A number of blogs recently have criticized David Brooks for his response to the earthquake in Haiti. In his January 14 column, Brooks noted that Haiti’s extreme poverty has turned an unexceptional earthquake into a catastrophe of staggering scale. Most critics would agree with this first point, but they’ve objected to Brooks’s explanation for Haiti’s poverty: “Haiti,” Brooks explained, “like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences.” Among other “cultural influences,” Brooks identified “the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile.”
While Brooks largely blames Haitians themselves for their poverty, his critics look more to such structural and historical inequities as Haiti’s history of slavery, colonialism, racial oppression, and especially the crushing debt that France made it repay between 1804 and 1947. Over at Savage Minds, Kerim Friedman remarks that Brooks’s response is “much more insidious” and altogether worse than Robertson’s much-lampooned suggestion that Haiti made a “pact with the devil.” After all, Friedman notes, people generally take David Brooks seriously:
But this isn’t the first time that Brooks has argued for a kind of civilizational view of culture as psychology which can explain economic differences between nations. He’s been making similar arguments about Asians for a long time. There is a good debunking of these by Language Log. That link will take you to a page full of earlier Language Log posts trashing Brooks’ often sloppy reading of the literature upon which he basis his claims. Please take some time to click on the links just so you can see how sloppy and misguided Brooks really is.
Over at Foreign Policy’s Passport blog, Joshua Keating looks more closely at Brooks’s dismissive handling of Haiti’s political history:
Brooks’ analysis also seems to assume that all dictators are created equal. While the Dominican Republic’s late 20th century dictators Rafael Trujillo (who played a not insignificant role in Haiti’s tragic history) and Joaquín Balaguer were certainly brutal, they did at least demonstrate some interest in building that coutry’s infrastructure, unlike the Duvaliers whose most lasting contribution to Haiti’s infrastructure was probably the 98 percent deforestation that makes Haiti’s hurricanes so deadly.