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Post Demystifying Haiti's Development Paradox: Reflections on a Year in Port-au-Prince
Created by John Eipper on 07/27/18 3:48 AM

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Demystifying Haiti's Development Paradox: Reflections on a Year in Port-au-Prince (Marga Jann, UK, 07/27/18 3:48 am)

JE:  WAISdom's intrepid Architect-to-the-World, Marga Jann, has completed an academic year as a Fulbright Professor at Université Quısqueya, Port-au-Prince.  She graciously sent a report, which is now featured on the WAIS publications page.  Click below:


When you think of the Western Hemisphere's failed states, Haiti is the first to come to mind.  But Marga offers hope instead of grim statistics and hand-wringing.  Modest and inexpensive measures, such as solar-powered street lighting, public signage and trash cans, can make tangible improvements in people's lives.  (My favorite observation from Marga:  "Television is a notoriously effective form of birth control."  We rarely think of TV as an improvement, but I see Marga's point.)

Of course, the panacea is education.  Marga makes the argument that Haiti is not lacking in technical expertise.  The problem is often the hubris of outside aid/development agencies that fail to obtain "buy-in" from local experts.  The inevitable result is waste, corruption, and failure.

Marga's essay is fascinating reading.  How many of us ask ourselves, what have you done today to make the world a better place?  Marga has a career's worth of answers.

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  • Voodoo in Haiti; Response to Marga Jann (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 07/28/18 4:22 AM)

    Gary Moore writes:

    Marga Jann's look at Haiti (July 27), after her year there, dives directly
    into a no-man's land of cultural discourse: Can there be "bad" cultures?

    Marga's careful wording detoxifies the subject a bit by saying "cultural
    norms," but the subject still sits there, staring balefully at the reader
    in defiance of two centuries of sentiment: "while a people’s culture merits acknowledgement and most typically respect,
    it is not always imperative to accept that culture or support it."

    Marga gives examples of cultural norms that affront the same post-Enlightenment view
    that seeks to be open-minded: female genital mutilation, execution for apostasy, polygamy
    (not broaching the larger implication that this could also be a laundry list for Islam, where
    I think the writer may also have experienced).

    At any rate, her net casts more widely when she
    gets to "bad" cultural norms in Haiti itself. She cites voodoo--certainly no kin of Islam (except
    perhaps in some archetypal cavern where many impulses meet). She argues "that ignoring/
    supporting the modus operandi of voodoo can have and is having pernicious consequences"
    in Haiti. The overall idea points toward collective psychology mirroring individual psychology:
    If desperation forces you into magic, you just dig the hole deeper, like an alcoholic whose
    solution is worse than the cause.

    However, the paper makes its bold argument without
    telling us the specifics of how voodoo is doing the damage in Haiti. Can Marga elaborate?

    JE comments:  Desperation does inspire most to double-down on their beliefs.  But Gary Moore's larger question boils down to this:  Is voodoo the cause of Haiti's underdevelopment, or a symptom?  Neither?  Some of the bleakest fire-and-brimstone religions belong to rich and orderly societies:  Calvinism comes to mind.

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