January 14, 2010

"This is not the time to score political points" ...

The response by some commenters to Peter Hallward's essential piece on Haiti shows once again why The Guardian's Comment Is Free is so often one of the most depressing sites on the net. In a swamp of middle mass complacency like CiF, you'd expect the howls of "Half-witted pseudo-marxist gibberish", but what of the staggering: "You can't bring history into this." Then there's the crushingly predictable: "Are you absolutely sure that this is a good time to be scoring poltical points?" This liberal commonplace needs to be completely overturned. What is the implication here? That to confront the real, long-term causes of why so many died is somehow not "respecting" them? Needless to say, the idea that politics should be suspended in the face of suffering is the very hallmark of contemporary ideology. Now is not the time for political discussion, we'll look at the long-term causes later .... But, since Band Aid this "emergency" temporality has become a permanent state of affairs, allowing neoliberalism to further strengthen its hegemony under the cloak of "post-politics". Of course some even claim that the concept of "neoliberalism" itself is "gibberish" spouted by only by "half-witted Marxists". What this kind of claim establishes is the depressing reach and power that capitalist realism has over large areas of the British middle class. The real capitalist realists are not those working in neoliberal think tanks, who know full well that neoliberalism is a political project that has to be ruthlessly, continually enforced, but those who deny the existence of neoliberalism itself; they are the liberal dupes who, in the name of a "realism" that routinely ignores facts and evidence while pretending to appeal to them, propagate a "commonsense" which takes place inside the reality system instantiated by neoliberalism.

One irony of this squeamishness about "bringing politics" into situations of mass human suffering, of course, is that, as Naomi Klein consummately demonstrated in The Shock Doctrine, the neoliberal project has depended on its ability to rapidly helicopter into just these situations and exploit them. It is ready to do so again. Witness, for instance, the initial pronouncements of the Heritage Foundation - the text was subsequently changed, but here is what it originally said:

    Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S.

    In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region…

    While on the ground in Haiti, the U.S. military can also interrupt the nightly flights of cocaine to Haiti and the Dominican Republic from the Venezuelan coast and counter the ongoing efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to destabilize the island of Hispaniola. This U.S. military presence, which should also include a large contingent of U.S. Coast Guard assets, can also prevent any large-scale movement by Haitians to take to the sea in rickety watercraft to try to enter the U.S. illegally.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. must be prepared to insist that the Haiti government work closely with the U.S. to insure that corruption does not infect the humanitarian assistance flowing to Haiti. Long-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy are also badly overdue.

Needless to say, I'm not of course suggesting that people shouldn't give to humanitarian relief. As one of the most perspicuous CiF commenters - thank goodness, there are some - notes, it is those who object to politics being mentioned who are imposing a stupid binary. Contributing to humanitarian aid, which we all must do - and I'm told that this is one of the best charities - in no way precludes a political explanation. Conversely, renouncing the political (or restricting it to where it "properly belongs") doesn't mean that it will go away - it just means that, with the unwitting assistance of the CiF general anti-intellect, the powerful and wealthy will continue to impose a politics that serves their interests.
Live and let die

See also Lenin and Ashley Smith, who describes how, "[i]n close collaboration with the new UN Special Envoy to Haiti, former President Bill Clinton, Obama has pushed for an economic program familiar to much of the rest of the Caribbean--tourism, textile sweatshops and weakening of state control of the economy through privatization and deregulation."

Posted by mark at January 14, 2010 06:31 PM | TrackBack