An Exchange on Haiti


Thanks for that deeply felt and carefully considered analysis, Jerald.

I did read Brooks’ piece in the NYT, and agree with him (and you) on the general points you make.

And here are some of my further thoughts on the matter.

1. <I gather from what Brooks says that compassion, charity and doing the Lord’s work will not get the job done>

I agree fully.

2. < and may actually be counter productive.>

Not always and not necessarily. There is a difference between short-range solutions and long-range solutions. Your statement is valid for long-range solutions, but may not be for short range ones. At this point in Haiti, compassion, charity and doing the Lord’s work are urgent and extremely important.: at least many reasonable people in the world feel that way.

3. <What is needed are recognizing hard truths and tough, measurable demands.>

Very true for long range solutions of global poverty and suffering.

I agree that “these are not the traits of compassion.”

4. <Another thought, Mother Nature did not kill most of the people with an earthquake as some now say, but collapsing buildings did. Some years ago a neighbor of mine went regularly to Haiti (I think it was more to ‘save’ them for God than to feed them). All the aid in all this time has not changed much. Saving them for a merciful God didn’t either.>

What has this to do with the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are suffering today? Should we say, “Tough luck, you wretched people! Deal with it!”

5. <A few of you may have been taken back by my comments the other day.>

I was one of the few.

6. < IMHO I think I am a reasonably kind and generous person>

IMO also, from whatever I know of you.

7. < but not a particular compassionate one.>

This is not terrible. Not many are.

8. <I don’t see that compassion does other people much good whereas kindness and generosity sometime does.>

Maybe true. But sometimes compassion does prompt kindness and generosity.

9. <Neither am I empathic. I do not wish to feel their pain and why should I. Nor would I wish that they feel mine, why should they. In fact if they were to feel my pain, that would make my pain only worse. Why multiply pain.>

Very wise stance to take. I too feel that way.

10. <This attitude of mine does not mean I am unaware of the needs of others or of their hurts.>

I can see that.

11. < I do care about people but recognize that if I really dwell on all the wars, poverty, illness and suffering in the world, I would weep away. I would experience great rage as I believe we now have the means to eliminate such things. These events sadden me because we have not.>

I often feel the same way.

12. < We need to craft a new paradigm that does.>

I agree with you fully on this.

13.  <This was predicted several years ago – “a 7.2 magnitude quake in a city like Port-au-Prince, with lax building codes and shoddy construction, could be catastrophic.” – At 200,000 possibly dead and still counting, yes catastrophic, unnecessary and down right stupid.>

Yes it would appear that the people of Haiti did  not take adequate precautions, like the people of New Orleans and Bangladesh and Indonesia before, or of San Francisco in 1906. There are at least two reasons for this: The people did not have the wherewithal to protect themselves fully. Sometime Nature’s fury can outdo human precautions.

14. <I apologize if I ruffled a few feathers here with my comments the other day, but these happenings make me angry.>

My feathers weren’t ruffled.  I just don’t feel like condemning a victim of an accident when the person is writhing with pain, even if the victim had been partly responsible for the mishap. This is just my reaction to events like this. This is not to deny the good sense and wisdom in rationally trying to figure out how the impact of natural disaster can be minimized, and how the poor of the world can be helped on a long range basis. I’d leave that to a later time.

January 17, 2010

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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