Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reflecting on Haiti

For obvious reasons, the celebration and glee of Carnival was suspended in Haiti this year. It’s as if the Lenten somberness of tomorrow’s Ash Wednesday started when the earthquake took such an unbelievable toll on Haiti.

Just as religious reflection can lead people to a more commons-centered orientation, we saw people respond to the disaster in Haiti with the same outpouring of sharing and cooperation. The Commons was there in Haitians risking their health and safety to form impromptu rescue teams before relief started pouring in from across the globe. And we’ve seen the idea of a commons come to life as people do whatever they can to support the struggle to overcome scarcity and disaster in Haiti.

But even as the response to the suffering in Haiti inspires faith in the ideal of the commons, there’s been an interesting tension between the market and the commons at play here at home. As with other natural disasters, the same media that contributes to consumerism and privatization creates a sense of crisis through constant coverage of the disaster (whether the earthquake in Haiti, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, or the tsunami in the Indian Ocean) that shocks the public into a commons-based response. Whether through celebrity-driven telethons or singles on iTunes benefiting relief efforts, the same architecture that normally creates private wealth is temporarily re-directed towards the common good, but this surge in commons-based thinking is fleeting.

Many have written about how a week government contributed to the extent of the earthquake’s damage,
which certainly offers some cautionary examples of weak commons. But rather than contribute to more victim-blaming rhetoric, it simply seems worth considering how a fuller embrace of commons-based thinking could not just help those affected by the current crisis, but also transform the way that Americans think about the importance of a robust commons and continued stewardship and cooperation.

No comments: