Sunday, January 31, 2010

What Earthquakes Shatter

The story in the NYT starts: “The fact that Haiti was mired in dysfunction well before the earthquake, despite having received more than $5 billion in aid over about two decades…”

It is hard to get past a start that presents an act of astonishing callousness as an act of astonishing generosity. The poorest nation in the hemisphere, which was invaded by the U.S. three times over the past hundred years, received almost a gigantic 250 million per year – this is supposed to make us shake in our boots at the magnanimity of it all. The Timesmen obviously expect the Haitians to say of our astonishing generosity what the Psalmist says of the Lord, “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness” – but those greedy Haitians were not satisfied and still remained poor! How can such things be.

For comparison sake, look at that gigantic amount going down the maw of Haiti with, say, cost overruns for the last decade at the Pentagon. These came in at a minimal – really, these guys are taking a haircut – a pequena, tiny tiny cost of – it is really amazing – cost of – how the Pentagon just has to squeeze these things in, run a tight ship – cost of 300 billion dollars in cost overruns. Which would mean that the ratio of cost overrun for obsolete weapons systems over the past ten years is at a ratio of about 100:1 over the foreign aid to Haiti. Or, to put it in simpler terms, every package of screws, bolts and ringers bought by the Pentagon is at the cost of one Haitian life. Oh, the price is so right! Or perhaps we could look at the cost of foreign aid to Israel since 1997, which comes to 103 billion dollars.

Now, that would be a showstopping article: “The fact that Israel was mired in dysfunction well before the siege of the Gaza Strip, despite having received more than $103 billion in aid over about 12 years…”

However, don’t hold your breath for that article to come out.

I’ve been thinking, lately, about demonic voices. I wrote about this in a post last September:

“We all know how to recognize demons. The demonic voice has one overriding characteristic: he will always use the logic of the system against its structure. Thus, when a voice demands that women play their traditional role in the home, while manipulating the economy so that the median household, just in order to stay still, must throw into the pot 350 more working hours per year – which is the difference between the median household of 1970 and the median household of today – you know you have caught a demon.”

Marx, that witch, had a thing to say about the demonic voice in the economic-philosophical manuscripts. He related what I cal the demonic element in our discourse to what he called alienation.

Don’t I obey the laws of economics when I gain money from the surrender, the sale of my body to a stranger’s lust (the factory workers in France name the prostitution of their wives and daughters the 10th hour of work, which is literally true), or am I not acting in the properly national economic way by selling my neighbor to the Morrocans (and the unmediated commerce in human beings as the trade in conscripts, etc. is found in all the ‘cultured’ lands), the economist will answer me: you aren’t transgressing my laws; but see what Mother Morality and Mother Religion say; my economic morality and religion has nothing to reproach you for, but, - but whom should I now believe, economics or morality? The morality of economics is gain, labor and savings, sobriety – but economics promises to satisfy my needs. The morality of the economy is wealth with a good conscience, virtue, etc., but how can I be virtuous when I cannot be, how can I have a good conscience when I know nothing? This is grounded in the the essence of alienation, that every sphere lays other and opposed yardsticks upon me, one for morality, one for the economy, because each is a particular alienation of humankind and each fixes a particular circle of alienated essential activity, each creates alienated relations to other alienations.”

We are ground, then, as human being between these circles. If you want to see how human beings can be ground finely like wheat into flour, read the newspaper, or listen to the tv news. That’s how it is done. An earthquake, a truly apocalyptic earthquake like that which has destroyed Port au Prince, destroys, as well, for the moment, the schizophrenia that allows us to get by, that has shaped us to get by with those circles in our head and in our circumstances.

4 comments:

Duncan said...

No, I refuse to see it! Tell the moon to come...

Anonymous said...

LI, the Marx quote makes me think again of the staggering non-response by the radical theory folks and blogs to Haiti.
"but whom should I now believe, economics or morality? The morality of economics is gain, labor and savings, sobriety – but economics promises to satisfy my needs. The morality of the economy is wealth with a good conscience, virtue, etc., but how can I be virtuous when I cannot be, how can I have a good conscience when I know nothing? This is grounded in the essence of alienation."

In an earlier comment to one of your posts I'd been reminded of and quoted Jean Genet re "reality", that one must add to an image a dangerous sense of reality.
Enrico Quarantelli, who has been studying disasters for decades, wrote: "In fact, most of the disaster funding, even to this day, is based on the notion of how we can prevent people from panicking or engaging in anti-social behavior. [..] They just assumed the real problem was the citizens and the people at large, even thought the studies from the beginning argued against that. He added, "If by panic one means people being very frightened, that probably is a very correct conception of what occurs at the time of a disaster. Most people in contact with reality get frightened and in fact should get frightened unless they've lost their contact with reality at the time of the disaster. On the other hand it doesn't mean that if people are frightened they cannot act appropriately."

So in reality, in the blown up reality of disasters, people respond. How many 'stories' that tear and break through 'alienation'? I'm not going to name any, who doesn't know some?

Amie

roger said...

Duncan, that is the first tie I've read Lorca in French. It is a much different Lorca reading experience.

There's a fragment of a play by Franketienne, a Haitian writer who I've been following in the press, here:
http://www.telerama.fr/idees/intenses-battements-du-gouffre-quand-l-abime-nous-avale,52089.php

He was writing this when the earthquake struck. I'm not going to translate this part, sorry, I don't have the tools for these verbal jumping jacks, but I love it:

A et B – Nous sommes partout. Et nous ne sommes nulle part.
A – Où que je sois
je babylone
m’embabylone
terriblement.
B – Où que je sois
je m’embouchonne
me tirebouchonne
infiniment.
A – Et je m’encrapaudine
et je me débobine
de bîme en bîme
irréversiblement.
B – Jusqu’au fond de l’abîme
dans le royaume du rien.
A – L’hégémonie du rien
L’hypertrophie du rien
La gloutonnerie du rien
La machinerie du rien !

roger said...

Amie, we are both shocked, I think, by the 'hypertrophy of nothing' effect per Franketienne's play. The demonic voice ran all over the Haiti 'story' - on the one hand, the advise that Haiti had had so much 'help' and should stand on its own two feet - which meant something like get down on its knees and become a maquilladora state - which was calmly juxtaposed with the idea that the Haitians needed to be rescued, and for that they needed the order imposed by an occupation. And where there was a real security situation - for instance, that posed by the prisoners who had escaped the collapsed prisons - there was a zero response.

Against all this, there is what I wouldn't hesitate to call the beauty of Haitian lfe. As per this article in the NYT on Leogane:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/world/americas/02leogane.html?hp

What an incredible place!