Sunday, January 24, 2010

Imperial Compassion in Haiti

Nathan over at Dangerous Harvests, addressing relief efforts in Haiti and how are they are portrayed in the U.S. media, is reminded of Chogyam Trungpa's warning about "idiot compassion," to wit:

Trungpa Rinpoche, among others, have spoken of a kind of faux compassion that we get tricked by, and which actually is mostly about the small self and what we think someone else needs. I've noticed all sorts of narratives in U.S. media outlets, and coming out of the mouths of world leaders, that imply that "they" know what is best for the people and nation of Haiti. In addition, you have hundreds of thousands of people pouring money into organizations that are known for wastefulness and corruption, like the Red Cross, because these organizations have the money and brand-names to get out the word about themselves to millions and millions of potential donors. In addition, you have people supporting the efforts of companies like Coca Cola, who make donations for disaster relief in places like Haiti, knowing full well that they'll probably profit greatly in the near future from both the positive publicity and the sweetheart deals that occur in the chaos of devastated nations.

Given this sad report by Peter Hallward, which includes the perspectives of relief workers on the ground and some recent history, I thought of another, similar kind of delusion: imperial compassion.

Dr. Evan Lyon, of Partners In Health, is one of many people on the ground protesting that the recurring news theme, that all them po' black folks are goin' crazy and creating anarchy, is overblown -- and causing fatal delays:

It also creates a cover story for the emphasis on security over aid, since we got there. The delays have led to some horrifying and unnecessary stories in a land that is suffering the effects of natural and human-made disaster on top of each other.


Pam said...

Damn, looks like we just can't do anything right. Don't know why we should bother anymore.

No matter what we do or try to do we come out the bad guys.

Algernon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Algernon said...

Woman overboard! Woman overboard!

Our country is not above criticism, Pam.

Pam said...

No, Alg, we're not. I think my point was that I've seen all the criticism you wrote about and I've also heard interviews with physicians, etc. on the ground who say that logistics were all but overwhelming.

It just seems that sometimes I feel that no matter what America does or how we respond it's the old adage "no good deed goes unpunished" or "we're damned if we do and damned if we don't".

Also, big charities like UNICEF and The Red Cross have their faults but they do have the ability to things at the outset that other charities can't.

So,no, we're not above criticism, but the term "imperialism" in and of itself is an unnecessary knock at the country.

So, in my opinion, it appears that if we don't rush in and do everything right when a mega disaster like Haiti occurs we're condemned and raked over the coals.

We are down there and we're trying to help. Public and private, local and Federal, we're doing whatever we can to help the people of Haiti. Everywhere I turn here, including the school where I work, there are drives (shoe and clothing drive at our school) to help in the aftermath of this disaster.

Many physicians from this area flew down with medical supplies to help where and when they could. Roads were impassable, there was much confusion. Mistakes, I'm certain were made.

We're not above criticism, but many are looking for any opportunity to criticize.

Algernon said...

Pam, it would be worth investigating where these "feelings" you describe actually originate.

Policy-based criticism of American charities and government is not an attack on the country itself.

It is also true, although sad, that human beings do in fact act on covert agendas in order to secure power for themselves. This is as old as human society itself. How can you pretend to be shocked at the suggestion that Americans might sometimes do it, too?

In any case, with respect to Haiti, no one has "condemned" us or "raked us over the coals." No one has "damned" us simply because we aren't perfect.

There have been sensible and valid criticisms of the "security before aid" approach, cross-referenced to some troubling history between the U.S. and Haiti -- but it's really nothing to get quite this excited about.

So what is it about, really? How does a little critical thinking get blown up into this attack on the homeland you're making it out to be?

It is a basic precept of this blog that our American citizenship entails a responsibility to wake up, think about our history and our policy, and to be very vocal about the direction we want to head in as a people.

That job starts in our own heart.