Wednesday, January 20, 2010

David Brooks Goes Native

According to David Brooks, it is condescending to suggest that,
Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration.
The "White Messiah" fable depicted in Avatar, he argues, represents "benevolent romanticism [that] can be just as condescending as the malevolent kind".

Except, of course, in Haiti:
Fourth, it’s time to promote locally led paternalism.... It’s time to find self-confident local leaders who will create No Excuses countercultures in places like Haiti, surrounding people — maybe just in a neighborhood or a school — with middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.
Why? Because, according to Brooks, their culture reflects "high levels of social mistrust," child neglect, and a failure to internalize responsibility, and their religion "spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile".

Now, I'll grant that Brooks tries to distinguish his contempt for "fixing" native cultures by imposing cruel, condescending imperialists by using the word "local" - apparently he envisions some sort of person who will go into Haiti and find, among the "native people" those who are "noble and spiritual and pure", then lead them on "a righteous crusade against" their "own rotten civilization", culture and religion. But I'm thinking I've heard this story before.

Isn't Brooks endorsing what could reasonably be deemed The White Missionary Fable?

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