On Inhumanity

How ironic that after I posted on the deep generosity of a man like Kurt Warner, I had the misfortune to read at Salon.com about former basketball player Paul Shirley’s callous, ill-informed, idiotic rant at FlipCollective against donating to help Haitians after an earthquake destroyed much of their country.  In it, Shirley likens giving the Haitians money would be akin to giving

money to homeless men on the street. Based on past experiences, I don’t think the guy with the sign that reads “Need You’re Help” is going to do anything constructive with the dollar I might give him.

Right, because helping people left dead and injured by the hundreds of thousands, as well as starving, without potable water, and homeless, is akin to giving a buck to someone who is homeless–which is often as a result of economic hardship and/or serious physical, mental, and/or psychological problems.

To Shirley, the proper question to ask in this time of Haiti’s deep tragedy is: “Shouldn’t much of the responsibility for the disaster lie with the victims of that disaster?” The answer, for him, comes in the form of a weird, insulting comparison between Haitians and prehistoric humans:

Imagine that I’m a caveman. Imagine that I’ve chosen to build my house out of balsa wood, and that I’m building it next to a roaring river because I’ve decided it will make harvesting fish that much easier. Then, imagine that my hut is destroyed by a flood.

Imagining what would happen next is easier than imagining me carrying a caveman’s club. If I were lucky enough to survive the roaring waters that took my hut, my tribesmen would say, “Building next to the river was pretty dumb, wasn’t it?.” Or, if I weren’t so lucky, they’d say, “At least we don’t have to worry about that moron anymore.”

Yes, swiping at Haitians, who happen to be as Shirley knows the poorest people in the Western Hemisphere, for being “morons,” for “choosing” to build homes out of whatever materials they could afford, is so intelligent, as well as edifying. This of course says nothing of the majestic, sturdy Presidential palace, parliamentary building, and hotels among thousands of others of all shapes, sizes, and materials that were laid waste by the earthquake. See for yourself:

[photo from Yahoo News]

Shirley’s approach can be summarized by his mock letter to the people of Haiti asking the following:

Dear Haitians –

First of all, kudos on developing the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Your commitment to human rights, infrastructure, and birth control should be applauded.

As we prepare to assist you in this difficult time, a polite request: If it’s possible, could you not re-build your island home in the image of its predecessor? Could you not resort to the creation of flimsy shanty- and shack-towns? And could some of you maybe use a condom once in a while?


The Rest of the World

It takes a detestable degree of ignorance to write such screed while ignoring, or simply not knowing even a smidgen of, Haiti’s history–generations of poverty abetted in recent years by brutally restrictive IMF policies mandating the privatization of services, including the police, with private security forces nowhere to be seen in the aftermath of the quake; tariff reductions resulting in the dumping of goods, especially produce, from far wealthier agricultural powers into Haiti that drove out Haitian-grown goods and kept poor Haitian farmers poor; frequent military interventions from the US primarily to forestall democracy, support murderously repressive dictatorships such as those of “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier, and overtly and covertly support murderous paramilitary groups such as FRAPH.  Haiti didn’t simply become and stay poor.  It had plenty of help in the last two centuries. Yeah, Mr. Shirley, ignore those crucial details of history and political economy to blame the victims of this colossal tragedy.

Thankfully ESPN fired him from his job as occasional correspondent before more such tripe, as well as his grossly ignorant commentary on race in the US that one can read at Salon.com in the above post, could litter its website.  Methinks something more is at work with Shirley’s superficial analysis, perhaps the skin color of most Haitians.

It would be hard to find a more narrow-minded, selfish, and thoroughly ignorant bookend to Warner among athletes than Paul Shirley.  What a disgrace.

[Edit: Mr. Shirley has apparently issued “A Reaction” at FlipCollectiveRead it for yourselves. I especially enjoyed how Shirley maintains that the “Haitians bear the majority of the responsibility for their post-earthquake fate even though he belatedly expresses his “understand[ing] that outside influences have played a large part in determining those circumstances”–with no assessment of said “outside influences.”

I also note how he tortuously connects alleged assumptions that the Haitians’ “fate was not at least in part their own responsibility” (after an earthquake, i.e. “act of God”) with a baseless assertion that such this straw-man assumption–to which he attributes to no one–“rationalizes much of the United States’ past meddling in the affairs of Haiti.  But most of all, it shows even less respect to the Haitian people.”  Really? How does it do those things–rationalizing US “meddling” (a generous and innocuous characterization, to be mild) and showing “even less respect to the Haitian people?” Less than what, “meddling in the affairs of Haiti” which included supporting murderous dictators and paramilitary organization? Really, Mr. Shirley? How can you possibly equate or assess that to then determine the respective harm that the “meddling” and the alleged disrespect of not blaming the Haitians for their poverty had? This, of course, says nothing of economic policies, not disconnected to “meddling,” which Shirley didn’t assess either.

Well, at least Shirley learned this during his salad days as a journeyman basketball player in the NBA and abroad–when attacked for your statements, claim that they were taken out of context. That Shirley did.  Well done, Shirley–snivel about the “psychology of donating” to Haitians that allegedly ignores Haitians’ responsibility for their own fate, get called out for it, then retreat to the weak-kneed defense that your turgid ignorant rant was “taken out of context.” Thanks, Mr. Responsibility. We’ll eagerly await your detailed assessment of the “outside influences” playing ‘a large part in determining those circumstances” before the quake. Maybe he can do that from Port-au-Prince and explain this in detail face-to-face to Haitians, while reading his original letter ridiculing them, equating them to prehistoric people, and withholding his financial support for people in a life-and-death struggle.]

Published in: on January 30, 2010 at 8:47 am  Comments (17)  

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  1. Thank you for this post. You write so beautifully, Jason, so it’s the perfect counterpart to that nonsense spewed by Shirley. A disgrace is exactly what he is.

  2. Your comment was deleted on accident, and I didn’t get a chance to read it. It went to my spam folder. Repost it? 🙂


  3. Shirley’s critics seem to be completeliy missing the point. A couple years from now, no matter how much aid the world gives, Haiti will be no different than it was before the earthquake. But I will pile on, taking Shirley’s side, and point out that if Western-developed medicine weren’t available to Haiti the population would be a mere fraction of what it is and the earthquake would have been a minor nuisance. Earthquakes probably had little effect on stone-age people’s, which is the reality of Haitian society.

    Amusingly, I was listening to a talk show taking calls from aid workers in Haiti, and the most prominent sentiment was how things were so much better under Baby Doc.

  4. Like you knew anything at all about Haitian history before you needed something to club Shirley with. Why not, I wonder? “Methinks something more is at work” with Jason’s historical ignorance, “perhaps the skin color of most Haitians.”

    “Detestable degree of ignorance” indeed.

  5. Thanks, Jane. You’re very kind.

    Will do, Joe.

    Asher, my apologies ahead of time, for I’d rather not be this harsh, but frankly you deserve it. Other critics of Shirley and I are hardly “completeliy” missing the point. In fact, you don’t seem to have carefully read my post, for you didn’t address the macro-economic and political issues that have contributed mightily to Haiti’s historic poverty. More directly to Shirley’s and your point, you simply don’t know in what condition Haiti will be in a couple years–could be worse or on the way to a much-needed recovery. That depends considerably on further IMF debt relief extending past their recent decision on $100 million in loans, but extends to tariffs, assistance for farmers and workers and, not to be overlooked, the restoration of functioning democracy rather than a corrupt, lackey state.

    “…if Western-developed medicine weren’t available to Haiti the population would be a mere fraction of what it is and the earthquake would have been a minor nuisance.” HA! So let me get this straight: in addition to the various ways I discussed in which the US and other Western powers have systematically abetted poverty, dictatorships, and under-/mal-development in Haiti, if Haiti had only been fortunate enough to lack access “Western-developed medicine” that would presumably (based on what you’re implying) have depopulated Haiti prior to the devastating earthquake, then “the population would be a mere fraction of what it is and the earthquake would have been a minor nuisance.” How brilliant! Perhaps they can remember your master plan after other slack-jawed misanthropes such as you anoint a compassionate individual such as Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage sun-king of Haiti and begin year zero with the decree to withhold future medicine shipments to and manufacturing in Haiti, to tamp down the surplus population and thus prevent a future “minor nuisance” such as a 7.0 earthquake (shy of San Francisco’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake in 1989, by the way) from becoming the major catastrophe that it was.

    Next, you regurgitate Shirley’s ugly, ignorant analogy of Haiti to prehistoric or, in your putrid parlance, “stone-age people’s” [Sic., for it should be plural, peoples, not possessive, “people’s”]. This isn’t “The Flinstones,” Asher. There were no cell phones, automobiles, Internet, television, public services, functioning or quasi-functioning government, running water, utilities, or other such accoutrement in “stone-age” times, for goodness sake. Even as poor as Haiti has been, this analogy is insulting and just downright stupid.

    Yet you weren’t done there, for you cap off your support of fellow sociopath Shirley with, “Amusingly, I was listening to a talk show taking calls from aid workers in Haiti, and the most prominent sentiment was how things were so much better under Baby Doc.” First, this isn’t “amusing;” it’s a deep, scarring human tragedy for anyone with sensory perception, half a functioning brain, and a cursory attention span. This situation is historically horrible, which matters for, second, your reference to people comparing how things were “so much better under Baby Doc.” DUUUUUHH! For all the murderous, thieving, brutal faults of Baby Doc Duvalier and his equally criminal father, there was a functioning if dysfunctional and dictatorial society then–THERE ISN’T ONE NOW. IT’S BEEN DESTROYED BY THE “MINOR NUISANCE” OF AN EARTHQUAKE. Third, this is no surprise for anyone paying attention, for Iraqis time and again, after the US invasion in 2003, talked about how so much was better under Saddam Hussein–another US-supported brutally murderous dictator, until 1990, anyway. Why? Not because they wanted him back, just as people in Haiti, as they suffer and die by the thousands don’t pine away for either Duvalier as they lie homeless and starving under the stars. Rather, they’re commenting on the decrepit condition of their society right now which, again, for all the misery under the US-supported Duvaliers, wasn’t even this bad.

    Congratulations, Asher, your comment has been forwarded to the Nobel Prize committee. You should expect a call from them later this year for your misanthropy, indifference to widespread human suffering, and ignorance of crucial historical conditions contributing to them.

  6. And I see that the trolls are scurrying out of the woodwork at FlipCollective to defend Paul Shirley. [Cracking neck ala Antonio Banderas in “Desperado,”] Let’s play.

    Aaron, what on earth do you know about what I know about Haitian history? Not a single, solitary thing–which seems readily evident considering you said “Like you knew anything at all about Haitian history before you needed something to club Shirley with.” As with most sentient, cogent people, clubbing Shirley isn’t exactly hard to do. In my own defense and while not an expert, I know a fairly decent amount about Haiti’s history, a decent amount around the period of revolt surrounding their independence and the revolutions therein, and especially more about Haiti in the 20th century. If you want me to expound on the various issues I raised in the original post, I can certainly do that. So don’t think I needed to throw a dart seventy-three times at a map of the Western Hemisphere before I located Haiti, OK? I read Allan Nairn’s works in The Village Voice and The Nation at the time–1994-1995–when the CIA-supported FRAPH was hacking up civilians and throwing them by the roadside. I read histories of overt US military invasions and covert ops in Haiti to support the Duvalier dictatorships. I’ve read a decent amount on IMF and tariff policies, on Haiti and elsewhere, and what deleterious effects they’ve had on local farmers, workers, businesses, and governments generally, and Haiti’s specifically. You want to discuss this? No problem. I’m ready. You show ME what YOU know about Haitian history, Aaron. In the meantime, sit in the corner with Asher with your cones of misanthropic shame.

    BUT, before you do, read this: Shirley can’t stand Martin Luther King Jr., Day. Swell, and that’s his right. Why can’t he?

    “As I’ve finished this column, it has occurred to me that this will be posted the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I hate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I think it’s a divisive holiday. Instead of celebrating an intelligent man who happened to be black, there are those (and they are many) who would have us celebrate MLK because he’s a black man who happened to be intelligent.

    I’m no great spokesman for race relations; many of the black men around whom I’ve spent time shared a seething dislike for me that had me checking my pockets to make sure I hadn’t stolen something from them. As a result, I have my own built-in prejudices and idiosyncrasies.”

    Hmmm. Could it be that there is more to the story than Shirley is letting on? I bet there is. As Shirley writes that there are so many people who allegedly celebrate King because he’s black and not intelligent–because those traits must apparently be praised separately and not as a source of pride for African Americans over the ONE American holiday directly relating to a person of color–he is so awash in examples of this that, in his article at ESPN from which this is cited, Shirley cites—NONE OF THEM. He didn’t recall conversations and name names, he didn’t recount exchanges detailing a race-based affinity for King that wantonly ignored King’s prodigious intellect with the names omitted. He offered absolutely nothing for his baseless assertion, not surprisingly.

    Additionally, and I’ll defend as accurate and can include examples after this already long post, how many people who are supporters of MLK Jr. Day and have a relatively open mind about race, race relations, and a fair knowledge of history of racial strife in the US consider Martin Luther King Jr. day a “divisive holiday?” Really? I’ve literally never come across any. Cannot people across racial, political, and ideological lines lay some claim to MLK Jr. Day? Tell me where Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, and other segregationists in Congress, as well as race hate-mongers such as Limbaugh, stood on MLK Jr. Day? I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there was, and apparently continues to be, much anti-MLK Day animus among people who had downright poor records on race relations, civil rights legislation, and equality in American society, or who make racially inflammatory and insulting statements–which by the way Shirley did. YOU show ME how Shirley differs from this crowd, with whom by the way I have had considerable and usually detestable experiences. Yeah, that Shirley, he’s SOOOOOOOO misunderstood.

  7. I’ll take the last part of your post directed towards me first: MLKJR was a great man, no doubt. He was a great black crusader for equal rights. But the holiday as celebrated today celebrates him more as a ‘black crusader’ than a ‘crusader for equal rights’. Whatever the intent, the effect is a divisive holiday.

    As far as Haiti goes, whatever biased literature you have read notwithstanding, it boils down to this: Are the Haitian people at all responsible for the condition their country is in?


    Do you notice any patterns about their leaders going back two hundred years?

    In effect, you are laying their inability to handle an earthquake solely at the feet of the US and the IMF, and this excuses Haitians from responsibility for their own country. If I were a Haitian, I would find this an extremely patronizing point of view.

  8. Asher, perhaps we could do the haitian peopler a favor and simply use crop dusters to cover the entire western side of Hispaniola with a “Western” palliative for their suffering. Zyklon-B perhaps. Then after the next disaster- natural , or otherwise, no one will be there to be inconvenienced.

    Aaron, i’m sure we are all honored to have such a renowned historian as yourself here to enlighten us.

    fuck both of you.

    the truth of the matter is haiti desperately needed this amount of foreign aid before this horrible disaster.

  9. “He was a great black crusader for equal rights. But the holiday as celebrated today celebrates him more as a ‘black crusader’ than a ‘crusader for equal rights’. Whatever the intent, the effect is a divisive holiday.” Baloney, just baloney, especially when it is yet again unsupported by evidence. Sorry. I see curricula in local schools at all levels that talk, first and foremost, about equal rights even as King (not the Holiday) is embedded as a core figure within Black History Month. King is also discussed widely as advancing human and economic rights, especially later in his life, most especially typified by his April 4, 1967 speech, and his support of Memphis workers for union and economic rights. Why also must “black crusader” and “crusader for equal rights” be recognized as mutually exclusive, especially when King was both? I have seen no trend ignoring his civil rights work to simply stress his race. Nor did Shirley or you show any. It smacks of a canard to substantiate hating on others.

    In fact, your and Shirley’s comments strongly suggest that you have serious objections to expressions of strident black identity. Again, God forbid that black people in the US, with a deep and sordid history of racial oppression, take some measure of pride in recognizing the ONE HOLIDAY expressly centered a black person. Sorry that clearly irks you.

    “Whatever biased literature…” HA! ALL literature is biased. Biases result from the perspectives of the authors, the sources they use, the privileging of certain sources, the unavailability of sources, the methodologies they employ. Histories are inherently biased, period, what I’ve read no more than yours. And with all due respect, I’ve read more than a tabulation of Haitian leaders on an embassy website.

    Yeah, I notice plenty of patterns, especially political instability which, again, the US has abetted at length, which is exactly what I said yesterday. Notice also my comments were framed mainly in the 20th century, although it was far from the only period in which the US had a relationship with and fear of black-led revolution from Haiti. Thanks for reinforcing my point.

    “In effect, you are laying their inability to handle an earthquake solely at the feet of the US and the IMF, and this excuses Haitians from responsibility for their own country. If I were a Haitian, I would find this an extremely patronizing point of view.” At what point did I lay Haiti’s problems “solely at the feet of the US and IMF?” Any careful reading shows no such thing. I was filling out Shirley’s–and yours–ridiculous narrative that pays no attention to such things and, in fact, lays primarily responsibility for Haiti’s problems at THEIR feet. How is this possible or even logical when the US has, time and again for years, sustained dictatorships, assisted in military coups and funding and directing murderous paramilitary groups, and lorded over their political system and economy in deleterious ways and into contemporary times? When the US has for about a century lorded over Haiti economically, politically, and militarily and, therefore, to a great degree shaped and abetted the very conditions in Haiti that have made the aftermath of the quake such an unmitigated disaster. Yeah I, sticking up for the people of Haiti who have been brutalized by US-supported dictatorships and US/IMF/West-led efforts to glut and privatize their economy, have insulted the Haitians.

    No, you and Shirley grossly miss the point, not surprisingly. No one is excusing them from some responsibility, including for insufficiently remedying health and reproductive problems, but crucially, what responsibility–allegedly not using “a condom once in a while?” Really? How about asking about whether or not there are adequate health care programs and items in such a destitute country? Is this really somehow unconnected to assessing the quality of Haiti’s political and economic systems? Why this facile refusal to parse out in any meaningful way “blame?” You and Shirley lump together all Haitians, insultingly so, and just as insultingly treat Haiti’s history as an independently crafted trajectory of misery. Sorry, it ain’t so. It is you and especially Shirley who wantonly ignore crucial macro-economic and political issues which have shaped Haiti’s problems in structural and fundamental ways and, rather, proffer a weak, insultingly unsubstantiated discourse of personal responsibility grafted from US right-wing political discourse. Ask the Haitians themselves which they’d find more insulting. I dare say it’s yours.

  10. Well said as usual, Mike.

  11. They would feel differently had they been born in Haiti rather than America.

  12. Joe, well said.

  13. *Stares around at the carnage in the room*. May I have my say now?

    Mr. Shirley’s remarks were obviously very callous, insensitive, and outright heartless. The poor are rarely, if ever, poor by their own conscious decision. Also, I do not ascribe to the fact that the earthquake was some sort of divine punishment (as suggested by Pat Robertson) on the people Haiti. It is sad that it has taken such a tragedy for much needed aid to arrive in Haiti.

    However, I do take issue with Jason on Haitian history and his fire breathing about US interference. It is impossible to deny what Jason said about Papa and Baby Doc, US intervention in the early 20th century (1910 I believe is when the customs house was seized), etc. But, Jason forgot to mention that not all dictatorships in Haiti have been Western supported (this is mostly true in the early 19th century). Toussaint, General Dessalines, Christophe Henri, etc. You could also delve farther back into the history of Hispanola if you wish to discuss historical forces that have helped make Haiti poor; the encomienda system of slave labor was arguably the prototype for the sugar plantation system. I would be happy to discuss Haiti’s history with anyone here.

    Jason, have you read The Black Jacobins by CLR James?

  14. Well Tim, what you characterize as “fire breathing” is what I could characterize as necessarily rounding out the historical events that Shirley and his apologists here conveniently ignored or simply didn’t know.

    You’re absolutely right about the the slave labor system and its implications, no question, and I have read The Black Jacobins. The whole issue of slavery and its legacy in Haiti (with broader implications for the US, Brazil, and the West) is really the 800 lb. elephant in the room and is worth exploring, but my comments had already been long enough without delving into European interference (which lasted a while), the revolution and L’Ouverture, efforts at reconquest, and even early efforts of the American Colonization Society. In fact, three of my comments were longer than the original post.

    My point was to illustrate that greater forces than the tired mantra of personal responsibility were far more responsible, and that ignoring the seminal role that the US, as by far the preeminent power in the Western Hemisphere and hovering over Haiti for over a century, has played in Haiti’s plight is to utterly fail to understand the major forces at work in its disaster.

  15. Jason, it’s obvious that you are a member of the far left who believes that western/wealthy nations are the leading cause of the world’s problems. It’s hard to argue against this since it’s your default position and the color of the lenses you view the whole world by.

    Haiti would not be a poor nation if not for the US and IMF? Give me a fucking break. Such a viewpoint is absolutely absurd and why few people take you seriously.

    Also, screw you for accusing me of racism, not that name calling is a big as a deal to me as it is to you.

    Back to holidays: MLKJR Day is the only federal holiday which celebrates a benefactor of a specific race. This makes a distinction based on race and as such is divisive based on definition alone period full stop.

  16. Aaron, it’s obvious you’re a member of the far right whose default position is the hackneyed mantra of individual responsibility regardless of its inapplicability, poor knowledge of history and, in the instance of Haiti, heinousness. Clearly this colors your views and those of Shirley, which started this whole exchange. Funny how it all comes full circle.

    “Haiti would not be a poor nation if not for the US and IMF? Give me a fucking break. Such a viewpoint is absolutely absurd and why few people take you seriously.” Really? Why not try introducing some actual information and evidence for your baseless critique instead of sniveling about deep and verifiable historical factors that you’d simply rather not address except in your narrow-minded, anti-intellectual, ignorant, and craven way? It isn’t “absolutely absurd” for anyone who actually knows anything about Haiti’s history and, although it might justify why YOU don’t take me seriously, others do. Rest assured, however, I won’t lose a wink of sleep worrying about what you think.

    “Also, screw you for accusing me of racism, not that name calling is a big as a deal to me as it is to you.” Are you really this obtuse, Aaron? I stated that your comments and those of Shirley “strongly suggest that you have serious objections to expressions of strident black identity.” At no point did I call you a racist, although if you wish to determine that you are based on this or any other criteria, be my guest.

    Honestly, Aaron, why are you here? What did you accomplish with your unvarnished nonsense, your superficial a-historical analysis, your wanton unfamiliarity with or refusal to acknowledge Haiti’s centuries of despair much of which WAS at the hands of the US, your animosity toward MLK Jr. Day, and your thorough-going ignorance? You defended a hateful spiteful idiot like Shirley with hate and spite. Congratulations, for here’s what you’ve accomplished: you’ve successfully labeled yourself depraved and dumb.

    Good riddance.

  17. “Back to holidays: MLKJR Day is the only federal holiday which celebrates a benefactor of a specific race. This makes a distinction based on race and as such is divisive based on definition alone period full stop.”

    Aaron, please go into greater detail here. What do you mean? How does MLK Day “divide” people based on race? Newsflash: the issues that Dr. King fought for, like the right for black people to actually vote in the South, aren’t divisive to anyone.

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