Thursday, January 14, 2010

Spirit Of The Times

The ferociously hostile comments in reply to Peter Hallward's obvious, uncontroversial, unobjectionable remarks on Haiti in the Guardian read like they were all excerpted from Zizek's First as Tragedy, Then as Farce:


...we white Leftist men and women are free to leave behind the politically correct process of endless self-torturing guilt. Although Pascal Bruckner's critique of the contemporary Left often approaches the absurd, this does not prevent him from occasionally generating pertinent insights-one cannot but agree with him when he detects in European politically correct selfflagellation an inverted form of clinging to one's superiority. Whenever the West is attacked, its first reaction is not aggressive defense but selfprobing: what did we do to deserve it? We are ultimately to be blamed for the evils of the world; Third World catastrophes and terrorist violence are merely reactions to our crimes. The positive form of the White Man's Burden (his responsibility for civilizing the colonized barbarians) is thus merely replaced by its negative form (the burden of the white man's guilt) : if we can no longer be the benevolent masters of the Third World, we can at least be the privileged source of evil, patronizingly depriving others of responsibility for their fate (when a Third World country engages in terrible crimes, it is never fully its own responsibility, but always an after-effect of colonization: they are merely imitating what their colonial masters used to do, and so on) :

We need our miserabilist cliches about Africa, Asia, Latin America, in order to confirm the cliche of a predatory, deadly West. Our noisy stigmatizations only serve to mask the wounded self-love: we no longer make the law. Other cultures know it, and they continue to culpabilize us only to escape our judgments on them.

…"The West is not detested for its real faults, but for its attempt to amend them, because it was one of the first to try to tear itself out of its own bestiality, inviting the rest of the world to follow it." The Western legacy is effectively not just that of (post)colonial imperialist domination, but also that of the self-critical examination of the violence and exploitation the West itself
brought to the Third World. The French colonized Haiti, but the French Revolution also provided the ideological foundation for the rebellion which liberated the slaves and established an independent Haiti; the process of decolonization was set in motion when the colonized nations demanded for themselves the same rights that the West took for itself. In short, one should never forget that the West supplied the very standards by which it (and its critics) measures its own criminal past…

…Someone who cannot be accused of softness towards the colonizers is Frantz Fanon: his thoughts on the emancipatory power of violence are an embarrassment for many politically correct postcolonial theorists. However, as a perspicuous thinker trained in psychoanalysis, he also, back in 1952, provided the most poignant expression of the refusal to capitalize on the guilt of the colonizers:

I am a man, and what I have to recapture is the whole past of the world. I am not responsible solely for the slave revolt in Santo Domingo. Every time a man has contributed to the victory of the dignity of the spirit, every time a man has said no to an attempt to subjugate his fellows, I have felt solidarity with his act. In no way does my basic vocation have to be drawn from the past of peoples of color. In no way do I have to dedicate myself to reviving a black civilization unjustly ignored. I will not make myself the man of any past. . . . My black skin is not a repository for specific values . . . . Haven't I got better things to do on this earth than avenge the Blacks of the seventeenth century? . . . I as a man of color do not have the right to hope that in the white man there will be a crystallization of guilt toward the past of my race. I as a man of color do not have the right to seek ways of stamping down the pride of my former master. I have neither the right nor the duty to demand reparations for my subjugated ancestors.

13 Jan 2010, 10:34PM

If we are serious about helping we need to stop ­trying to control Haiti's government, to pacify its citizens, and to exploit its economy. And then we need to start paying for at least some of the damage we've already done.

It's the Guardian 'we' again - you don't get it in any other newspaper.

I'm sure many people have seen some of the horrific footage by now and want to contribute something in emergency aid, but is it not enough that they be allowed to do it out of compassion rather than guilt? Why does there always have to be some misery vulture gleefully finger-wagging and apportioning blame before the bodies are even cold? And what do the foreign policy decisions of Western governments in places such as Haiti have to do with their citizens anyway? Did Americans vote to keep them subjugated? Was it anyone's manifesto pledge? If they were all smiley Fairtrade farmers like on the back of your bag of coffee beans, would the earthquake never have happened? Isn't a force 7 quake pretty damn devastating wherever it hits? How will you contrive to make 'us' all responsible when Tokyo finally gets flattened?

14 Jan 2010, 7:28AM

Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti's people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's phrase) "from absolute misery to a dignified poverty" has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies.

Would you please refrain from voicing these ridiculous Chomsyite conspiracy theories, at least until this present crisis has been resolved?

I notice there's not a single mention of Papa Doc Duvalier or his equally charming son in your article... do you think that maybe, just maybe, having a pair of violent, corrupt dictatorial thugs in power for a period of 30 straight years might have something to do with Hati's current wretched state? Oh, of course you don't. According to the Marxist school of international relations, the problems suffered by the developing world are exclusively attributable to the wicked west- poor countries don't have any responsibility whatsoever for the state they're in.

Cuba has escaped the worst effects of neoliberal "reform", and its government retains a capacity to defend its people from disaster.

But not from famine caused by their economic system. That's why Castro had to introduce rationing of food after the USSR collapsed.

If we are serious about helping Haiti through this latest crisis then we should take this comparative point on board.

Yes, by emulating the Cuban model, the Haitians may be able to advance from being the poorest country in the Western hemisphere to being like Cuba ... which is the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

And then we need to start paying for at least some of the damage we've already done.

"We" didn't do the damage. The earthquake did. "We're" trying to provide aid. Even in the "black is white" world of the radical left, that should be obvious.

13 Jan 2010, 8:43PM
There may be a problem with neoconservative economics but you have to ask yourself what we're getting for it. The people are oppressed and exploited, that's true. What's less clear is how we're doing it -- that's we, the ordinary people.

It would be more constructive to not try to pin blame on us, to try to make us feel guilty just because we have food and they don't. We should recognize that this is an extreme example of the kind of society unbridled capitalism brings. Its a total free-for-all economy with the government powerless and the people voiceless. The vision we're sold is of an idealistic state where everyone's free to be prosperous but Haiti is the reality.

13 Jan 2010, 8:52PM

This poverty is the direct legacy of perhaps the most brutal system of colonial exploitation in world history,

Total rubbish. In fact yesterday Mr Monboit was accusing the Spanish of the most brutal colonial exploitation using dubious figures in relation to the Spanish exploitation of South America.

I would also suggest that you look at the disgraceful behaviour of the Belgians in the Congo as the yardstick for brutal colonial exploitation.

As for Cuba, get a bloody grip man.

The only thing true about your article is that nearly all Western nations have blood on there hands due to colonial expansion policies, but the same is true of countries from Africa, Asia, Americas and the Middle East.

Tip: try for balance when attempting to use awful natural disasters as a smokescreen for attacking nations that you obviously do not like.

13 Jan 2010, 9:00PM

Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti's people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's phrase) "from absolute misery to a dignified poverty" has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies.

You can't bring history into this. That was then, this is now. I stayed up half the night watching the news about this, and I'm not interested in what the US government of yesteryear did. I want to know what I can do to help now, even if it's a small and relatively insignificant contribution to a disaster fund.

I have to add, I was sickened at the way the Sky News presenter (the woman on at around 11pm last night) asked the most stupid and inane questions in her attempt to keep the audience engaged ("this is apocalyptic... what can be done for the people who are now screaming under the rubble?", or words to that effect).

Sometimes, I hate these so-called news channels. The BBC, to give them credit, presented the facts in a sober and measured manner.

13 Jan 2010, 9:23PM
Haiti has been a basket case for years.

Nobody is exploiting Haiti because there is nothing in Haiti worth exploiting.

To blame 100% of Haiti's problems on outside ( i.e. US) interference, as Mr Hallword suggests, is a ridiculous oversimplication of the situation.

Having said that, Haitians desperately need foreign assistance following this tragedy. Let's all hope that corruption in Haiti does not result in this foreign aid being wasted.

13 Jan 2010, 10:03PM
Haiti has been independent since 1804.
It's problems are not our fault.
Now, can we get them some emergency aid, please.

13 Jan 2010, 9:31PM
I look forward to pasty white boy Hallward telling the 45,000 American citizens that live their, most vastly darker than he, that they are no longer needed or wanted.


  1. Why do I think that this is somehow connected with Jackson's declaration (regarding Avatar) that films don't even need to be good anymore?

    More from k-punk, who also suggests a good candidate for donations.

  2. The most reliable and important aid to Haiti today remains the Haitian disapora's remittances. This is $1.6 billion yearly, but has been hurt by dollar depreciation and the recession. Farmer's org is great, and there are other legit ones. Still, people with family in Haiti know best.

    some advice:

    The best thing for people in North America and Europe to do is support the Haitian diaspora in our own countries.

    Demanding of the Obama admin TPS (temporary protected status) for Haitians in the US, so people can work and be legal, is more important now than ever.

    New Yorkers can donate locally to


    Please join our response to the recent earthquake in Haiti.

    Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, Lakou New York, and MUDHA (Movement of Dominican Haitian Women) are organizing an immediate delivery of first aid relief. MUDHA is traveling to the Dominican/Haitian border, looking at how to reach affected areas.

    To make a financial contribution to our efforts, please send a tax-deductible donation to: IFCO/Haiti Relief 418 West 145th Street, New York NY 10031



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  3. Here we go again:

    "The people are getting angry. There's no water, there's no food out there," he told the ABC.

    Officials say the full search and rescue effort will resume tomorrow.

    The US is sending more than 5,000 soldiers and marines to Haiti as well as 300 medical personnel and an aircraft carrier which will act as a floating airport to ferry aid into the devastated capital.

    Matt Marek from the American Red Cross says without the presence of troops, the situation could deteriorate quickly as desperate people fight for supplies.

    "We're going to need assistance, certainly from the US Government, to really control things down here, because I think as the days get on there's a risk of escalation ... perhaps trouble," he said.

    "We're going to be able to help people less if the security situation worsens."

  4. "Jackson's declaration (regarding Avatar) that films don't even need to be good anymore?"

    I don't know what you're referring to...but films don't have to be "good"...right, a billion dollars in a couple days can be made with a film that is not a good something. Not good art I suppose - not good as judged by the methods which were developed for judging Brecht's plays, and modified and adjusted to suit Visconti, and then Mike these criteria which have been increasingly missing the point of the objects to which they are applied are just out the window.

  5. i would have thought the proper zizekian response to this situation would be to take hallward's critique beyond itself -- we must completely suppress our humanitarian impulses of liberal guilt and do the truly revolutionary thing, which is to reject charity in favor of using our Western inheritance of creativity to invent novel and exciting theories for undermining capitalist imperialism, which is universal and no one's fault, though it is the Spirit of the West's burden to fix it.

    these commenters are just spouting run-of-the-mill right wing common sense, not zizek's reactionary idealism.

  6. thanks traxus

    good point.

    But the commenters are primed to find Zizek intelligble, entertaining, etc. because they believe in "the West" (and that Haiti is east of Slovitzia) and they concieve of themselves as "we white..." who own by birthright the achievements of this "the West" and they are ready to be reassured of the virtues and talents that belong to them by affiliation and they are ready to use Zizz's arguments to see themselves as the heirs of history's global benefactors who civilised the savages, and innocents who can reject climate debt and any other damages or reparations owed by the ruling class or imperialist nations, whether ordered by the world court (as to Nicaragua from the US), national courts (as to persecuted and "erased" from Slovenia) or negotiated. He was off this hobby horse of black victimologists shaking down white folks which exercised him so much when slavery reparations were on the agenda - before 2001 - and now, with the climate debt movement afoot, he's riding it again with a venegance.

    It is the mood of the times of privileged white people and privileged "model minorities" I think - he's tapping ti successfully. That comments thread in the Guardian, a progressive paper...and to that article; which was really pretty mild, even to the point of asserting that right now the imperialist military is escalating its presence in Haiti with the aim to alleviate the suffering of Haitians.

  7. Anonymous8:05 AM

    interesting contrast