Saturday, January 16, 2010

I am screaming

How many people have died in the last four days – 1,000? 10,000? Because of the lack of a rope. Or a crowbar. Or a wheelbarrow. Or a tent. Or water? What we are seeing played out in Haiti is the malign side of the action movie ideology. In this ideology, the people are ‘victims’, they are ‘helpless’, the must be ‘rescued’. This is the ideology that has created the astonishing spectacle of the U.S., the richest nation in the world, represented by the Southern Command, basically scratching its head for three days about how to get “into” Haiti.

The rescuers are already there. They are called Haitians. The inability to see them for what they are – helping hands, fonts of information and ingenuity, centers of rescue – is killing them.

Yes, Haiti, the poorest place in the Western hemisphere, will need an influx of doctors and nurses. But the labor to be done, the caring to be extended, the information about the places – down to addresses of houses in Delmas – is already there. Why is it not being used? Partly because emergency response structures simply have not taken into account the new world of communication – the internet. But mostly because a mindset, on both the left and right, insists on seeing the Haitians as victims, not rescuers. Normally, this is the kind of thesis that should go into an academic paper. But the letter now killeth. We observe, with sinking hearts, the cloud of witnesses whose witness is in vain. This is a typical message on facebook: “Olivier Dupoux is distributing drinking water to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti with 35 trucks he urgently needs DIESEL fuel !! Bring diesel to factory Rte #1Cazeau, corner of tabbar 34 01 11 12”. Did anybody hear it? We know in Jacmal, Claudy Lavaud Jules, who runs a hotel-restaurant that is still standing, has taken in a number of refugees. Has anybody contacted her? Jacmal, from all reports, has a working airport. Nothing is landing there. Why?

In crisis, all the old shit bubbles to the surface. We saw this in New Orleans. Well, there are geological strata of shit involving Sainte Domingue/Haiti that go back over the centuries of mass murder. Fine. I don’t expect this to change in the blink of an eye. But it is obvious, it is a fire crying in the sun obvious, that the refusal to take the people being ‘rescued’ seriously is murdering them.

In my tiny flyspeck of a life, I will not pretend this is not going on. I am screaming.


northanger said...

all the old shit bubbles to the surface

well, blunt obviousness: if key buildings like hospitals, UN buildings & the like had better reinforcement &c, that might've saved lives. this establishes the burn rate of lives automatically lost in a system accident (the OSB Factor; you're spot on w/ Perrow btw). imho, your suggestion -- responding to Haitians as rescuers not victims -- lowers that burn rate.

keep in mind i'm talking about lives that would not have been saved at all, given Haiti's pre-earthquake position. apologies for bluntness, but imo, we might not significantly impact this number.

Roger Gathmann said...

Ah, you speak with that Southern California knowledge of the earthquake - although, to be fair, if a 7.0 slammed Miami, nothing would be left.

Still, I don't buy it that we wouldn't significantly impact the number of deaths now, in the present, using fuckin' common sense (fcs, I believe it is called). There's the slow deaths tracked by statistics - malnutrition, chronic diseases, all the terrors of poverty - and there are the fast deaths of having 48 hours worth of air, a suppurating chest wound, etc. Plus the massive massive trauma as the dead and the living are intermingled. The thing is: recognizing the Haitians as rescuers would make things better from any human point of view.

northanger said...

ok. find diesel, get driver, make sure driver knows where to go & has road to get there, tell driver not to get stopped by anyone else needing diesel, get driver to return safely.

fucking logistical nightmare. fln.

Roger Gathmann said...

No. Get driver, use the people who can scan the internet for all kinds of info on where roads are blocked, contact those people and their suggestions, whereever driver is stopped - suprise! - much of what he is carrying can be used. That's why you need the rescuers to form human chains of communication that are already possible. Eliminate the top down, diesel driver must go from x to y. That responds to the logic of the rescue unit's command, not to reality.

northanger said...

i'm with ya, totally. but think of a line, put a big X where official US response must & can show up. we know this saves lives.

i don't know Perrow well, but quick scan gives me: the system accident cannot impede that X. that would be THE Response failure.

Tom Matrullo said...

When southwest fl got hit by "Charley" and later by a few more hurricanes, I happened to be pretty much at the point of maximum damage. There was no internet available for a while. Cell towers were down, cable and telephone also. More to the point: Locals had the intimate knowledge of area, people, resources, etc., and were not consulted. FEMA spent initial days figuring out where to set up. It brought water, for its own people. It never did set up. It never did more than introduce us to a bureaucrat on the phone, a name taker in D.C. who never sent us the promised info and forms. It didn't seem to know what an Emergency was. Only how to appear to manage one.

Roger Gathmann said...

Tom, my brothers, who simply drove down to Miami in the nineties with tools and plastic sheeting after some hurricane had knocked into Homestead - they used to do that disaster volunteering thing a lot - told me the same thing.

This has got to fucking change.