Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thoughts on Haiti’s tragic earthquake

Have you read The Road? It is a great novel by Cormac McCarthy set in a post-civ world. It isn’t like how CrimethInc or John Zerzan imagine it but it is how I would imagine it. The book specifically does not get into HOW the world got to such a point. That is to the benefit of the story. I often wonder how Primitivists think civilization will collapse because most all anti-civ anarchists assume that civilization will collapse around the world at close to the same moment (and that capitalism will die along with it). I don’t completely dismiss civilization’s collapse but capitalism has shown how resilient it can be and it will attempt to go down with the ship.

Good examples of civilization collapse would be New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina, The Philippines in Typhoon Ondoy, Indonesia in the 2004 tsunami, and now Haiti’s earthquake. In every instance those with money/power took the event as an opportunity to consolidate power/wealth and (further) disenfranchise whole populations. Some of those areas are now uninhabitable and “outside” of civilization (as much as something can be outside of a global capitalist sysyem… which is, actually, not at all). These events didn’t loosen the grasp of civilization/production/capitalism/imperialism/power. In fact, the grip of the powerful was tightened.

When I heard about the Haitian earthquake and the devastation, I began thinking of it in these terms. I began to place it like a puzzle piece into the fabric of civilization’s coming end. Then I checked myself. I made the mistake that people throughout history always make and most in the anarchist milieu excel at. I placed myself at some pinnacle or end of history despite the fact that, materially, it is not so different from ages past. Catastrophes like the ones listed above have always taken place (albeit, perhaps, at different frequencies) and have always shaped how/where civilization takes shape. This was, in fact, not a natural disaster. This was a disaster by human design.

If we are concerned with helping to end the suffering of Haiti after this horrible disaster, we must be concerned with preventing such disasters from occurring. And believe me, they are preventable. It wasn't actually the earthquake which caused the damage and death in Haiti. It was the poverty. So, why is Haiti the poorest nation in the Americas?

In 1802 France sent 22,000 soldiers to Haiti to stop a slave rebellion and recapture the plantations that once made it an economic giant. Napoleon said that the recognition of the freedom of the slaves would be a “rallying point for freedom-seekers of the New World.”

The United States backed France in ordering Haiti to pay 150 million francs in gold to compensate for the costs of the war it won. In return, Haiti would supposedly be granted international recognition. Repayment locked Haiti into the role of a debtor nation –where it remains today.

After 1850, the United States declared the Haitian people unfit to rule themselves. Americans seized land for exploitation.

Up into the 1990's, the US enacted a trade embargo against Haiti.

So it is a long history of a country exploited first by the French and then by the USA. We, the USA, imposed the conditions on Haiti that allowed this earthquake to cause the damage it has. The profound injustices of class society mean that natural disasters become man-made disasters.

Now the relief effort begins. While I recognize the need to help those subjected to this abject poverty and affected by the destruction of this earthquake, we cannot take our eyes of the vultures of disaster capitalism.