religion & philosophy

Why we shouldn’t be in Haiti

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I know, I know, I know.  I can already hear the blood curdling cries of “heartless” and “monster”, but I don’t think America now has any reason whatsoever for being in Haiti.  This represents a change from my previous position, immediately following the earthquake, where I was of the opinion that any life-loving individual who was able to help had a moral responsibility to assist.  Let me explain…

 Ayn Rand wrote the following in her essay “The Ethics of Emergencies (1963)”, found in her book The Virtue Of Selfishness:

The proper method of judging when or whether one should help a person is by reference to one’s own rational self interest and one’s own hierarchy of values: the time, money, and effort one gives or the risk one takes should be proportionate to the value of the person in relation to one’s own happiness.

To illustrate this on the altruists’ favorite example: the issue of saving a drowning person.  If the person to be saved is a stranger, it is morally proper to save him when the danger to one’s own life is minimal; when the danger is great, it would be immoral to attempt it: only a lack of self-esteem could permit one to value one’s life no higher than that of any random stranger.  (And, conversely, if one is drowning, one cannot expect a stranger to risk his life for one’s sake, remembering that one’s life cannot be as valuable to him as his own.)

A rational man does not forget that lifeis the source of all values and, as such, a common bond among living beings (as against inanimate matter), that other men are potentially able to achieve the same virtues as his own and thus be of enormous value to him.  This does not mean that he regards human lives as interchangeable with his own.  He recognizes the fact that his own life is the source, not only of all his values, but of his capacity to value.  Therefore, the value he grants to others is only a consequence, an extension, a secondary projection of the primary value which is himself.

Now, whether or not you like Ayn Rand or think she was the devil’s mother-in-law, you cannot seriously argue that you know that you would try to rescue the drowning stranger from her illustration.  You may like to say and think that you would, but there is no way you could know if you would dive in until faced with the situation.  Ayn was telling us why we cannot have that certainty: A rational individual, possessed of self-esteem, cannot place just anyone’s life above their own in terms of value.  The closeness of the bond with the other individual is what determines where on the 0% to 100% sliding-scale-of-inherent value they land, and the position an individual holds on that scale determines whether or not you’ll go in after them, with the whole thing being governed by the severity of the situation’s danger.

When the news of the earthquake started coming in, when the pictures started showing up on the TV and internet and we began to see the loss of life and devastation, I felt about the same as every other person on Earth felt: We need to help those people.

Why that reaction?  Two reasons: 1) “We” usually means “Other People”, and 2) “Help” usually means “Give some money to those other people.”  Giving to the Red Cross and other charities, while at times a dubious activity where you never know what the money will be spent on, is at least a safe, relatively easy method of satisfying the impulse to aid people in an emergency.  Here in America, being as fortunate as we are to have the lives of relative luxury we have, we can usually afford charity, and we give a lot to charity, mainly because there are many moral, ethical people here who truly value life.

(For a more in-depth analysis of the US-Haiti relationship as it relates to virtue and values, check out Steve Chapman’s article over at

I was all for an extension of relatively-safe charity to the people of Haiti, as was the entire country.  But no longer.

It began this weekend, when I caught this bit in a story by the Washington Post:

But there was rising frustration — and scattered looting — among the desperate Haitian population. On Friday, the World Food Program had to suspend distribution of high-energy biscuits near the destroyed national palace when a crowd revolted, complaining that they were not getting better food.

Well…  My first reaction was “Ingrates”.  That put a pretty sour taste in my mouth.  Beggars can’t be choosers, and revolting because you’re getting MREs and not T-Bone steaks when there isn’t a lick of food in your whole damn city kind of pissed me off a bit.  I didn’t get a T-Bone steak last night either!  Don’t see me revolting because of it…

But today’s headlines and opening paragraphs sealed the deal for me.

About 30 Americans were hurt Monday during a massive relief operation in the Haitian capital in what was described as a “mass casualty event,” US officials said.

WASHINGTON – Some incidents of violence in Haiti have hindered rescue workers trying to help earthquake victims, a top official leading the U.S. government’s relief efforts said Sunday.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Some 2,200 U.S. Marines arrived off the shore of this crumbled capital city on Monday, their mission to protect a huge relief operation from marauding looters as hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors wait desperately for food and medical care.

Violence, looting, attacking Americans who have volunteered to come and give you aid?  Hell to the naw!  I’m sorry, but the earthquake didn’t hit America, there is no need for it to claim American lives.  If this is the thanks we’re getting, fine, screw ’em.  Let them starve, die because of a lack of medical care and infection, get pulverized by drug lords and the like.  I have not one iota of pity for those who strike at the people coming to help them!

If they’re going to go on the war path because aid isn’t getting there fast enough, let them stew in their own misery for a bit with no aid and no promise of aid in the future.  Let them see how bad it really can get.  It’s what they deserve.

To head back to Ayn Rand’s example of the drowning man:  One of the first things they teach lifeguards is that you never swim right out to a drowning individual and try to pull them to safety.  The drowning person, scared out of their mind and incapable of rational thought, will kill you to try to stay above water.  They’ll stand on you, try to push up off of you, hold you under even if it means you both die, because they want to survive.  It’s our natural instinct.  The lifeguard must instead wait for them to quit struggling, wait till they slip below the waves, then grab them and pull them to shore.

This follows Ayn Rand’s model of ethics in an emergency to an absolute “T”.  Haiti is a drowning nation.  It is fighting, kicking, individuals are fighting not only to survive, but to advance themselves.  This is not the proper climate for us to be delivering aid.  As we bring in aid, the various gangs and warlords (which are already there) will be taking it and selling it or holding it back from the people.  It’s happened to US relief efforts all over the world.  We’re risking the lives of American doctors, soldiers, etc for no reason but to give petty tyrants power and an easy life, and that is not worth it to me.

Let the nation restore its own order, then we can move in to help.

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50 Responses to “Why we shouldn’t be in Haiti”

  1. Interesting perspective. I totally disagree, but thanks for sharing.

  2. Mike, a good post – thoughtful and provocative. I have a few copies of Rand on my shelf … you’ve quoted her accurately, and I think you’ve conveyed her thoughts and her philosophy very well.

    She – and you – are free to go your own way. Me? I’ll go mine. It’s contrary to your way, and Rand’s … but it’s the way that I – the individual – have chosen.

  3. Obviously this is not the point of your post, but lifeguards are not taught to wait until the victim slips beneath the waves to attempt a rescue. That would make the recue more difficult and less likely to succeed. At least that’s not what was standard operating procedure when I was a lifeguard (at a pool, but basic technique was the same) and when I took and later taught lifeguard courses.

    Lifeguards are trained to approach a conscious, struggling, and yes, dangerous victim, in a way that puts the lifeguard in the least danger while still actively engaging the victim and beginning the rescue. Trying to save a drowning person is dangerous even when you know what you’re doing, of course.

    But we practiced releases, using pressure points, all sorts of things, to escape from a desperate victim who grabbed us. Even a drowning guy your size would have trouble drowning a guy my size (I am much, much smaller than you) if the smaller guy is trained properly.

    Anyway, we were trained to turn a struggling victim around, from below the water, by the legs, so we could then level them off and get them in a rescue tube or carry hold where they presented less danger, without giving them an opportunity to grab us. This was one of many techniques a lifeguard might choose to avoid having a victim grab on and pull him under.

    Further complicating the analogy is that lifeguards are paid professionals who voluntarily put themselves in a position to engage with a drowning person, whereas Rand’s example is about a random stranger drowning. If you are hired as lifeguard to watch a pool or a beach, a drowning victim in that pool or the ocean is not a random stranger, but a client. Or something like that.

    I’m not addressing whether or how any of this applies to Haiti. Just using the chance to use my ancient and little-used (these days) lifeguard background.

  4. Jeff,

    We can perhaps unfairly test the degree to which someone rejects this Randian view by asking them one of those hypothetical questions designed to elicit a specific response: two kids are drowning. One is your child. One is a stranger. You can only save one child. Which child do you save?

    Almost everyone, Christians included, would save their own child. Both an evolutionary/biological and a Randian perspective can defend this choice — maybe a Christian one can, too. I don’t know much about that. But whatever the justification given, it is a selfish choice. That doesn’t make it wrong.

    Of course, analogies can be stretched beyond relevance to the issue, and this one probably already has been. People are not choosing between drowning children when they help Haiti.

    But one point Mike raises that I think is worth thinking about in the broader picture, beyond Haiti, is this notion that “we” must do something, when for most people that means “someone else” must do something. Lots of people have been in favor of military action in Darfur to stop violence there. Few of those people who say “we” should do something are actually enlisting in the armed forces or willing to go to Darfur themselves.

    So, what they mean by “we” is “someone else.” In a democracy, or a democratic republic, what role these someone elses — a nation’s military — should serve, and how freely non-soldiers should advocate the risks to soldiers’ lives for causes that the non-soldiers believe is moral but for which they are taking no personal safety risk, is a bit outside the issue of helping Haiti, but not entirely disconnected from it.

    It is also relevant to what degree military service is voluntary and to what degree military members have an accurate expectation of facing certain risks and being assigned to certain kinds of missions. What have they volunteered for? Also, there’s the question of what is constitutional and within the proper use of a nation’s miltary. And what a nation can afford to do financially, and what right it has to require citizens to finance these actions.

    Leaving all the above aside, I don’t share Mike’s view (or maybe not his view but a conclusion that seems to be implied by what he has written) that because some people are ungrateful, or some thugs are making things difficult, that other victims in Haiti — children, those not rioting, etc. — are somehow less deserving of help or sympathy. I don’t want to put words in his mouth. And I am speaking merely on the level of sympathy for suffering people, not on the level on what is the appropriate legal and moral role for our government and our military in these matters.

  5. Thanks for pointing out the error in my post Scott. I learned differently when I was younger. This is what I was taught:

  6. @ Scott, again:

    “Leaving all the above aside, I don’t share Mike’s view (or maybe not his view but a conclusion that seems to be implied by what he has written) that because some people are ungrateful, or some thugs are making things difficult, that other victims in Haiti — children, those not rioting, etc. — are somehow less deserving of help or sympathy. I don’t want to put words in his mouth. And I am speaking merely on the level of sympathy for suffering people, not on the level on what is the appropriate legal and moral role for our government and our military in these matters.”

    I see it in much the same way as I see GWB’s crazy idea that we needed to go in and intall democracy in Iraq. Yes, people in some of the third world are horribly oppressed, but that’s not our problem, it’s their problem. If Iraq wanted a democracy, it would have one.

    Law, order, democracy, these are all things that the indigenous populations have to desire in order for them to exist. It does no good for us to bring law and order to a region if it will vanish as soon as we leave. This idea, that we can provide law and order, equality, etc, is a dangerous one, one that will, and has, kept our military in places where they risk their lives for essentially nothing.

    Even if they volunteered, they volunteered to fight for America, to protect and serve American citizens, not the citizens of some other nation.

    I am not saying that the children who are in trouble are less deserving of sympathy. But just because you have sympathy for a person doesn’t mean that you must risk lives (especially your own) to help them, does it?

    I have all of the sympathy in the world for the drowning man from Ayn’s example, but I’m not jumping in to save him, not if it risks my life. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”, to me at least.

  7. Mike, about the water safety link and what you were taught when you were younger, you are correct — even experts would prefer to pull a victim to safety with a pole rather than enter the water. As I said, there is always a risk in trying to make a rescue. And people who are not trained or strong swimmers could double the number of victims if they jump in to save someone. It’s why children especially are taught what you were taught. Don’t make yourself a second victim. You might be drowned by the first victim. But a lifeguard is not a child or a bystander and if a reaching rescue cannot be made, is trained to enter the water and make the rescue and would not wait until the person passed out to do so. That would complicate things terribly. You want the victim to still be breathing when you get him or her out of the water and not have lungs filled with water.

  8. Scott, you raise some good points, that serve well to expan some on Mike’s original post.

    In answer to that hypothetical question about the drowning children, all I can honestly say to that – or any hypothetical question about what I would do in this or that situation, under these or those circumstances – is “I don’t know … ask me again after it happens.”

    I have surprised myself – and, yes, disappopinted myself – on enough occasions to steer clear of such hypothetical questions, including the popular, Christian-themed “What would Jesus do?” They may be good exercise in the classroom, or at some bull-session …. but as a pastor of mine once asked, are they any real indicator of how we would act “when the rubber hits the road?”

    Another note: you and Mike are spot-on about what most people think when they say ‘we have to do something.’ No, I am not going to Haiti. But there are people already on the ground in Haiti – trained search and rescure crews, Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, faith-based organizations, and many others – who can apply my donated funds, and apply them well, saving more lives than my mere presence could.

  9. @ Jeff

    Like I said, “many moral, ethical people here who truly value life.”

    Thank you sir!

  10. Jeff, on your last point I have no disagreement. There are volunteers on the scene who want to help. I am not taking the Randian position anyway, but just, as I sometimes do, thinking about foundations of positions and implications more than the specific case.

    Helping Haiti is not controversial — there was an earthquake and people want to bring the victims some relief — food, medical care, etc. It’s disaster relief. I brought up Darfur and Mike mentioned Iraq because that presents more of the complications, that’s where “we should do something” might mean sending someone else’s child into combat.

  11. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Mike! I was already thinking along similar lines: I have some extra copies of Atlas Shrugged that I am sending to Haiti as my donation. It will give them something to read, and perhaps reflect on, while trapped in the rubble.

  12. An interesting take from someone who weighs as much as a typical Haitian family of four.

  13. ” If Iraq wanted a democracy, it would have one.”
    Great demonstration of a total lack of knowledge about Iraq. Ever hear of the popular uprisings against Saddam that were brutally crushed by his regime? T

    As for Haiti, if you don’t want to donate, don’t, but spare the front of righteous indignation and Randian justification for it. Any group of people, any mob will start to act in brutish and unthinking ways in desparate conditions.

    Also, the US military is not composed of children, they are amost all 18 year old adults, who volunteered to serve. Just because too many Americans the same age and older refuse to grow up and take on the responsibilities of adulthood, don’t infantilize Soldiers.

  14. Rob, if you’re referring to my calling military members “children,” let me clarify. I should have said “loved ones” or something. I didn’t mean they were children, as in minors. I meant something less controversial. At least I think it’s less controversial. All I meant was that even though they are volunteers, and are willing to fight and even die in defense of their country, of us, that doesn’t mean we should forget that they are people, that they are someone’s child, or husband, or wife, etc. In fact, it’s all the more reason to remember it, to honor it and them, by considering carefully when we ask them (or order them) to risk their lives and not do so when it is not necessary. I am not talking about Haiti, just making a more general and I think obvious statement.

    Jack, that’s a funny line about Atlas Shrugged.

  15. To push the lifeguard analogy (I was one too) another good reason for not waiting until someone slips under the water to attempt a rescue, is that at that point you would have little choice but to make physical contact with the victim, which is when you’re in the most danger. What if you’re carrying your victim and he regains consciousness? He’s likely to panic and put you both in danger. Kind of like what happens in parts of the world where help takes too long to come. A conscious victim, on the other hand, can often assist at least minimally in his own rescue, for example by holding on a buoy you throw. The first thing a lifeguard is taught is to try talking to a victim – some can actually be coached into swimming at least a bit. A lot like what happens to There are many options beween “jump stupidly in the water and get yourself killed” and “walk away and go home to have a t-bone.”

    And that’s just one of the problems with this staggeringly offensive screed. Another is that your description of the biscuit incident is disingenuous at best. People didn’t reject the biscuits because they wanted steak. They misunderstood the labelling and thought they had expired 2 years ago. Maybe beggers can’t be chosers, but I bet you would be pretty agitated if you lost everything, tens of thousands of people (including people you love) were dead and dying around you, and someone came and gave you what you thought was rotten food.

    Don’t want to help? Don’t. But don’t use your pathetic rationalisations to discourage others from stepping up. That’s what those of us who see Rand for the drivel it is would call immoral.

  16. So you’re saying that we should weigh costs against benefits and you’re peeved that the Haitian population isn’t acting completely rationally? in what is maybe around 1000 words?

    Here, for economy’s sake:


    and the larger the number the less you think we should want to help.

    Kind of a failure of imagination of what it must be like to be Haitian right now but keep plugging that Rand!

  17. @ wtanghol

    No, I’m saying that the rational mind has *already* weighed costs and benefits.

    Those who haven’t (you, apparently), can not be acting rationally. Your comment suggests that you haven’t thought about this at all, and that you might be operating by knee-jerk reactionism. Thus, you’re acting emotionally, as you display when you attempt to chide me for having my own thoughts with the “failure of imagination of what it must be like to be Haitian right now ” comment.

    I know full well what it must be like for Haitians, they aren’t the only people on Earth who have suffered great loss.

    BUT I’m not real keen on emotional people ordering others to their possible deaths. I’d thought that maybe the country had learned that lesson after Iraq, but maybe I was mistaken?

    Maybe the left should have just “imagined” what the life of the average Iraqi was under Saddam and supported GWB’s war there?

    How many *other* Americans are going to be injured or killed trying to bring the help *you* so desire to see given? How many Haitians are going to die because *you* want the US to help without thinking?

    We’ve already got France and Venezuela claiming that we’re engaged in a military occupation of Haiti, further damaging our relations with the rest of the world. I can see that I’m not the only one who thinks that maybe the US response isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread.

    No, after time to reflect and see a bit more of the picture, I argue that immediate action has no benefit for the US, and that we should allow the country to reach an equilibrium on its own before we dive in with the military, doctors, support staff, and risk all their lives in the process. Let the citizens of the nation stand up and bring law and order to their own home so that the aid they need can get through.

    Here’s a quick question for you to mull over while you write a rebuttal: How is that Isreal has a fully functioning, state-of-the-art hospital setup in Haiti already, but American aid is stuck on the tarmac?

  18. I’d like to say something off the topic of this post.

    I realize that sadlyno has been having fun linking to some of our posts, to Mike’s especially, and that many of the people coming to our site from their site are here to disagree with the post. That’s fine. We like the traffic and welcome argument and dissent, and don’t mind the sarcasm and strong objections in the comments above. We do have comment policies and aren’t going to put up with trolls who are here just to hurl insults, but other than that, you can tell any of our writers how wrong they are. I am pleased that people are mostly discussing what the post is about and not just stooping to personal insults.

    I believe that sadlyno has said this is a libertarian site, and that they stated on one of their links to us that we (I) said that we, as libertarians, were nonpartisan, and they said that this notion should be mocked. Or something like that. I invite you to read the post that they linked to that they said claimed that I said that libertarians were not partisan. I think that post clears up what our site is and is not, and what I actually said, and if you follow some links in that post I think you will conclude that this site is not so easy to define. Also, you could read two of our most recent posts by other writers, both this piece about gay marriage by Jeff Scheuer (not a libertarian or conservative) and this one about Islam and terrorism by Calvin Pollak before you decide what exactly When Falls the Coliseum is.

    Mike is one of dozens of our writers. Some of them are libertarians. Some of them are liberals. Some of them are conservatives. Some are hard to define. A whole bunch never discuss politics and just write about books, movies, sports, etc., and not with a particular ideological slant.

    You can mock this notion that we are not strictly an ideological site if you take sadlyno’s word that we are one and just read their comment section and only read the posts by one of our writers. But you’ll know for yourself if you read the links above. You might even find some writers you like. Don’t worry, you can like some of our writers and still yell at Mike when you want to. He seems to enjoy it.

  19. “I know full well what it must be like for Haitians, they aren’t the only people on Earth who have suffered great loss.”

    Alright, I’m loathe to immediately discount this statement and I won’t. But seriously? Estimates anywhere of thousands to tens of thousands dead, little access to potable water, little access to food, and thousands of people who have had at least one if not more members of their family dead or missing, broken infrastructure, an already malfunctioning government rendered fully non-functioning, and you know full well what it must be like for Haitians? Really?

    What part of my post was emotional? The easiest answer to any situation like we are discussing is to do nothing unless it rises above some personally meaningful metric – that is, it is always easiest to only do what one wants to do. I am not the one on the ground in Haiti, but I see it as a worthwhile humanitarian cause. I supported sending troops to Afghanistan. I marched against the Iraq war in 2003 because I saw it as not one worth either our troops’ lives or the lives of the now hundreds of thousands dead Iraqis.

    So in all of this, I have opinions about how our money is spent, our troops are deployed, and why. Are you actually saying that unless I am physically, personally part of the mission that I should not have an opinion or voice one?

    Let’s face it, you have an emotional reaction to people in Haiti not responding to our and others’ aid in the most reasonable, rational and deferential way possible. I actually do to. But the real heavy intellectual and emotional lifting is to not let that reaction get in the way of what is a necessary effort to help these individuals.

    And finally – not a rhetorical question, I honestly would like to know – did you voice these concerns or were you part of the deployed troops when Afghanistan happened or Iraq?

  20. “Here’s a quick question for you to mull over while you write a rebuttal: How is that Isreal has a fully functioning, state-of-the-art hospital setup in Haiti already, but American aid is stuck on the tarmac?”

    No idea. We don’t do a great job of managing civilian populations with our military?

  21. Don’t see me revolting because of it…

    Don’t sell yourself short; you’re incredibly revolting.

  22. @ wtanghol

    The top portion of your post has already been answered, or is simply you attacking my opinion. Well, if you don’t like my opinion, tough. I have the freedom to have my own. Indeed, I tend to believe that if two people think alike on every issue, one of them isn’t thinking…

    To the one serious and previously unaddressed question you put forth:

    “And finally – not a rhetorical question, I honestly would like to know – did you voice these concerns or were you part of the deployed troops when Afghanistan happened or Iraq?”

    I did voice those concerns. I’m not a fan of our military being sent overseas, especially not sent overseas to invade countries which didn’t attack us. I’m an isolationist who is not also a protectionist, if that makes any sense to you.

    A small group of individuals attacked America, not Iraq, nor Afghanistan. Isn’t dealing with those types of organizations the job of the CIA or the Delta Force or something? Did it require a full military mobilization?

    I don’t think so. And I don’t think Haiti warrants such a response until they too can prove that they really want us there giving aid.

    On the thoughts about Isreal having a hospital setup in Haiti:

    Our military is capable of putting a runway through the middle of the jungle, or on mountains, in like five minutes. They’ve got teams of people who do nothing but train, and think about, how to put in emergency airstrips.

    Why is the American response so limited, then? If Isreal can do it, why hasn’t America? Why is American aid tied up in the one functioning airport when we could make five more in less than the time it takes you to read this response?

    What’s going through the minds of the people in DC?


  23. “The top portion of your post has already been answered, or is simply you attacking my opinion.”

    This was the point regarding whether you really knew what it felt like to have your country destroyed? Without being a wise ass – really – how is that again?

  24. @ wtanghol

    No one cares about the country, there is pretty much anarchy over there. Everyone is concerned with themselves and their families, and a substantial portion of the populace is more concerned with looting, apparently, than even that small list.

    I see no difference between this and me losing a friend and his family to a murderer, or another to a house fire, or another who died of undiagnosed heart problems at 25, and that of those Haitians who lost friends and loved ones to a building collapse. Why do you?

    Haitians aren’t concerned about the fate of the country, not when there is so much individual loss to deal with. Do you advocate that they have a monopoly on human suffering? That they’re the only ones in the whole wide world who have lost someone, or something to an event outside of the control of man?


    Again, you never responded to the idea that maybe liberals, if they thought the way you want me to think, should have “imagined” the plight of children in Iraq living under Saddam, stowed the anti-Bush rhetoric, and supported his war.

    For the good of the children who were in need, of course.


  26. @ Youlika

    Fat? Maybe, depends on whom you ask.

    Lazy? I personally don’t think so. While I was in grad school, I worked three jobs, went to school full time, and raised a kid by myself. Most people wouldn’t consider that lazy.

    PoS? Again, depends on whom you ask.

    Say, what color jewel do you have set in your little troll stomach?

  27. Gone Galt from physical fitness?

  28. @ dirk

    Hardly. Maybe Ragnar Danneskjöld.

  29. @mike … got your sea legs?


  30. I genuinely hope you die.

  31. @ nimrod

    Are you from Watersmeet, MI?

    And have no fear, I, like you, am not immortal. =)

  32. I don’t think I can really understand what life was like for many Haitians even before the earthquake. Definitely not after it.

    The suffering of losing a loved one under normal circumstances, or especially untimely circumstances but absent a natural or societal disaster, is intense.

    But a natural disaster of this scope, in a society that was as poor and poorly run as Haiti to begin with, multiplies it many times. This isn’t about Haitians having a monopoly on suffering. It’s about going beyond simple logic and examining the specifics of the situation.

    I, like many of you, have lost someone close to me. But on some level I knew that life would still go on. I had people to support me. Hope for the future. Perspective. Losing someone, or many someones, and also not knowing how my child was going to eat his next meal, and how I could protect him from marauding gangs, and whether there would ever be jobs again, or a normal life of some kind, is a different level entirely.

    I was in Hurricane Andrew and saw some major devastation. But after the storm ended I was able to drive an hour away and stay with family. Relief workers poored in. Things were messed up for a while, and some neighborhoods took years to recover, but our country had the infrastructure to respond and there was never a sense that chaos might rule indefinitely, despite the terrible suffering that some experienced. And the scale of the damage, though huge, was not nearly what we are seeing in Haiti. Hospitals still existed. There were police. Disease didn’t run rampant. And so on.

    What you think the US role should be in the world or who is morally obligated to do what, well, that’s what you think. But there is no way to minimize just how massive the destruction is and how unlike ordinary circumstances this is.

  33. Mike: Seriously, if you can’t see how people might react differently to losing a friend to a heart attack, compared with losing 70,000 fellow citizens, whole neighborhoods, government buildings, the water supply, health facilities, AND many close friends and relatives, well, I don’t think I will convince you otherwise. But maybe you are not the best person to be giving advice on how to respond to the biggest natural disaster in the Western Hemisphere in modern times.

    You don’t need to respond to this, I’m not looking for an argument, but just go look at the footage, read some accounts from somewhere besides, think about it for 5 minutes, and see if you can dig down and find that ounce of empathy that makes you human.

    I don’t know much about Haiti, but I was in Aceh a few weeks after the 2004 tsunami and the level of both trauma and resilience was higher than you could imagine. And, I might add, a US NAVY hospital ship provided extremely valuable service that I will bet is remembered with great pride by everyone who served on it.

  34. Y’all keep want to lay into me for this. Fine.

    But examine the reactions of Americans to the 6.9 earthquake that hit the Bay Area in 1989.

    Scott, examine your memories of what happened after Hurricane Andrew.

    Now, points to ponder:

    1) Did any of these situations cause the entire populace to dissolve into mass rioting and looting?

    Did the people in Oakland, certainly an area with it’s share of the poor population, take to the streets to steal and kill, or to dig people out of the rubble?

    2) It doesn’t matter that this is a 1st world country, the response was *fundamentally* different.

    3) The examples of the 1989 earthquake, the hurricanes Katrina and Andrew, the Tsunami, these are all fairly recent events, wouldn’t you say? The fact that these things happen all the time is proof that the Haitian’s plight maybe “unlike ordinary circumstances”, it certainly isn’t outside the normal risks of existence.

    4) Let them restore order to their own country, then we’ll give them aid. No need to lose American lives to do the job they should have already accomplished.

  35. I meant “poured” in, not “poored” in. Given the context, that’s a bad spelling error. Also, it’s bad because “poored” isn’t a word.

  36. Scott, I’m a newbie on WFTC. What’s the record for comments on a post?

  37. Wow didn’t realize people could be so cold hearted… Addressing the points in your latest post:

    1 and 2) Its all about scale. Katrina: a definite YES. The others, not so much, since the destruction and loss of life was on a much different scale. For comparison, you have the SF ’89 earthquake: ~60 dead, ~4000 injured. Now Haiti: >100k dead. You tell me whats more catastrophic. In any case, in the US, the support infrastructure existed a priori, therefore people could be assured that they’d have support. In Haiti, in a life or death situation where you dont know when the next food handout is going to be, and your family’s life depends on this one, of course you going to get aggressive to get all the food you can get.

    3) OK you breaking your leg or having a heart attack arent outside the normal risks of existence either. Doesnt mean we dont have a duty to provide any care and assistance we can.

    4) “Oh look, the house of that low income family is burning down! Too bad they didnt have money to install smoke detectors and sprinklers, or repair their faulty wiring and gas appliances. No need to call the firefighters though, we’ll wait until they’ve intstalled proper saftey measures before we risk the lives of our civil servants…”

  38. 1) “No one cares about the country, there is pretty much anarchy over there. Everyone is concerned with themselves. . . .’

    Pretty much the textbook definition of libertarianism, ain’a?

    2) “While I was in grad school . . . .”

    Really? What did you study? We know it couldn’t have been history.

  39. Jeff, I have no idea.

    But has anyone read Gail’s excellent review of the Sherlock Holmes movie?

  40. You’re a lazy twit who can’t see past his own full belly.

    Randianism is perfect for your kind, it requires little thought beyond yourself and your time. I do wish you’d all just move to your gulch like your fictional heroes and leave the rest of humanity to the business of reality and the continuation of making the world a better place.

  41. @ Matt

    1 and 2)

    I see no difference between 60 lives and 100K lives. I see no difference between 1 life and a million, either.

    For instance: Would it have been “less evil” if the Holocaust had claimed 100 Jewish lives rather than the 6 million it wound up eliminating?

    It’s because of this view that I can say “10, 20, or even 100 American lives aren’t worth as much to me as 100K Haitian lives”.

    We’ve got enough to take care of here, in the US, without having to worry about every Tom, Dick, and Habib in the third world.

    3) I hold that you don’t have that duty. That belief would make you a slave to my need, and I don’t condone slavery. I can, always have, and always will get by on my own effort.

    4) lol Low income people live in HUD approved residences which are, by law, required to be up to code these days.

    Check it out:

    Poor choice of example.

  42. @ Parsifal

    1) Nope.

    If someone if desiring of anarchy, we call them anarchists, and not libertarians. Get a dictionary.

    2) Read my bio.

  43. *2nd “if” => “is”.

  44. @ salvage

    If that were true, I could see my way to the fridge, now could I?

  45. * couldn’t

    Gotta stop trying to type so fast.

  46. For those interested in donating, here is a good site to go to:

  47. Mike,

    My answer to your 1 and 2 was specifically addressed to these questions you posed:
    “1)Did any of these situations cause the entire populace to dissolve into mass rioting and looting?

    Did the people in Oakland, certainly an area with it’s share of the poor population, take to the streets to steal and kill, or to dig people out of the rubble?

    2) It doesn’t matter that this is a 1st world country, the response was *fundamentally* different.”

    So I wasnt saying one is ‘more evil’ than another because of the amount of deaths. I was pointing out that the scale of death and destruction makes the population more apt to become unruly (i.e. Katrina vs Andrew).

    3) Ok, you say that now, but when the shit hits the fan, I’m sure you’ll be crying out for help. This whole ‘I get by on my own’ bravado is just a bunch of BS. If you really do, then go move to the middle of nowhere in Alaska and see how well you do. And stop depending on farmers to grow your food, and garbagemen to take care of your trash, etc, etc. Otherwise, grow up and learn that you’re part of a society.

    4) Way to totally miss the point of the example. You’re probably one of those people in Physics class that points out that theres no such thing as a perfect sphere in an example. Do yourself a favor – get out a dictionary and look up ‘thought experiment.’

  48. This will be my last comment on this post. I doubt anyone is going to have their views changed about anything at this point, if that were even possible from the beginning.

    I want to explore a couple of last thoughts. I expect Mike will disagree, but I don’t want to argue about it. If what I write next doesn’t change his view, then it won’t, and he is of course entitled to hold whatever views he wants. That is part of the point of this site. If I had to agree with all of our writers, it would just be my own blog, since I think I disagree with every one of them about something, and with many of them about lots of things.

    Mike said: “Would it have been “less evil” if the Holocaust had claimed 100 Jewish lives rather than the 6 million it wound up eliminating?”

    The answer is yes. It wouldn’t have been the Holocaust if it claimed 100 Jewish lives. It would have been one more in a series of mass murders of Jews throughout history. Bad enough for certain, but different.

    I think I get the logic Mike is going for, that any murder is tragic, that an individual is as important as a mass of people. I understand that he is coming from a philosophical/political perspective that sees putting the many before the one as immoral and leading to all sorts of bad outcomes. I understand it because my own politics and philosophical views place individual rights at the center.

    But if Hitler had killed one person, he would have been a murderer. If he killed 50 people he would have been a mass murderer. Both of those are bad, evil. No way to minimize it, no way I want to. But it still isn’t the Holocaust. And I can hardly be considered soft on crime or murderers — maybe some of the readers of this post would be upset by my column, People Who Should Be Killed This Week. But back to Mike’s point.

    If you live in a town of 25,000 people, and one of them is murdered, that is terrible. It is terrible for the person who is murdered, for their family and friends, and for the larger community. I would never say, well, it’s just one person, no big deal. It is a big deal. Murder is unacceptable.

    But if you live in a town of 25,000 people, and 24,800 of them are murdered in a two-week span… well if it isn’t obvious to you how that is different, how that is a disaster on a different level, I don’t know what else there is to say that can convince you. The town is gone. The society is wiped out. The 200 remaining people are in a different state — materially and emotionally — than they would be if one person had been murdered.

    When a child loses a parent, we see that it is terrible for the child. If the child loses both parents, we see that it is worse. It’s self-evident to me. If it isn’t to Mike, I don’t know how to argue it exactly. Maybe I could point out that a child is better off with one parent than no parent. That grieving for one lost loved one is hard. So grieving for two is harder. If we grieve or suffer equally for each lost life, because every individual matters, then every additional lost life causes more suffering, because more individuals have died.

    As an act, if murder is the most evil thing you can do, I think that Mike is seeing any additional murders by the same person as not adding to how evil the murderer is, because the murderer is already as evil as he can be by having murdered. Maybe this isn’t his logic, but I am, for whatever reason, trying to understand it. But when he asks whether killing 100 Jews is less evil than killing 6 million, the above is the only logic I can find to make sense of his position — that killing 100 people is so evil, additional murders can’t make the murderer any more evil.

    But I am thinking of it in terms of the total suffering caused. And if one person suffering is bad, if it equals one unit of suffering, then two people suffering is worse. Reducing suffering to units is silly. Maybe trying to reason on this subject is silly. It is obvious to me that equating the Holocaust with any single murder is to make the Holocaust equivalent to what happens every day, or a few times a week, in every major US city and around the world, since people are murdered and have been murdered throughout human existence. Why even mention the Holocaust, or Hitler or Stalin then? By this logic they’re no different, no worse, than anyone who murders. But even if that is Mike’s position, surely he should be able to see that from the standpoint of how much suffering they caused, from the view of the destruction they brought to entire populations, what they did was worse, in its effects, in the total suffering caused, than an ordinary murder.

    If an earthquake kills 6 people, that is bad. If it kills 200,000 people, that is worse. To whom? To the families of the additional 199,994 people and the society that depends on the 199,994 people in various ways.

    What the proper role is of the US military in disaster relief and what moral obligations people have to strangers are, I think, legitimate philosophical disagreements that people can have, even though Mike’s view is certain to be a minority view. That has been argued about enough by everyone else above, between the insults and exclamations of shock.

    My view is that, even though I have self-identified as libertarian (which means different things to different people, including to libertarians) and I have concerns about government size and action in general, looking at the specific situation matters.

    I am generally reluctant to put other people (soldiers) in harm’s way for reasons I noted above. If this were a mission to occupy Haiti and spend years there rebuilding it and policing it (some argue it is one), if this were a military attack that could not be argued for on the basis of self-defense, if our soldiers faced a high possibility of loss of life and combat in the rescue effort, I think all of those could be grounds for objecting to the mission, depending on the specifics.

    I don’t see the above as applying to the immediate rescue effort in Haiti, despite the items Mike notes. There’s always some risk, of course, and I hope no Americans or non-Americans are harmed in the relief effort. I also think, based on what little information I have, that many military members want to help and take pride in doing what they view as good work and do this aware that there are always risks.

    Now, from a strictly libertarian viewpoint, does the military belong in Haiti helping in this rescue effort? No. But much of what the government does and has done historically, with the military and without it, cannot be justified from a libertarian viewpoint, and even — we could argue — in many cases from a Constitutional one. That doesn’t mean we excuse those actions we feel like excusing because of emotions, if we believe that libertarian or Constitutional values or whatever values we have are important. It means that of all the things to get upset about, of the thousands of things our government does that some think it should not do, I can’t find a reason to focus on Haiti.

    Plus, if you believe that libertarianism (of whatever kind) offers a legitimate alternative to the prevailing political parties and ideologies, and want to persuade people to at least learn about the positions and arguments, etc., and maybe consider whether at least on some issues there is a better choice than the one they’ve been making, being angry at Haitians this week seems like a bad way to reach out to them.

    People are suffering from a massive natural disaster. It isn’t an invasion or a combat mission. I just can’t get all pissed off about a disaster relief effort on ideological grounds. I suppose I could construct the logic of an argument against it, but think my energy would be better spent constructing an argument against the war on drugs, or nearly anything else. And certainly there is no controversy over private efforts to help.

  49. Well said Scott!

  50. You are absolutely right on this one. What is Haiti going to ever do for America? Do you think that they are going to send relief when something happens over here. Hell no! I’m all for charity and all but don’t people get that we have enough problems over here to begin with? Why didn’t celebrities donate money to help feed homeless people in America, and to families who have no home due to the economic status? Charity starts at home first, then help the ungrateful people who in a few months anyway will continue hating the U.S.

    Everyone who donates to Haiti is spitting on America!

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