Brooks vs. Taibbi on Haiti
Brooks says the following:
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 … It’s time to find self-confident local leaders who will create No Excuses countercultures in places like Haiti, surrounding people — maybe just in a neighborhood or a school — with middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.
Taibbi responds with a lot of language I won’t reprint here, but suffice it to say he thinks Brooks is making a racist, ignorant, arrogant, and cold-hearted argument.
An earthquake is nobody’s fault. There’s nothing to do after a deadly earthquake but express remorse and feel sorry. It’s certainly not the time to scoff at all the victim country’s bastard children and put it out there on the Times editorial page that if these goddamned peasants don’t get their act together after a disaster this big, it might just be necessary to start swinging the big stick of Paternalism at them.
Even setting aside the issue of sensitivity, this is an interesting and vitally important debate – Brooks (and others) argue that well-intentioned aid from wealthy nations is largely useless and that many underperforming cultures – like spoiled, recalcitrant children – just need a dose of tough love. Taibbi thinks this view is born of profound ignorance and that Brooks et al overstate the extent to personal or cultural “initiative” is really the problem.
So we arrive back to our familiar, central dilemma. How do external circumstance and personal will collectively create our outcomes? The balance between the two is at the nexus not only of the development debate, but of most liberal – conservative debates as well.