David Brooks has an excellent column on the Haiti disaster at the New York Times in part of which he writes:
This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story. It's a story about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services. On Thursday, President Obama told the people of Haiti: "You will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten." If he is going to remain faithful to that vow then he is going to have to use this tragedy as an occasion to rethink our approach to global poverty. He's going to have to acknowledge a few difficult truths.
The first of those truths is that we don't know how to use aid to reduce poverty. Over the past few decades, the world has spent trillions of dollars to generate growth in the developing world. The countries that have not received much aid, like China, have seen tremendous growth and tremendous poverty reductions. The countries that have received aid, like Haiti, have not....
....Third, it is time to put the thorny issue of culture at the center of efforts to tackle global poverty. Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well. Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions. But so has the Dominican Republic, and the D.R. is in much better shape. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth - with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other.
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.
Fourth, it's time to promote locally led paternalism. In this country, we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it, just as we did abroad. Then we tried microcommunity efforts, just as we did abroad. But the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism.
In other words, part of the reason why the billions of dollars of aid that the U.S. has sent to Haiti in the last twenty years has done nothing to improve the situation there is that we are locked in a deadly (for the Haitian people) tango with our politically correct assumptions about other cultures. The Haitian culture is completely dysfunctional and corrupt, but we're too cowed by liberal/progressive multicultural blather about the beauty of diversity and the need to "respect all cultures" to point out the retrograde, primitive beliefs and assumptions that are destroying the Haitian people.
We're also too fearful of being seen as imperialist and colonialist to do what Brooks says and go in and fix the problems. If we do that, we fear, why, there may be resistance, there may be resentment, so instead of actually helping people we just keep sending millions of dollars that just evaporates once it hits the Haitian shore.
Liberal ideas are harmless until people start taking them seriously and putting them into practice. Then you realize that they not only prevent us from doing what is necessary to really help people but that they're massively wasteful, futile, condescending, and counterproductive.
I have a friend who has been a missionary in Haiti for over twenty years. He loves the Haitian people, but his love for them has not blinded him to their deeply degenerate culture. He's been emailing our church to keep us updated on what's going on in his village since the earthquake. I thought I'd share his last email:
Life is moving back toward normal now. We only had one 'shaking period' yesterday. People are sleeping outside just to be safe...because folks here are easily scared. They'd never think of sleeping outside on a normal night...too scary. Now they won't sleep inside...too scary. It's sad, a life being afraid of everything. I talked to a twelve year old boy who was alone in the woods when the quake happened. The ground shook. He tells me he immediately thought, "Demons!" He ran through briar and brumble cutting his legs to get away from the demons. Demons get a lot of credit here in Haiti for things they don't do. As he told me the story I remembered running by him as I went to get my camera.
Thanks for all of your ideas about helping folks here. I'm at a loss as to what people can do at this point. The big organizations obviously are used to doing this kind of thing. That's a good place to start, helping them cover their costs. I can't see how sending or shipping anything here would work anytime soon. All the 'systems' are down, and they were faulty before they went down.
Gas jumped up in price already. The trip to Port (Port Au Prince) used to cost around $40 in public transportation. Now it's $100 or $150. That should come down as gas gets back in circulation. The big gas 'center' apparently wasn't affected. But for the time being gas is rare.
We imagine food will be rare in the days ahead. It will get expensive, no doubt.
Jean's (John's) one sister and brother have made it out here to our part of the country already. She showed up with nothing but the clothes on her back...literally. She was barefoot. I imagine more and more people will be showing up like that. Locals will be ready to share whatever they have (which isn't much to begin with). I'm guessing this town will be saturated with people seeking a place to stay and start over in the days and weeks ahead. The southern end of the island is in great shape compared to the capital area.
I'm not sure even what WFL (Water For Life) will be able to do to help folks. It's early still. We haven't heard more from our president, Leon, than that he and his wife are fine.
SO, I encourage those of you praying for the relief effort. Helping here in Haiti can be really really frustrating. Pray for the patience of relief workers as they confront the complete absence of infrastructure and preparation for disasters. It sometimes makes you feel crazy, and you end up crying, "Why am I here trying to help these twisted people!?" But they need love, love, and more love.
Helping people find people is a great idea. Radio stations and websites are working hard to help folks. It'll take time.
I'll obviously be doing what I can to help folks in need as they come across my path. A few have today already. If you'd like to contribute to that effort, please do it through Christ Lutheran Church. They are accustomed to receiving funds for the work here with me.
If we wish to really help the Haitians, or the people of any third world country, we should first get it into our minds that we can respect them as individual persons created in the image of God while at the same time recognizing that they're trapped in a culture that is devastating their potential. The worst thing we can do, perhaps, is to "respect" a culture that eats its people alive.RLC