No reward for resistance; no assistance, no applause.
— Neil Peart, “Lock and Key”
For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.
— Paul of Tarsus, Epistle to the Romans
La merde a frappé le ventilateur; my earlier post became abruptly more topical on Wednesday the 7th, when we woke to the news of the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. This follow-up will consider the implications of developments since late June and will specifically respond to commenters on Dilèm Aksyon Kolektif nan Matisan. Most of the structure of this post will follow the Deming process-workbench model, because history is, to a great extent, a series of contingent events, and because I am a giant process nerd.
I. Supplier View
Things are the way they are because they were the way they were.
— Fred Hoyle
The meta-input to Haitian culture and society in the 21st century is sensitivity to initial conditions; see Acemoglu and Robinson on how (greatly compressing their argument) a “resource curse” at Columbian contact led to brutally exploitative extractive regimes. Relatively resource-poor—in the terms of the time—colonies like those which became the US and Canada were effectively forced to become more egalitarian, participatory polities. Why Nations Fail also discusses the case of Botswana, and I would add to the list Costa Rica, which is among the very few stable and relatively prosperous nations around the Caribbean Rim.
Here’s the obligatory quote from McNeill (emphases mine):
Sugar cultivation, as conducted in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, mined the fertility of the soil, so that the islands which first took up sugar cultivation gradually found it impossible to produce as cheaply as new areas more recently brought into cultivation. The result was the weakening of the British sugar islands before French competition before the end of the eighteenth century, followed in the nineteenth by the eclipse of the French (and in Haiti, ex-French) sugar islands by Cuba and Puerto Rico, which had remained Spanish. Thus sugar moved through the chain of Caribbean islands like a golden plague, leaving behind exhausted soil, impoverished populations, and seriously disjointed societies. Abolition of slavery in the nineteenth century did little to relieve the social problems this process created.
— The Rise of the West
(As for A & R, they have a follow-up, The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty, which I have just begun reading and should review in this forum.)
Another, not-quite-meta, input was the condition of Hispaniola in the 1600s, which was pretty near the tabula rasa of Livgren’s imagining of the midlatitudes of continental North America at that time:
No man rules this land, no human hand has soiled this paradise
Waiting patiently, so much to see, so rich in Earth’s delights
— Song for America
… the natives having been carried off by Old World diseases a century and a half earlier.
The original suppliers in my scenario are—besides a crucial handful of pandemic vectors among Columbus’ crews—French colonists and African slave traders. I think it was while reading Colonialism and Science: Saint Domingue and the Old Regime that I realized how “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” the lives of the plantation owners were in colonial Haiti. Their slaves may have died off in an average of ten years, but they themselves often didn’t live more than fifteen, and such have been the blessings of technological advance that a Haitian paysan today is noticeably better off than the wealthy of Saint-Domingue were a quarter of a millennium ago.
The new suppliers are the “Bolivarian” communists wrecking Venezuela. I encountered second-order effects of their savage lunacy in late September of 2019, and blogged it at Ayiti Pa Nimewo Yo. Their input is the cutoff of subsidized fuel via PetroCaribe, on which the Haitian populace had become dependent.
But the in-between suppliers are the NGOs that poured into the country after the end of the Duvalier regime; their decidedly mixed record of often ill-timed “aid” is trenchantly critiqued in anthropologist Timothy Schwartz’s self-published Travesty in Haiti. Post-tranblemanntè do-gooders like myself—blancs en retard, perhaps*—were drawn by multiple attractions, some ironic:
I am as susceptible as … the next Midwesterner to the blandishments of the Caribbean climate, the next American to the strangeness of a different (and much less tame) environment, the next First-Worlder to the charms of artisanal production and amateur everything, the next middle-aged person to being around lots of young people, and the next project manager to diving into a gigantic mess.
Probably the best I can say for the past decade of church-based efforts is that they are increasingly guided by a quasi-Hayekian awareness of the need for respect toward the locals, who are, after all, the subject-matter experts on Haitian survival. When Helping Hurts is now required reading in many foreign-missions programs. That said, a major supplier to the “Haiti process” is the American Boomer generation, with its own problematic temperament being yet another difficult element.
The other immediately relevant input is ammunition. Jokes about its current price in the US aside, bumping a $17, 20-round box of 5.56 NATO up against the average daily Haitian income of $5 is something else again. If I were a Haitian gang member with an M4, I would keep an empty magazine in it for display/intimidation purposes and actually load the thing only in extremis.
II. Producer View
Can you count, suckers? I say, the future is ours … if you can count!
— “Cyrus,” The Warriors
Schwartz’s larger, rather brutal, point is that the thousands (!) of NGOs operating in Haiti over three decades evolved toward a system in which their services would continue to be needed. That meant choices (which were, at most, half-conscious) of what process analysts call entrance and exit criteria—as well as implicit standards—for their work which ensured that whatever happened, they would not work themselves out of a job. Students of Buchanan and Tullock’s public choice theory will recognize the phenomenon.
In the immediate situation, the gangs are “producers” too. I again note that their main constraints are imposed not by existing (legitimate) Haitian institutions, or even by the expense of acquiring weapons and ammunition, but by almost purely physiological limitations on individual human capacities for forming and monitoring relationships. See the discussion of Dunbar’s Number under “III. Nonstate Actors in Haiti” in Dilèm Aksyon Kolektif nan Matisan.
The “work procedures” I personally encountered in ’18 and ’19 were roadblocks, ranging from the downright desultory and easily negotiated (especially for blan) to the literally burning (the normally celebratory “Nap boule!” is not something you want to hear in this context), sometimes hopelessly impassable, or inadvisable to approach within several hundred meters due to possibly armed attendants. Things have since progressively elaborated, as we say in the project-management biz, to ~10 abductions per day in the Port-au-Prince metro last month and (successful) attacks on Commissariats de la Police Nationale d’Haïti. Whether “tools” will also progressively elaborate is an interesting question, to say the least; see this report of gangs in Caracas acquiring grenade launchers and drones.
The assassination itself appears to have been sui generis and largely exogenous in origin—besides having been (appropriately, I suppose) chaotic and inadequately followed up on by the conspirators. I am poised between amusement and disgust at the likelihood that I am no more than one degree of separation from the key culprit, who apparently lived in KC for a while; the Haitian community here being not especially large (~5k people, half of them … informally present in the US), quite tightly networked, and thoroughly interfaced with the short-term missions subculture.
Of course, Haitian governance itself (such as it is) is a process, however dysfunctional by US standards; and is, I suspect, metastable in the manner of the Russian, the Chinese, and many others—perhaps even the American, in somehow adhering to a strange attractor, cycling through a limited range of probable states†. As for their standards, Haiti being a nearly homophilous society, per Everett Rogers, they’re derived from pre-existing norms (see “III. Human Limitations and Responses” in Tiananmen OSINT). Haitian norms are quite different from, not to say an almost perfect contrast to, American ones; here’s my table of “enterprise environmental factors” from Poukisa Mwen Te Ale An Ayiti (though originally compiled in late ’11):
Speaking of the US, our own processing of current events doesn’t seem likely to produce any lasting result. Individual Americans responded generously enough after the earthquake, but their collective appetite for implementing enduring change at taxpayer expense is almost certainly minimal. I note that carefully defined and limited objectives are quite attainable: pacifying the Port-au-Prince metro would be the work of a few days by a single brigade of Marines, quite possibly with zero American casualties. But our current leadership‡ is not up to the necessary concision, and even if it were, there would remain the persistent question: what happens next? How long do we stay after putting out the fire?—because we aren’t the world’s policeman; we’re the world’s fireman.
I need hardly persuade this audience that our media is another “producer,” busily making things worse, or at any rate, making them no better. Structural biases, including narrative and bad news biases, reinforce a stereotypical perception of inevitable failure.
While that’s going on, breakneck technological advance is putting knock-off Android smartphones in the hands of surprisingly large numbers of Haitians, with all the implications of both passive media consumption and active enablement of unrest. Larry Niven’s “permanent floating riot club” may have its most enduring manifestation§ in the streets of Port-au-Prince.
III. Customer View
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.
— Matthew 12:33
For the people of Haiti, the output is a greatly unevenly distributed future, in very much the sense expressed by William Gibson at least a generation ago. Eighteen-hundred-calorie-a-day diets virtually bereft of animal protein … and handheld electronics with more processing power than a Cray supercomputer from the 1980s. A police force seriously contested by gangs … and drones flying overhead. Rampant anemia, hypertension, and both vector- and water-borne diseases … and satellite internet at dekamegabit data rates. A metropolitan area of three million people … without fuel four or five days out of seven. Male life expectancy of 62 years … a two-hour flight from Miami.
For those elsewhere who would see the promise of the Haitian Revolution fulfilled, the output is uncertainty which, however agonizing, is only an echo of the anger and despair of the populace. I am informed that ~85% of expats have fled the country in recent weeks. Ironically, the assassination—and its aftermath, in which the police noticeably acquitted themselves—has (per an e-mail from an observer in Pétion-Ville forwarded to me late Wednesday the 14th) stabilized the situation for now:
Traffic in Port au Prince is almost normal: tap-taps are running, motorcycles everywhere, street vendors back in their spots. There are still problems with burning tires and rock throwing in the Martissant area, and today the road was blocked, preventing traffic from going to Carrefour [no surprise there—JDM]. The airport is open and flights are coming and going on a regular basis.
It appears that the police think they have captured or killed all of the participants. The political players seem to be consolidating their positions and not much is being said publicly.
The good news is there is no widespread rioting, violence, or kidnapping. The official state funeral is still being planned, and I don’t know when it will be; I think that out of respect for the office, things will stay quiet until after the funeral sometime next week. After that, time will tell. Sel Bondye konnen.
A simple extrapolation for the coming decades would be a continuing, and bizarre, combination of a minimally functioning state and necessarily strenuous adaptation by ordinary people in possession of increasingly powerful technologies. Clear back in Who Needs Infrastructure? and Who Needs Infrastructure? (II), I speculated about the possibilities for decentralization of utilities and transportation analogous to the obviation of land lines by mobile phone networks. I now suggest that all those and more may become commonplace even as Haitian institutional maturity presents a sort of sociopolitical Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified.
Cheap rooftop photovoltaic power, household graphene water filtration, genetically engineered nutritionally fortified (and disease-resistant) crops, satellite transmission of designs for 3D printed items at all scales from commonly-used utensils (including medical instruments) to full-sized houses, permethrin- (or DDT-) treated window screens, and drone delivery of medicines may all be commonplace in Haiti in another decade or two. And Haiti may still be riven by intermittently violent factionalism and continually portrayed in US media as a basket case. Technology is easier than culture—including the media culture of the Global North.
IV. Response to Feedback on Dilèm Aksyon Kolektif nan Matisan
Xennady: I repeat my assertion that there are no IDPs in the US, only people who have moved somewhere else for greater opportunity, which is not at all the same as being driven from your home by unsuppressed violence and denial of basic services (food, utilities, passable streets). When you can point to emptied grocery stores, burning barricades, lack of running water, and AWOL police—simultaneously—you will be drawing a direct parallel. (Our media are silly, but they would be all over a story about internal American refugees, especially anyone dark-skinned and relatively impoverished.) I suppose the notion of IDPs could be put on a timescale that, greatly extended, would include people in the US who move to a better neighborhood or different state out of years of gradually accumulated exasperation. Even so, no one would confuse Port-au-Prince with any urban environment in the US.
Gavin: The reason there hasn’t been a distinct lethal disease outbreak in Martissant and vicinity is that there are already significant background levels of anemia, chikungunya, cholera, dengue fever, enterotoxigenic E. coli, helminths, HIV, hypertension, malaria, typhoid, and probably yellow fever and Zika. Note also that smoking, and of course obesity, are vanishingly rare in Haiti, so we aren’t talking about lifestyle illness in the North American sense, just lots of people dying of lots of things nearly inconceivable in the US; as glancingly mentioned above, male life expectancy in Haiti is 62. Dèyè mòn, gen mòn. And as for Cuba, we may hope that possibility is being overtaken by events!
Joseph: Indeed, I should have mentioned New York state as one struggling, due entirely to political reasons, to manage its electricity grid. Having said that, only yesterday as I publish this, I had an encouraging conversation with an EPRI consultant who mentioned that many utilities around the country are stockpiling spare parts, hardening power substations, and air-gapping computer control to thwart cyberattacks. I expect American failures in this area to fall much closer to the “annoyance” end of a spectrum than the “collapse” end.
PenGun: One of my takeaways from Nonstate Warfare was that the scenario in The Third World War: August 1985, however entertaining, was wildly unrealistic insofar as it presented the Soviets actually getting anywhere in an invasion of Western Europe. Abundant evidence from, among other real-world events, the Yom Kippur War, suggests that they would have taken ~60% casualties on the very first day and—assuming any non-surrendered survivors at all—would have been fleeing eastward as fast as they could move a couple of days later. NATO would have been dictating terms, up to and including the complete dismantlement of the USSR, within two weeks.
Philip: It’s Eowyn. Wildly diverting from the subject of this post, I’ll mention that I’ve found reading literature at or past the age of the author while engaged in writing it to be quite illuminating, at least by comparison with reading it in (say) one’s teens or early twenties. Tolkien was 57 when he finished LotR, and on my nth rereading of it sometime in middle age, I became convinced that the Aragorn-Eowyn-Faramir love triangle was written from life. His descendants probably wouldn’t enjoy discussing this, but I now believe that at some point in JRRT’s engagement to Edith Bratt, and possibly even sometime during their marriage, a Nordic, athletic female ardently pursued him. He wrote it—with a happy ending, Faramir being his most autobiographical character—into The Return of the King.
Tatyana: Apprehensions about the possible effects of mass Haitian immigration are not backed up by outcomes, partly because of the striking correlation between Western Hemisphere national cultures generally and both individualism and traditionalist morality, and partly because of the known statistics about Haitian immigrants, which indicate that they’re doing slightly better than the median American, and quite a bit better than the median African-American (this is also a subtle counterargument, or anyway countervailing tendency, to the idea that IQ predominately determines life outcomes).
You correctly note, either explicitly or implicitly, that …
- I was being silly; the young woman was, after all, in her home, and not especially endangered (in December of 2011, that is)
- white-knighting is usually counterproductive; indeed, much of the collapse in TFR in the US over the past half-century may be ascribed to the State assuming too much of a protector/provider role, rendering individual male partners increasingly obsolete at the margin, and especially …
- the “near problem” of the Caribbean Rim is unsettlingly large in scale; absorbing—my one-sig-fig guess—40 million arrivals from both the Greater and Lesser Antilles, plus northern South America, in a short time would challenge even a dynamic economy and polity
And for pointing those things out, you get a quadrant diagram:
* back around ’13 I was toying with the idea of starting my own NGO, acronymed IBPH, for imbéciles blancs pour Haïti—colloquially, “Idiot Foreigners for Haiti”
† I am actually least confident about the US in this regard and, without being merely fearful, consider serious defeat, including permanent removal from global prominence and massive alteration of internal governance, to be a distinct possibility in the near future
‡ a Silent Generation president with obvious cognitive impairment, a completely incompetent vice-president, and a Cabinet of continually shifting internal alliances and self-contradictory agendas … and these people present themselves as a return to normalcy after Trump
§ term chosen advisedly; manifestasyon is Haitian Creole for “demonstration”