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Junot Diaz On What Disasters Reveal

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Junot Diaz on our arc of disasters—from Haiti to Japan to the Mississippi—and what it tells us about ourselves.

Natural disasters, like the Haitian earthquake are not only catastrophes; they are also opportunities for introspection, says Junot Diaz. (AP)

Natural disasters, like the Haitian earthquake are not only catastrophes; they are also opportunities for introspection, says Junot Diaz. (AP)

The Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz got everybody’s attention, and a Pulitzer Prize, with his fierce, funny, tragic first novel “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” Now, in a big new essay, Diaz has moved on to bigger themes — like apocalypse and the fate of the human race.

Junot Diaz looks at our recent headlines of earthquakes, tsunamis, meltdown fears, and floods and sees revelation. Not of the hand of God, exactly. But of human realities running amok.

We avert our eyes, he says. But these disasters must be read.

This hour, On Point: Junot Diaz, on revelation and apocalypse.

-Tom Ashbrook


Junot Diaz, author and creative writing professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” in 2008.  His essay, Apocalypse: What Disasters Reveal, appears in the May/June 2011 issue of The Boston Review.

Also, this hour:

This graduation season, we’re broadcasting excerpts from notable commencement addresses from around the country.

On Saturday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan addressed the graduates of the University of New Mexico law school in Albuquerque.  It was her first public address since being sworn in last summer.  Justice Kagan told the 2011 graduates to be passionate about the work they do and find a way to give back.

Excerpt (PDF):
“Apocalypse: What Disasters Reveal”
By Junot Díaz

On January 12, 2010 an earthquake struck Haiti. The epicenter of the quake, which registered a moment magnitude of 7.0, was only fifteen miles from the capital, Port-au-Prince. By the time the initial shocks subsided, Port-au-Prince and surrounding urbanizations were in ruins. Schools, hospitals, clinics, prisons collapsed. The electrical and communication grids imploded. The Presidential Palace, the Cathedral, and the National Assembly building—historic symbols of the Haitian patrimony—were severely damaged or destroyed. The headquarters of the UN aid mission was reduced to rubble, killing peacekeepers, aid workers, and the mission chief, Hédi Annabi.

The figures vary, but an estimated 220,000 people were killed in the aftermath of the quake, with hundreds of thousands injured and at least a million—one-tenth of Haiti’s population—rendered homeless. According to the Red Cross, three million Haitians were affected. It was the single greatest catastrophe in Haiti’s modern history. It was for all intents and purposes an apocalypse.

Apocalypse comes to us from the Greek apocalypsis, meaning to uncover and unveil. Now, as James Berger reminds us in After the End, apocalypse has three meanings. First, it is the actual imagined end of the world, whether in Revelations or in Hollywood blockbusters. Second, it comprises the catastrophes, personal or historical, that are said to resemble that imagined final ending—the Chernobyl meltdown or the Holocaust or the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan that killed thousands and critically damaged a nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Finally, it is a disruptive event that provokes revelation. The apocalyptic event, Berger explains, in order to be truly apocalyptic, must in its disruptive moment clarify and illuminate “the true nature of what has been brought to end.” It must be revelatory.

“The apocalypse, then,” per Berger, “is the End, or resembles the end, or explains the end.” Apocalypses of the first, second, and third kinds. The Haiti earthquake was certainly an apocalypse of the second kind, and to those who perished it may even have been an apocalypse of the first kind, but what interests me here is how the Haiti earthquake was also an apocalypse of the third kind, a revelation. This in brief is my intent: to peer into the ruins of Haiti in an attempt to describe what for me the earthquake revealed—about Haiti, our world, and even our future.

After all, if these types of apocalyptic catastrophes have any value it is that in the process of causing things to fall apart they also give us a chance to see the aspects of our world that we as a society seek to run from, that we hide behind veils of denials.

Apocalyptic catastrophes don’t just raze cities and drown coastlines; these events, in David Brooks’s words, “wash away the surface of society, the settled way things have been done. They expose the underlying power structures, the injustices, the patterns of corruption and the unacknowledged inequalities.” And, equally important, they allow us insight into the conditions that led to the catastrophe, whether we are talking about Haiti or Japan. (I do believe the tsunami-earthquake that ravaged Sendai this past March will eventually reveal much about our irresponsible reliance on nuclear power and the sinister collusion between local and international actors that led to the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe.)

If, as Roethke writes, “in a dark time, the eye begins to see,” apocalypse is a darkness that gives us light.

But this is not an easy thing to do, this peering into darkness, this ruin-reading. It requires nuance, practice, and no small amount of heart. I cannot, however, endorse it enough. Given the state of our world—in which the very forces that place us in harm’s way often take advantage of the confusion brought by apocalyptic events to extend their power and in the process increase our vulnerability—becoming a ruin-reader might not be so bad a thing. It could in fact save your life.

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  • Ed

    In the third sense, these disaster tell us: this could happen to you also, at any time. Be prepared, have your life in order, to give an account of your life at any time to God.

    Also see Scott Hahn’s book on the Book of the Apocalypse ‘The Wedding Feast of the Lamb’ as an example of how these three senses appear.

    • Ellen Dibble

      My objective in life is indeed to have “my life in order” when the roll is called up yonder, and I expect to need about 30 more years.  Meanwhile, I pity my landlord or my heirs for the totally unsorted mess that is meaningful only to myself.  However, in case of true apocalypse, I suspect the “picking up” will be done for me, with a whoosh, so I’m not too worried. 

      • Srgntnewkirk

         …..this is good stuff; the honesty, the humility, the brevity. 

      • Brian in Hebron, CT

        Unfortunately religions, especially fundamentalist Christianity and Islam, not only have little interest in this world, but hasten the demise of this world to get to the next.

        Ironically, the second coming of Christ, or the return of the 12th Imam, happens every time an apocalyptic revelation reveals to the true believer that man was made for the world, not the other way around. That heaven and hell are right here, right now, depending on our world view and our actions.

      • Tina

         Ellen!  I was just thinking the same thing yesterday!!

    • Joshua Hendrickson

      Disasters tell us that the universe doesn’t care about our lives.  God’s not mysterious; he’s just not there at all.  And any God that would make a world this messed up and then presume to judge us is no God worthy of respect. 

  • Anonymous

    Please bring Naomi Klein and her book “The Shock Doctrine – The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” into the discussion.
    In this empirical w o r k she shows how catastrophies are used by the Right wing in collusion with corporations to institute harsh policies that would never have passed during normal times in the chaotic aftermath of disasters.

    Here’s an article where Klein describes the book. 


  • Ellen Dibble

    Sorry, I posted something here and deleted it.

  • Salzburg

     Love your fiction.

    Regarding subject:

    Our world‘s population is huge and resources are limited. The lucky ones are controlling the wealth and honestly the majority don‘t realize it‘s not because they are special, just fate. Socialism needs to spread. 

  • Brian in Hebron, CT

    Apocalypse literally means to uncover, disclose, reveal. It is not the “end of the world”, but apocalyptic events can reveal to us that an end is near. If paid attention to, apocalyptic events can change our thinking so we CHOOSE to end ways of being in the world that don’t work for Nature or culture.

    It’s a bit like strategically walking away from a mortgage that is underwater. We are literally and mythically underwater in our cultural “mortgage” with our Mother Earth. Time to do like empires before us, and walk away before we destroy ourselves.

  • Ahuva

    I am so relieved to hear this question.  The frame around every story in the media – from coal mining disasters to environmental refugees from New Orleans – are NOT put in their right frame.  As an example, the story of wheat fields on fire across Russia – due to climate aberrations – was reported as GOOD NEWS FOR AMERICAN WHEAT FUTURES and now 15% of OUR crop is in the ground.

    I hate to be a bible-thumper, but this stuff is predicted in the book of Numbers.  If we act like we’re all disconnected and it’s every one for themselves – we will see the natrural consequences in our environment.  Here you have it!

    • Joshua Hendrickson

      If you don’t want to be a Bible-thumper, then don’t thump the Bible.

      It’s easy to predict disasters:  they’ve always happened to everyone, so it’s a sure bet to say they’re going to happen.

      As it happens, I agree that our disconnection myth is especially problematic these days, but how do you convince 6 billion people that we are all one?

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    There is nothing new in many of these disasters.  We hear about earthquakes more often these days because of our global news media, but there has been no increase in the frequency or strength of earthquakes.  There may be an increase in dangerous weather phenomena, and that can be explained by the rise in global temperature.

    What we do learn is that the response of a people to disaster reveals the strengths and weaknesses of their culture.

  • Ellen Dibble

         There were apocalypti (spelling) in the past, but not connected by international 911 cellphone connectivity.  It seems to me the new thing for humanity is the sense of the planet as an organic whole, and it seems to me international government is going to have to be an organic whole.  I look to people like Fukuyama (The End of History; he’s been on Charlie Rose and others) to consider whether autocracy or democracy is closer to “organic.”
    It is hard not to think the world as a whole is going to pass through the “valley of the shadow of death” in bits and pieces over the next century without vast collaboration and scientific advances.
     “The world’s population now at 6.7 billion people, is expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050.  (united Nations)  If greenhouse gases created by people’s consumption of natural resources continue to increase, climate models predict that the average temperature at the Earth’s surface could increase from 3.2 to 7.2 degrees above 1990 levels by the end of this century.  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  1.1 billion people have no access to clean drinking water, and as a result more than 160 million die each year due to diarrheal diseases, schistosomiasis (internal parasites) and hepatitis A (World Health Organization).  Of the 800 million hungry and malnourished people in the developing world in the year 2000, 232 million were in India, 200 million in sub-Saharan Africa, 112 million in China and 56 million in Latin America.  United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.   

    • Joshua Hendrickson

      You write,

      ” I look to people like Fukuyama (The End of History; he’s been on Charlie Rose and others) to consider whether autocracy or democracy is closer to “organic.” ”

      I don’t trust Fukuyama’s judgment, but that’s beside the point.  I doubt if either autocracy or democracy are “organic.”  Both require politicalized structures in order to function and are relatively new cultural developments.  I doubt also if either one is a fully humane, sober, and mature way of organizing society.  We’ve got to find such a way.

      • Ellen Dibble

        What I happened to hear in the City Arts & Lectures piece on NPR Sunday night (in a show I’ve never heard before) had Fukuyama saying that tribal societies actually had it right before historical era governments and historical era religions began to order things.  He said tribal societies provided freedom in that if someone was dissatisfied with the particular tribal culture, one could just up and move.  Sort of like renters who can seek a more compatible residence.  And if I recall he was saying that tribes were what I was trying to describe as organic.  They were responsive, flexible, pragmatic.  Something like that.  I did not hear the whole thing, but I do have the book, in case I could absorb it by putting it under my pillow.  
             I think we need to de-couple our thinking from a few millennia of religious/military administration, and that’s not to say the first individual trying to do that has the whole answer, but he is the first one I’ve heard able to step outside the status quo and prompt fresh thinking, which may be necessary about now. 

        • Joshua Hendrickson

          I agree that tribal societies are closer to “organic” than anything post-agricultural revolution.  I also agree that we “need to de-couple our thinking from a few millennia of religious/military administration.”  That’s on the nose.  We should bring our philosophy and science with us into the future, but religion and militarism really need to go into history’s dustbin, along with economics, ethnic/racial identifications, and authoritarian presumptions.

  • InActionMan

    “I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It
    came to me when I tried to classify your species, and I realized that
    humans are not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet
    instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding
    environment; but you humans do not. Instead you multiply, and multiply,
    until every resource is consumed. The only way for you to survive is to
    spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that
    follows the same pattern… a virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer on this planet, you are a plague, and we… are the cure. ”

    AGENT SMITH – The Matrix

  • Suzian

    I believe the erratic weather is a direct reflection of the emotional state of the world today.  You get what you concentrate on.  As the world continues to focus on the apocalyptic theory, the drama will play out exactly as expected.  Mr Diaz, YOU GET IT!  Thank you for this enlightening piece!     

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       Huh?  Weather is the result of solar energy–how much gets retained, how much is reflected back into space–atmospheric content, and the earth’s rotation.  In other words, entirely physical phenomena.  How I feel about the world has nothing to do with the weather.

    • Joshua Hendrickson


      Our behavior may have direct and indirect consequences on global climate, but not our thoughts. 

      • Ashleyyoshida

        …And our behavior is directed by our thoughts.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    We have been helping Haiti for the better part of a century.  Perhaps that’s the reason for the Haitian inability to help themselves.

    • http://bsc-haiti.blogspot.com/ jhayesboh

      We’ve been robbing Haiti for twice as long, though. 

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         Robbing?  How so?

  • Laradcham

    Most definitely certain areas and people are experiencing an end.
    What that end is depends on the people and their beliefs and how they were structured and the devastation to that structure. 
      However, where there is destruction, there can be construction.  Let’s hope that the world can help to construct Haiti out of its Byzantine era and into a world that is more constructive. 

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       Actually, the Byzantines were highly developed during their time.  They preserved the Roman Empire in the east for a thousand years after the fall of the western half.  One thing that the Byzantines did was to keep libraries of ancient books that would have been lost otherwise.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Let’s note that Haiti has been led by one warlord after another.  That’s a cultural choice made by the Haitians, not something that we did to them.

    • andy

      Respectfully, no one chooses a dictator or warlord as a leader.  I was in Haiti in December and can assure you they would choose democracy and functional government over their current disfunction. 

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         No one chooses a dictator?  Napoleon, Hitler, Saddam?  These dictators were accepted because they offered security.  That’s a choice that people make.

      • andy

        Well, I suppose we can point to a few examples where people do choose dictators but my second sentence stands.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Nu-cle-ar, not nuc-u-lar!

    • Laradcham

      Greg…if your not an english teacher, than you missed your calling;)

  • Goodwin68

    Don’t forget about the World Bank in all this, and how they are like a loan shark controlling these small nations. Good point, Diaz; Haiti was economically  isolated by the world community because they overthrew slavery; but why do intellectual people on NPR keep saying “sort of”, “sort of” , “sort of”… Please, smart people, stop saying “sort of” every other word; it’s no different than saying “like”.

  • matthew

    I tried listening. I really did. But I could not tolerate the broken-up, self-hesitating verbal style of the guest. He has in common with many young people, supposedly educated in the communication arts, a littered syntax, filled with worthless phrases. How many times per sentence did Mr Diaz say “sort of” or “kind of” or “ya know”? The listener is forced to dig through this collapsed concrete of obfuscation in order to try to find life underneath it (to use a Haiti reference).

    • Char

      I would hope that NPR would counsel their guests on the ” and-uh-ya-know-like-kind-of-sort-of” verbal stuff by playing back their interview.  It is way toooooo diverting. 

  • Favalaro99

     Seriously Tom!!?? On Point, a show revered for its objectivity and intellectual discussions, is now delving into End of the World, apocalyptic drivel?  Who are your guests for next show?  Jerry Falwell? Jim Bakker?  The 700 Club crew?

    • Anonymous

       consider listening before posting.

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

        Favalaro99 has been listening, as have I.  We’ve heard the same things.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    We’re past the halfway point here.  Are we nearing a message?  So far, we’ve established that disasters happen.  All right, we knew that.  What does Diaz want us to do?

  • Nina Lytton

    I believe we bring some of these disasters on ourselves by not considering our role _within_ nature.  

    Consider the thoughts of Hawaiian Kupuna Nana Veary expressed in the opening words of the chapter “Reverence for Life,” in her book, “Change We Must:”

    “The Hawaiian religion, which I call “kahunaism,” is a philosophy of everyday life… The essence of kahunaism is a deep and genuine reverence for life — living and becoming part of everything around you…

    We all live in a spiritual universe governed by spiritual laws. The Hawaiians knew that they were more than physical beings. Prayers and chants acknowledged the divinity within all things and all people. Hawaiians felt a need to touch their Creator, and by some deep inner spirituality, they were able to discover the unity of all life. They were able to see the big picture, the larger universe that embraced the rocks, the ocean, the birds, the land, the plants, the mountains and the people. They saw the energy that unites all of them.

    The Hawaiian word lōkahi (unity, harmony) acknowledges the three major forces of God, nature, and humans. The old Hawaiians knew that these forces were related and must be kept in harmony.”

    • Tina

       Nina, Thank you for your beautifully written post!  I had not known about kahunaism, so thank you!  I also found it interesting because you described my very own native spirituality which I “acquired” by being born both long enough ago and fortunate enough that we kids grew up playing in the woods down the street, all day long, every day; climbing trees, following the path of The Brook, checking out what was happening (growing, dying, etc.) in Our Woods, playing lots of imaginative games with our little gang.  This was all before I was school age, and before I ever went to Sunday School or church.  The other important attribute of that time/place was that suburban mothers back then did not “hover” — they still had too much work to do; and they were not afraid that we would be abducted or injured.  We were Free, but we were never chaotic.  So, within this wonderful world with my brother and our neighbors (I was the only girl), our games changed with the seasons and with the changes in nature; we saw the life and death of plants and small animals, we intuited weather changes.  All that sounds social and sensate, but the other Big Thing was, we were so much a part of nature, paying homage to favorite tree branches that broke off, holding sacred burials for dead birds, loving the intensely ugly smell of the Skunk Cabbage so much that we’d start a kind of dancing down the path — we were so much a part of nature, that I “acquired” a special spirituality that is exactly what you describe.  I cannot tell you if the others in my gang did, too; and I certainly never had words, or concepts even, for this sense of sacredness.

      Going to the ocean on visits to a great aunt and uncle and grandparents only added to these sensibilities, as Catching A Wave is truly being At One With Nature, and Godliness (for me, anyway; and maybe within kahunaism?!).   I’ve often said that when I finally was sent to Sunday School, probably at age 6, that a second religion was added onto my primary, native spirituality.  I feel fortunate that the church our parents chose to attend was very gentle in its teachings.  I didn’t hear words like sin or redemption (which implies “sin”) in a church service until I was in my forties, probably.  And, I was never successfully converted away from my native religion.  I wonder, if we do not make the commitment to make our neighborhoods, including urban parks,  safe for our kids, and if kids are forced to play educational games in front of screens so that they can propel us forward economically when they become adults, will today’s kids be able to grow up “acquiring” a sense of the sacredness of nature and of their own integral part in it?

  • Ellen Dibble

    Someone led me to this link  to Hans Rosling at a Ted conference, saying that all the development is leading to smaller families and more equity in incomes (over the last 50 years).  He does not point to the fact that richer people will increasingly pollute and ruin the planet.  Not that I heard.

    • Laradcham

      Ellen, I watched this and it appears to be very informative.  My only problem is that the information was from 2003, which was certainly prior to the U.S. financial meltdown which has definitely altered Ted’s figures in regards to these figures. 

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Ah, our success is our sin, and the failures of others are our fault.  We’ve heard this message before.  Success doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.  Look at Eastern Europe–nations that were in poverty can rise up to our level and be equal players.

  • http://environmentalgeography.blogspot.com jhayesboh

     Diaz is right — the middle class is not being brought down by poor people.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Oh, here we go–the world will end this Saturday.  I bet you a thousand dollars that it doesn’t.

  • Ed

    When the Catholic Church says the end is here, then pay attention. It’s not so much Milleniumism but the Judeo-Christian tradition, in which time moves forward. 

    • Joshua Hendrickson

      When the Catholic Church will take responsibility for acts of child abuse, then I’ll pay attention.  Given its recent self-absolving “study”, however, I’m not going to hold my breath.

  • Ellen Dibble

     If the IMF says we’ll be mostly middle class by 2022, I expect we will be boosting pollution and CO2 emissions at a rate that will be a real threat of outpacing our administrative and technological ability to manage those middle class lives.

  • Markus

    Rich taking all the goodies
    Haiti as the victim with little or no responsibility for their own situation.
    My concern was that this guy is teaching young minds at MIT. I’ve long since given up on professors at most colleges providing both sides (like maybe Haitians are at least partially responsible for voting for corrupt incompetents). But I figured MIT profs might base their thinking more on data than their emotions or biases. Once again I’m disappointed, but not surprised, by the lack of rigor in the thinking of professors. Of course, he is a creative writing professor, but what a light weight.  

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       Now don’t go disrespecting creative writing professors. . .

      I do agree with your main point.

    • Tina

       The poor Haitians have practically no access to basic education.  That is hardly their fault.  That is the fault of their politicians, who MIGHT be as interchangeable as too many of ours are — as in, the huge corporations here give to both the Republicans AND the Democrats, so HOW can citizens expect REAL allegiance by those they elect to the supposedly different values of the two parties?  The corporations keep winning in the end, no matter Repubs in charge; or Dems in charge.  

      Maybe On Point could do a show about WHY EDUCATION IS IN SUCH A SAD STATE IN HAITI HISTORICALLY; i.e., not just after the earthquake.

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         The Republicans and Democrats aren’t parties in Haiti, and for whatever reason, the Haitians have accepted corrupt and brutal leaders.

        • Tina

          I KNOW that Repubs and Dems aren’t parties in Haiti.  I was giving a comparison, to try to talk about how little Real Choice voters may have in Haiti (or here).

  • Markus

    Rich taking all the goodies
    Haiti as the victim with little or no responsibility for their own situation.
    My concern was that this guy is teaching young minds at MIT. I’ve long since given up on professors at most colleges providing both sides (like maybe Haitians are at least partially responsible for voting for corrupt incompetents). But I figured MIT profs might base their thinking more on data than their emotions or biases. Once again I’m disappointed, but not surprised, by the lack of rigor in the thinking of professors. Of course, he is a creative writing professor, but what a light weight.  

  • Brian Eirschele

    Find a politician that connects the problem with to many people on this planet and I’ll show you a politician with a short lived profession.

  • Realist

    Ending the enslavement of woman as baby factories is the key to raising the standard of living in developing countries.  I am sorry for the suffering of those in Haiti but if can’t support yourself why would you start a family?

    • Peter D

      One word: Hormones 

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

        And a church that labels contraceptives as a sin.

    • Ellen Dibble

       Historically, the more vulnerable a couple is, the more children they have.  It’s their only insurance.

      • Realist

        Yes the ultimate in selfishness because the kids either starve or end up being sold as slaves or bondsmen.

    • Boston mom

      So poor people shouldn’t be allowed to have children? Sounds like the perspective of someone with options.

      • Realist

        Not what I said.  They should not have children they cannot support.  Every study ever done shows that women who delay childbirth do much better economically.  And secondly they are beholden to men.

        • Realist

           Second point was supposed to say, “not beholden to men”.

          • Char

            You were right the first time. In Haiti most women really are beholden to their husbands, or fathers, and a Haitian man can have more than one wife.  There is very little choice for a married woman.  Even if there was an opportunity to get birth control she cannot afford it.  She lives in a tiny house with a mud floor.  If she is lucky she has a kerosene lamp.  If she is lucky she has nets so that her children do not have to sleep on the dirt floor on a mat.  She might have a few chickens, and if an American visits
            her, she will offer her chair for you to sit on and as you leave she will hand you a gift of a few eggs.
            Haitian people are not stupid and they are not lazy.  They are caught in a country where the gap between very rich and very poor is very great.  The very rich own the power.  Millions of dollars in aid have been poured into Haiti over many years, much of it wasted because donors think that they know better than Haitians what they need.
            If you want to help Haiti, find a program that does not funnel dollars through the central government.  Many other organizations work directly on the ground with local people.  Education is key, especially for girls and women, empowering them to control their own lives.
            Small business programs for women are also key, giving women the ability to have money.  Schools and school feeding programs are important.
            The waters are fished out, the land is bare of trees, and yet the people persevere.  If  you know of any good way to help Haiti, go there and do it.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Weird [sic] to blame the victim?  What about personal responsibility in any of this?

    • Joshua Hendrickson

      “Personal responsibility” is not unimportant, but systemic issues are far more so. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1611647854 Kim Phillips

    How many times is he going to say “sort of” in one minute?

    • Char

      ………and ‘you know’  s . But to be fair, a writer has the opportunity to review and revise, and revise again.  He holds Pulitzer Prize, a huge accomplishment, but maybe not so many prizes when he speaks extemporaneously.

  • Filekutter

    The premise that anyone, could predict the future, is ridiculous. Religion is, and has been, the source and the continuance of hate, violence, and a global doublethink, which promotes and enhances a schizophrenic mindset. 

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       Not all religion, but certainly there’s a vein of what you describe in monotheistic religions.  As for predicting the future, we can make some predictions based on evidence.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

        Even the religiosity of science, with all its pompous certitudes, cannot predict what a human being will do in the future. Now, multiply that by 100 billion or so. In my mind, that’s a whole lot of speculation about the unknown. Don’t you think we have better things to do with our short, meager lives as long as we are stuck here? The whole thing begs a quote: “Why can’t we all just get along?”  I’m still waiting for a definitive answer to this genuine & original stumper.

        • Char

          Maybe we can not a ALL get along but we can start by getting along with those we live with here and now. 

  • Tina

     Yes!  If governments would “mind the store”, as you say; or Take Care of Fundamentals of what their citizens NEED (as in good, strong, high, wide enough levees, etc.  AND health insurance AND protected water supplies) — IF governments would do these things, they would not have any money left to go to war with one another!  Another problem solved, therefore!!!

    It is the military suppliers who get too much of our money.  THEY should re-tool!

    • Ellen Dibble

       But Tina, would that “should” also apply to, say, China, who as I understand cut off military collaboration after, as I recall, discovering some American spy stuff on a high level aircraft?  Would that include Iran and Israel and Russia?  Would that include the far-right Tea Party types who think in terms of no taxes and plenty of arms with which to address their grievances, and those in Tora Bora with the idea of God in their backpacks?
          Is total divestment in all weaponry from germ-laden blankets to H-bombs possible?  Can we collaborate to that extent without a total autocracy (and probably an elite of unprecedented wealth)?  Remember the story of the princess whose father was told she would prick her finger on a spindle, and therefore all spindles were forbidden.  And of course they were kept but in hiding.   Sleeping Beauty.  Sleeping Giants of destruction.

      • Tina

        Hi, Ellen!  I’m thinking mainly of Haliburton which I understand had people — like Dick Cheney — who knew the company had much to profit from if we went into Iraq.  I didn’t mean that we should totally dis-arm; but I do think that the military suppliers do “get too much of our money” in this Haliburton  way, and because they help “a track to be laid” toward a military-solution kind of thinking,  when other options  should be considered.  Take the Arab Spring (name?):  did we EVER consider that we could have used tactics based on the democratic yearnings of all those young people, instead of buying armaments because we fear the radical Islamists?  The concept of radical Islamists is very profitable for Haliburton.  It often seems like they are the tail that wags the dog.  But, as I said, I don’t think we should totally disarm, nor could we.  I was even glad when President Obama decided to have us join NATO (chemo-brain:  was it NATO?) to try to help out Libya.  

        Thanks for the discussion, tho I might not be able to get back to it; I have stuff I have to do.  I do enjoy your Sleeping Beauty analogy — it is PERFECT!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      The military-industrial machine creates the very problems that it then purports to “solve” through warfare. The best re-tooling of this destructive system is to completely scrap it and recycle the technology into life-supporting mechanisms. Tres radical, non? (pardon my French.)

  • Salzburg

     It‘s naivety to believe that the people need to be taught how to rebuild.

    Part of the impact of disasters and wars are the rape of the culture, knowledgeable  and able-bodied leaders. Sadly and wisely for themselves they leave their countries and begin new lives as refugees else where. Rich countries profit greatly from these occurrences.

    • Laradcham

      Most of them were killed!  The country was defunct of ANY real leadership minded people. 

  • Cekim

    Blaming capitalism misses the point that like so many of the failures of our system at present, it is not capitalism itself, but abuse of government power by the “connected few.”

    This is the precise reason that government’s power must be severely limited – so that those with wealth and influence may not pervert its function to their purposes.

    Capitalism absolutely does provide an incentive for preservation of our environment in the form of property rights and value, but again, government and regulation is abused by the elite to trample the rights of others in this regard.

    The profit AND cost of any activity need to be realized by the entity, or the system breaks down.  Our burdensome “big government” system has been doing nothing but shifting the cost away from those who realize the profit.  Capitalism is merely a reflection of nature and evolution with all the benefits of that system in finding “what works” by destroying that which does not.  It’s not perfect, but any other solution empowers government to abuse the masses to the benefit of the connected few.

    • Tina

      Cekim, Might I remind you that “property rights” is one of the ways in which colonial, state and federal powers took away land from Native peoples?  In the case of my grandfather’s ancestors, a Native American reservation, by then a “maroon”, had been shrinking in size for generations due to land grabbing by powerful planters.  Eventually, some planters had themselves appointed trustees of the reservation by the state of Virginia.  They continued with their scheme by dividing the land that had been held in common into small parcels, knowing that those individually-owned parcels would be subject to taxation, and that the Native American and mixed blood inhabitants of the former reservation would not be able to pay.  The plot by the planters was not only about acquiring the land, altho that was part of it.  They also believed that they had found a way to be rid of the “spurious mix’t issue” who dwelt on the reservation — those individuals whose own ancestors had first helped the ancestors of these later planters to understand how to dwell in this New World.  “Property rights” may SOUND like a concept we would all believe in; but it has a nasty history, too.  Just ask an Irishman or a Native American!  The history here is thanks to the research of Frances Bibbins Latimer.  

      • Lara

         I certainly “agree” with you about how we took land from the Natives.  It occurs to me while reading your paragraph that what goes around comes around. 

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_42BLPFWJ2SUX6642EDSPT5KQPI Gene

      “Capitalism absolutely does provide an incentive for preservation of our environment in the form of property rights and value, but again, government and regulation is abused by the elite to trample the rights of others in this regard.”

      I am so sick of hearing this deception.  First, capitalism as actually practiced, which is the only “capitalism” that matters, became a system under which corporations are organized around the principle of maximizing profits and externalizing costs – the corporation takes the profits  and, to the maximum extent possible, makes others pay the costs for their actions.  This pattern is at the very root of capitalism today.  

      And now the apologists for this system tell us pollution is the result of not enough privatization, that everything, water, air, land, should be privately owned.  Then, they tell us, those private owners would have the incentive to protect those assets (because that’s how they see them) from pollution.  This claim is sick beyond belief.  We already see how capitalism concentrates wealth and power in the hands of the few.  Now they want us to turn over control of literally everything to these few, so they can sell us back pittances of clean air and water, and the produce of the land.  We already know, from what they have already done, how this would pan out.  


      • Lara

        The play “Urintown,” is an eloquent way of reflecting your sentiments exactly!   

    • Lara

      Capitalism appears to provide the right environment for cut throat wheeling and dealing which tends to abandone those who do not have the most money. 

  • Brian in Hebron, CT


    We forget that there was a time, about 3 million years
    worth, when people knew that man belongs to the world, the same way salmon and
    sparrows were made for the world.


    Man only recently, within a couple thousand years, began
    to think that he needed saving from humanity because of the historical devastation
    that resulted from the belief that the world belongs to man.


    Yes, there have always been floods, earthquakes, volcanic
    eruptions, but it is no coincidence that the expansion of war, crime, famine,
    plague, an exploited labor force, drug abuse, slavery, rebellion, and genocide directly
    parallels the expansion of human population and the increased pressure that
    places on our eco-system.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       The Internet is the result of the same cultural change.  Are you volunteering to go off line?

      • Brian in Hebron, CT

        The Internet can be used to instantly share ideas that can save the world, or destroy it. The Internet can be powered by energy provided by the sun and wind, or by coal-fired power plants. The Internet by itself is neutral, it is only in how humans use it that it becomes a powerful tool that can help prevent or hasten our demise.

        And with that, yes, I am going offline. :-)

      • Brian in Hebron, CT

        Yes, in fact I am. All this brilliant conversation is pointless unless we get out there in the real world and put it into practice. Good luck to everyone “in here”. Hope to meet you again, “out there”.

  • Boston mom

     I’m oddly relieved to hear Junot’s perspective… I feel as a typically optimistic person almost alone in my feeling of, I don’t know, the world really might be ending. Not because of the biblical apocalypse, because we are destroying this planet and its people to benefit a very few. This is all tied together and seems indisputably clear. I can’t fathom how people don’t see it. I suppose it is because we are so busy arguing over who’s allowed to get married, or as the privileged (probably) white guy who launches his humanitarian pat-myself-on-the-back effort was, being disgusted by Hatians burning garbage. What we should be doing is valuing ourselves, our fellow men and women (particularly people not born into privilege, as most of us who are calling into On Point probably are) and our Earth. 

    Personal responsibility is easy to talk about from our warm, dry homes, nibbling on a panini and typing on our Macbooks, isn’t it?

    • Boston mom

      Haitians, rather. Before someone jumps on the typo.

    • Lara

      I found that as moms we have a greater understanding of what is going on.  We purchase most of the items, such as food, clothing, furniture…you name it.  I knew we were losing our jobs to nations overseas a long time ago, when my husband went to an auto trade show and the chinese guy had to ask my husband if he could watch his booth while he went to the bathroom.  I have been telling people to purchase items made in America a very long time ago, mostly due to the fact that I knew our country would be out those jobs AND, the quality sucks and the prices were more expensive.  Side note:
      I don’t get why we are paying more for items made my slave labor….that is shocking to me. 
      As a mom I had time to reflect, while kids were sleeping or while watching them or while doing chores and this thinking already led me to what others are finding out at least a decade later and I DID NOT need commercials to tell me to “BE GREEN.” 

      I would love to help Haiti, but where would I stay?  Where would I get my food, water?  How would I be safe?  I would have to probably carry a gun or some kind of weaponry due to the violence directed at women.  I have seen the numbers in regards to the women and girls raped and it is nearly all of them have had some incidence of sexual violence directed at them.  So, what is a person to do?  They have NO infrastructure.  How am I going to be able, with my white skin, to walk into Haiti and not be harmed myself and how would I be utilized.  I cannot answer these questions.  I found a way and that was to be a part of the “Vagina Monologues,” which raised money for Haitian women this year.  All I know I can do is to hold them in my prayers and HOPE that something comes out of this, but I’m afraid that much more damage will be done to themselves.  

  • Goober

     I would include with these natural disasters the man-made economic catastrophes (the latest of which began in the sub-prime housing market).  Greed tempts some to drill deeper, risk more, and take gambles that effect those other than themselves.  If I buy a house I can’t afford, the bank forcloses.  It’s simple.  If BP or the mortgage industry takes inordinate risks and looses, they take the money and run.  We are left to clean up the mess they left us.

    • Lara

      It’s about time people are finally starting to wake up!!!  It took hitting their wallets in order to get them out of the clouds!  While people have been been working very hard to maintain their homes and their lifestyles and working themselves to the bones, OUR country has been being taken over slowly but surely by those who pay lobbyists hundreds of thousands of dollars to push and peddle our politicians (the people who were supposed to be looking after our best interests) day in and day out!  AND, they have been doing it for years.  I think the people may have to pay lobbyists to go to the capital in each of our states and in D.C. and try and re-purchase our country back.  I’m not sure we can successfuly get the politicians to listen unless we have a piece of pie to offer them.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but how else are we going to get our elected leaders to go to work on the issues that we need them to pay attention to when they are too busy courting the lobbyists who are right in front of their faces all day, everyday, every month, every year, every decade!

  • Browndog2233

    very creative writing indeed. It’s a good thing he is a “creative writer” and not a public speaker. I have never heard so many “ahhhhs”, “duhhhs”, “you knows” etc, etc, ad nauseums in such a short period of time. It, ummmm, ahhh, sort of makes me wonder what credence should be given to his book and to the validity of this story….

    • Ashleyyoshida

      Don’t you think that’s a mean spirited comment? Why did you post it?  To feel smart at his expense?  Sometimes it’s wiser to be kind than to be clever.

    • Lara

      I have to give some credit to Juno.  I think he is quite intelligent and has many ideas and at times it is hard to put ideas together when so much is there.  It is hard sometimes to gauge your audience.  If you do read the artilce, if you have not, I think you will find that he makes very good points.  I do agree that his speaking voice isn’t the most eloquent, but, I can forgo that for the information that his report gave. 

  • Jamesryanbecker

    Mr. Diaz referenced Jesus talking about disasters, but I believe it is important to state where in the Bible Jesus said such things.  Here is Matthew 24:4-8 4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. 

    The whole interview, to me, is just commentary on ones opinion on the above Bible passage.  

    • Anonymous

      Unfortunately you seem to have missed the interview. 

  • Terio

    I lived on a lake where the conditions were right for an over population of Carp and they thrived. They depleted the natural resources, starved out other species and destroyed the lake. Then disease struck from over-population. Five hundred thousand pounds of dead Carp were emptied out of the lake, and the lake was unusable for several years. I dubbed it the “Carp Effect”. What makes us believe we are any different?Type your comment here.

    • Rondem1

       We aren’t different. We are a relatively delicate species that has adapted to a particular balance of natural circumstances. BUT we are also decimating our own habitat. We are paying the price but are not willing to change as long as those being hurt by droughts, storms, food shortages, water shortages are ‘those guys’. But then when it hits us, we get mad. I started being active in environmental issues in the 60′s and still get annoyed when people say ‘we’re destroying the earth’. I’ve always said “NO, the earth will get along fine without us.” Like your lake, the lake didn’t go away and eventually, something else will take it over, but you may not like it.

    • Jacoisms

      We aren’t different.  And that is why the poorest have the most offspring..  It increases the chances that at least one will thrive and pass on the genes.

      • Anonymous

        Should also note that a $.50 condom is a quarter of 2 billion people’s daily income.  Not just a means of passing on genes, but a problem of the lack of other options. 

  • Terio

    I lived on a lake where the conditions were right for an over population of Carp and they thrived. They depleted the natural resources, starved out other species and destroyed the lake. Then disease struck from over-population. Five hundred thousand pounds of dead Carp were emptied out of the lake, and the lake was unusable for several years. I dubbed it the “Carp Effect”. What makes us believe we are any different?Type your comment here.

  • Rondem1

    Wow, did these comments go WAY into left field! Even Tom seemed to be stuck on his own idea of Apocolypse as being the end of the world or something almost religious in nature. What I heard the author saying is that major world events are an opportunity to WAKE UP and take stock of things, NOT a sign of end times. More a 2×4 between the eyes to wake up the sleeping donkey in us than a woo woo “here come da judge” moment. examples- Katrina wakes us up to noticing how oil companies have decimated the marshes, increasing the effect of natural weather occurrences, or the faulty water control systems. We had a huge disaster in the blowout in the Gulf…it revealed that there are thousands of wells out there, some not capped too well. It also showed the lack of preparedness for such an event- note all the people who asked “where are the government cleanup boats”!! But how did we react? We got mad at Obama, then screamed for MORE drilling!! And we had some politicians who are still bowing and scraping in front of oil company execs ‘forgive us for doubting you…here’s your tax break.” WE have been given chances to wake up, but we fall rapidly back to sleep like a drunk driver trying to wake up with Oxycontin.

    • Anonymous

      Agreed.  I’m not sure if it was a ploy to get sensationalist/religious nut-jobs involved.  

  • Jacoisms

    I haven’t read the essay but listened to the program.  I thought it is was a very good ecological analysis.  The population from 1900-2011 went from .7 billion to 7 billion.  Competition for resources about sums it up.  It would be interesting to juxtapose arguments by Hernstein in his book “The Bell Curve” with Diaz perspective.  To be sure, it was laced with Marxist overtones… But that does not necessarily detract from the facts posed by Diaz.  The problem is clear but the solution(s) we disagree on ideologically.  The sci fi movie “The day the earth stood still” comes to mind.  IE humans are killing the planet. 

    Part of Diaz’s angle was that capitalism is the fulcrum of the issues – the idea that wealth of the few is generated by the poor and middle class.  Ecologically, there are fishers and pirates.  The pirates rely on the fishers, but if the pirates kill off the fishers the pirates can’t survive.  There always has to be a fair number of fishers left to do the work.  A balance ultimately is reached and resources get distributed to restore the gene pool or select what is best fit..  I think that’s where we are..  Another analysis can be drawn from BF Skinner’s book “Beyond Freedom and Dignity”..  There he noted autonomous man’s role in “freedom” that creates social problems.   7 Billion people….  which genes and phenotypes will get selected?   We deny that as a Nation and a society,that we are functionally practicing Social Darwinism.  Kind of Scroogey the thought of naturally decreasing the “surplus population”

  • Lj

    I know that there are different meanings to the word apocalypse, and many religions that have their own takes on the end of days. I think that these arguments are less important than the facts that we see happening right in front of us.

    We put an ever increasing strain on the planet’s ability to naturally sustain life, and we do it as if we think that someone with an astronomical IQ will come along and “fix” it for us.

    The more you take natural resources from the planet to burn for fuel and profit, and the more you pave over the natural world with urban sprawl, the less the planet itself has to work with to maintain natural weather conditions, sustainable environments, and so-on.

    I don’t pretend to have a pretty answer to this, because the only answer is for us to give up some of our creature comforts (those of us who have them) and to consume less. It would also help if more of us who are the haves would share more with the have-nots. Less greed and denial. Less poverty. Less attempts at prestige through excess.

    We won’t destroy the Earth in the sense that the planet will explode or crumble, but we will end up destroying the planet’s ability to sustain life. All while most of us are still waiting for “someone” to present us with the answers, when we already have them. We just don’t have the will to implement them.

  • Janice200

    I agree that directly witnessing disaster and seeing the sufferings of those who are hardest hit can make ‘the scales fall from ones eyes.’
    How we so often live in self-obsessed blindness is horrifying.

  • Susan

    Because I enjoyed listening to Junot Dias today and appreciated the gentleness with which he conveyed his thoughts of ‘apocalypse’ I want many people to listen to and hear him. What he’s saying is crucial to our survival on this planet.  It is for this reason that I would ask him to stop saying “sort of”, a cover up phrase which hides the potency of, and for me diluted,  his words.  

  • meatloaf

    Luke 6:43-49
     And when a flood came, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and it could not shake it; for it was founded on a rock. But he that heareth, and doth not, is like to a man building his house upon the earth without a foundation: against which the stream beat vehemently, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.

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  • Daniel

     Another great show! If you get a chance, Tom, please email me. I would like to talk to you about the City of Somerville’s happiness survey: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/01/us/01happiness.html. I think it would be a great topic for On Point. Thanks! 

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  • Anonymous

    The church group caller is disturbing to me.  It shows no cultural learning on his part and no knowledge of Haiti’s past, yet he still finds a way to cast judgement.  His round trip flight to Haiti for what I presume was a 1-2 week charity stay consumed as much carbon as many Haitians do in a month.  I do agree that education of Haitians is a great idea, but of little worth when even basic building supplies are out of the reach of most citizens.  I ask that he please stay home next time he plans on helping.  I do not want to give the impression that I am against all Christian charities either.  Some provide worthwhile services.  He it seems to me did not.

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  • Andy Cohen, NYC

    Wow. Listening to this today (Saturday after Thanksgiving) as I’m moving and looking for intelligent conversation to keep me going.  How prescient Junot was in this discussion, and how adeptly Tom allowed him to shift his focus from disaster-stricken countries to disaster-striking capitalism. 
    Wonder what Junot Diaz is making of the Occupy Wall Street movement .  For all its flaws (and I hope those gets ironed out), he must be happy to see the subject — of capitalisms, its excesses and the cowards who enable it — reaching the forefront of public concern…

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Aug 28, 2014
Photos surround the casket of Michael Brown before the start of his funeral at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.  (AP)

The message that will last out of Ferguson with New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb.

Aug 28, 2014
Some of the hundreds of earthquake damaged wine barrels cover and toppled a pair of forklifts at the Kieu Hoang Winery, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, in Napa, Calif. A powerful earthquake that struck the heart of California's wine country caught many people sound asleep, sending dressers, mirrors and pictures crashing down around them and toppling wine bottles in vineyards around the region. (AP)

Drought in California, earthquake in Napa. We look at broken bottles and the health of the American wine industry.

Aug 27, 2014
The cast of the new ABC comedy, "Black-ish." (Courtesy ABC)

This week the Emmys celebrate the best in television. We’ll look at what’s ahead for the Fall TV season.

Aug 27, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, right, as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, center, looks at them, prior to their talks after after posing for a photo in Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. (AP)

Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s leader meet. We’ll look at Russia and the high voltage chess game over Ukraine. Plus, we look at potential US military strikes in Syria and Iraq.

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Poutine Whoppers? Why Burger King Is Bailing Out For Canada
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There’s no hidden agenda to the difference between most people’s Facebook and Twitter feeds this week. Just a hidden type of emotional content and case use. Digiday’s John McDermott explains.

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Friday, Aug 22, 2014

On mixed media messaging, Spotify serendipity and a view of Earth from the International Space Station.

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