actually doing anything. You let your governments, your corporations and NGOs behave exactly as you do, because it is too much effort to change the world. You suck. And I’m just as bad as you.

Haiti, doomed to try and find solutions to impossible problems, is a reminder of why the world is so often a horrible place. And our response to her tragedy is a reminder of how.

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5 Responses to “The inevitable post about Haiti”

  1. Yea man thats how the world works, change or get over it….

  2. sangomasmith Says:

    When you give up on being pissed off about something you know is stupid and wrong (even if you can’t change it), you effectively lose any moral right to say anything at all. So no, I won’t get over it.

    Thanks for the comment btw, sorry if it was stuck in moderation for long. Small blogs like mine have a much higher noise-to-signal ratio, so it’s hard to sift out real comments from all the spam.

  3. I never meant u should give up, but makin noise bout somethin an do nothin for change is from the point i see it as much as doing nothing… what i meant was do something to change it or just don’t do anything and btw it sounded kinda negative that they care now bout hatii i mean okey it’s like that they now help them out but after happens nothing yea… but theres so many places we’d hav to fix up, so i think it’s good if they try to help in the worst hours, it’s better then nothing don’t u think so?

    • sangomasmith Says:

      Nope. The sad fact is that helping people out, even with the best intentions, and then ignoring them when the disaster is over can actually do more damage than just ignoring them altogether.

      As a stupid example, look at the famine in Ethiopia a few years back. In the part of the country where it happened, nearly all of the income of the people there was tied to agriculture. Now as a farmer a year of bad harvests sucks. But what’s worse is if someone then wanders in and dumbs a million tonnes of foreign subsidised grain on the market. So yay, you got food. For a month or two. But now you’re broke. And if you’re broke, how are you going to buy the fertilizer and fuel for your farm? So you’ll always be broke, or else always in debt. Now imagine that 80% of the people in an area are farmers and you sort of get the picture. What Ethiopia needed wasn’t food when the drought came. It was the relaxing of tariffs and the lowering of domestic subsidies in the first world five years before that.

      Ditto with Haiti. Because the real cause of their misfortunes isn’t an earthquake, it’s the legacy of a hundred or so years of political and financial meddling by the U.S.
      Which is why I get annoyed when the media gets a huge chubby over helping Haiti. Its like watching a guy being run out of his business by the mafia, then applauding when they diegn to put some change in his begging bowl.
      To repeat: Aid is good for saving a few lives today. Aid is good for making yourself feel good. Aid is a bandaid.
      Aid is not good for solving a long-term problem. Aid is not good because it allows you to pass on the responsibility of solving it as soon as you’ve donated. A bandaid is no good for a broken leg.
      With me so far?

      • Yea i get what u mean but anyway, i just can’t think that it’d be better to let them die, but i understand what u mean at the Ethiopia case…. But i think in haiti it’s kinda different they didn’t just lost they food, they simply lost everything in some cases, schools are broken so it’d be good to help and save their lives now and then maybe rebuild schools hospitals an those stuff… so that the ppl would be able to rebuild the country from their own… But i get ur point.

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