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a296: Documenting misery: Chamberlain replies to Wilcken (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
Lois Wilcken wrote:
> The person reacting to the television spot was not so much
> myself as my Haitian friend. I speak for him here because
> he doesn't enjoy the literacy that all of us do. (Where he comes
> from, anyone doing a job that involves writing is privileged.)
> Through people like himself I have become aware of an
> undercurrent of frustration with--and sometimes cynicism
> about--documenters of all kinds--tourists, writers,
> photographers, scholars... An undercurrent that sometimes
> rises to the surface. Do we conclude that people's feelings
> are wrong?
No, but do we "give in" either, because the angry person
(in this case Haitian, but it also applies to some foreigners
here in Corbettland) often has an incomplete or twisted
picture of why (mostly) such reporting is done? An incomplete
picture partly stemming, in the case of your Haitian friend, from
the perfectly understandable but overblown status that people
who write have in poor societies. Journalists are regarded by
many Haitians as "grands écrivains" (great writers), partly due,
originally, to the similarly overblown status journalists tend to
have in France, even now, compared with, say, Anglo-Saxon
Of course there must be respect for the sensitivities and privacy
of the poor everywhere, but there is also the universal duty of all
human beings to communicate the state of the world to each
other as best we can, in the hope of mending it or encouraging
others to do so. If some people oppose that "universal duty,"
then each of us simply has a personal moral choice to make.
The answer is to try to convey the broader context, but this task
is always going to be obstructed by the odd cowboy journalist,
just as crooked politicians and gangster police in any country
give a bad name to these professions.
More information has nearly always led to greater democracy
and justice. Less information leads to tyranny and injustice.