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The unspeakable David Brooks...

By Michael J. Smith on Sunday January 17, 2010 10:07 PM

... that puddle of dog's vomit, that burglar's turd on the living-room carpet, has attracted some well-earned opprobrium with a recent finger-wagging sermon directed at the people of Haiti, whose suffering. Brooks tells us, is their own damn fault:

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...

We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others...

[I]t’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.

These programs, like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the No Excuses schools, are led by people who figure they don’t understand all the factors that have contributed to poverty, but they don’t care. They are going to replace parts of the local culture with a highly demanding, highly intensive culture of achievement — involving everything from new child-rearing practices to stricter schools to better job performance.

It’s time to take that approach abroad, too. 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.

Presumably Haiti should be more like Israel --
[Israel] is a tough, scrappy country, perpetually fighting for survival. The most emotionally intense experiences are national ones, so the public-private distinction was bound to erode....

As an American Jew, I was taught to go all gooey-eyed at the thought of Israel, but I have to confess, I find the place by turns exhausting, admirable, annoying, impressive and foreign....

[T]his argumentative culture nurtures a sense of responsibility. The other countries in this region are more gracious, but often there is a communal unwillingness to accept responsibility for national problems. The Israelis, on the other hand, blame themselves for everything and work hard to get the most out of each person.

-- though whether the world should or can accommodate more than one Israel, or even one if it comes to that, is a question well worth asking.

Familiar stuff. My man Noam Chomsky read the record and gave us Brooks' progenitors some years ago -- nothing has changed, particularly at the callous, brutish propaganda mill that pays Brooks' salary, the New York Times:

Haitians and Dominicans were described as "coons," "mongrels," "unwholesome," "a horde of naked niggers," the Haitians even more "retrograde" than the Dominicans. They needed "energetic Anglo-Saxon influence." "We are simply going in there...to help our black brother put his disorderly house in order," one journal wrote. Furthermore, The US had a right to intervene to protect "our peace and safety" (New York Times).

Times editors lauded the "unselfish and helpful" attitude that the US had always shown, now once again as it responded "in a fatherly way" as Haiti "sought help here." Our "unselfish intervention has been moved almost exclusively by a desire to give the benefits of peace to people tormented by repeated revolutions," with no thought of "preferential advantages, commercial or otherwise," for ourselves. "The people of the island should realize that [the US government] is their best friend."

The US sought only to ensure that "the people were cured of the habit of insurrection and taught how to work and live"; they "would have to be reformed, guided and educated," and this "duty was undertaken by the United States." There is a further benefit for our "black brother": "To wean these peoples away from their shot-gun habit of government is to safeguard them against our own exasperation"....

Comments (11)

Al Schumann:

Bobo the burglar's turd. He has yet to understand that there's a difference between sticking an iPhone up his ass and creating a micro-electronics industry.



and old Billy boy, co-director of the US relief efforts, regards this twit as one of America's leading thinkers.

Speaking of twits, I'm surprised that Tom Friedman hasn't weighed in on Haiti yet. I guess it takes time to craft those famous metaphors of his.

"Today Haitians are searching for their dead. Like mourning elephants they slowly navigate a sea of human misery, searching in vain for their loved ones. Against all odds, these human elephants of despair refuse to let the burning flame of hope be extinguished. They see light at the end of the tunnel, and will one day spread their wings again to write the next chapter in Haiti's story. Oh, and they drink Coca-Cola there! Small world, huh?"


much not to like these days
among the planets many localized
"progress-resistant cultural influences"

but progress resistant as a label
has a very usefully
range of implementation no ??

errr demanding on the pilgrim

some might claim
this site as

progress resistant

an important epithet for hurling
if u happen to be
at least progress challenged yourself




"Like mourning elephants they slowly navigate a sea of human misery, searching in vain for their loved ones."

nicely absurd

would prolly choose
a less noble creature
or a leaner looking at least
maybe cross wire some

mourning jackels perhaps

Al Schumann:

Bob, for a minute I was pretty sure you were directly quoting. I stumbled a bit when the elephants spread their wings, but it's not completely out of place in a Friedman column. It could happen. The giveaway is that it's a much better Friedman column than he himself could write.

"Progress-resistance" reminds me of poor, long suffering Cotton Mather. He was persecuted for advocating inoculation against smallpox. The miserable old fiend was a liberal, too, in his own way.

We should be kinder to The Baron of Bobos. His existential perspective is tied so directly to his status as one of the leaders of a benevolent meritocracy... if it turns out he's actually been dead wrong, and/or lying to his readers... well then where will the Baron be? He'll have nothing. Nothing, I tell you. And that's sad. So we should be kinder, out of compassion for his perilous existence. If the world didn't have the Baron's benevolent bon mots, no single Haitian would have survived this recent quake. Not a one.

Al Schumann:

CF, your compassionate advocacy for Bobo and his culture does you credit. But are we really being kind when we accept his excuses, pathological dishonesty and moral relativism? Wouldn't it be better to send the US military (the finest military in the world) to the Grey Lady and stage a humanitarian intervention? In a generation or three, Bobo and his colleagues could learn to take personal responsibility. They could become free of superstitions and the cargo cult economics that comes from a history of looting.

The hard, mailed hand of paternalism would soften after a while, become the gloved fist of education and, finally, the open-handed slap of steady policing.


yes, it is surprisingly difficult to perfectly emulate the sociopathic imbeciles over at NYT.

on a more serious note:

OK, so I've read the whole Brooks column now. How has he not been fired yet? Being a fairly reserved person, I'm not usually one for moral outrage, but the heinous villainy of these commentators has really gotten to me.

One of my GF's best friends (a really really nice girl) from Montreal got a call on her cellphone from a relative in Haiti who is trapped under a building, and has been frantically trying to reach someone there to rescue them. Another Haitian friend of mine has friends who are still trapped under the rubble of the university that have also yet to be rescued.

Perhaps the crisis is a little too close for me to be properly "objective", but reading Brooks' "tough love" column was so infuriating that I can't really find proper words to express it. If I saw him right now I would smash those ridiculous tortoise shell glasses of his right into the back of his cranium. piece. of. fucking. shit.

Ha-Joon Chang, Chapter 9, baby. These clowns can't explain what "culture" is or where it comes from, yet it's their one and only argument. It would be hilarious, if it were ever challenged, other than on the fringes.


in other great news, the US army has been ordering planes carrying aid to Haiti to turn around so that they can land more troops, and are keeping the supplies that do arrive locked down within the airport "for security reasons"


Thanks Al... but I am simply humbled by the courageous Baron of Bobos. The way he puts his brain on the line every week, with a new column telling us all how wretched we are in comparison to his benevolent high-merit self, and how thankful we should be that he dispenses his Glorious Merit-Based Wisdom... it inspires me to put my own interests aside, and direct my efforts toward saving the Baron of Bobos from falling out of his present state of Merit, Grace, and Profligate Wisdom.

But I like the progression you've laid out. Especially the open-handed slap of steady policing. I'm sure we've all seen how newborn babies need to be slapped to get them to wake up and start living on their own... horrible, dependent creatures that they are. Surely the Baron of Bobos never burdened his parents with that kind of dependence. Any who do, they need The Slap.

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