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#3436: DeGraffreplies to Drey: On cultural "differences" (fwd)

From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>

Re Grey's latest posting:

> Dear De Graff, whether or not anyone has conducted double-blind ethnographic 
> studies on the relative rate of lying and deception among, say, white 
> Americans and black Haitians, those of us who live in both cultures are 
> competent to see and to SAY that there is a difference!

I am not sure how to read this: Is this such a discovery that "there is a
difference" between "white Americans and black Haitians"?  In my book, this
passes as a most banale truism that doesn't require any insight whatsoever.

On specific differences between the two countries: Take, for example, the
widespread received notions about corruption in the electoral processes in
Haiti. Is the U.S. such a model of "honesty" when it comes to party
politics?  To get beyond facile stereotypes, a good place to start for an
evaluation of "magouy" in the two places is the recent book "Buying the
President 2000" by Charles Lewis.  What the author describes is the sort of
high-stakes "magouy" that would make any Haitian political party look like
Mother Theresa...  In the U.S., president-buying and the accompanying
corruption is a matter of HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of dollars (we're not
talking Haitian gourdes here) with dire consequences vis-a-vis the
environment, education, vast social inequalities, etc.  Lewis is quite
specific when it comes to measuring the "rate of lying and deception among
[...] white Americans" --- specially among the current crop of successful
politicians, including some of the most popular (re-)elected officials.
Such "lying and deception" (unlike their analogue in Haiti) has WORLD-WIDE

Hopefully those of us with the sort of "New England work ethics" advertised
by Grey will find time to read Lewis's book to get a sense of the
well-researched DOCUMENTATION of (some rather rotten!) "cultural tendency"
in U.S. politics. There's much "hidden sickness" (aka "maladi kache") to be
discovered indeed!  

As for the unfortunate amongst us who were born with non-New England "work
ethics", perhaps we'll resort to the sort of `scientific' experiment
previously described by Durban toward testing the general level of
dishonesty in Haitian culture.

MIT Linguistics & Philosophy, 77 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge MA 02139-4307
degraff@MIT.EDU        http://web.mit.edu/linguistics/www/degraff.home.html