The Corner

Goat d’Azur

Jonah, Derb, re Haiti and the “culture of poverty”:

A couple of days back, I mentioned the British Columbia teens stranded by the earthquake while in Haiti to “set up a goat farm,” and I remarked:

Even by the standards of Third World dysfunction, what country is such a basket case that it needs outside help to set up a goat farm?

A reader from British Columbia responds:

1.  Grade 12’s are not “kids.” In other centuries they would have had their own blacksmithing or seamstressing businesses and two or three kids already.

2.  Mission trips are well-organized and always done at the invitation of a local sponsoring organization that defines the need and provides the needed local street smarts.

3.  Psychologists know that all teenagers, particularly males, MUST master something dangerous to complete their mental maturing process. Some tribes require all male teens to kill a lion, etc. Mandela’s autobiography details the primitive circumcision ceremony teen boys of his tribe endure. Protecting teens or providing virtual experiences that they know aren’t real (movies, Xbox) only defers maturity, and may be behind today’s epidemic of inability to commit.

4.  Teens need trips to needy places because we learn real compassion through exposure. Most needy places are dangerous. Haiti may be more so than most, but it also has a lot of helping organizations on the ground to provide guidance.

5.  Do Haitians need someone to show them how to farm goats? Longstanding poverty causes loss of hope and depression, and depression causes “learned helplessness”, a state in which you are actually unable to do things you once learned. Outsiders can bring a fresh infusion of hope and make a real difference.

Hmm. Quickly:

1: “Kids” is your word not mine. I agree 18-year-olds are, or should be, adults. I’m in favor of letting “kids” leave school at 13 or 14, for all the good high school does them. The Western world’s transformation into a land of middle-aged college students has done nothing for societal maturity.

3. Also agreed. But rite-of-passage-wise, I’d prefer suburban British Columbia’s tribes to require that all male teens go capture a cougar — not Katie Couric, I hasten to add — and, if not kill him, at least perform an impromptu on-site circumcision. A school field trip isn’t really the same, is it?

5. I doubt whether you really believe that poverty breeds “learned helplessness” breeds loss of goat-farming skills.

But it’s interesting that four of your five points are about the marvelously restorative properties that building a goat farm in Haiti has for Canadian teens. My point isn’t what pampered upper-middle-class First World schoolkids vacationing in someone else’s despair does for the tourists, it’s what it does for the natives. And, even before the last couple of weeks’ news from Haiti, the evidence on that score is overwhelming.

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.

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