Haiti Must Not be Rebuilt
Monday, 25 January 2010
Day after day, our brains are blitzed by the media with the horror from Haiti. While I would not wish a like disaster to befall my friends and loved ones, I cannot help but roll my eyes at the Western governments' response.
I do not mind the initiatives to forgive Haiti's external debt, as I understand enough about modern banking to know that banks lose nothing except profits when writing off a so-called 'loan': When banks issue a 'loan', as it happens, they are not lending actual assets that they have in their possession, but are, in, fact, creating an electronic fiction, out of nothing and backed by nothing, with a few keystrokes and clicks of a mouse on a computer. For this and other reasons, which I shall discuss later, I fully agree with the idea of writing off Haiti's loans.
I also do not mind Western charities lending succour to the victims, provided said charities are private institutions, funded by private, consenting donors.
In agreement with Cong. Ron Paul, however, I do mind when a Western government, such as that of Barack Obama in the United States, seeks to commit its taxpayer's money to a programme of reconstruction in that part of the world. This is not so much because Western countries are all technically bankrupt and have been for years: after all, we still have the material means and intellectual wherewithal to extricate ourselves from our economic plight. No. This is because reconstructing Haiti would simply repeat the mistakes of the past, which have shown, conclusively and supported by examples elsewhere, that any effort to encourage a former colony now run by Black Africans to become a Western-style society, complete with rule of law, a thriving market economy, property rights, industrial production, modern communications, and the like, is futile and counterproductive. Haiti must not be re-built.
Haiti's death toll - currently estimated at 200,000 - might have been caused by an earthquake, but it did not have to be that high. Walter E. Williams, professor of economics at George Mason University, pointed out a few days ago that
Northern California's 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was more violent, measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, resulting in 63 deaths and 3,757 injuries. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake measured 7.8 on the Richter scale, about eight times more violent than Haiti's, and cost 3,000 lives.
That Haiti's death toll was 3,000 times higher than that of Loma Prieta, and 66 times higher than that of San Francisco owes less to an "especially cruel and incomprehensible" cataclysm than to Haitian's lack of work-ethic, corruption, and ability to plan ahead.
True, Haiti is one of the world's least developed countries and the poorest in the Western hemisphere, with 80% living below the poverty line and 54% living in abject poverty; and, in our world, calamities only multiply in the absence of money - without money it is difficult to do anything. But Haiti was not always poor. In the 18th century, Haiti, then under French rule and called Saint-Domingue, was the most prosperous French colony in the New World. Its enormously profitable plantations produced sugar, coffee, cotton, and indigo, and drew in tens of thousands of French settlers. The impoverishment of Haiti, the first Black-ruled republic on the planet, with a population that is 95% Black, has taken place since its independence in 1804. In the struggle for independence, nearly 200 plantations were burnt or destroyed, and 24,000 of the by then 40,000 White settlers were killed.
Since then, there have been 32 coups d'etats, the forests have been destroyed, the population has exploded, and Haiti has come to rank near the bottom out of 179 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. Indeed, the situation has become so chaotic at times that the United States has been forced to deploy troops there on three separate occasions: in 1915 (until 1934), during which time the United States funded a huge reconstruction programme; in 1958, during which time the United States attempted to once again rebuild Haiti's economic infrastructure; and in 1994 (until 1996), during which time yet another rebuild tool place under Operation Uphold Democracy and Operation New Horizons.
The situation before the quake was no better a century ago. Writing in 1900, Hesketh Pritchard, an explorer and fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, reported in his book Where Black Rules White: A Journey Across and About Hayti:
What most astonishes the traveller in Hayti is that they have everything there. Ask for what you please, the answer invariably is, 'Yes, yes, we have it.' They possess everything that a civilised and progressive nation can desire. Electric light? They proudly point to a [power] plant on a hilltop outside the town. Constitutional government? A Chamber of Deputies elected by public vote, a Senate, and all the elaborate paraphernalia of the law: they are to be found here, seemingly all of them. Institutions, churches, schools, roads, railways . . . On paper their system is flawless . . . If one puts one's trust in the mirage of hearsay, the Haitians can boast of possessing all desirable things, but on nearer approach these pleasant prospects are apt to take on another complexion.
For instance, you are standing in what was once a building, but is now a spindle-shanked ghost of its former self. A single man, nursing a broken leg, sprawls on the black, earthen floor; a pile of wooden beds is heaped in the north corner; rain has formed a pool in the middle of the room, crawling and spreading into an ever wider circle as the last shower drips from the roof. Some filthy sheets lie wound into a sticky ball on two beds, one of which is overturned. A large, iron washing tub stands in the open doorway.
Now where are you? It would be impossible to guess. As a matter of fact, you are in the Military Hospital of the second most important town of Hayti, a state-supported concern in which the soldiers of the Republic are supposed to be cured of all the ills of the flesh . . .
It was the same with the electric light. The [power] plant was here, but it did not work. It was the same with the [Army's] cannon. There are cannon, but they won't go off. It was the same with their railways. They were being 'hurried forward,' but they never progressed. It was the same with everything.
Pritchard's account is often sympathetic towards Haitians, but, all the same, the picture that emerges is very negative. In the final chapter, the explorer concluded:
The present condition of Hayti gives the best possible answer to the question, and, considering the experiment has lasted for a century, perhaps also a conclusive one. For a century the answer has been working itself out there in flesh and blood. The Negro has had his chance, a fair field, and no favor. He has had the most beautiful and fertile of the Caribbees for his own; he has had the advantage of excellent French laws; he inherited a made country, with Cap Haitien for its Paris . . . Here was a wide land sown with prosperity, a land of wood, water, towns and plantations, and in the midst of it the Black man was turned loose to work out his own salvation. What has he made of the chances that were given to him? . . . Today in Haiti we come to the real crux of the question. At the end of a hundred years of trial, how does the black man governs himself? What progress has he made? Absolutely none. When he undertakes the task of government, he does so, not with the intent of promoting the public weal, but for the sake of filling his own pocket. His motto is still, "Pluck the fowl, but take care she does not cry out". Corruption has spread through every portion and every department of the Government. Almost all the ills of the country may be traced to their source in tyranny, the ineptitude, and the improbity of those at the helm of state . . . Can the Negro rule himself? Is he congenitally capable? . . . Today, and as matters stand, he certainly cannot rule himself.
A century later, we may be justified in reaching a similar conclusion.
Having said this, I am not here to replicate simplistic conservative arguments that blame Haitians for their predicament and prescribe solutions based on democracy, liberalisation, education, investment, accountability, transparency, and open markets. There is no doubt that Haitians, like sub-Saharan Africans, are the architects of their own misfortunes; but it is disingenuous to judge the diverse peoples of the world in terms of how well they conform to a European standard. As I have argued here and elsewhere, not all the peoples of the world were destined to be exactly like us. And, certainly, not all needed, or even desired, to be exactly like us.
Port au Prince vs Soweto: Black rule looks the same on both sides of the Atlantic.
19th-century explorers of sub-Saharan Africa - the Haitians' ancestral homeland - were shocked by the absence of civilisation in traditional black African societies. The latter's uncivilisation, however, was not the abnormal result of failed states or the World Bank's interest rates, because these did not exist at the time: It was their normal condition. Uninfluenced by European or Arabic cultures, these were prehistorical tribal societies, which had never developed a written script, recorded history, used money, kept calendars, maintained roads, or had any need for an administration or a code of law. These societies still exist today in the African bush, and if they have changed noticeably or at all in the past 50,000 years, they certainly have not changed in our direction. Obviously, the traits that characterise us Europeans, and which we value so highly, were not essential for survival in the sub-Saharan bush; and, by extension, what Europeans find normal and natural, Black Africans find abnormal and artificial. Ideologies of progress and modernity - defining products of the liberal European mind - never occurred to the black man, even if subsequently he found them instrumentally useful. It is not surprising, therefore, that when a modern nation-state is placed under Black rule, conditions rapidly deteriorate: At best, Blacks are able to simulate the outer forms the European system, but never their substance.
With this in mind, it should be obvious that rebuilding Haiti would be a waste of time. I would also call it a form of imperialism. That the Western political establishment fails to recognise it and act accordingly, even though deep down our politicians know it, owes more to ideology than to ignorance of the facts.
The Left has a religious belief in progress. And, although they do not realise it, their thinking is profoundly Eurocentric.
Consequently, the Left interprets history as a process in which humans - essentially Europeans with exotic skin colours and minor differences in physiognomy - go from worse to better, measured against values that are important to Europeans and no one else. When progress fails to happen, the self-absorbed, navel-gazing Left blames Europeans and sees it as the product of the imperfect implementation of Leftist theories. Unfortunately, modern conservatives have been influenced the Left and merely prefer a capitalistic and pragmatic - as opposed to a socialistic and utopian - interpretation of the Left's progress ideology. The result is a campaign for ever more aid and development, fuelled by the belief that, given enough money, education, and opportunity, the Third World (including even Haiti) will eventually converge with Europe. For the Left, the daydream is universal equality; for the conservatives, bigger markets for capitalist enterprise.
Voodoo: distinct African flavour
Without a radical eugenics programme, however, the progress utopia will remain a fanciful dream.
With regards to the death toll in Haiti, I of course blame the Spanish and the French for purchasing slaves and shipping them to the Caribbean to work on their plantations. Had they dispensed with this nefarious practice and relied, instead, on their own muscle, Hispaniola would be today an immensely rich island, well prepared for any natural disaster. Short of loopy schemes such as shipping 9 million Haitians back to Africa, however, I propose that the best that we can do at this stage is not to re-build, but to complete the demolition. Subsistence farming, single-story mud dwellings of simple construction, no motorised vehicles, no electricity, no money, no books, no manufactured tools, and, most importantly, no firearms, trade, or Western intervention, is the model to follow. Let Haitians lose all vestiges of European civilisation and re-organise themselves in a manner harmonious with their endowments, sensibilities, and ancestral culture. Let them find their own point of equilibrium, even if it diverges greatly from ours. There is nothing wrong with voodoo or a pre-industrial, agricultural society, if that is what works for the people who live in it.
Alex Kurtagic was born in 1970. He is the author of Mister (published by Iron Sky Publishing, 2009) and the founder and director of Supernal Music.
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