History is the Devil’s Scripture

by Scott McLemee on January 15, 2010

One hesitates to refer to the rational kernel in any statement coming from Pat Robertson, of course. But his recent venture into explaining the earthquake in Haiti does contain a small, heavily distorted, yet recognizable fragment of historical reality.

That kernel has passed through his system without giving him any nourishment, but I’ll try to pluck it out of all the batshit craziness.

C.L.R. James wrote The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938) after about ten years of research, having been inspired, it seems, by a condescending biography of Toussaint that irritated him so much that he decided he needed to do something better. About halfway through the process, he discovered Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution. I won’t go into all the consequences now (it is among the topics discussed here) except to note that reading Trotsky had a big effect on his own effort to write revolutionary history.

The first three chapters of Jacobins analyze the economy, social hierarchy, and governance of the island, situating the slave system in the context of global capitalist accumulation. This tracks pretty closely to how Trotsky begins. Then we come to chapter four, “The San Domingo Masses Begin,” with its distinctive twist on the question of how to characterize the class position of the slaves:

The slaves worked on the land, and, like revolutionary peasants everywhere, they aimed at the extermination of their oppressors. But working and living together in gangs of hundreds on the huge sugar-factories which covered the North Plain, they were closer to a modern proletariat than any group of workers in existence at the time, and the rising was, therefore, a thoroughly prepared and organised mass movement. By hard experience they had learnt that isolated efforts were doomed to failure, and in the early months of 1791 in and around Le Cap they were organising for revolution.

This is interesting as an example of what Trotsky had called combined and uneven development. But with an eye to topicality, let’s get instead to the bee buzzing in the fundamentalist bonnet:

Voodoo was the medium of the conspiracy. In spite of all prohibitions, the slaves travelled miles to sing and dance and practice the rites and talk; and now, since the revolution [in France], to hear the political news and make their plans. Boukman, a Papaloi or High Priest, a gigantic Negro, was the leader. He was the headman of a plantation and followed the political situation both among the whites and among the Mulattoes.

James had provided, in earlier chapters, an analysis of the gradations of Haitian society along the color line. This plays itself out in complex ways throughout the rest of the book. What matters at this point in the narrative, however, is that the people at the very bottom of the structure have both a medium to communicate amongst themselves and a leadership willing to seize the moment:

Carrying torches to light their way, the leaders of the revolt met in an open space in the thick forests of the Morne Rouge, a mountainside overlooking Le Cap. There Boukman gave the last instructions and, after Voodoo incantations and the sucking of the blood of a stuck pig, he stimulated his followers by a prayer spoken in creole which, like so much spoken on such occasions, has remained. “The god who created the sun which gives us light, who rouses the waves and rules the storm, though hidden in the clouds, he watches us. He sees all that the white man does. The god of the white man inspires him with crime, but our god calls upon us to do good works. Our god who is good to us orders us to revenge our wrongs. He will direct our arms and aid us. Throw away the symbol of the god of the whites who has so often caused us to weep, and listen to the voice of liberty, which speaks in the hearts of us all.” The symbol of the god of the whites was the cross which, as good Catholics, they wore around their necks.

Naturally this god—like any of the loas presumably also invoked before the uprising began—would not count as a “devil” in the eyes of the believers. But then you can’t exactly expect Rev. Pat to be that interested in the nuances of Voodoo theology.

After the uprising began, Boukmon was captured and executed—his head mounted in public with a placard announcing that he was the chief of the rebels. But it was too late. Leadership passed to Toussaint.

Rather than discuss the later phases of the revolution, let me just recommend that anyone who has not done so yet read the book. I’ll end with a passage assessing the initial phase of the revolt, in the aftermath of this torchlit meeting on the mountainside:

The slaves destroyed tirelessly. Like the peasants in the Jacqueries or the Luddite wreckers, they were seeking their salvation in the most obvious way, the destruction of what they knew was the cause of their sufferings; and if they destroyed much it was because they suffered much. They knew that as long as these plantations stood their lot would be to labour on them until they dropped. The only thing was the destroy them. From their masters they had known rape, torture, degradation, and, at the slightest provocation, death. They returned in kind. For two centuries the higher civilization had shown them that power was used for wreaking your will on those whom you controlled. Now that they held power, they did as they were taught…Yet in all the records of that time there is no single instance of such fiendish tortures as burying white men up to the neck and smearing the holes in their faces to attract insects, or blowing them up with gun-powder, or any of the thousand and one bestialities to which they had been subjected. Compared with what their masters had done to them in cold blood, what they did was negligable, and they were spurred on by the ferocity with which the whites in Le Cap treated all slave prisoners who fell into their hands.

Shortly after The Black Jacobins appeared, James wrote a sort of overview or summary essay that Paul LeBlanc and I reprinted in C.L.R. James and Revolutionary Marxism. It also available online, although without all the other material that made our book such a pleasure to His Satanic Majesty.

{ 63 comments }

1

rm 01.15.10 at 6:25 pm

Yes, it’s important to know the real history. Robertson isn’t just being loathsome as an individual. He’s expressing a narrative from American culture we don’t do enough to recognize and fight.

Robertson is letting his epistemology show; to him it makes perfect sense that a deity a small group of revolutionaries invoked in 1791 was The Real Devil, and I think it would sound like nonsense to him to ask what the participants thought. And it makes perfect sense to him that millions today are cursed by that long-dead group. That’s how the universe works, in his mind. His Christianity involves spell-casting and faith in demonic powers . . . kind of like his stereotype of “voodoo” (as distinct from Vodun, the actual practised religion).

It’s worth also recalling that Robertson’s stereotypes have roots in American discourse since at least 1804, maybe 1791. In 1791 some planters fled from Saint Domingue to Philadelphia and spread stories of savage cannibal brutes attacking pure white victims. Some of the American press still showed a lot of admiration for Toussaint, though, but after Dessalines’s expulsion of whites in 1804 descriptions of Haiti were all about “The Horrors of Saint Domingo.” All the 19th century discourse over slave revolts brings up the images of revolting dark savages.

Then when the U.S. occupied the country from 1915-1929, all the “voodoo” imagery we know so well became popular.

And the fear of black mobs still gets expressed routinely by Americans. I hear it when rural white people discuss what they think of “inner cities.” It came out especially clearly in the press after Katrina, and I really think the reluctance to send help into the city stems directly from this poisonous cultural inheritance.

And, of course, Robertson’s narrative obscures the real reasons for Haiti’s continuing poverty, among which are many actions by the U.S. in the past two centuries.

And so now we are bound to hear it in relation to this earthquake. Some things our government should do right away is free anyone from Haiti in deportation proceedings (unless a person is literally a violent criminal, but we know how these labels get overapplied in the legal system) and allow all Haitians in the U.S. to work, but don’t count on it happening. Already they are discussing the horror of “looting” by the starving, thirsting survivors of the quake.

2

Cobb 01.15.10 at 6:37 pm

Certainly you are aware of the irony that the destruction of the factories and plantations must have been the cause of the economic decline of Haiti which has never evolved a competent managerial or business class.

3

christian h. 01.15.10 at 6:39 pm

Not surprisingly, David Brooks is really no different from the good Reverend, although he expresses himself less clearly:

[...] 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.

Yet he gets printed in the nation’s leading “liberal” paper.

4

bob mcmanus 01.15.10 at 6:54 pm

Getting my info from Wikipedia, Haitian Vodou

1) So which loa (lwa) was Boukman invoking? They have names and attributes, and perhaps the characteristics (“created the sun”) could help us out. The Haitians are monotheists, and the lwa are spirits, not Gods, so Boukman wasn’t invoking a lwa.

2) According to Wikipedia, Bondye is considered “unreachable” “who does not interfere with human affairs” so Boukman was not invoking Bondye.

“Haitian Vodouisants are monotheists, believing in one supreme god, known as Bondye [6] (from the French “Bon Dieu” or “Good God”). Vodouisants do not see Bondye as different from the Abrahamic conceptions of God, in the sense that Bondye is considered to be the creator of all. Bondye is distant from its creation, being a pandeist deity, and because of this, Vodouisants don’t believe that they can contact it for help.” ..Wiki

So Bondye is the Christian, the “White Man’s God”, and not the God Boukman was invoking. Who was Boukman calling upon?

(PS:Reading Pegg’s two books on the Albigensian Crusade, so I have an interest in dualisms, interpreted and misinterpreted. With a God who “does not interfere with human affairs,” which is no simple deism, it is not unreasonable for a Christian to wonder if Haitian Vodou is a dualism. And dualisms have often been interpreted in fairly narrow ways.)

Scott, do you believe in the Devil? See Berube’s post below one on people involved in issues where they have no interest.

5

bob mcmanus 01.15.10 at 7:04 pm

The Minnesota fan says:”God is on our side this Sunday.”
The Dallas fan says:”No, God wants Dallas to win.”

There is probably nothing more absurd than the non-believer stepping in and determining which of the two is correct.

6

roger 01.15.10 at 7:05 pm

I sometimes believe in the devil myself. If there were a devil, certainly he inhabits Pat Robertson.
However, Robertson is following in the footsteps of the canon in Kleist’s story, An Earthquake in Chile. Which some kind soul has translated here:
http://www.viceland.com/int/v15n12/htdocs/earthquake-in-chile-kleist-441.php

7

rm 01.15.10 at 7:07 pm

I guess “you” is Mr. McLemee, but to specify one singe cause sounds reductive to me. Are you implying that Haiti should have “evolved” a managerial class and we should withhold sympathy if they haven’t? Or . . . something?

I am not a historian or an economist, but even I can list facts that complicate the picture. Several early leaders (Toussaint and Henry Christophe, off the top of my head) promoted reviving the plantation industries. Haiti was an agricultural exporter until recent decades. A crushing debt burden and economic isolation by racist neighbors hurt the country for generations.

We could be flip, and attribute Haiti’s problems in the 19th century to having a country run by liberal arts majors, but it’s more like the country has always been run by an elite that goes out of country for its education and considers the masses to be expendable labor. The elite French-speaking liberal arts majors in charge were a symptom, not the cause of economic polarization. The class structure could be traced back to the colonial division between free, propertied mulattoes and slaves. These questions aren’t going to be resolved on a blog. The kind of thing I think could be productively noticed on a blog are how much the view of the masses as exploitable labor and/or dangerous savages is shared by American conservatives. Haiti has the kind of class structure Jesse Helms approved of.

8

john c. halasz 01.15.10 at 7:23 pm

@2:

Well, there was that 90 million franc indemnity the Haitians had to pay to get the French to finally leave them alone.

9

Scott McLemee 01.15.10 at 7:25 pm

Yes, I do, because it was the Devil who taught me to play guitar. (This won’t end well.) As for Voodoo, all I know is what I picked up during a walking tour of New Orleans.

10

LFC 01.15.10 at 7:49 pm

Brooks’s column, mentioned by christian h. @3, prompted me to post a somewhat intemperate reaction.

11

Hogan 01.15.10 at 8:29 pm

The Black Jacobins also has one of my favorite lines ever (quoted from imperfect memory): “The rich are nver defeated unless they are running for their lives.”

12

paul stephens 01.15.10 at 8:51 pm

Remember when Howard Hughes flew to Managua, Nicaragua on his final “Stations of the Cross” odyssey or whatever it was? Nicaragua was then under the Somoza regime, and Hughes’ fraternal visit “coincided” with a massive earthquake which ultimately brought down Somoza.
This seems to be a recurring theme of the Hegelian “reason in history” type. Around that time, I was a recent graduate in economics trying to find some wider application for such thinking. I suggested “A General Theory of Earthquakes, Floods, and Hurricanes”, which might explain them.
Later, I thought poetry was a better medium, and some of my efforts in that direction included “Vulcan’s Revenge” (inspired by Mt. St. Helens), “The Curse of Kali”, etc.
All religions and “self-serving supernaturalism in the interpretation of material events” probably refer to some sort of cosmic or transcendental connections or “truths.” However, they usually make sense only “after the fact.”
I was intrigued to observe that during the great tsunami of 2004(?), I had picked up and perused a copy of the Koran which I had owned for 20+ years, at almost precisely the moment the Tsunami struck, learning about it a few hours later on the BBC. Does this make me a prophet? Probably not, but one can easily see “God’s hand” in the Haiti Earthquake, after our President has just directed 30,000 American troops to kill Muslims in Afghanistan rather than rendering aid to our (his) brothers in Haiti. Hopefully, a lot of these “resources” and “assets” will be so diverted.

13

Tim Worstall 01.15.10 at 9:05 pm

Pat Robertson is of course an ignorant bigoted fool. But the take away from this specific demonstration of why he is seems to be that proletarian revolutions tend not to work out that well.

Is that what you actually meant to get across as the point?

14

Ex-PD 01.15.10 at 9:18 pm

#12
And again, when saddled with debt swallowing 80% of the nations GDP, a reasonable person would conclude Haiti faced astronomical odds of success.

15

marc 01.15.10 at 9:31 pm

Robertson thinks queer people have made pacts with the devil, so I’d not spend much time trying to figure out his theology for reasons other than amusement.

Haiti has been made to decay because it was the first new world place where blacks rebelled from slavery against Europeans. As an object lesson, Haiti was pulverized over the last two centuries by all with interests in dominating the new world for cheap resources and labor. Had Cuba revolted earlier, it would have been pounded as brutally, appropriate for the time, instead of being disciplined in a more modern, civilized manner.

Let’s take care to not blame revolutionary exuberance at the expense of those with real power and their record of brutality, the latter which is almost exclusively responsible for the centuries of brutality that has positioned Haiti where it is today.

There are 10,000 US troops in Haiti now, this is going to get still worse before it gets better, as things only get worse in Haiti when the United States Government shows up.

16

christian h. 01.15.10 at 9:33 pm

Not being on the great powers’ good side doesn’t work out too well, if that’s what Tim means. True enough.

17

Martin Wisse 01.15.10 at 10:06 pm

No Tim, Haiti’s current plight is not due to the revolution, but the reaction to it, with various re-invasion attempts by France, supported by the UK and US, the 90 million franks (reduced from 150 million) compensation the country had to pay France (last installment paid off in 1947! [1]), US supported dictator after dictator bleeding the country dry, interspersed of course by the occasional US invasion (last one in 2004 to get rid of a president too loved by the poor people).

It’s no wonder so much of Haiti lies in ruins at the moment; you can’t make buildings earthquake proof if the money has been stolen years before.

[1] Incidently, now would be the best time for France to pay back that compensation.

18

Walt 01.15.10 at 10:29 pm

Does anyone know how much 90 million francs was in those days?

19

Geoffrey 01.15.10 at 10:46 pm

I am hardly up on my Haitian history, but I do remember reading – in Chomsky, perhaps? – that Haiti, at one time, was a garden spot that is now a relatively desolate place, its natural beauty exploited by foreign industry. I think it would be far better if we ignored Robertson (and, indeed, Limbaugh and anyone else whose history of racism renders his or her legitimacy on matters such as these nonexistent); yet, as Scott demonstrates, this is, to use the current (stupid) lingo, a “teaching moment” for many in the US to learn that we may be at the very least in part responsible for the glaring lack of infrastructure available to the Haitian people to respond to this crisis.

Incidentally, not all Christians are like Pat Robertson. If you go to http://secure.gbgm-umc.org/donations/umcor/donate.cfm?code=418325&id=3018760, you can donate via the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

20

KCinDC 01.15.10 at 10:46 pm

Bob, Boukman was invoking Bondye (Bon Dje). I guess he hadn’t read the Wikipedia article telling him he couldn’t.

21

giotto 01.15.10 at 11:01 pm

Yes to Vodun, no to voodooo. Voodoo might be found in Louisiana, but is easiest to encounter in Hollywood, and in racist travelogues of Haiti.

rm, I am glad to hear I’m not the only one who saw echoes of the discourse surrounding the US occupation of Haiti in the abysmal Katrina coverage. “Black savages, out of control” is the default position in the US. I recall similar language and imagery used during the botched US invasion of Somalia. Oh, and of course Rodney King. And unfortunately this is why the Brooks column is going to seem perfectly reasonable to most readers. The trope is in place, all Brooks has to do is nod in its direction, and the readers can nod along, filling in all the gaps with the usual stereotypes. With Haiti, however, you get a bonus stereotype: “voodoo,” about which Brooks probably knows next to nothing.

As others here have mentioned, there is no sense talking about Haiti’s dismal economy without mentioning the fact that the slaves had to pay reparations to the people (the French) who had kidnapped them from Africa and enslaved them in the most brutal conditions imaginable. Those French were apparently not “progress-resistant,” as Brooks would have it. Nor without acknowledging that the US had de facto control in Haiti for most of the twentieth century, since the US occupation. But in American lore, that occupation is just further proof that Haiti is backwards. EVEN the US, we tell ourselves in our infinite narcissism, with all its might couldn’t fix Haiti, couldn’t help out our “little brown brothers.” (one of the explanations given at the time for the difficulty in turning Haiti into an investors’ paradise: Voodoo!) Odd that American school kids aren’t made to read Gen. Smedley Butler, who had a few concise things to say about the occupation of Haiti.

Anyway, this just pisses me off to no end. I guess I’ll go watch some Seinfeld reruns..

22

john c. halasz 01.15.10 at 11:04 pm

@15:

The Aristide government in 2004 claimed that they were owed $21 billion figured at 5% interest, so you could try the math with a calculator. But then the debt was repeatedly rolled over with loans from French banks over the years with fees and interest, so who knows? (The original 150 million franc indemnity was apparently set at 10 years Haitian exports minus costs of production).

23

KarenEliot 01.15.10 at 11:07 pm

Great post, Scott. But back to Robertson for one last second. His repellent theology here seems off, even if we take him on his own (insane and nihilistic) fundamentalist terms.

Certain fundies who place stock in all this palava surrounding the so-called “Boukman sacrifice” also seem to believe that the Satanic pact had a 200-year expiration date, running from Haiti’s 1804 independence.

However, according to a wacky 2003 article posted, of all places, in the forums on Assata Shakur’s website, entitled “Victory Over Voodoo In Haiti,” George Otis, Jr., the Christian”spiritual warrior” who heads the rather creepy Sentinel Group, claimed to have rallied an International Day of Prayer for Haiti on August 14, 2003, when the pact was set to expire . Otis claimed that the power of Jesus disrupted the ritual whereby Haiti planned to “re-ratify” its deal with Satan. Otis declared at the time, “The back of voodoo has been broken!”

So shouldn’t Haiti have been “Satan free” since 2003? Or did Otis’s cure not stick? If the latter, perhaps Pat should explain: Why has his god failed?

Funny how Robertson pretended here not to remember Otis Jr’s big Haiti campaign. George Otis Sr., who died in 2007, was a good friend and benefactor of Pat. I imagine that Pat or someone on his show has kept a close eye on Otis Jr’s career and market share over the years, and maybe even worked with him on some projects. Maybe Robertson hopes that the earthquake will upend the game board of missionary opportunities in Haiti, in his favor.

24

Josh 01.15.10 at 11:56 pm

Roger, Kleist also wrote a story about the rebels in Santo Domingo, which, although racist as all get-out, has some apt Kleistian ironies.

Someone wrote in a blog comment elsewhere, “Colonial history does not generally involve centuries-old curses and supernatural retribution.” Geez, don’t people read Junot Diaz? Kids today, I swear . . .

25

bob mcmanus 01.16.10 at 12:32 am

17:Then the speech is just an incoherent mess. It certainly doesn’t work under any kind of monotheism or Christianity.

After spending time with the fiercely ascetic Cathars, I was really hoping for a dualism that worshiped the Demiurge, the flesh and the world. Zombies would make a lot of sense in a religion that thought the spirit was wicked.

And that way could lead to Crowley or LaVey. Satanism has gotten a bum rap.

26

rm 01.16.10 at 2:22 am

bob — dude. What?

27

g 01.16.10 at 2:31 am

bob mcmanus @25, I don’t agree. It’s absolutely commonplace for monotheists to say “your god” and mean something more like “your notion of God”. Seems to me that Boukman was saying “Our oppressors have a religion that encourages them to abuse us; to hell with it. Our religion tells us to do good, and our god will help us. We shall throw away the trappings of the whites’ false religion and pay attention to the real God.” (Except that he said it with slightly less precision and much more poetry.) I see nothing incoherent there.

I do like the idea of a religion that explicitly declares the world and the flesh Good and the spirit Bad, though.

28

bad Jim 01.16.10 at 2:36 am

I have the impression that LaVey’s version of Satanism is sort of a gussied-up Objectivism. If I’m mistaken, please don’t disabuse me of my pleasant fantasy.

29

rm 01.16.10 at 2:52 am

Yes, g, I think that’s how to read it. It’s similar to Frederick Douglass’s take on American Christianity. And, of course, this speech is a traditional legend interpreted by C.L.R. James more than 150 years later. It’s about as close to the real Boukman’s speech as “Chief Seattle’s speech” is to the real Seattle’s. No one know exactly what Boukman said.

30

Elijah Barlowe 01.16.10 at 4:26 am

Bondye is a pandeist deity? Not merely a deist deity? Maybe, but that doesn’t sound quite right. Pandeism is the belief that the creator of the universe actually became the universe, as some Hindus believe.

31

alex 01.16.10 at 10:16 am

As with #29, I think the odds that CLR James had access to an accurate verbatim transcription of what Boukman said are pretty long, so what I’d like to see someone doing is reinterpreting this post in the light of what they think Scott McLemee thinks about what James thinks ought to have been going on back there. Then we’d be talking about history as she is done.

Meanwhile, what else is there to say about poor Haiti, so far from God, so close to the United States…?

32

JoB 01.16.10 at 1:23 pm

My personal feeling is that their problems is that they are addicted to God or at least to the myriad missionaries they’re getting from all over the world.

Is there a world map with “christian aid density” per capita? I’d be willing to bet quite a few bob that Haïti shows up as the highest intensity of red.

(From catholics mostly – maybe that is what Robertson meant after all)

33

rm 01.16.10 at 1:41 pm

Yes, JoB, it’s all their fault.

34

Steven Augustine 01.16.10 at 2:14 pm

At this point, God and U.S. Imperialism seem to be about neck-and-neck in their abilities to mass-kill apostates. Are there any references, anywhere, to the Devil doing any large-scale smiting… or any smiting, at all (beyond dutifully spit-roasting the apostates the aforementioned Super Powers rendition his way)? Is the Devil getting a bum rap? And is it a coincidence that he’s red?

35

JoB 01.16.10 at 2:19 pm

33- Not all of it, I’m sure. Just a great deal of the misery independent of all the natural catastrophes.

36

Barry 01.16.10 at 3:34 pm

Tim Worstall 01.15.10 at 9:05 pm

” Pat Robertson is of course an ignorant bigoted fool. But the take away from this specific demonstration of why he is seems to be that proletarian revolutions tend not to work out that well.

Is that what you actually meant to get across as the point?”

Tim, the opposition that Haiti faces from surrounding nations and the USA and France
has been mentioned; please see #17 for a start. If what you meant was that proletarian revolutions tend to attrach brutal opposition from nearby countries, that’s a good point. Otherwise, would you please take your glibertarian apologetics for right-wing oppression somewhere else?

37

Omega Centauri 01.16.10 at 6:42 pm

giotto@21: In a narrow PR sense Voudou is still an obstacle to attracting capital. Not because of anything inherent in the religion, but simply because of the very common demonization of all who hold a religion different than our own. The notion that it is a blessed act to do unto the unbelievers has been pushed below the surface in polite Christian company. Not so much in impolite company, or in Islam.

barry@36: I think you may have overreacted just a bit. I would recast the quote as: “proletarian revolutions tend not to work out that well, because of both external opposition, and internal revolutionary dynamics”. By that later phrase, I mean that the most ruthless elements tend to come out on top.

38

Davis 01.16.10 at 7:13 pm

(last one in 2004 to get rid of a president too loved by the poor people)

I’m going to call nonsense on that claim. During my time in rural Haiti (pre-2004) I met quite a few poor people who did not love Aristide, and many more who were mostly unaware that the government actually did anything. The poor who benefited from his largesse certainly loved him, but the victims of his gangs did not, nor did the many rural poor who were largely ignored by his government. There was a huge amount of resentment for Aristide pent up within the country; the claim that the US was behind it all is pretty laughable.

39

harry b 01.16.10 at 11:29 pm

I got on a plane about 3 years ago, and pulled out Beyond the Boundary which I’d brought to re-read. The woman next to me (a working class, as it turned out, African-American) pulled out The Black Jacobins. It was an odd moment: I pointed out what we were both reading, and she was floored. She’d never heard of James, but was interested in Haitian history.

Very few Christians are like Pat Robertson.

40

rm 01.17.10 at 1:17 am

Re: Davis in #38

That fits with what I’ve read from Richard Morse and others in Haiti about the failed promise of Aristide post-2000. I gather that the Fanmi Lavalas acquired one of those extra-legal paramilitaries that so many other past rulers of Haiti have used.

It seems so tragic to American liberals like me who thought, in the ’90s, that FL was a real bottom-up movement towards reform and peace. I wonder if it’s the nature of political power in Haiti — FL was the opposition to the murderous dictatorship the US supported* when Aristide was ousted the first time, so it got 98% of the vote in elections, which meant that ANYONE who wanted any kind of power had to say “I’m Lavalas too,” which meant all the gangs, criminals, or thugs became “Lavalas,” and then Aristide welcomed them in.

Still, he was the legitimately elected president when he was ousted.

And, I cannot help but imagine the worst of the alliance between the economic elite of Haiti and the right wing in the U.S. This reminds me of a moment of news coverage during the Florida recount of 2000 — a TV reporter got quotes from immigrants in Florida about what they thought of this disputed election, given the politics of their countries of birth. All the immigrants from former Communist countries had faith in the American system. An immigrant from Haiti said “Of course they are stealing the election. The rich will do anything to win.”

* By “supported,” I mean that while the Clinton admin. talked a lot about restoring Aristide, Jesse Helms and a lot of our foreign policy establishment happily supported the brutal regime, and it’s unclear to us mere citizens what our government was really doing.

41

Omega Centauri 01.17.10 at 3:45 am

hary b @39
Its just not a small enough meaning of “very few”. The man gets enough funding to keep his show going.

42

christian h. 01.17.10 at 4:55 am

Well of course Aristide wasn’t universally popular anymore by the time the coup overthrew him. First, he followed Washington consensus orders – something he agreed to in return for Clinton putting him back into office; and then later, when he refused, Haiti was punished by withholding aid. It’s the same old game the imperial powers play over and over. Right this Thursday, Haiti received a new IMF loan with the same old conditions attached.

43

Neil 01.17.10 at 12:43 pm

Very few Christians are like Pat Robertson.

How many is very few? Three million people volunteered for his 1986 campaign. Not all were Christians, I suppose, but most were. The Christian Coalition he started has 1.7 million members. A per survey found that Christians were as likely to be Republicans as Democrats; given the nature of the contemporary Republican party, that’s a lot of folk are lot like Pat Robertson.

44

Tim Wilkinson 01.17.10 at 12:56 pm

Omega Centauri – the most ruthless elements tend to come out on top.

Not a feature peculiar to post-revolutionary politics, of course.

45

Steven Augustine 01.17.10 at 12:58 pm

“Very few Christians are like Pat Robertson.”

That’s a bit like saying very few Republicans voted for Bush. Sure, many are now horrified (or “horrified”) over Pat’s Haiti gaffe, but many of *those* horrified will think in similar terms of Gays, or Iran, or abortion providers, etc. To claim otherwise is to posit an alternate U.S.A. that couldn’t possibly have existed for much of the past couple of centuries. Yankee populist Christian chauvinism is, and has been, a significant force on the planet.

46

JoB 01.17.10 at 1:02 pm

43- I have no fondness at all for Christians but you will find very few catholics that are anything like Robertson and catholics outnumber Robertsonians. Not even the pope is at 10% of the nuttiness of Robertson. And yes, there is a world outside of the US – even if people like Robertson wouldn’t give it a lot of thought.

47

skidmarx 01.17.10 at 1:31 pm

43- Much as it pains me to defend Christians, I think that’s a bit unfair. You may be right that most Christians operate within a similar paradigm to Robertson’s, but as far as I’m aware most Republicans actually did vote for Bush.

48

ejh 01.17.10 at 1:31 pm

I got on a plane about 3 years ago, and pulled out Beyond the Boundary which I’d brought to re-read.

I hope you ignored the chapter on WG Grace, which is notorious nonsense.

49

rm 01.17.10 at 1:53 pm

Everyone should read the article Christian H. linked to (here, also). For an example of one of the quieter disasters rich nations have forced on Haiti, read the 7th paragraph on the rice tariffs.

50

Neil 01.17.10 at 2:16 pm

46: “A small proportion of Xs are Y” ≠ “very few Xs are Y”. A small proportion of people in the world are male Chinese, but there are lots of male Chinese. So the fact (if it is a fact) that Catholics non-Robertsonians outnumber Robertsonians that very few Christians are Robertsonians.

51

a.y.mous 01.17.10 at 3:12 pm

Far too many alphabets and much too few numbers. I’m confused. Can’t you just tabulate? So, tell me who should get the credit for all this?

http://dwindlinginunbelief.blogspot.com/2006/08/how-many-has-god-killed.html

http://pbh3.tumblr.com/post/268016579/who-killed-more-people-in-the-bible

52

JoB 01.17.10 at 3:21 pm

50- anyway, you can’t with any relevant probability attribute Robertsonian attitudes to Christian people (along the same lines as you can’t attribute terrorism to muslims); which is what ‘very few Christians’ was meant to convey I guess (but you can have the niceties and eat them too)

53

Davis 01.17.10 at 5:11 pm

Well of course Aristide wasn’t universally popular anymore by the time the coup overthrew him.

Based on my experiences in Haiti, Aristide’s habit of using the national police and chimères (gangs) against his perceived political enemies was far more responsible for his unpopularity than were his policies. He tried to use them to shut down the local organization I worked with because it was becoming too popular with the locals; the only reason it survived is because the locals fought back.

As far as I’m concerned, this lingering support for Aristide among my liberal compatriots is a major blind spot. I’ve seen the useless plazas he built to aggrandize himself, in towns where the money could have been used to provide clean water. I’ve met people who suffered at the hands of his gangs, and I’ve heard stories of his corruption from people in a position to know. I think the only argument in favor of keeping him in power was that he was indeed elected; but Haiti is a shining example of how a dysfunctional society precludes a working democracy. (In Haiti hardly anyone bothers to vote, and those who do are freely bought with money and food, or coerced with violence.)

54

Steven Augustine 01.17.10 at 10:57 pm

55

Steven Augustine 01.17.10 at 10:58 pm

“50- anyway, you can’t with any relevant probability attribute Robertsonian attitudes to Christian people…”

Which is why we have Gay marriage in 50 States.

56

Davis 01.18.10 at 5:52 am

57

JoB 01.18.10 at 9:18 am

55- being unsympathetic to both, there is quite a gap between opposing gay marriage and saying that Haïtians deserve an earthquake because of their pact with the devil …

58

Steven Augustine 01.18.10 at 9:59 am

57-Both stances being motivated by bigoted, superstition-directed ignorance, where’s the “gap”? The distances, in pages, between one Bible passage and another…?

59

Neil 01.18.10 at 10:17 am

52: I apply the principle of charity and take claims about numbers to be, well, about numbers.

60

JoB 01.18.10 at 10:26 am

Probability is not a number?

61

Neil 01.18.10 at 11:33 am

JoB, clearly you have a quite different view on how to apply the principle of charity.

62

JoB 01.18.10 at 11:42 am

OK then, if you say ‘very few’ you are saying something of a frequency in a reference class imho whereas you take it to say something about the absolute number (or rather the absolute number compared to the absolute numbers that are otherwise involved when people use ‘very few’); out of the reference class of Christians very few are Robertsonians imho (i.e. the frequency is low), whereas a couple of million never is very few in your book (‘very few’ being reserved for couple of individuals or so). So no, coming across a Christian does not really give lots of information as to Robertsonian attitudes. But yes, coming across something with Robertsonian attitudes gives quasi-certain information on the Christianity of the individual with such attitudes.

63

Gerald Fnord 01.18.10 at 4:37 pm

First: 41. Omega Centauri 01.17.10 at 3:45 am: Marion Gordon Robertson was born rich and got richer; he could fund the Club all by himself. He might not even need to do: the sale of his network to ABC (which helped make him much, much, much richer) included a contractual obligation that ABC Family continue broadcasting the ‘700 Club’, so that it doesn’t need _any_ audience-based revenue to continue…capitalist _love_ the idea that everyone else should be exposed to the vicissitudes of the Most Holy Market.

Main:
Of particular interest is the idea that nations entire can be cursed by the actions of a a few many years ago. This is of course fundamental (sorry) to Robertson’s world-view, it being the basis of Original Sin, the Covenant of Israel (without even the slightly more credible-making midrash saying that all future Israelite souls were there, and agreed), and the ignominy due Israel due to one crowd in Jerusalem supposedly saying, ‘Let this blood be on our heads,’ awhile back.

Since one of the good points of capitalist ideology (at least compared to what came before) is the idea that your ancestors’ deeds should not hold you back (beyond the ‘natural’ inequities induced by the State-backed transfer of assets through gift or inheritance), I’d say that there could easily be a lot of American, conservative, Christians who might agree with:
1.) The lwa are at least demons, and Bondye the Devil.
2.) Those who made the pact were cursed by it.
3.) This can’t be blamed for what’s happening now.
Even as (I would guess) most of those reading this page would (like me, and ALL right-thinking people i.m.arrogant.o.) find both fundamentalist Christianity and far-right Capitalist ideology…uhhh…’at least somewhat in error’…, it is important that we remember that they are not in lock-step—another example: I’d dare say that most executives and managers are in favour of abortion rights, as least to the extent that it makes the labour of their female employees more dependable, and cheaper (at least as long as they’re explicitly forbidden firing them for getting pregnant).

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