Before I went to Haiti, my Kreyol instructor gave our class a valuable lesson in Haitian stoicism, immutability, and yes, ill-logic. “Mikwòb pa touye Ayisyen, that’s what many Haitians believe,” he said. “Be prepared.”
What he meant was that a certain section of Haitian society was unwilling to believe that the cholera virus could kill and that it could be as easily prevented as by washing one’s hands and taking sanitary precautions.
Many Haitians, we were told, put their faith in God. They believe all good and bad occurs because God wishes it to be so and that they themselves have little to do with outcomes. By the time we learnt the proverb (nearly two years after the massive January 2010 earthquake) thousands of Haitians had died of cholera and the UN, the WHO and an army of NGOs were trying to spread the word about how to guard against cholera – wash your hands; drink treated water; be mindful of sanitation. Etcetra.
It was incredible that there were still Haitians who believed germs weren’t responsible for the epidemic and the deaths.
We rolled our eyes. The class, bear in mind, was full of Americans, educated, rational beings who were surely justified to be incredulous about Haitians’ lack of logic and fatalistic outlook?
Well, some years and many mass shootings in America later, I’m not so sure. The way a section of America talks about guns is almost as illogical as some Haitians’ refusal to believe that germs cause disease and death. It is not a vengeful God who causes death by gun violence in the US. It is the shooter. And it is the law that allows him (it’s mostly men) to purchase guns aplenty. And it is the politicians who refuse to change that.
Consider President Donald Trump’s response to the October 1 Las Vegas mass shooting. He called it “an act of pure evil” and struck a scriptural tone, quoting a verse from the Psalms. As The Economist explains, via Albert Mohler, who it describes as a seminary president and influential figure in the religious conservative camp: “evil is a Biblical category. It can only be fully understood from a spiritual perspective which accepts both a loving God and the existence of forces ranged in opposition that will ultimately be defeated.”
To decode that, Americans clearly have no agency. A greater power, for good or ill, rules their lives (and deaths). Guns are not to blame. Nor is American politicians’ resistance to changing the gun laws.
That’s not very different from some Haitians’ view of the cholera virus and their resistance to doing much more than invoke God’s blessings, mercy, glory and awful power.