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Thread: A shit storm over an unpopular Hait opinion

  1. #1

    Default A shit storm over an unpopular Hait opinion

    If You Rebuild It, They Will Come, by Paul Shirley
    Published: January 26, 2010

    I do not know if what I’m about to write makes me a monster. I do know that it makes me a part of a miniscule minority, if Internet trends and news stories of the past weeks are any guide.

    “It”, is this:

    I haven’t donated a cent to the Haitian relief effort. And I probably will not.

    I haven’t donated to the Haitian relief effort for the same reason that I don’t give money to homeless men on the street. Based on past experiences, I don’t think the guy with the sign that reads “Need You’re Help” is going to do anything constructive with the dollar I might give him. If I use history as my guide, I don’t think the people of Haiti will do much with my money either.

    In this belief I am, evidently, alone. It seems that everyone has jumped on the “Save Haiti” bandwagon. To question the impulse to donate, then, will probably be viewed as analogous with rooting for Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, or the Spice Girls.

    My wariness has much to do with the fact that the sympathy deployed to Haiti has been done so unconditionally. Very few have said, written, or even intimated the slightest admonishment of Haiti, the country, for putting itself into a position where so many would be killed by an earthquake.

    I can’t help but wonder why questions have not been raised in the face of this outpouring of support. Questions like this one:

    Shouldn’t much of the responsibility for the disaster lie with the victims of that disaster?

    Before the reader reaches for his or her blood pressure medication, he should allow me to explain. I don’t mean in any way that the Haitians deserved their collective fate. And I understand that it is difficult to plan for the aftermath of an earthquake. However, it is not outside the realm of imagination to think that the citizens of a country might be able to: A) avoid putting themselves into a situation that might result in such catastrophic loss of life. And B) provide for their own aid, in the event of such a catastrophe.

    Imagine that I’m a caveman. Imagine that I’ve chosen to build my house out of balsa wood, and that I’m building it next to a roaring river because I’ve decided it will make harvesting fish that much easier. Then, imagine that my hut is destroyed by a flood.

    Imagining what would happen next is easier than imagining me carrying a caveman’s club. If I were lucky enough to survive the roaring waters that took my hut, my tribesmen would say, “Building next to the river was pretty dumb, wasn’t it?.” Or, if I weren’t so lucky, they’d say, “At least we don’t have to worry about that moron anymore.”

    Sure, you think, but those are cavemen. We’re more civilized now – we help each other, even when we make mistakes.

    True enough. But what about when people repeat their mistakes? And what about when they do things that obviously act against their own self-interests?

    In the case of mistakes and warnings as applied to Haiti, I don’t mean to indict those who ignored actual warnings against earthquakes, of which there were many before the recent one. Although it would have been prudent to pay heed to those, I suppose.

    Instead, I’m referring to the circumstances in which people lived. While the earthquake was, obviously, unavoidable, the way in which many of the people of Haiti lived was not. Regrettably, some Haitians would have died regardless of the conditions in that country. But the fact that so many people lived in such abject poverty exacerbated the extent of the crisis.

    How could humans do this to themselves? And what’s being done to stop it from happening again?

    After the tsunami of 2004, the citizens of the world wailed and donated and volunteered for cleanup, rarely asking the important – and, I think, obvious – question: What were all those people doing there in the first place? Just as important: If they move back to a place near the ocean that had just been destroyed by a giant wave, shouldn’t our instinct be to say, “Go ahead if you want, but you’re on your own now.”?

    We did the same after Hurricane Katrina. We were quick to vilify humans who were too slow to respond to the needs of victims, forgetting that the victims had built and maintained a major city below sea level in a known target zone for hurricanes. Our response: Make the same mistake again. Rebuild a doomed city, putting aside logic as we did.

    And now, faced with a similar situation, it seems likely that we will do the same.

    Shouldn’t there be some discourse on how the millions of dollars that are being poured into Haiti will be spent? And at least a slight reprimand for the conditions prior to the earthquake? Some kind of inquisition? Something like this?:

    Dear Haitians –

    First of all, kudos on developing the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Your commitment to human rights, infrastructure, and birth control should be applauded.

    As we prepare to assist you in this difficult time, a polite request: If it’s possible, could you not re-build your island home in the image of its predecessor? Could you not resort to the creation of flimsy shanty- and shack-towns? And could some of you maybe use a condom once in a while?

    Sincerely,

    The Rest of the World


    It shouldn’t be outlandish to hope that we might stop short of the reactionary word that is so often flung about after natural (and unnatural) disasters. That word: Rebuild. Thus, the tired, knee-jerk cycle of aid/assist/rebuild would be replaced by a new one: Aid/assist/let’s-stop-and-think-before-we-screw-this-up-again.

    If forced to do so through logic-colored glasses, no one would look at Haiti and think, “You know what? It was a great idea to put 10 million people on half of an island. The place is routinely battered by hurricanes (in 2008, $900 million was lost/spent on recovery from them), it holds the aforementioned title of poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, and it happens to sit on a tectonic fault line.”

    If it were apparent that Haiti would likely rebuild in an earthquake-resistant way, and if a cure could be found for hurricane abuse of island nations, then maybe one could imagine putting a sustained effort into rebuilding the place. But that would only be feasible if the country had shown any ability to manage its affairs in the past, which it has not done.

    I can tell, based on my own reaction to that last sentence, that it might strike a nerve. The reader might be tempted to think, “We can’t blame the people of Haiti for their problems. Surely it’s someone else’s fault.” A similar sentiment can be found in this quote, from article on the geology behind the quake:

    “Unfortunately, [Haiti]’s government was not in a position to really do much to prepare for the inevitable large earthquake, leaving tens of thousands to suffer the consequences.”

    The sentiment expressed is one of outrage at the government. But, ultimately, the people in a country have control over their government. One could argue that in totalitarian regimes, they do not have much control, but in the end, it is their government. And therefore, their responsibility. If the government is not doing enough for the people, it is the people’s responsibility to change the government. Not the other way around.

    Additionally, some responsibility for the individual lies with that individual.

    A Haitian woman, days after the earthquake:

    “We need so much. Food, clothes, we need everything. I don’t know whose responsibility it is, but they need to give us something soon,” said Sophia Eltime, a mother of two who has been living under a bed sheet with seven members of her extended family. (From an AP report.)

    Obviously, a set of circumstances such as the one in which Ms. Eltime was living is a heart-wrenching one. And for that, anyone would be sympathetic. Until she says, “I don’t know whose responsibility it is.” I don’t know whose responsibility it is, either. What I do know is that it is not the responsibility of the outside world to provide help. It’s nice if we do, but it is not a requirement, especially when people choose to influence their own existences negatively, whether by having too many children when they can’t afford them or by failing to recognize that living in a concrete bunker might not be the best way to protect one’s family, whether an earthquake happens or not.

    Ms. Eltime’s reaction helps define what is the crux of my problem with the reaction to this and to other humanitarian crises. I recoil at the notion that I’m SUPPOSED to do something. I would like to help, but only if I feel that my assistance is deserved and justified. If I perceive that I am being told to feel a certain way, and if I can point to a pattern of mistakes made in similar situations, I lose interest.

    When I was young, the great humanitarian crisis facing our world – as portrayed by the media, anyway – was the starving masses in Africa. The solution found, of course, was to send bag after bag of food to those people, forgetting the long-understood maxim that giving more food to poor people allows them to create more poor people. (Admittedly, it’s a harsh truth.) At the time, my classmates and I, young and naďve as we were, thought we had come up with a better solution. “They should just go somewhere else,” we said. Our teacher grimaced, saying, “It’s not that simple.”

    It still isn’t. And I’m not as naďve as I once was – I don’t think the people of Haiti have the option of moving. But I do think that our assistance should be restricted, like it should be in cases of starvation. It simply does not work to give, unconditionally. What might work is to teach. In the case of famine-stricken segments of Africa, teaching meant making people understand that a population of people needs a certain amount of food, and that the creation of that food has to be self-sustaining for the system to work. In the case of earthquake-stricken Haiti, teaching might mean limited help, but help that is accompanied by criticism of the circumstances that made that help necessary.

    In the case of the Haitian earthquake, it’s heartening to see people caring about the fates of their fellow men. What is alarming, I think, is the sometimes illogical frenzy toward casting those affected by the earthquake as helpless, innocent souls who were placed on the island of Hispaniola by an invisible force. In the case of some, this analogy might well be accurate; children cannot very well control their destinies. And as far as sympathy goes, much of it should go to those children.

    But children are brought into the world by their parents. Those parents have a responsibility – to themselves and to their kids – to provide. They have a responsibility to look around – before an earthquake happens – and say, “I need to improve this situation, because if a catastrophe were to happen, we’d be in bad shape.”

    The people of whom I write are adults. Functional, human adults with functional, human adult brains. It is not too much to ask that they behave as such. That they stand up and say, “Yes, we screwed this up the first time. We are forever indebted to you. Now show us how we can do it right. So that, next time, we won’t need your help.”
    There's tons of outrage (isn't there always?). He got fired from ESPN. But apparently a lot of people agree with him. I'd guess a quater from a quick look at the comments under his blog.

    Thoughts? Tough love? Or should the effort be redirected towards creating an accountable government for Haiti. But that means nation building.


    Edit: to clarify, this isn't a Haiti thread per se. It's more about the sentiments, the firing, and so on.
    Last edited by ']['ear; 01-28-2010 at 12:24 AM.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Flixy's Avatar
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    To some extent he is right. Problem is that Haiti is so poor, the people didn't have the choice to live in a stronger house, or to move. And the government is so poor it can't do much either. And because it is so poor, education is also crap, so improvement is also hard.

    I agree that just throwing money at it, rebuild, and then wait for it to happen again isn't sustainable. Ultimately, they have to fend for themselves.
    Keep on keepin' the beat alive!

  3. #3
    So, do we take the "**** 'em" approach, or something else?

  4. #4
    I'm not sure what he thinks they could have done, specifically.
    Truth serves them
    Embrace and defend her case
    Part flattery, part threats
    "For those who cling to this domination will partake in its fall"


  5. #5
    He's right to some extent, but he overplays his cards. It's true that many of Haiti's problems have been brought on by the Haitian people, but many of those were caused by people generations ago. Even with that in mind, Haiti is a poor country and it would be unfeasible for it to properly prepare for an earthquake of this magnitude. Lastly, the aid doesn't go down the drain; it helps saves a lot of lives. The real debate is over the effectiveness of development aid, not emergency aid. The latter is far from perfect, but it does save lives.

    Having said all this, firing the guy for expressing his opinion is rather stupid.
    Hope is the denial of reality

  6. #6
    The assumption buried not especially deeply in the article is that the old American Dream Myth - that if you work hard enough, you will become fabulously rich, and that if only Haitians got their act together they could be just as rich as Japan and afford all those expensive Earthquake proof buildings. The reality is that there is simply not the resources on the globe to sustain every single nation at first world levels of economic development. While it may or may not be true that every nation has the potential to rise, though it's own agency, to that level of development (pretty dubious) it will do so at the expense of some other nation. So, it's basically just a veiled form of Social Darwinism.
    Truth serves them
    Embrace and defend her case
    Part flattery, part threats
    "For those who cling to this domination will partake in its fall"


  7. #7
    Yes, the Horatio Alger myth. nicely debunked by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.

    I agree with Loki's assessment of aid, BTW. This clown confuses emergency aid with development aid.

  8. #8
    His understanding of the situation is rather simplistic, but he does have a small point buried in there. To be honest, though, the big need for money isn't immediate - emergency NGO funds and various countries can cover that cost. What's needed to 'fix' Haiti in a more enduring way is decades and billions of dollars of investment. In theory, if Haiti could maintain political stability and a semblence of honesty in government, one could use the aid to intensively develop the country and economy. It would even be moderately easy compared to other efforts, given the relatively homogeneous population and isolated status of the country. But no one is willing to make the kind of concerted effort that is needed to lift the country out of abject poverty, and Haiti itself is certainly incapable of doing it. So instead, the global community will briefly pay attention to the disaster, slap a band-aid on the situation, and forget about it.

    Sure, people living in shitholes around the world do have the opportunity to make their lives somewhat better by demanding a stable and honest government and a free market economy. Fighting over scarce resources, rampant corruption, and ineffective governance is generally not the fault of the rest of the world. Yet even if they were an 'ideal' small developing country (there are a handful, like Botswana), they still have a long road ahead of them before they would be relatively immune to massive casualties in event of a major natural disaster. In the meantime, it costs a pittance for the developed world to help them out.

  9. #9
    reducing present suffering is more important to me, at this moment, than ensuring intelligent future development. more important, even, than teaching countries lessons at a moment when they are ill-equipped to learn those lessons and to change their behaviour accordingly.

    i'm a human being first; being an investor and a developer comes pretty late in my list. i dunno, maybe this guy is different

  10. #10
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    He is right, and not in some little way. The core problem is Haitian society itself, and not acts of God or foreign interference. How deeply rooted the problem is, is shown in the fact that the Haitian government can't even play a significant role in recieving all the aid that is pooring in as we speak.

    A little voice in the back of my head told me while I was writing the previous paragraph that maybe I should take into account that journalists are prone to find the story they expect in a situation like in Haiti. If they think we must help the poor dying people, they'll show us the ms Eltimes of this world. But for all we know there are people in Haiti right now who are taking matters into their own hands and who aren't waiting for the Oxfam crowd to barge in in their shiny SUV's bought from our money.
    Greece shows us that there is a kind of politician worse than the ones that break their election promises; the ones that keep their election promises.

  11. #11
    Ah yes, the predators of Oxfam.

    "Yes, you can say it, but that doesn't mean you should."

  12. #12
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    Well Tear, there is good evidence that all of our Aid, in whatever form we sent it, did more damage to the recipients than that it did them good.

    The only people that consitently benefitted from it though were the Westerners involved in its dispersion.

    And if you won't take my word for that look at this
    Last edited by Hazir; 01-28-2010 at 06:37 PM.
    Greece shows us that there is a kind of politician worse than the ones that break their election promises; the ones that keep their election promises.

  13. #13
    The core problem is Haitian society itself, and not acts of God or foreign interference. How deeply rooted the problem is, is shown in the fact that the Haitian government can't even play a significant role in recieving all the aid that is pooring in as we speak.
    Do you think that this fact has anything to do with the way way most government buildings were destroyed in a major earthquake?
    Truth serves them
    Embrace and defend her case
    Part flattery, part threats
    "For those who cling to this domination will partake in its fall"


  14. #14
    Hmm, I think this guy should be an unemployed economist.

    Oh, wait...

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steely Glint View Post
    Do you think that this fact has anything to do with the way way most government buildings were destroyed in a major earthquake?
    No, it's not the explanation, but the symptom of a failed state not preparing for an earth quake that was going to happen. If the government of California would have been as indifferent as the Haitian government heads would be rolling right now in Sacramento.

    There is little you can do against an earthquake, there is a lot you can do about being prepared for when it hits.

    P.S. My second residence is pretty much on top of a vault line and people are very aware of the risks and a lot of them have something prepared 'just in case'.
    Greece shows us that there is a kind of politician worse than the ones that break their election promises; the ones that keep their election promises.

  16. #16
    The only issue is that Steely its not a myth. The individual most responsible for someone's success is the individual. Sure there are different things that make success *more likely* but ultimately few people put every ounce of their being into becoming successful at whatever they wish to do. I know that I don't, after all I'm sitting here typing on this forum instead of busting my ass going back to school to get my masters while working full time. So when I don't make it as high as I would like in the corporate world I'm not gonna bemoan "oh woe is me" I'm going to take an honest self reflection and realize that I could have tried harder, worked longer and obsessed over every possible advantage I could get.

    People make choices and in American society you do have the ability to pull yourself up by your own boot straps.

    Now taken into the context of Haiti there are many reasons we should donate. And the donations doesn't need to go to rebuilding, medical supplies, food and many other needed things that has nothing to do with building shanty huts again. The United States through private donations has already poured hundreds of millions of dollars and that *IS* good.

    I do have to give the writer respect for taking his view public. Debate should occur on what to do with disaster areas. People should not blindly encourage rebuilding in unsafe areas. I don't know enough about earthquake risk, the most common one I'm familiar with is hurricanes. And here in the state side I see red when I see fools preventing fair insurance pricing in disaster prone areas.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lewkowski View Post
    The only issue is that Steely its not a myth. The individual most responsible for someone's success is the individual. Sure there are different things that make success *more likely* but ultimately few people put every ounce of their being into becoming successful at whatever they wish to do. I know that I don't, after all I'm sitting here typing on this forum instead of busting my ass going back to school to get my masters while working full time. So when I don't make it as high as I would like in the corporate world I'm not gonna bemoan "oh woe is me" I'm going to take an honest self reflection and realize that I could have tried harder, worked longer and obsessed over every possible advantage I could get.

    People make choices and in American society you do have the ability to pull yourself up by your own boot straps.

    Now taken into the context of Haiti there are many reasons we should donate. And the donations doesn't need to go to rebuilding, medical supplies, food and many other needed things that has nothing to do with building shanty huts again. The United States through private donations has already poured hundreds of millions of dollars and that *IS* good.

    I do have to give the writer respect for taking his view public. Debate should occur on what to do with disaster areas. People should not blindly encourage rebuilding in unsafe areas. I don't know enough about earthquake risk, the most common one I'm familiar with is hurricanes. And here in the state side I see red when I see fools preventing fair insurance pricing in disaster prone areas.
    Am I reading this right? Am I the one who's got the more extreme position on this issue?
    Greece shows us that there is a kind of politician worse than the ones that break their election promises; the ones that keep their election promises.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Lewkowski View Post
    The only issue is that Steely its not a myth. The individual most responsible for someone's success is the individual. Sure there are different things that make success *more likely* but ultimately few people put every ounce of their being into becoming successful at whatever they wish to do. I know that I don't, after all I'm sitting here typing on this forum instead of busting my ass going back to school to get my masters while working full time. So when I don't make it as high as I would like in the corporate world I'm not gonna bemoan "oh woe is me" I'm going to take an honest self reflection and realize that I could have tried harder, worked longer and obsessed over every possible advantage I could get.
    It is a myth. Think about it.

    Suppose you'd worked as hard as you could to get as high as you can in your current employer. Suppose everyone else in the business does the same. Does that mean it'll end up with nothing but managers? I would hope not, for its sake. There's a finite number of well paying jobs in the economy. We can't all be rock stars, managers and doctors: someone has to clean toilets and collect garbage.
    Truth serves them
    Embrace and defend her case
    Part flattery, part threats
    "For those who cling to this domination will partake in its fall"


  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steely Glint View Post
    It is a myth. Think about it.

    Suppose you'd worked as hard as you could to get as high as you can in your current employer. Suppose everyone else in the business does the same. Does that mean it'll end up with nothing but managers? I would hope not, for its sake. There's a finite number of well paying jobs in the economy. We can't all be rock stars, managers and doctors: someone has to clean toilets and collect garbage.
    That's a bit of a red herring isn't it ?

    The fact that we can't all be rock-stars doesn't mean we all have to live in the dirt with no food.
    Greece shows us that there is a kind of politician worse than the ones that break their election promises; the ones that keep their election promises.

  20. #20
    haha lewk if anyone should enjoy Outliers =P

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Hazir View Post
    Am I reading this right? Am I the one who's got the more extreme position on this issue?
    Which passage are you referring to? You live below sea level. Maybe Lewk wants to debate you on whether or not you should be there, since he sees red as an insurance actuarial, no wait--he's a lobbyist, no wait--he's a claims adjustor.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by GGT View Post
    Which passage are you referring to? You live below sea level. Maybe Lewk wants to debate you on whether or not you should be there, since he sees red as an insurance actuarial, no wait--he's a lobbyist, no wait--he's a claims adjustor.
    This 'living below sea level' thing is not really a relevant issue. Because for starters it's not as true as many people make it out to be. Streetlevel in my area is 2 meters above sea level, and the vast majority of people in this country live above sea level. The parts that are below sea level typically are not used for people to live.

    But anyway, I wasn't referring to that, what I was referring to was that Lewk actually thought that the help the US sent to Haiti before this disaster was a good thing. That makes me think he believes in Aid as something positive. I think all developement aid should be stopped ASAP.
    Greece shows us that there is a kind of politician worse than the ones that break their election promises; the ones that keep their election promises.

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by Steely Glint View Post
    It is a myth. Think about it.

    Suppose you'd worked as hard as you could to get as high as you can in your current employer. Suppose everyone else in the business does the same. Does that mean it'll end up with nothing but managers? I would hope not, for its sake. There's a finite number of well paying jobs in the economy. We can't all be rock stars, managers and doctors: someone has to clean toilets and collect garbage.
    If there's a far larger supply of managers than garbage collectors, then the latter would quite likely get paid more than the former. In fact, garbage collectors in NYC already get paid $80,000.
    Last edited by Loki; 01-30-2010 at 07:48 PM.
    Hope is the denial of reality

  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by Hazir View Post
    That's a bit of a red herring isn't it ?

    The fact that we can't all be rock-stars doesn't mean we all have to live in the dirt with no food.
    But think about this applied not to individuals but to nation-states.

    If there's a far larger supply of managers than garbage collectors, then the latter would quite likely get paid more than the latter. In fact, garbage collectors in NYC already get paid $80,000.
    That kinda just reinforces my point about the pyramidal nature of the capitalist system. Which I don't broadly have a problem with - but what I do have a problem with is the lack of empathy and compassion towards people stuck on the bottom of the pyramid.
    Truth serves them
    Embrace and defend her case
    Part flattery, part threats
    "For those who cling to this domination will partake in its fall"


  25. #25
    er why should foreign aid be stopped asap??

    or did you mean AIDS

  26. #26
    The best indicators of poverty in the US is being a high school drop out, getting pregnant (or getting someone pregnant) as a teen, and being a drug addict. Remind me which of those is the fault of the capitalist system.
    Hope is the denial of reality

  27. #27
    The best indicators of poverty
    So vague as to be useless.
    Truth serves them
    Embrace and defend her case
    Part flattery, part threats
    "For those who cling to this domination will partake in its fall"


  28. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by Steely Glint View Post
    So vague as to be useless.
    Ok, tell me how capitalism prevents people from finishing a free high school education, not getting knocked up, and not becoming a drug addict. The only difference between capitalism and socialism in this regard is that the latter doesn't punish people for their mistakes (and in fact, punishes the former for not making those mistakes).
    Hope is the denial of reality

  29. #29
    So, no one is poor in the US who doesn't match on of those three criteria?
    Truth serves them
    Embrace and defend her case
    Part flattery, part threats
    "For those who cling to this domination will partake in its fall"


  30. #30
    duh because if your system focused on taking care of people then they wouldn't drop out of schools make babies as teens and get hooked on drugs, sheesh

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