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Jan. 18 2010 - 9:13 am | 185,704 views | 18 recommendations | 379 comments

Translating David Brooks

A friend of mine sent a link to Sunday’s David Brooks column on Haiti, a genuinely beautiful piece of occasional literature. Not many writers would have the courage to use a tragic event like a 50,000-fatality earthquake to volubly address the problem of nonwhite laziness and why it sometimes makes natural disasters seem timely, but then again, David Brooks isn’t just any writer.
Rather than go through the Brooks piece line by line, I figured I’d just excerpt a few bits here and there and provide the Cliff’s Notes translation at the end. It’s really sort of a masterpiece of cultural signaling — if you live anywhere between 59th st and about 105th, you can hear the between-the-lines messages with dog-whistle clarity.  Some examples:

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.
In the recent anthology “What Works in Development?,” a group of economists try to sort out what we’ve learned. The picture is grim. There are no policy levers that consistently correlate to increased growth. There is nearly zero correlation between how a developing economy does one decade and how it does the next. There is no consistently proven way to reduce corruption. Even improving governing institutions doesn’t seem to produce the expected results.
The chastened tone of these essays is captured by the economist Abhijit Banerjee: “It is not clear to us that the best way to get growth is to do growth policy of any form. Perhaps making growth happen is ultimately beyond our control.”

TRANSLATION: Don’t bother giving any money, it doesn’t do any good. And feeling guilty about not giving money doesn’t do anyone any good either. In fact, you’re probably helping by not doing anything.

The second hard truth is that micro-aid is vital but insufficient. Given the failures of macrodevelopment, aid organizations often focus on microprojects. More than 10,000 organizations perform missions of this sort in Haiti. By some estimates, Haiti has more nongovernmental organizations per capita than any other place on earth. They are doing the Lord’s work, especially these days, but even a blizzard of these efforts does not seem to add up to comprehensive change.

TRANSLATION: I, David Brooks, am doing my Christian best right here at home. Look, I even used a capital “L” in the word “Lord.” And I wrote that thing about Obama’s Christian Realism a few weeks ago. So I‘m doing my part. Of course I’d volunteer to help, but intellectually I just don’t think volunteering really helps. I mean, there are studies and everything.

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.

TRANSLATION: Although it is true that Haiti was just like five minutes ago a victim of a random earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people, I’m going to skip right past the fake mourning period and point out that Haitians are a bunch of lazy niggers who can’t keep their dongs in their pants and probably wouldn’t be pancaked under fifty tons of rubble if they had spent a little more time over the years listening to the clarion call of white progress, and learning to use a freaking T-square, instead of singing and dancing and dabbling in not-entirely-Christian religions and making babies all the fucking time. I know I’m supposed to respect other cultures and keep my mouth shut about this stuff, but my penis is only four and a third inches long when fully engorged and so I’m kind of at the end of my patience just generally, especially when it comes to “progress-resistant” cultures.

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.
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.
The late political scientist Samuel P. Huntington used to acknowledge that cultural change is hard, but cultures do change after major traumas. This earthquake is certainly a trauma. The only question is whether the outside world continues with the same old, same old.

TRANSLATION: The best thing we can do for the Haitians is let them deal with the earthquake all by themselves and wallow in their own filth and shitty engineering so they can come face to face with how achievement-oriented and middle-class they aren’t. Then when it’s all over we can come in and institute a program making the survivors earn the right to keep their kids by opening their own Checkers’ franchises and completing Associate’s Degrees in marketing at the online University of Phoenix. Maybe then they’ll learn the No Excuses attitude real life demands, so the next time something like this happens they won’t be pulling this “woe is us” act and bawling their fucking eyes out on CNN while begging for fresh water and band-aids and other handouts. Maybe that will happen, or maybe we’ll just keep sending money, fools that we are, so that they can keep making more of those illiterate ambitionless babies we’ll have to pull out of the next disaster wreckage.

p.s. Did I miss anything? Because I think that’s pretty much it. One would have thought a column on the Haitian’s lack of an achievement culture could maybe wait until after the bodies were cold, but… hey, who am I to judge?

p.p.s. I’ve got to put this comment up on the main piece, since so many people seem to have missed my point.

Again, unlike Brooks, I actually lived in the Third World for ten years and I admit it — I’m not exactly in the habit of sending checks to Abkhazian refugees, mainly because I’m not interested in buying some local Russian gangster a new Suzuki Samurai to tool around Sochi in. And I’ve actually seen what happens to the money people think they’re giving to Russian orphanages goes, so no dice there, either.

But you know what? Next time there’s an earthquake in Russia or Georgia, I’m probably going to wait at least until they’re finished pulling the bodies of dead children out of the rubble before I start writing articles blasting a foreign people for being corrupt, lazy drunks with an unsatisfactorily pervasive achievement culture whose child-rearing responsibilities might have to be yanked from them by with-it Whitey for their own good.

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.

I mean, shit, that’s what Brooks is doing here — that last part of the piece is basically a threat, he’s saying that Haiti might have to be FORCED to adopt “middle-class assumptions” and an “achievement ethos” because they’re clearly incapable of Americanizing themselves at a high enough rate of speed to please Brooks. That’s this guy’s immediate reaction to 50,000 people crushed to death in an earthquake. Metaphorically speaking, he’s standing over the rubble and telling the people trapped under there that they need more of a “No Excuses” culture, which is insane on many different levels.

Brooks’s implication that the Haitians wouldn’t have died in such great numbers had they been Americans is the kind of thing that is going to come back to bite us the next time we have a nuclear accident or a hurricane disaster or a 9/11 and we’re looking to the rest of the world for sympathy and understanding. The notion that these deaths aren’t an accident but someone’s fault, among other things someone’s fault because they practice an unhelpful sort of religion, is beyond offensive.

p.p.p.s And yes, Brooks is Jewish. So let’s say he’s doing his Judeo-Christian best. Again, this guy is saying that Haitians got killed in an earthquake because their religion makes them planning-averse. Are we really to believe that Haitians don’t live in earthquake-proof homes because of their religious beliefs? We have millions of Americans who literally believe the rapture is imminent — would Brooks expect them to blow off flood insurance?


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  1. collapse expand

    For those of you who think the “timing” of David Brooks’ comments is incidental and not another of his none-too-thinly veiled denigration of non-whites then ask yourself this question: If an earthquake had hit in another oountry where the U.S. currently provides a good deal of aid—-think Israel or Ireland—–and there were 50,000 white folks dead, dying and buried underneath tons of rubble would Brooks or anyone else dare to pick that time to suggest that the victim’s “culture” contributed to their suffereing?

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      You forget… Brooks is a Jew. THEY and ONLY THEY decide what is sensitive, insensitive, and anti semitic.

      IDF soldiers using Pali Kids for target practice is considered Self Defense.

      Former President Carter condemning the murder of Palestinian kids is ANTI SEMITISM.

      It’s all about who owns the megaphone.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    At least get your facts right – David Brooks is Jewish.

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    deleted account

    In the interests of accuracy and fairness, Mr. Taibbi suggests that Mr. Brooks is a Christian. Mr. Brooks, the object of Mr. Taibbi’s accusation of being a cold-blooded bigot, is, in fact, a Jew, as I believe is Mr. Taibbi.

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    I really didn’t have time to read the whole article or Brooks’ one. Just had enough when I read the following statement that was quoted: “It’s a story about poorly constructed buildings.”
    Being from South America where most of the houses and buildings are built out of bricks or concrete, not cardboard and wood like they are here in the US, that comment strikes me as totally out of line.
    Every time an engineer from my country comes to visit and knock at the walls, they usually laugh.
    And every time a hurricane hits or a fire develops I wonder why homes are built that way. Guess it’s related to the cost… but then again.. How much do these constructions last?

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    The social cultural reality of Haiti is a reflection of the unpredictable environment that these people exist within. When there is no certainty about anything that humans need, the strategy of “take it all and get out” is the only rational behavior.

    Only when people have a predictable set of resources over time do they begin to use a longer-term resource acquisition strategy that allows for the type of so-called “middle class” values that Brooks refers to in his stupid article.

    What Brooks and those of his ilk don’t understand or refuse to acknowledge is that the conservative, right-wing, republican approach to economics creates the very sort of unpredictable economic situation that leads to the behaviors we observe in Haiti and elsewhere.

    Brooks et al will never understand the underlying causes of poverty etc. because he and the rest of the trash on the right-wing side are simply too self-centered and ideological to ever leave the comfort of their ignorance and anti-intellectualism. It is too painful for them to admit that their religio-testosterone-ignorance created ideas are bankrupt.

    And because these fools on the right don’t give a s__t about facts or logical reality, Mr. Tiabbi is correct to point out the small size of Mr. Brooks’ ….uh…package…..as one of the reasons he’s such a d-bag.

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    Looks like Dave didn’t get the knee-jerk high five he was panting after.

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    David Brooks is always trying to use soft language to cloak an extreme worldview. The reason he has been tagged as a moderate, and people accept it, is precisely because people fail to read between the lines. Besides being a closet fascist and a heartless corporatist, David Brooks is liar without a conscience or a sense of social justice. Every time this smarmy bourgeois asshole writes or says something, my head explodes. Thank You, Matt, for call out this racist prick on his sick B.S. He needs to be exposed for what he truly is.

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    The thing that most annoyed me was Brooks pointing out how few people died in the 1989 San Francisco quake and using that as evidence for how Haitian poverty is to blame for all the deaths.

    This is blatantly false. The epicenter of the 89 quake was far far from the city center. Had SF been hit the same way Port-a-Prince was just hit, it’s quite possible there would have been just as much death and destruction or perhaps even more.

    It seems to me an editor or someone at the Times should have pointed this out before the piece went to print.

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    You take issue with the first part of Brooks’ article and yet you seem to agree. Developmental economics has a duty to find out what did and what didn’t work when aid was given to poor countries, if “aid” objective is only for the giver to feel better we should be honest about that.

    You said you lived in the third world, and that you have witnessed how aid money has been misused, and it has colored your view of aid world wide.

    However, the timing of the article seems poor!

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    Thank you for the translation. I always feel as if I’m being overly sensitive when I read between the lines of a column like David Brooks’ and see their bad intentions. There is a whole group of people though that were never going to give anyway and don’t care what anyone thinks. They listen to Rush Limbaugh and wanted confirmation. There is another group that was never going to give but need an excuse as to why not. David Brooks offers them that excuse. Your blog cuts through their bs.

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    You’re wrong about Brooks, Matt. Your piece was a complete misread, an undergraduate rant.

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    Funny thing about language: It can be interpreted. I don’t agree with your take on Brooks’ column. Timing is indeed everything, but as another commentor pointed out, this piece wouldn’t have the same resonance a month earlier or a month later. Distasteful as it may be, medicine (in this case, Brooks’ perspective) is necessary when the patient is ill (in this case, suffering), not when they feel fine.

    Not that Haiti ever truly feels fine, I suspect.

    But you have your perspective on what Brooks, and I have mine. Let’s let that lie for a moment.

    You’re entitled, of course, to present your interpretation of his column and you’re entitled to be outraged if you feel outrage is what’s called for in the situation.

    But to my mind, you blew your credibility with “but my penis is only four and a third inches long when fully engorged … .” I haven’t read every word Brooks has ever written, but I suspect he doesn’t make a habit of talking about the size of his penis. So this childish swipe at emasculation? Pathetic.

    Spirited discussions about whether or not he should have written what he wrote when he wrote it and, moreover, the larger implications of what he’s proposing (I agree with him that this tragedy is very much a poverty problem and many news stories have pointed out how much worse this tragedy is because of substandard construction practices in that country, to begin with) are good things. We need to be talking about real problems in productive ways.

    But let’s leave the size of his penis out of it, shall we?

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    I think people who lead privileged, sheltered lives tend to attribute their good fortune to personal behavior and likewise attribute others’ bad fortune to personal behavior. Thus David Brooks can feel safe from devastating earthquakes because he’s not, by his own reckoning, progress-resistant (and–coincidentally!–lives on an earthquake resistant part of the planet). If it’s the victim’s fault, one can be safe by merely making better choices. That said, David Brooks is one of the few sane voices coming from whatever the Republican party is these days, some especially freakish hybrid of the usual corporate political whores and their sucker base’s rabid mawing id (so palpable it took corporeal form and calls itself Sarah Palin!). David Brooks frequently writes with great clarity, compassion, and insight (see his articles on gay marriage or Sotomayor), he’s not some phony, party line spewing ideologue like Paul Gigot (and nearly all the rest of them), and sometimes he gets it horribly, horribly wrong. So it is what you say it is, grossly ill-timed, unempathetic, and self-serving (and I hardly think we’re in a position to tsk-tsk over shoddy construction and widespread, corruption-induced poverty), but it reads more like someone driven by fear and the impulse to intellectually “resolve” and thus, like magic…or, say, voodoo! ward off such tragedy. He’s wrong, but he’s not bad. Also, for the record, I’m pretty sure he’s Jewish.

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    David Brook is the epitome of what is exactly wrong with the West and why some people from third world countries have that kind of extreme thoughts they have about us. This is a guy over the past two years who has demonstrated his total lack of in depth analysis of any situation, local or national, because he is an ignorant who ignores even himself. Reading a pile of books about John Rawls, Alexander Hamilton, or Jean Paul Sartre doesn’t make you a well informed person and let alone a smart one. I would have probably David Brook face somebody like Harvard’s Dr Paul Farmer who is an authority regarding international development to teach him the most basic concepts about sustainable development. Had Brook had more intellectual decency, he could have read Joseph Stiglitz’s seminal “Globalization and Its Discontents” (2002) before writing anything at all.

    Here are some key facts:

    1- When Haiti earned its independence as the second nation after the US in the Americas, it was constantly harassed and threatened by surrounding super powers of that time (France, Spain, UK, the Netherlands and even Portugal who’d been wandering the coasts)

    2-When France finally made a move to claim back Haiti, they ask the country to pay them more than $200 Mil in gold (we’re talking about the 1800’s: you can just do the time value of money for today’s dollar)

    3- John Adam said it himself: “The Haitian revolution is the most threatening situation to our society”

    5- Mr. Brook obviously has never paid attention to any bilateral accords we have with third world countries.

    4- Perhaps, he can tell us why we decided to disregard the Washington consensus.

    But, hey, this is America. If Glen Beck or Sarah Palin can have an opinion so can Brook

  15. collapse expand

    In all fairness, I think this is evidence of a “progress resistant” personal culture.

    First, what does Brook’s penis have to do with anything? Thanks for lacing inflammatory language throughout to support a weak argument.

    Second, it is clear you aren’t familiar with the practice of development, regardless with how many years you have spent abroad. Growth policy is not all of development, but it has been a big part of attempts to reduce poverty. Most development practitioners, like Brooks points out, now believe it to be bunk. This does not mean that the whole attempt to foster economic and political development is to be cast away. Donate your money, but know that we need to be more creative in our interventions. Some of the leading projects today include micro-credit, financial access initiatives, conditional cash transfers, and carefully studied local interventions that affect incentives (see Banerjee’s own Poverty Action Lab, http://www.povertyactionlab.com).

    Meanwhile, micro-aid for development (e.g. food, basic shelter, medicines), of the sort that many faith-based organizations provide, is often about treating the symptoms of poverty. It is great to have in the aftermath of a natural disaster, but not much help in preventing the next one, or in ending the daily hardship of those living in the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

    Third, you don’t even respond to Brook’s point on cultural issues, but rather your own simplistic view of the “racist elite”. No one here dropped any derogatory statements about race; that was you. Lawrence Harrison, for example, writes on about the force of cultural characteristics on a national and sub-national level and points out the power of cultural agents – like Atanas Mockus and Enrique Penalosa in Bogota, Colombia – in affecting positive change. Does culture matter? On the sub-national level, why not look at America’s successful Jewish Community, or on the personal level, how about the effect of having a journalist for a father?

    Fourth, all you’ve really got is some anger about Brooks’ timing. Ok, maybe Brooks is too soon to point out the short-comings of international and domestic development efforts in Haiti. But then again, it is not Haitians who are reading the New York Times, and it is not the Haitians who have now suddenly tuned into to the long-running humanitarian disaster that is the country of Haiti. We have a rare opportunity to discuss what has gone wrong in Haiti and to channel the public’s massive goodwill to affect lasting change. You are no stranger yourself to controversy, Taibbi, and I wonder how you have felt when attacked by people unfamiliar with your subject matter.

    I doubt you agree here, so feel free to call me a racist or think about the size of my penis for a little while. In the meantime, I’ll continue my graduate studies in international development and continue to apply my own knowledge of the developing world from many years experience in Central America.

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    Most significant is the complete failure of Brooks to have pointed out the abject wasteful failure of my country in sending trillions of bucks to Iraq and Afghanistan in an effort to “not leave them now”, bring freedom and democracy and all kinds of other bogus ambitions. As a previous blogger noted fearing ” leaving those Iraqis alone to erupt into civil unrest” is just the same old “white man’s burden” bullshit line. Brooks, both Cheneys, and a whole host of other smarmy chicken hawks should be inducted and immediately transported to the “hurt locker”, NOW !!!!

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    Taibii is a hack. Why doesn’t he write some new ideas instead of commentating on what someone else has written… All he does is criticize without offering any new ideas on the subject. At least Brooks is offering some ideas on how to help. Taibii also seems to think that Brooks is Christian. He’s not! Taibii doesnt even know his subject but yet he’s passing all these judgements. Taibii has painted Brooks as a soldier in the Neocon brigade but he doesn’t know Brooks at all. Brooks is pro gay marriage, pro choice, pro Obama. Im a liberal and Brooks is one of the few columnists I can read because of his incisive thoughtfulness even if I don’t agree with what he’s saying. On this issue he has a few good things to say. He may be criticizing some aspects of culture but it has nothing to do with race!!

  18. collapse expand

    So when China, whom Brooks admires so for their ability to reduce poverty without foreign aid (oh, really?), has a devastating earthquake with thousands of deaths due to pancaking buildings built with lax building codes – those deaths are simply a tragedy and not of the Chinese government and culture’s making?

  19. collapse expand

    A truly stunning takedown, and much appreciated. Brooks with his smug patrician barely disguised borderline racist twaddle has long needed this sort of thumping. Boris Yeltsin, U.S. politics, Goldman Sachs, David Brooks….what next Matt??

  20. collapse expand

    Matt, I think you’re being really harsh on this person. Now is the time to write such an article because Haiti has the world’s attention now. we have to address it..the Haitian people are like everyone else…they don’t want a handout, they want a hand up…the corruption there is a tough nut to crack and is used to control the people. We need to get people to commit now to genuine change and moving forward.

  21. collapse expand

    David Brooks has always impressed me as a deeply loyal apologist for unbridled Capitalism and Imperialism. He and others like Peggy Noonan, for some reason, generate in me a visceral reaction, when they speak out in their snide way, on TV or in print, regarding the faults of their opponents (Liberal Dmocrats) or those they feel have let down the sacred work ethic (All Haitians and poor Americans – both victims of predatory Capitalism) or those who are anti-war in any way. They are smug, those two. And yes, his timing is simply offensive. My sensitivities to those who judge the poor for their victimization were honed when I worked in the field of child welfare for over twenty years. It is difficult to even explain the subtle but nonetheless cruel attitudes of the haves toward the have nots in this country. And charity is sometimes an expression of veiled contempt.

  22. collapse expand

    This Brooks article is offensive on so many levels. Comparing Haiti to Barbados shows just how ignorant he is. Barbados wasn’t granted full independence until 1966. Haiti has been independent since 1804; the only nation older in the hemisphere is the United States. Barbados has had years of colonial intervention to stabalize, develope, and exploite the island, while since its independence Haiti has had to pay money to France and endure isolation by all of the super powers of the time it defeated in battles. If you want to know why Haiti is poor try doing a little bit of research Mr. Brooks instead of joting down something that sounds plausible to that air head of yours.

  23. collapse expand

    Well your effort to contra David Brooks’s column is understandable and legitimate. Yet as an African myself, I do consent with the author to some significant degree. Few years ago, there was an interesting public discussion at John Templeton Foundation about the effectiveness of aid given to Africa: http://www.templeton.org/questions/africa/
    In fact, the diverse reaction of different scholars, including Africans, to the topic actually reflects the length of people’s discrepancy to development aid. The conception of development aid dates back to almost 60 years, and yet the gleams of poverty and all sorts of skulduggery are apparent in developing nation than ever before. Therefore, if aid is rendered to Haiti without any constructive framework of policy for effective implementation, the tendency to fail tremendously is beforehand.
    In other words, a newly invented development strategy would, from my own point of view, be needed and better for Haiti. Perhaps the reason why Brooks is somehow correct.

  24. collapse expand

    I have to agree; the timing on this was ill-conceived on so many levels – especially the slid-in comment about that pesky non-Christian religion they practice that (apparently) creates all sorts of moralistic problems (because only evangelical Christians are moral, remember).

    Saying that the Haitians aren’t “white” enough in their progress and somehow incapable, therefore, of creating buildings that might not have crushed the majority of them is playing a dangerous – and pointless – blame game. This is no one’s fault (though Pat Robertson has his own theories on that, as we know).

    Exactly what magic genie do we supposedly “middle-class-minded” Americans have over poorer countries like Haiti that somehow makes us less vulnerable & more able to deal with natural disasters? Need I remind everyone how we reacted (or didn’t react, as the case may be) to our own personal disaster a la Hurricane Katrina? I don’t exactly see that fiasco as proof that we have all our ducks in a row. Was New Orleans and lower Mississippi not upwardly mobile enough to create towns and cities that didn’t drown them after a disaster?

    Brooks argument is without merit and wholly inappropriate – the timing makes it even worse.

  25. collapse expand

    hi Matt

    Good article. Just wanted to remind you that there are a lot of charities doing good work in Russia and the Republics. I lived there for a long time too and did a lot of volunteering. Yes, some of them are corrupt. But it’s not too hard to root them out. And not everyone there is a hopeless drunk.

    Your argument with Brooks is mostly about timing.But it’s about stereotyping too, and using stereotyping as a basis for inaction. Why fall into that trap yourself? There are tragedies unfolding in Russia/the Republics (with orphans and refugees, etc.) every day, and your sneering doesn’t help them any more than Brooks’ does the Haitians.

  26. collapse expand

    I just finished reading your “transalation”. You and I must have read two different columns through. I disagree with everything you wrote. Your interpretation comes off as ignorant, snarcky and totally without merit. I didn’t think that article derided the hatian population at all. It seemed to me that the author was saying “hey we tried propping up Haiti a certain way for 30 years and it didn’t work. So now I think we need to try something different. I hope you reread his piece and your response to see if you come to a different conclusion. Good Luck

  27. collapse expand

    The real problem with Brooks drivel is that he assumes away the conclusion: he begins with the conclusion that we have already tried everything and nothing seems to work.


    We most certainly have NOT tried everything. One option that I’m sure Mr. Brooks would not even want to consider is that we have done far too little for far too long, not to mention the occasional pillaging of poor countries whenever they had anything we want.

    THAT’S why he wants to begin at the end. A serious examination of helping our poor friends and family should include the distinctly-possible option that we need to spend substantially more money than we have so far.

    It would also be helpful to leave the racism to the side.

  28. collapse expand


    Tell it!

    I made similar observations in the comments section of the NYT online. Brooks is a Regressive pseudo-philosopher. He’s more dangerous than obvious fools like Pat Robertson because he appears to be moderate and intellectual. He is Dick Cheney and Karl Rove in a sheep suit.


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    The simplest and therefore mathematically and scientifically most correct solution is to just “leave them ALL alone” ….. Iraq, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Haiti (notice what our soldiers are doing now in Haiti – saving private property for the ruling class like in Dr. Strangelove). The net good achieved with our interference is overwhelmed with our ruthless pervasive negative summation. Pull back…..isolation…….for a while until our habit is broken and we are off the cycle of do gooder coverups of neo-imperialism and world control …… then maybe, if true inner peace and understanding and solidarity exists here in the US, why then we might tender a handout or development assistance with NO strings attached – eh? That would be a net gain for the world.

  30. collapse expand

    Why can’t they be like The Dominican Republic. A bastion of capitalism and personal responsibility that serves up their citizens to be literally screwed by wealthy white impotent men. Rush Limbaugh knows the cultural differences between these nations. That’s why he visits the sex tourism capital of the Americas with a handful of Viagra in his pocket. Men, women, and children are for sale (I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which Rush has a proclivity for, but I’ll also state that you don’t need to travel to the Dominican Republic to get a legal female prostitute.) Making “growth happen” isn’t beyond our control. All you need is a little Viagra and a poverty stricken nation’s children.

  31. collapse expand

    Thank him for being truthful. I think his point of view is shared by the globalists and limousine liberals who pretend to have pity and compassion for the darker have-nots, yet want population reduced and push covert policies to accomplish that. Ask Rockefeller and Kissinger – the earthquake is a bonus, a windfall – more effective than malaria, AIDS, vaccines, sterilization. Brooks is showing his club card, Madison Avenue / Davos street cred.

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    Aside from everything else, Brooks ignores physics. The main risk facing Haitians is hurricane; the main threat facing San Franciscans is earthquake. If a scale 4 hurricane hit SF, you’d see close to 50K dead, because their light, wood-frame construction designed to survive an earthquake would be blown away by 130 mph wind. Haitian construction was built to withstand hurricane; these buildings collapsed: F=MA.

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    Nice commentary on an interesting column. Brook’s piece, if it could be divorced from all emotion and empathy, was rather thought-provoking on an purely intellectual level. Do nations fail to proper sometimes because of their culture? If so, how can we help them prosper in the face of a partially dysfunctional culture?

    That is an intellectually interesting pair of questions. Brooks is clearly not lacking in total IQ points. His shocking lack of empathy and humility, however, is beyond comprehension.

    This inability to empathize, to intellectualize in the most poignant of moments, is a hallmark of a mental disability — Aspberger’s Syndrome, a mild, rather functional form of Autism. Many of these folks have towering IQs but are socially crippled.

    If my hunch is right, his work should best be considered as a sort of literary entry in the mental Special Olympics.

    Like the autistic Raymond in Rain Man, these talents can be narrowly useful, like in Las Vegas.

    I suspect he did not intend at all to discourage immediate assistance in abundance. He’d probably be shocked to think that people would see something like that as a “take away” message from his piece. But it didn’t occur to him to encourage anyone to give either, because empathy for those suffering probably doesn’t come naturally to him.

    So, in the longer run, it may be worth taking the useful part of his piece, and ignoring the poor taste and judgement. It really is worth giving some thought to whether culture can prevent prosperity, and how suffering peoples can best be helped if/when aspects of their own culture are dysfunctional.

    Meanwhile, we all need to pitch in to help bring them food, shelter, medical care, comfort, and hope.

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    In a slight repeat of an earlier post I will say that I don’t believe this is an inappropriately timed article. If Brooks had written this a month ago or a few months from now, I am not sure anyone would have even read it, let alone be discussing the pertinent points of the article. I did not read at any point in the excerpts provided that he was making racist comments as you seem to be inferring. He even goes as far to reference culturally/racially similar countries in the immediate region and how they have a radically different social structure.

    Did an impoverished culture/society/country CAUSE the earthquake. Of course not, but did these factors have an adverse effect in the degree of the current situation, absolutely. Only 40% of the nation even had clean water access to start with, there is a severe lack of infrastructure that has greatly exasperated the problems. I just had some close family friends who were working in Haiti when the earthquake hit. They had to literally sneak over to the DR avoiding roaming gangs since they had been in a region without immediate connection to international services. It is a pretty shocking story what they experienced trying to literally escape from the lawlessness that they were in the middle of right after the earthquake.

    David Brooks makes a very important point to hear in the current situation. If we cannot find a more effective way to help countries like Haiti truly improve their country then disasters like this earthquake will be multiplied exponentially in tragedy. And I believe that is a worthy subject to be discussing in a frank and honest manner currently, not later when we have turned our eyes back away from these suffering people(and not just suffering because of the earthquake)

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    Excellent skewering… eh, I mean, article. I especially loved Brooks’s “subtle” slam at the religion of Haiti as being a possible cause for their current predicament, because we all know that the Judeo-Christian paradigm is the only one that matters and/or can affect a positive outcome for life in general ~ earthquake or not.

    On the other hand, I do wonder about the donations being made, mostly because everything is still such a mess and mired in chaos due to the aftermath of the event, but I don’t think for one second that should stop anyone from giving or trying to help, because it’s in our nature to do that. But Brooks does what people of his ilk love to do: kick a fucker while they’re down! And if you happen to catch their face with that foot? Even better.

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    I was soooooo tempted to tear Brooks’ Haiti column apart–but I knew you’d do it right! Great job! What’s next for the Right–take Haiti public and sell shares on the NYSE? I bet they could get the country on the cheap right now.

    • collapse expand

      Exactly right. One would think, mistakenly, that after the extreme insensitive comments by Limbaugh and Robertson that opinionators may tread warily. Wrong. The fact is they are black and poor, and we all know that not only envisions racist images of from our past and present. And no friggin massive natural disaster aught to blind people from this ’tisk tisk’ unfortunate stereotype. LET’S REMEMBER FOLKS, NO OIL HERE, MOVE ALONG, NOTHING MORE TO SEE. Brooks. What a douche.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      D.D. – The very real possibility of a SHOCK DOCTRINE thing jumpin off in Haiti is real if we are not vigilante. But as true as that is… Brooks’ overall point is still valid. True Haiti’s history is tragic with ALOT of blame to go around for US and other nations’ role in their current state of affairs, but that doesn’t automatically mean the answer is more of the same, or that there is no role for the positive aspects of market forces. Nobody will agree more that unchecked capitalism is lethal. But it’s hard to deny the effectiveness of capitalism in producing goods and services…and sparking innovation. No motive seems to be as productive as a profit motive. So while we have to be on guard for the right wing love of privatization of all things public… we need all the tools to fix what ails Haiti.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      Keep watching. You probably will see it soon.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  37. collapse expand

    Brooks could have taken 10 minutes and read Jared Diamond’s extremely detailed account of the shared histories of DR and Haiti in his book “Collapse” or in a condensed version here: http://www.theglobalist.com/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=4776

    It basically refutes this entire point: 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.

    BUT WITH ACTUAL EVIDENCE!!! Instead of trying to do comparative politics with 10 seconds of thinking.

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    Dear Sir:
    Why the profanity? What Brooks is saying is that good intentions should not be the measure of how help to a Nation Like Haiti should be judged. Judge the help on how the recipient changes their behavior to improve their own lives and no longer want or need the the help.
    I make the judgment that the severity of a
    disaster like this Earthquake is the result of the preparation and the vision of the members of that society. When it appears that a society concerns itself with it’s Religion or personel gratification without the consequences
    of those actions they must be given a substantial amount of the blame. Otherwise like
    a child their behavior will never change.

  39. collapse expand

    Thanks for your post! On top of being an intelligent reading of the column, it is also extremely witty.
    It is my belief that judeo christianism is man’s worst invention and, in this time of grief David Brooks should not be allowed to write for national media. This goes too for Alain Joyandet -obscure & idiotic French civil servant- I am truly ashamed of being French (nowadays and especially today)

  40. collapse expand

    Thanks Mike. As someone who was born in Haiti, I’d like to know if Brooks realizes that the DOMINANT religion in Haiti is Roman Catholicism. And I think that is followed closely by Protestant religions.

  41. collapse expand


    A Canadian friend had a very interesting comment. Maybe it was something from Michael Moore. It goes “Living next to the United States is like sleeping with an Elephant”. I think the saying has special applicability here.

    Consider Mexico, I wonder how many Mexicans think having a border butting on the US is a GOOD thing. Consider all the American weaponry they are getting, the illegal drugs, and the prostitution etc. Now consider our effects in Central and South America. I would suggest that many of the problems Haiti has are reinforced by American policy.

    Just yesterday the PBS “Newshour” had a presentation starting to describe US policy in the area. They talked a little about Aristede and his contentious return to the island and his exile. The US role in all that was not very well explained. But we’ll never hear much about it.

    And now Clinton is getting involved with their economic development. The man of “free trade zones” and NAFTA has “discovered” Haiti. At least they don’t have wallets to hold onto. While the development is necessary it will be done not so much to improve the lives of the poor, but to provide a cheap workforce for American business right next to US borders to further compete with US workers and further depress American wages. It will be good to see the economic development but it will come at a high cost to both Haitians and Americans.

    One last observation, the earthquake will provide Naomi Klein’s crisis that will force change and development. It will happen with morons like Brooks leading the charge. Why him? Because he’s too much of a lightweight to understand the forces at work in this situation and will simply echo stupid platitudes without understanding what’s REALLY going on. It must be like shooting fish in a barrel.

    As we are beginning to see in Australia, economic development is tough … really tough. Despite throwing much money at our aboriginal population we have very, very little to show for it. It requires a massive effort and money to help one’s poorer, less developed neighbors. Just throwing money at them won’t do it. But if we leave it to our business leaders we will get what we deserve and the Haitian population will loose.

  42. collapse expand

    Mr brooks clearly desires to gloss over the fact that much of the responsibility for Haiti’s poverty rests squarely with the United States and France for repeatedly intervening in ANY Haitian democratic elections which bring to power ANYONE who doesn’t wish to play nice with the American or European economic juggernaut.

    Haiti’s last democratically elected president was ousted by GHW Bush shortly after trying to raise the minimum wage in Haiti to 2 dollars a fucking day.

    Seriously, these fucking hypocrites lead our fucking country.

    We’ve systematically and repeatedly crippled that tiny nation and then criticize them for being lazy?

    Fuck You David Fucking Brooks.

  43. collapse expand

    You criticize David Brooks for his timing but if he had written this piece a month ago nobody would have paid attention. Often a natural disaster or other catastrophe provides the only opportunity to shed a light on long-standing problems.

  44. collapse expand

    Utah is due for a 7.0 or bigger earthquake, which is expected to kill thousands and cripple the local economy. It could happen literally any day. Yet some of my right-wing neighbors have the same attitude as Brooks.

    Pat Bagley, the Salt Lake Tribune editorial cartoonist, recently skewered the idea “that kind of thing only happens to other people.”


  45. collapse expand

    I’ve followed Brooks in the NY Times and News Hour for a while, and I find him to be a rather fair and moderate fellow. Needless to say, I was surprised to see him accused of being a unsympathetic racist. His Sunday Op-Ed was perfectly reasonable, with nothing particularly “callous” about it. I won’t deny I haven’t read *this* article, but then again, I didn’t feel obliged to after seeing Brook’s Op-Ed tactlessly summarized as being about “nonwhite laziness”. I may have a bit of a Brooks bias, but this interpretation is grossly misguided and I resent seeing him being categorized as a far right ideologue.

  46. collapse expand

    Brilliant deconstruction, Matt. Brooks couldn’t be douchier if he was Lavender-scented.

    What Brooks perhaps knowingly, perhaps cynically (or maybe just out of ignorance, but I think that gives too much credit) neglects to add to his little screed is the absolutely evil, bullying economic policies and political meddling the US has committed upon Haiti over the past 200 years, most recently by Bush I, Clinton (who essentially destroyed their farming infrastructure by insisting on “free” trade), and Bush II. The slave rebellion of Haiti was a potentially galvanizing moment in the world and it seems that western countries are unremitting in making Haiti pay the price for it for eternity.

    My greatest hope is that this unbelievable tragedy keeps the eyes of the world on Haiti as it rebuilds so that it can’t be “shock doctrined” in the wake of this horror.

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