The Haiti test
A few years back I was talking with someone who’d been in two different units with me when we were in the Army. We were shooting the breeze about places we’d been, and he jested, “We had the world’s worst travel agent.”
Everyone in the Army doesn’t respond the same way to the same experiences, but by most people’s reckoning, many of the places we’d traveled to would qualify as what Trump (and a lot of other people) called “shit holes.” By that they mean places with (by imperial metropolitan standards) deficient infrastructure. Deficient infrastructure means few places for tourists to party and take advantage of the locals.
I had a different take, with which I won’t bore you, except to say in certain respects I quite liked some of these so-called shit holes: Hauichipa, Peru; Amman, Jordan; Melgar, Colombia; Mogadishu, Somalia; Ojo de Agua, Honduras; Cumanacoa, Venezuela; Bongson, Vietnam; Antigua, Guatemala; Sonsonate, El Salvador; I could go on and on. Not places your average travel agent would recommend.
One place that stuck with me after the Army, and to which I returned twenty-one times, was Haiti. I got caught up in politics there, but I also had a number of friends; and I wasn’t hanging out at the few tourist attractions there. I spent a good deal of time with peasants in the mountainous countryside of the north where there was no electricity, no running water, no infrastructure at all, and no way of communicating with “the outside world” short of walking one’s ass off for around eight hours. But this is not about Stan’s Haitian adventures (it was actually very quiet most of the time, with about half of one’s waking day spent in some activity involving the preparation of meals). This is about a perspective I learned in Haiti and elsewhere; that is to say, a habit of measuring what people say back here in the “developed” imperial metropolis. That habit is to apply the “Haiti test.”
Seventy-one percent of people worldwide live on less than $10 a day. In Haiti, the average income is $66 dollars a month; and if you subtract the obscene incomes of Haiti’s top one percent, it drops well below two dollars a day. Under two dollars a day represents fifteen percent of the global population. I pull out the numbers before I get into the Haiti test, because they give us just one index of how different most of the world is from “middle-class” people in the “developed” metropoli.
The income metric, of course, tells us very little about Haitians and even less about any particular Haitian, but money has become, by virtue of its hegemony in post-subsistence societies, our master signifier and main lens on the world. It’s what we metropolitans understand, and so it’s how we measure and categorize everyone else.
Haiti is poor because it is underdeveloped; and it is underdeveloped because Haitians haven’t sufficient access to metropolitan rituals like “education” or whatever. Or the more openly reactionary idea that Haitians are just inferior beings with “low intelligence.”
In reality, if intelligence is measured in “evolutionary” terms — that is, adaptability — the average “illiterate” Haitian peasant (illiteracy is around 50%) is approximately 10 million times smarter than your average American suburbanite with a Bachelor’s Degree and a terminal dependency upon various and ultimately unsustainable technologies. The only thing that’s blunted (or perverted) this capacity for adaptation to admittedly difficult circumstances (sustained by metropolitan interference btw) has been the cancerous and disabling proliferation of metropolitan “charities” and NGOs.
But I digress.
“The Haiti test” — my own invention — is a standard of non-mathematical measurement I employ in evaluating whether or not to take seriously the kind of shit I hear from my fellow imperial metropolitans. The test goes, “How would this sound to one of the Haitians I worked with along the Massif du Nord?”
In particular, I apply the Haiti test to memes (I hate that Dawkinesque term!), truisms, complaints, and pseudo-wisdoms that purport, implicitly or explicitly, to be somehow universal. I also apply it to public discussions of current events, to ad pitches, and especially to self-help horseshit. I do NOT apply it against a background of defining Haitians as some beaten-down population that acts as a prop for performative liberal “compassion” and virtue-signalling; but understanding Haitians as a distinct people, whose perspectives accurately understood might illuminate metropolitan privileges, prejudices, and self-referential blind spots.
Try it out on social media posts.
“How would this sound to a Haitian?”