Saturday, January 15, 2011

Culturally Retarded

Haiti is on the westside of Island of Hispaniola
Is anyone surprised that one year after the earthquake little has happened in Haiti that indicates it is recovering?
What would a Haitian recovery look like anyway? It was a basket case (poorest in Western Hemisphere) before the earthquake, so would it recover to just being a basket case again?
The problems in Haiti exhaust the imagination, it is a situation where sending everyone away and starting over again seems almost sensible. Why is that? Why is it that a nation of 10 million has 10,000 NGO's present in country and it still doesn't help? There is no easy answer of course. There are economic problems that are directly related to property rights as noted in this column. There are political problems that go way back to corrupt leadership and government. But that I think is just part of the problem, the problem is deeper and more entrenched than mere economics. The problem I think is culture.
Over the past several days, even weeks around here, there has been a discussion about Asian students and lately Asian parenting. In November 2010 McLean's magazine published an article titled "Too Asian?", the title has since been retracted but the article remains and it implied that Asian students which represent a small portion of North American society nevertheless make up a large component of the university population because of their work ethic.
More recently an article by Amy Chua in the Wall Street Journal stated that Chinese mothers have superior parenting skills. Another article by Lawrence Solomon in the National Post takes issue with Amy Chua. Whatever the truth, I will testify (as a former teacher) that Chinese children, on the whole, make very good students indeed. Why is that? I think it is engrained in the culture. As Ms. Chua points out, if you expect more you just might get it, with patience and perseverance.
So what does that have to do with Haiti? I think a great deal. Much of the Haitian population is deeply religious (80% Roman Catholic, 16% Protestant) not that this precludes cultural success. Many populations are deeply religious. Haiti has the added burden that fully half the population practices or believes in Voodoo. How voodoo is reconciled with Catholicism or Protestantism is explained, sort of, in the Wikipedia article linked in the last sentence. 
In a column published this past week in the National Post, Dan Gardner takes I believe a courageous stand when he says: "...Haiti has been crippled, at least in part, by certain cultural values — such as the fatalism promoted by voodoo — that discourage initiative, rationality, trust, achievement, and education." Culture can foster greatness or the reverse.


  1. did you mean retarded as in stupid or as in to slow down? the slang use is really off.

  2. I mean it in the French (Haitian) sense: backward or handicapped, which is what the combination of religion and voodoo creates among the general population.
    Of course the 10000 NGO's giving away free goods and services makes it impossible for an economy to exist.

  3. Do Chinese mothers raise superior children? Here is another view:

  4. I agree with most your comments except parenting. You may want to speak to Haitian parents (you live in Canada, no excuse to not interview a Haitian parent) and you will find out that Haitian parents are as exigent as Asian parents. I should know, I was raised by two