This, periodically, needs to be said: Go to hell, David Brooks

by zunguzungu

I’m re-reading Dante’s inferno right now, in amongst all the Tarzan,  and it’s pretty clear that Pat Robertson belongs down there among the fraudulent, perhaps the simonists?

But I put this lightly because, even though periodically reading Dante has the periodic effect of convincing me to almost believe in the afterlife, I don’t. Pat Robertson is just an embarrassing old failure of a human being, a sick parasite on our collective worst angels. He always says this kind of shit, so it doesn’t really make me angry; that’s what he is, a stupid old media pimp for bigots in need of a fix. But since, when he dies, anyone who dares to point out what a hideous obscenity his life’s work has been will be attacked as some kind of terrible person for speaking ill of the dead, let me get this in now while he’s still out there doing damage: Pat Robertson has made this world a worse place by the kind of mindless hatred he spreads, and when he dies I will not mourn him, only pray — in my way — for whatever might be the most immortal part of him.

On the other hand, someone like David Brooks still makes me very, very angry, precisely because he’s not stupid. When he writes this horseshit, for instance, when he attempts to convince us that the deaths of countless uncountable thousands of Haitians is really their own fault, it actually makes me angry that he would so brazenly set out to score petty political points out of the unbelievable human tragedy happening right now, and that he would do it by spreading vicious racist garbage about the people actually suffering makes me want to point out that he is a vile, puss-dripping sore in the body of human society. To him, Haiti’s problems are the Haitians, and his final paragraph implication that the earthquake might be the solution is beyond offensive.

In that excremental column, for example, he writes that:

“As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book “The Central Liberal Truth,” Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10. We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.”

Neither Brooks not Lawrence E. Harrison know what the fuck they are talking about, and on some level, they realize their own ignorance. But since they need to find a way of blaming the Haitians for their own misfortune — no less desperately than Pat Robertson — they turn to experts that tell them what they need to hear. Brooks turns to Harrison, and Harrison turns to Cameroonian economist Daniel Etounga-Manguelle, who (as Harrison puts it in his own low, dishonest book):

“identifies in Culture Matters as one of the principle obstacles to progress in Africa. “A society in which magic and witchcraft flourish today is a sick society ruled by tension, fear, and moral disorder. Sorcery is a costly mechanism for managing conflict and preserving the status quo, which is, importantly, what African society is about.”

Etounga-Manguelle is a Cameroonian, and (though they still find time to turn, for example, to Baptist missionaries for knowledge on Voodoo) people like Brooks and Harrison love appealing to these kinds of native informants for confirmation of their bigotry: they get to prove that Africans bring their troubles upon themselves and they get to have an African say it for them (Harrison, by the way, is pretty explicit in equating Haiti and Africa as essentially the same). But when Etounga-Manguelle writes that

“In traditional African society, which exalts the glorious past of ancestors through tales and fables, nothing is done to prepare for the future. The African, anchored in his ancestral culture, is so convinced that the past can only repeat itself that he worries only superficially about the future.”

he is simply pouring the same shit in our ears — via Brooks and Harris — that Victorian white supermacists were triumphantly writing to each other a century ago as they proudly rode out to conquer Africa. And it is shit, literally a century old recipe, no truer now than it was then. I made the mistake of reading what Etounga-Manguelle has to say about “the African” (here, if you can’t help yourself), and I confess that against what I occasionally think of as my own jadedness, I was still shocked at how little what he writes corresponds with reality, as well as how basically intellectually dishonest it is. Even if we put aside the question of whether a culture can be progress-resistant, it’s simply hard to express in words how ridiculous the things he says actually are. You have to know almost literally nothing about the last century of African history to believe this tripe; luckily, of course — or rather thanks to the stream of disinformation that hacks like these people pour out — most of us do know almost literally nothing.

But the thing is this: the continent of Africa has been systematically fucked over by Westerners in hysterical and desperate defense of the status-quo for over a century, a time period in which the creativity and adaptiveness of actual Africans has been the only constant. When conservative leaders have attempted — out of self-interest — to pen their people in the cages of a repressive status quo, “the African” has always done everything in his and her power to change it. Which is why the Western world has spent over a century doing everything they could to make sure that the only African leaders who are allowed to stay in power were the ones who hold exactly the beliefs that Etounga-Manguelle attributes to “the African,” and that they’ve had plenty of violent force to hold on. Colonialists have always wanted Africans to hold exactly these kinds of beliefs, after all; it’s a white supremacist wet dream to imagine Africans passively accepting whatever government god deigns to hand them, and since the prospect of Africans becoming modern is precisely what they most fear, appointing despotic tribal chieftains in the colonial period and propping up despotic strong man dictators in the more recent past is a great way to prevent it. Yet while there certainly are conservatives in Africa, they’re just the same kind of people defending the status quo because they benefit from it as conservatives in the States, people like David Brooks. And since most Africans don’t, in fact, benefit from the status quo, the speed and facility with which “the African” adapts and creatively transforms his and her lives in search of something better is humbling. Anyone with eyes not plugged by shit could only fail to notice by choice. So fuck you David Brooks, fuck you very much.

(as for Haiti, here is the zunguzungu approved anti-David Brooks column, who points out that “if we are serious about assisting this devastated land we must stop trying to control and exploit it”)

Update:

Also in the “fuck you David Brooks” camp are doghouseriley and the Cahokian.