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Hating Haiti

Now seems to be the ideal time, wouldn’t you agree, to say that it is Haitians’ own fault that their country is so screwed? What’s that, you don’t agree? Well, you are not a New York Times op-ed writer! David Brooks is:

As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book “The Central Liberal Truth,” Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.

We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them. ((Via 3QuarksDaily; also see Matt Taibbi’s translation of the whole thing.))

Progress-resistant? I like the image of progress as an antibiotic, helpfully administered by caring international liberals, even if on occasion a colony of filthy germs will turn out to be morosely resistant to the call to march into a brighter future. Brooks did not invent the term progress-resistant himself (cf), but he has done a sterling service in popularizing it. Now more people will know that progress-resistant is the fashionable and acceptable term to use when you really mean “backward” or “savage”: for example, when you want (as one so often does?) to describe an entire people as superstitious, irresponsible, and abusive of their children.

What are you resistant to, readers?

  1. 1  Paul C  January 20, 2010, 10:25 am 

    Over the years, I’ve built up an immunity to newspaper columnists in general. The concept of somebody who gets paid to come up with an opinion every week is deeply weird.

  2. 2  democracy_grenade  January 20, 2010, 10:55 am 

    The “message that life is capricious”, “high levels of social mistrust”, and failure to ensure that “responsibility is… internalised”: all phenomena completely alien to the West.

    I like the use of “complex”. It presumably acts as a kind of hedge or qualifier (“this may seem crude, but I’m aware of the situation’s nuances, thankyouverymuch”), or perhaps as a piece of self-congratulation (“the situation is so incredibly hard to describe but, fear not, readers, your intrepid op-ed writer has managed to nail it”). We then discover that this “complex web” consists of four things, all of which apparently penetrate all levels and areas of Haitian society to the same degree.

  3. 3  shadowfirebird  January 20, 2010, 11:12 am 

    “Progress-resistant” is clearly a euphemism for “poor”.

  4. 4  richard  January 20, 2010, 3:37 pm 

    I’m intrigued by “intrusive paternalism,” especially if it means taking people’s children away because you don’t think they’re doing a good job of raising them. Perhaps the phrase unspeaks “intrusive institutionalism,” but it’s so repellent in its own right that I don’t think it can be called a euphemism.

    …or perhaps it unspeaks smug inaction, since Brooks never explains who will be paternal, he just expects them to be it. Intrusively.

    I think I’ve got to the age where I’m becoming “progress-intolerant.” I passed “progress-sceptical” some decades ago.

  5. 5  richard  January 20, 2010, 3:41 pm 

    …this, by the way, is the seepage you wind up with after the Olestra of Pat Robertson’s Satanist attack on the Haitians a few days ago. When Robertson yanks the discourse in a lunatic direction, this becomes accepted as comparatively sane. At least by NYT editors.

  6. 6  Steven  January 20, 2010, 9:49 pm 

    Also see Chris Lehmann at the Awl on “looting”.

  7. 7  Euripides  January 20, 2010, 9:54 pm 

    Excerpt from the classic David Brooks Blows Bobos:

    “[Bobos] are the new establishment….When I use the word ‘establishment,’ it sounds sinister and elitist. Let me say first, I’m a member of this class, as, I suspect, are most readers of this book. We’re not so bad. All societies have elites, and our educated elite is a lot more enlightened than some of the older elites, which were based on blood or wealth or military valor. Wherever we educated elites settle, we make life more interesting, diverse, and edifying.”

    Well, that settles that: “We’re not so bad.” Of course, every other elite from the Mongols to the Oligarchs could say the same thing—has, in fact, said the same thing. Elites do tend to think well of themselves—a tautology which might have given a more thoughtful writer pause, but would never occur to Brooks. It’s difficult to suck off thirty million people and think at the same time; and when it came to the crunch, Brooks wisely decided that the sucking was much more important than the thinking.

  8. 8  Euripides  January 20, 2010, 10:10 pm 

    I like

    “… a man outside a general store who “emerged wild-eyed with a pair of shoes still in their box,”


    This mysterious ‘other’ emerging like a beast from his cave, perhaps driven beyond the bounds of rationality by the mere sight of this mysterious treasure (my precioussss!!!).

    Maybe the reporter should accompany whichever poor soul has to open the door of Hammonds on the first day of the January sales. The sight of people emerging wild-eyed with a pair of shoes still in their box, might not seem so rare in the ‘civilised West’ after all.

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