Gaining Some DistanceJanuary 18, 2010
Sixty miles from Haiti‘s devastated earthquake zone, luxury liners dock at private beaches where passengers enjoy jetski rides, parasailing and rum cocktails delivered to their hammocks.
The decision to go ahead with the visit has divided passengers. The ships carry some food aid, and the cruise line has pledged to donate all proceeds from the visit to help stricken Haitians. But many passengers will stay aboard when they dock; one said he was “sickened”.
“I just can’t see myself sunning on the beach, playing in the water, eating a barbecue, and enjoying a cocktail while [in Port-au-Prince] there are tens of thousands of dead people being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water,” one passenger wrote on the Cruise Critic internet forum.
“It was hard enough to sit and eat a picnic lunch at Labadee before the quake, knowing how many Haitians were starving,” said another. “I can’t imagine having to choke down a burger there now.”
I’ll confess, it seems extraordinarily crass for Royal Caribbean to park their luxury liner only 60 miles from the site of such incredible devastation. I might even go so far as to say that it’s wrong.
Much as I feel this way, it’s hard to offer a good reason why.
Indeed, I myself had a few friends over for dinner on Friday. We had a grand old time, boozing it up and noshing on tasty rich-person treats. We scarcely even mentioned Haiti as we gobbled up homemade calamari. Imagine!…
Of course, I’m in Colorado, so I could easily lean on the old slow-boat-to-Haiti routine. My helpful hands wouldn’t be welcome there, the burden of getting to Haiti would be too great, I have other obligations here, I have a child, there’s nothing I could do to help. Pass the wine please.
That’s all true, of course, but in this age of abundant monotonic value chits and their near-efficient electronic redistribution highway — I speak, of course, of my dollars and the internet donation infrastructure — I could easily offer help without lifting so much as my mouse.
I think there’s a morally relevant difference between the two scenarios, but I’m sure that many ethicists would beg to differ. Many folks would say that there is no morally relevant difference, that whether tragedy is local or in some far-off land, the obligation to help is equally strong. We should as much as we can to lift people out of their terrible predicaments.
But then, supposing I do help, am I free then to return to my revelry with my friends? Certainly, there can’t be anything wrong with having a dinner party after having made a small (or even a large) donation to the relief effort. If that’s true, then oughtn’t it also to be true that there shouldn’t be anything wrong with having a beach party on Haiti’s shores after bringing a few (or maybe even many) supplies on my cruise ship? (One of my colleagues, no doubt, would say that we should do what we can to help like crazy, and then, as soon as that’s over, we should party like crazy. But meh, he’s crazy.)
I’m not sure I agree. I think it’s perfectly permissible to go on living our lives as though little has happened in Haiti, though I do think we have an obligation to help. But I also think that having a beach party 60 miles from the epicenter of an earthquake that has killed approximately 100,000 people, while there are still people fighting over food, water, and shelter, while there are bodies burning in the street… that’s insensitive and, I think, wrong. It’s kind of like starting up a serious romantic relationship a day or two after your partner has died, except that in the latter case, the distance is temporal and not geographical. True, the partner will never find out, and never be hurt by it… but out of respect for the dead, the grieving, and the dying, couldn’t we hold the beach party somewhere else?
Don’t know. Am I crazy for holding this view?
(Whoops. Wrong logo.)