Who Cares About Haiti?

16 01 2010

I am pleased to have been the recipient of the Ordre d’Honneur et de Merite, Haiti, 1934 —
JJ’s great-uncle, Henry D Barker, born more than 100 years ago in America, recounting his impoverished boyhood and subsequent career

In the here and now, JJ has a mom-friend who cares enough about Haiti that she carried the Christian gospel to children there last year, and is suffering with the Haitian people in the earthquake’s aftermath.

She is the mom of Favorite Daughter’s traveling companion to Europe last summer. The November before that, this devout conservative evangelical (but also well-educated medical professional and feminist, for a southerner at least) did a little traveling of her own and took the church mission trip to Haiti.

Here is her FaceBook status update today:

Presidents Team up for Haiti.
Wow, that is the spirit that makes America the great country that it is. It makes me proud to be a naturalized American and to be part of Americans helping Haiti.

So it seems to me we surely share American values and see truth, beauty and goodness much the same way, despite not sharing the same family, politics, religion or profession.

As for me and Haiti, I’d personally still look to education rather than religion to save it. My family history is all about the transformative power of hard work and sacrifice channeled through education, not prayer. My great-uncle D went on his Haitian education mission trip of sorts after growing up dirt-poor subsistence farming in the Blue Ridge Mountains, partly homeschooling in fact, then studying agriculture and textiles at Clemson back when it was an agricultural college and Air Force academy.

From other universities he later earned his master’s of science in agronomy and his Ph.D. — first in our family! — and I was raised on stories from my mother’s mother (Uncle D’s enormously proud little sister) about him and Aunt Pauline living in Haiti for years in what sounded like a tropical paradise, helping to change the world with his education.

In 1928 he wrote a book about it: Éléments du Botanique Général par Henry D. Barker, Ph.D., Chef du Department de Bontanique Service Technique.

In French.

Published in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Stamped right on the front cover.

I am holding that book in my hand right now because by default I am now the family’s historical repository as was my father before me — both of us also academic doctors, admired throughout the extended family as continuing generational examples of the importance of education, not just to enrich the individual or contribute to the family’s collective well-being but also for all of humanity, because learning and then using it for good is what we are meant to do. . .

Inside his book, it’s inscribed in his feathery old-fashioned fountain pen script:
“To my mother from The Author.”

And I also have here beside me Uncle D’s self-published memoir of his boyhood, inscribed in that same hand, to me! —
“to Jennifer whose grandparents Alice and Ira were born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Henry D Barker”

Here is what he wrote about Haiti in the epilogue:

Following the armistice in 1918, I accepted a part-time research position while doing graduate studies under Dr. E.C. Stakman of the Plant Pathology Department of the University of Minnesota, which granted me a Ph.D. degree in 1923.

Stakman had won worldwide renown as a gifted teacher and lecturer and as a consultant on world food problems. I was fortunate in being one of his early students when opportunity existed for extensive and unhurried conferences with him . . .

After one year with the MS Agricultural Experiment Station at Starkville Mississippi, I joined a small group of specialists recruited by our State Department which had agreed to furnish the Haitian government [with] aid in establishing a modern agricultural college and experiment station. This was one of the provisions of the revised treaty between the two countries.

In 1924, plans got underway for locating the college and experiment station at Damien, on the outskirts of Port au Prince.

In view of the vastness of the problems facing us and the smallness of our contingent, our duties were varied, but I found them, the country and the conditions very interesting. In connection with my teaching duties, my assistant and I prepared a couple of textbooks.

A Swedish botanist, Dr. Ekman, had started a survey of the flora of Haiti. We built up a national herbarium with plant specimens he collected. I went with him on many collecting expeditions into remote mountain areas. One of my main interests was an attempt to improve the fiber quality productivity of the native cotton plant, which was cultivated to a limited extent. In 1936, I returned to the United States.

. . .[after completing his professional vita] I am pleased to have been the recipient of the Ordre d’Honneur et de Merite, Haiti, 1934; the honorary Sc.D. degree from Clemson University, 1936; and the Superior Service Award, US Department of Agriculture, 1963. Before my retirement I was a charter member of the Fiber Society and held memberships in the American Phytopathology Society, the American Society of Agronomy, the Washington Botanical Society and the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists.

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22 responses

17 01 2010
JJ

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 . . . .

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.

Makes sense. Until he goes on to endorse as the only answer, a fundamentalist’s funhouse of “intrusive paternalism” and accountability demands sure to be controversial with Thinking Parents:

These programs, like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the No Excuses schools, are led by people who . . . 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.

From the progressive meme theories of culture, I guess the next step up from mystical gods claimed by rival gangs and power-crazed individuals WOULD BE enforcing law-and-order authoritarian demands and toughness, right? Jerk a knot in the whole society, as my grandmother and great-uncle would have said. Maybe it’s 100 years ago (more?) in Haitian society, and that’s where they have to climb up to, to get out of where they are, before they can advance beyond that too?

Or maybe that itself is backward thinking we need to move beyond?

Dr. Beck proposes a “natural design” process, one that is crafted to fit the natural habitats, the patterns of memetic migration, the historical dynamics that have all shaped this point in time, the influence of forces in neighbor states, the current levels of psychological development of the people, the crises created by patterns of violence and warfare, the natural divisions into clans, tribes, empires and ideologies, as well as the potential skill levels of available leadership.

He argues for introducing a new, more powerful, comprehensive and dynamic way of thinking into decision systems and understanding both of the people in Afghanistan as well as the international agencies who wish to support them; and he demonstrates ways in which

* intertribal warfare in Afghanistan may be countered,
* the internal conflicts within Pakistan may be addressed, and
* the religious and cultural aspects of the Jihad and other historic conflicts may be understood.

Dr. Beck shows how to actually create a system that deals with a society s economic, social and cultural dynamics while building local capacity at the same time. Such a model ensures that support systems will respond to the survival and sustenance needs of millions of people and address the issue of sustainability and self-sufficiency, he argues.

17 01 2010
Crimson Wife

While I personally believe in the importance of the Christian Gospel, I tend to agree with you that improving secular education & governance would help the people of Haiti more in the near term. Missionaries should not neglect the corporal needs of the poor as they go about their spiritual work. Jesus wanted Christians to perform both types of works of mercy. Which reminds me that I need to find some volunteer work the kids & I can do together here in our new town to replace the one we had been doing.

17 01 2010
Dana

It is about education, religion, resistance to change, a history of exploitation and perhaps a certain sense that there is no hope, and that nothing will ever change. Something we can see a little in our own ghettos and slums, though I’m guessing to a lesser degree.

But sometimes I wonder how much the aid is holding people where they are at. I never really thought about it that much before reading a friend’s blog who adopted children from Haiti. But she talks about the struggles people have who do want change, but can’t afford to sell their agricultural products at the cost Haitians pay for our subsidized food we essentially give away.

Protecting our markets, dumping on foreign markets and calling it aid. I don’t know. It doesn’t seem that helpful.

17 01 2010
JJ

Reading your post about how to personalize and connect what’s happening in Haiti to your children’s world, Dana, got me thinking about Uncle D and our family connections — which somehow my children didn’t know. So thank you!

18 01 2010
Dana

Well, glad to be of service!

18 01 2010
JJ

I saw Naomi Klein on a CNN panel about Haiti and the banking crash Sunday, saying we’ve had all sorts of good ideas about how to fix things and most of them would help solve problems, yet our system is broken at a fundamental level that prevents us actually implementing anything that could fix anything at all. It’s a culture of fear driven by a culture of (corporate campaign) corruption.

KLEIN: I mean, this is the key issue. Because, in fact, there have been all kinds of good ideas that have come and gone in the year- and-a-half of this crisis. And again and again, they’ve been defeated on Capitol Hill, which, you know, as Dick Durbin said, the banks own this place.

All of these commonsense proposals come and go, whether it’s direct help for homeowners. Nothing gets through. So, ultimately, this comes down to politics, but it also comes — for me it comes down to campaign finance reform, and the fact that there’s just such a — there’s legalized corruption in this country.

SPITZER: I totally agree with everything you’ve said. What’s amazing now is the politics. The left and the right are converging on similar ideas and . . . you’re right. The good ideas are not being enacted. There is a status quo mentality on Capitol Hill that is pervasive and very, very disappointing.

KLEIN: There’s a broken feedback mechanism. And something is blocked. And it’s corporate money.

The reality being obscured by bombastic demagogue populists claiming to represent the real America and defend individual freedom is that
“high inequality reverberates through societies on multiple levels, correlating with if not causing more crime, less happiness, poorer mental and physical health, less racial harmony, and less civic and political participation.”

And if we can’t see that and act as a self-governing people to fix our own culture, who are we to prescribe education, culture or economic fixes for anyone else? Maybe we need to look around and accept some help from societies with less pathology than ours!

From The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Still Fearful After All These Years”:

Atypical tragedies grab our attention.

Politicians, journalists, advocacy groups, and marketers continue to blow dangers out of proportion for votes, ratings, donations, and profits. Fear mongering for personal, political, and corporate gain continues unabated. . .

[We look for] answers in individuals’ biology and psychology rather than in underlying societal conditions. Call it the neurologizing of social problems . . .

The misdirection created by the culture of fear can cause greater harm than distracting us from individual social problems. It can lock in larger social and economic inequalities. By contributing to the widening of the gap between rich and poor through portrayals of the poor as threatening and unsympathetic, the culture of fear harms not only low-income Americans but all Americans.

“Living in a society with wide disparities—in health, in wealth, in education—is worse for all the society’s members, even the well-off,” Elizabeth Gudrais, an editor of Harvard Magazine [wrote] . . .

“Research indicates that high inequality reverberates through societies on multiple levels, correlating with if not causing, more crime, less happiness, poorer mental and physical health, less racial harmony, and less civic and political participation.”

Nor does the list end there. Arguably the most disturbing effects of the schism between rich and poor are experienced by the nation’s children. Yet in a decade when the United States had the highest rates of childhood poverty in the developed world and the lowest rates of spending on social services, American journalists and politicians repeatedly portrayed cyberspace as the scariest place a child can be, more menacing than anything young people face in a nonvirtual world. . .

The reality is that patterns of abuse have not changed over the past decade. The vast majority of crimes against children and adolescents—sexual and otherwise—continue to be perpetrated by parents, relatives, and other adults the child or teen knows.

More than four of five victims are abused by a parent, and another 10 percent by a caregiver, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The incidence of actual abuse as a result of an online connection is “vanishingly small,” as Mike A. Males, a sociologist who has studied the data, noted.

18 01 2010
JJ

Remember John Legend?

“Thoughtful action versus mere words!”
“Authenticity, an independent spirit . . “

Here’s what he thinks about the power of education reform.

18 01 2010
Crimson Wife

Did the 2000’s really have the lowest rates of spending on social services? Education spending went up dramatically over the past decade, as well as spending on health care. That’s one of the big reasons why the states are in such financial difficulty now, because they increased their spending so much during the boom of 2003-2008.

18 01 2010
JJ

State government spending as our main financial problem?? Not how I see it.

19 01 2010
Crimson Wife

What I meant by my comment is the reason why the states are having so much difficulty balancing their budgets is because they increased spending so much during the boom times instead of putting the extra revenue into their “rainy day” reserves…

19 01 2010
JJ

It doesn’t matter though — we were being robbed by con men

19 01 2010
JJ

Speaking of con men, it’s not about the money as much as the moral systems behind the money. Business ethics are in crisis and I don’t hear the godly calling for reform; conservative priests are cashing in bigtime and building political power bases to assure they can keep their ill-gotten gains.

The ineffably white-bread and presumably wealthy tv personality Brit Hume, supposedly paid as news commentator and not spiritual advisor, pronounces on tv that Buddhism couldn’t help an even wealthier black man (Tiger Woods) in moral crisis so Hume’s superior Christian belief system should be adopted instead, for his own good. That’s downright immoral, both as journalism AND religion ethics.

Then overnight — by an act of god? — Haiti loses up to four times as many human souls as America managed to lose pursuing our own moral and political beliefs protracting the VietNam War. More white-bread conservative media men (Pat Robertson along with David Brooks, see above) damn an official religion of Haiti (voodoo or Voudou en Francais) for it, pronouncing it was their white god’s wrath to ravage a poor and wretched people and wipe out hospitals, orphanages and other social services along with the descendants of voudou priests.

Wish more white theologians who know better would damn the purveyors of such lying pop ethics and vicious religious rivalries, like this sensible and compassionate-sounding fellow from something called “the center for informed faith”:

Examine the allegedly Satanic prayer by Boukman at the Bois Caiman Ceremony:

“The god who created the earth; who created the sun that gives us light. The god who holds up the ocean; who makes the thunder roar. Our god who has ears to hear. You who are hidden in the clouds; who watch us from where you are. You see all that the white has made us suffer. The white man’s god asks him to commit crimes. But the god within us wants to do good. Our god, who is so good, so just, he orders us to revenge our wrongs. It’s he who will direct our arms and bring us the victory. It’s he who will assist us. We all should throw away the image of the white men’s god, who is so pitiless. Listen to the voice for liberty that speaks in all our hearts.”

White Europeans saw Boukman’s rejection of “the white man’s god” as a rejection of the God of the Bible. When he prayed to a different god, they claimed that he prayed to the devil. In fighting their slaves’ rebellion, such an interpretation obviously served their cause.

. . .Missionaries in Haiti report that the widespread practice of voodoo remains a real obstacle to biblical faith. Disease could spread in Haiti after the earthquake since voodoo followers there do not allow the dead to be touched until all their rituals are completed. But if we blame the January 12 earthquake on voodoo, we must blame the January 13 earthquakes in Indonesia and the Philippines on Islam and Christianity, respectively.

Finally, notice the 200-year-old voudou prayer for freedom sounds an awful lot like the American freedom conservative whites on tv are always screaming for and packing heat to protect? Wonder what their god really thinks of their politics . . .

19 01 2010
JJ

A scathing fisk of David Brooks’ dog whistle moral pandering by Matt Taibbi:

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?

19 01 2010
Nance Confer

What do your relatives write about the debt Haiti was required to pay to the French when the slaves revolted and France demanded reparations? I only caught a mention of this on the news and now wonder how this country could have fared if it hadn’t been burdened by unjust debt from the beginning. If I understood the history correctly. . .

Nance

19 01 2010
JJ

It was all flora and fibre science, as far as (what little French) I know. No history, politics, much less theology . . .

19 01 2010
Nance Confer

Hmmm. . . I was hoping for insightful political analysis. 🙂

Nance

19 01 2010
JJ

I was thinking about the American Revolution and all the flag-waving done by the conservative Christian Right. What would Pat Robertson’s idea of godliness say was different about that, other than skin color?

20 01 2010
JJ

The Pat Robertson thing was introduced by the professor in FavD’s Catholic ethics course today, she just told me. Most of the class (of juniors and seniors) hadn’t heard it but what really surprised and sort of encouraged FavD is that at least half had no idea about who Pat Robertson even WAS.

FavD told the class, and the prof then added some texture about how anti-Catholic Robertson has been in the past.

1 02 2010
Steve Solomon

Check the prayer said to have been said by the Jamaican Boukman Dutty

as part of the Bois Caiman Ceremony that led to the Revolution.

Google it. This is a plea to the Creator, not a plea to any evil power.

The attitude that they are devil worshippers has certainly inhibited

the development they are certainly capable of themselves.

If left alone.

1 02 2010
JJ

Yes, that’s what we were discussing. See that prayer quoted above from the 19th —

Examine the allegedly Satanic prayer by Boukman at the Bois Caiman Ceremony:

“The god who created the earth; who created the sun that gives us light. The god who holds up the ocean; who makes the thunder roar. Our god who has ears to hear. You who are hidden in the clouds; who watch us from where you are. You see all that the white has made us suffer. The white man’s god asks him to commit crimes. But the god within us wants to do good. Our god, who is so good, so just, he orders us to revenge our wrongs. It’s he who will direct our arms and bring us the victory. It’s he who will assist us. We all should throw away the image of the white men’s god, who is so pitiless. Listen to the voice for liberty that speaks in all our hearts.”

1 02 2010
Steve Solomon

Thanks JJ, I didn’t see it. This event in geological time is having and will have repercussions in our social time. Seeing the Haitians as they really are is a good start.

Best, Steve.

1 02 2010
JJ

Good point.
Although if we couldn’t do it for the New Orleanians . . .

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