Thursday, January 21, 2010

not sure how i feel about this pt 1.

First is Royal Caribbean's decision to dock at Labadee. Yahoo News writes, "[Y]ou'd probably think there's no way that cruising tourists could have returned to frolicking on Haiti's beaches mere miles from where people are trapped beneath the rubble of a decimated city. Unfortunately, you'd be wrong." The cruise line's defense is that it is first of all also delivering aid and that, second, re: the economic stimulus the people they are offloading provide.

I find the latter to be a better defense because the relief they are physically delivering will probably prove to be a relatively minuscule amount when compared to their earnings over the course of these tours as well as in comparison to the amount of money poured into running those boats-- much like the seemingly astronomical donations are probably just specks in the twinkling firmament that is a celebrity's annual income. The Rumpus wonders--as usual making a good point-- if the cruise line is taking a cut from the vendors they claim to be helping. If this is the case, that is reprehensible-- and yet somehow different from the cuts relief organizations are taking, perhaps because a non-profit is more palatable than a purely commercial enterprise. On the other hand, I would doubt, or hope, that a cut is able to be taken if the place looks anything like other tourist destinations, where difficult-to-regulate shadow economies tend to thrive. And unfortunately, sometimes--arguably all the time-- a profit with a cut taken is better than nothing at all.

I guess the thing that makes me the most uncomfortable is the implication that people shouldn't be partying so close to the disaster site. Emotionally and on first reaction, I agree. It is frightening, but I think it is more easily lambasted because it is an immediate display of the wealth and quality of living gulf that you don't often get to see so closely juxtaposed.

What I have trouble with is-- how is it different from partying it up all the way out here in NYC while Haitians are being dragged out from under rubble? I do not think it's hypocrisy to decry the cruise line while doing 5 shots for $10 all day at that place by St Marks. I do think it strange to use proximity as the excuse to only point fingers at what has always been a classic and easy sign of indulgence (the cruise.) I for one was out all day after work on Tuesday drinking. So were a bunch of other people. And one of those Red Cross $10 donations would have put me out for that night of drinking-- I don't have that much money and that one text message would have been a sacrifice, one that I ultimately did not make. As for these relief benefits that promise a good night (or at least 3 hours) for a donation of $5-$10? Sure, 100% proceeds are supposed to go to an aid organization-- no promise how much gets to the people, in light of bureaucracies, basic logistics, corrupt officials, evildoers gone down to Haiti to extort & bribe-- but the reason why these venues & individuals host such events is for the profit they make before & after the event, when you can't stop drinking, can't stop dancing, can't go home or to a candlelight vigil, and for the political capital displays of generosity provide for their enterprise. The extremity of wealth represented by cruises simply makes a good and simplistic poster child for the greed of capitalism, but to hold only the large displays accountable is to not try to make any advancement on the ground.

On the other hand, are we supposed to wear black and beat our chests until Haiti is back on its feet, if it arguably ever was, whether or not we ever gave the place a thought before this happened? (Once. . . I read The Comedians.) No. Mourning should never outlast the grief, which is certainly based on a personal barometer. Should I be enraged, taking an example replicated all over the internet, that the site I plan to link to below has an article about Haiti next to an ad for the Miss America pageant and pictures of rich young things making out at a fancy sponsored event? No, though it is a degree of the same thing as the cruise upset. But I don't know what we're supposed to do, though I think things done in earnestness, while sometimes quite dangerous (to give another Greene example) are often the best examples of what can be done (despite being an old fashioned and somewhat schmaltzy sentiment)-- especially in reaching out to others so that awareness expands at an exponential rate.

This brings us to another point, that donations to Haiti have exceeded donations to other recent disasters, including the tsunami and Katrina. Or maybe discomfort that this is even being reported? I don't know if it's supposed to make people feel good about themselves-- eh. Or if they should feel bad that they didn't step up earlier-- again, not a good reaction. I'd like to believe that it is a result of using technology to an even greater advantage-- especially the texting thing-- and that it is simply this new and fast ability to push forward awareness that has led to such outstanding examples of collective giving. And that its result will be that people will, collectively, see how much they, as individuals, were able to do & then do so the next time something as tragic occurs, using the knowledge that they were able to help what was initially a seemingly insurmountable devastation. On the other hand, people will argue that it is racism, that it is white guilt, anything. And yes, it is hard to argue for selectively geographic compassion when the entire world is suffering, but even more difficult to argue that this means you should shut down & do nothing in the face of the enormity of this task of universal empathy that demands that the net be cast over the entire globe, which is an infinitely huge place. People take up specific causes for a reason to make their comprehension of what is going on more manageable and to make their impression of their own impact more palpable-- this is not a bad thing. I believe such causes should always be taken up in context. Which is again, why I think awareness is key. Easily marketable boutique causes need to be done away with until every cause is a "boutique"/grassroots/micro-cause because it is able to use details to appeal to the basis of human suffering, and that is why people should be readily & succintly given facts and streamlined options of aid constantly via the media of all that is going on, not just when a something massive & terrible happens. I think this is happening to a degree already, but I think the response to Haiti is an example of how it can be improved and, hopefully, how to keep a cause from fading. (Naturally, not all causes are easily boiled down to a root, and that is not what I am arguing for-- rather, a wide range of facts should be made available in an act that symbolizes trust in the people being solicited, as well as in their own cause. This is oversimplifying it, still, though, and I'm not equipped to go into this part of the argument.)

And so in the interest of education but not simplifying, the next step is to make people aware that rescue is not the only critical stage in a response, but rebuilding.
"Here was the worst place hit, so maybe it'll be the first to recover," reasons Jonas, standing next to the crushed factory. . . Although Jonas mourns his sister — as well as the loss of his brother and mother, who died when the family's home collapsed — he says it's time to move on. "I need to find a job so I can help what's left of my family. They are depending on me" [TIME.]

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