Monday, January 18, 2010

Who Saves Haiti ?

Riding to the Austin Book & Paper Show on Saturday with friends Bennett and Allensworth,the subject of Haiti naturally came up. "Why should WE save Haiti ? " inquired friend Bennett, a note of anger, or at least extreme righteous indignation in his voice. The Haiti catastrophe is the first I have seen, perhaps ever,where there seems to be a genuine backlash of a group of the citizenry against American help. A local braodcast called it "fatigue" and I think that there is a good deal to that.In a time of extreme economic uncertainty in the American economy, and a general backlash against liberalism, initiated and spread by the "Tea Party" populists ,which appears to have real traction, people are getting fed up.Right Wing Radio Host Rush Limbaugh announced, even before the aftershocks, that this whole tragedy would be seized upon by the Obama administrtion for political gain.This, contrasted to our last president, who used a devestating hurricane, which destroyed New Orleans, as a chance to show gross the incompetence of his political appoitments. Whatever happened to "Brownie " ?

But let us examine this fatigue which I believe has its roots in soemthing David Brooks disscussed in the New York Times on Sunday. As a backdrop, I am not fan of Brooks. I have not been since ther referred to himself and Tim Russert as among the "media elite" one day on "Meet The Press". Big time jornalists have coined this phrase to distance themselves from the common reporter who makes a living covering local politics for the Dallas Morning News.It just shows how desperatly we humans want to seperate ourselves from even the folks most like us.Brooks is somewhat of an ass. But he is intelligent, worth reading, and even worth seeking out for his opinion, no matter how different it may be from yours.

On Sunday, Brooks said what most of us know in our heart. The disater in Haiti is a problem of poverty, not natural disaster.Brooks points out that a larger earthquake in San Francisco in 1989 caused less than 70 deaths. The Haiti quake may hit 50,000.That's the difference that comes about when some people are rich, and can plan for the next earthquake, and some people are poor, and are trying to plan for the next meal, often without succcess.I don't know anything about bulding codes in Haiti and I really don't have to,they are either very lax or unenforced.Earthquake Protection is just not at the top of a country's list when they are as poor as the Haitians.

Brooks very accurately pointed out that nothing the West had been able to do over the years has had any affect on poverty in the so called "underdeveloped countries". The only real success stories of the post war era, with regard to massive aid, took place under the Marsahll Plan, where money was handed out to people who believed that economic growth was integral with their culture.The history of Haiti shows no such belief.Thus, Brooks argues (very carefully, for these are sensitive issues)that a change of culture is what is needed to create economic growth in Haiti and other poor parts of the earth.

Brooks portrays his bias when he says this.He takes for granted that capitalism is the only basis for a successful culture by defineing successful culture as one which has economic growth, so his circular reasoning can not fail.

I am inclined to agree with Brooks on one point. Successful capitalism has a cultural component which, up until now, does not seem to have been overcome anywhere, to any real extent, by the furnishing of aid to an economically poor country.You can make all kinds of argumentns against this, we have not had enough time, the West held back these nations through the use of slavery, colonialism, ecoonomic colonialism and, at least in our country, a policy of extermination. The biggest argument is that we have not spent enough money on the problem.All of these may be true,but neither Brooks nor I believe any of them to be determinative.

Brooks looks to changing culture as the only key to economic grwth and so, believes that this is what we must do.I agree with Brooks if we have all decided that the only culture worth striving for is market capitalism, because the only life worth pursuing is that of consumption. It is upon his premise which I disagree, and in which Brooks may certainly be wrong.Is it really possible to believe that the only economic systeem worth pursuing in this world happens to be our own ? I have a great preference for it, and would not want to change it,but that does not mean that it is the best for all people.It certainly does not mean that all people want it,or would be happiest under it.Very few of the Hawaiians who paddled out to meet Captain Cook did so out of a desire to change their life styles from fishing and simple planting and gathering to that of the sale of life insurance or trading of used cars.I am reasonably sure that the people of the Congo enjoyed their native lifestyle much better that the one Leopold thrust upon them as diamond mine slaves, even if it meant new industry for those tribes.

Many years ago, one of the greatest, posibly the greatest of American diplomatic thinkers, George Kennan, detailed his particular thoughts on diplomacy.One of his initial thoughts was for our country to more or less ignore the Southern Hemisphere, not in terms of friendship, but in terms of one that can have any true bearing on American self interets.Kennan's theory was that no great world power had ever arisen from the Southern Hemisphere.Kennan therefore reasoned that the way to bet was that one never would so arise.To date, Kennan has been 100% correct.No nation from the Southern Hemisphre, or even a nation in the tropics has ever been world economic or military power.There is a reason for that, and it is climitalogical.

The heat of the tropics and southern hemisphere have, throughout our recorded history,prevented the necessary native initiative required for widespread efforts at the accumulation of capital necessary to establish and maintain a market place economy.For years, the countries which had such economies took advantage of this by subjugating the labor of the southern countries and stripping it of its resources.One thing that they did not do was make it easier of the natives to live in areas of killing heat,tropical disease and often (but now always) infertile land.Let me also say that I do not believe that it is possible that the colonialists could have done so, had they been so inclined, which they were not.Late 19th century Europe could not have air conditioned Rhodesia.

The weather conditions of these countries made it not only impossible, but inadvisable for the native peoples to attempt large scale capitalism.The main reason was that most of them had a system that worked pretty well for them, barring the occasional earthquake.The Hawaiian people were so happy with their society that it became necessary for pineapple growers there to import Puerto Ricans to do the work ( these people were used to being exploited).Which one of us would have willingly given up the lifestyle of fishing, surfing and copulating in order to cut pineapple for a subsistent wage ? What's the point ?

I know what you are thinking. Can it really be all that easy ? Extreme hot weather is not compatible with the formation of a mass market economy ? How else do you explain it ? The people are equally intelligent.They just think differently because their climate is different. They had all figured out cultures that worked for them, until we came along. True, none of them had big screen televisions, but none of them had syphilis either.Their cultures were just different.Trying to impose our culture in places where it may not make much sense has been shown to be not only expensive,but often counterproductive. What plays in Peoria does not necessarily play in Pretoria.

Ultimately my view on all of this is somewhat symapathtic to Brooks thesis about culture. I simply don't agree with him that ours is better than others and we should really get tough on enforciing it, just because we enjoy it so much.It could be that for four hundred years we have been trying to put a round peg into our square hole because all of us thought that to be "there" you had to be "square".

Can a world survive with radically different cultures ? It did until 1492.Have all the changes we have wrought over the centuries made it impossible to order the earth with anything except market capitalism ? I don't know, no other system has worked on a grand scale.But that does not mean that one can't be found. What we need to do is to understand the culture of our poorer brothers and sisters and not try so hard to change it just so they can look like us.It will even be cheaper to go about it this way. The other thing we really need to do is export as many air conditioners as we can make so that thse folks can have the option of acting like us if they want. I bet that most of them would rather go out on their own.


Blogger 小湘 said...

Every why has a wherefore.........................................

7:23 AM  
Blogger Paul D. Frazier said...

You nailed it.

7:05 PM  
Blogger DillonT_Bra147 said...

great msg for me, thanks a lot dude˙﹏˙

9:43 PM  
Blogger BennieS_0123Godina said...

文章是唯一不死的東西,時間飛逝,文字記述的心情就是一種傳承! ....................................................

9:43 PM  
Blogger 淑慧 said...

It's great!!............................................................

6:38 AM  
Blogger 冠明宏伶 said...

心中有愛,才會人見人愛。 ..................................................

4:33 AM  
Blogger Jannie Funster said...

I guess it all comes down to being the best people we each know how to be as we travel along, and helping others with giving hearts.


9:56 PM  

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