Skip

The White Savior Industrial Complex
March 21, 2012 7:36 AM   Subscribe

"From Sachs to Kristof to Invisible Children to TED, the fastest growth industry in the US is the White Savior Industrial Complex." (Teju Cole, The Atlantic)
posted by naju (93 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
I couldn't figure out why Kristoff supported the Kony 2012 campaign, despite the fact it was so inaccurate.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:40 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


TED talks? Most of those are scientific, or social sciences.
I don't really see how TED fits into this.
posted by Flood at 7:49 AM on March 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


I so totally can't wait to see all of the protests after rural villages inhabitants in Africa and elsewhere receiving low cost HIV prophylactics and malaria nets from rich Americans realize after studying this article and being forwarded these tweets that they are just on the crap-end of the white savior industrial complex.
posted by gagglezoomer at 7:50 AM on March 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


He's obviously not looked at my overwhelmed apathy portfolio.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:53 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


gagglezoomer: "I so totally can't wait to see all of the protests after rural villages inhabitants in Africa and elsewhere receiving low cost HIV prophylactics and malaria nets from rich Americans realize after studying this article and being forwarded these tweets that they are just on the crap-end of the white savior industrial complex"

Wow. Talk about missing the point of the article. Or, even, the first sentence.
posted by barnacles at 7:54 AM on March 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Flood: <cynical hat on>TED peddles easy solutions to difficult problems to a bunch of (on average) rich, white, men who can go home and pat themselves on the back afterwards for taking the time out of their busy lives to think about the little people. In this sense, TED is just like Kony 2012.
posted by pharm at 7:54 AM on March 21, 2012 [17 favorites]



Wow. Talk about missing the point of the article. Or, even, the first sentence.


I consider myself a pretty good reader, but I'll admit in this case that I really don't understand the point here. Then again, to quote the author "A good [article / comment] doesn't need to have a point."
posted by gagglezoomer at 7:57 AM on March 21, 2012


The point of the article:
"...there is much more to doing good work than "making a difference." There is the principle of first do no harm. There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them."

Reiterated:
"Let us begin our activism right here: with the money-driven villainy at the heart of American foreign policy. To do this would be to give up the illusion that the sentimental need to "make a difference" trumps all other considerations. What innocent heroes don't always understand is that they play a useful role for people who have much more cynical motives. The White Savior Industrial Complex is a valve for releasing the unbearable pressures that build in a system built on pillage. We can participate in the economic destruction of Haiti over long years, but when the earthquake strikes it feels good to send $10 each to the rescue fund. I have no opposition, in principle, to such donations (I frequently make them myself), but we must do such things only with awareness of what else is involved. If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement."
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:00 AM on March 21, 2012 [36 favorites]


The point:

"If Americans want to care about Africa, maybe they should consider evaluating American foreign policy, which they already play a direct role in through elections, before they impose themselves on Africa itself. ... Let us begin our activism right here: with the money-driven villainy at the heart of American foreign policy. To do this would be to give up the illusion that the sentimental need to "make a difference" trumps all other considerations. What innocent heroes don't always understand is that they play a useful role for people who have much more cynical motives. The White Savior Industrial Complex is a valve for releasing the unbearable pressures that build in a system built on pillage. ... If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement."
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:01 AM on March 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


D'oh. I owe whimsicalnymph a Coke.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:02 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Feverish worry over that awful African warlord. But close to 1.5 million Iraqis died from an American war of choice. Worry about that.

This.
posted by Slothrup at 8:02 AM on March 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


Okay, I disagree, but he is a fantastic writer.
posted by gagglezoomer at 8:02 AM on March 21, 2012


Saxon Kane: Don't feel bad for the double - that section ought to be quoted three or four more times, just to let it sink in.
posted by absalom at 8:04 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


pharm: "Flood: <cynical hat on>TED peddles easy solutions to difficult problems to a bunch of (on average) rich, white, men who can go home and pat themselves on the back afterwards for taking the time out of their busy lives to think about the little people. In this sense, TED is just like Kony 2012."

Wow. That is ridiculously cynical. (Nice hat, btw.) :)

The thing about TED is it's basically a stream of information, personal experiences and speculation on all topics. The idea that it actively promotes disrespect of other cultures is a little strange, imho. Should we respect the needs and values of other cultures if we are considering getting involved or directly interfering with them? Sure. But I really don't think TED is part of the "White Saviour Industry" problem.
posted by zarq at 8:04 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


But there's a place in the political sphere for direct speech and, in the past few years in the U.S., there has been a chilling effect on a certain kind of direct speech pertaining to rights. The president is wary of being seen as the "angry black man." People of color, women, and gays -- who now have greater access to the centers of influence that ever before -- are under pressure to be well-behaved when talking about their struggles. There is an expectation that we can talk about sins but no one must be identified as a sinner: newspapers love to describe words or deeds as "racially charged" even in those cases when it would be more honest to say "racist"; we agree that there is rampant misogyny, but misogynists are nowhere to be found; homophobia is a problem but no one is homophobic. One cumulative effect of this policed language is that when someone dares to point out something as obvious as white privilege, it is seen as unduly provocative. Marginalized voices in America have fewer and fewer avenues to speak plainly about what they suffer; the effect of this enforced civility is that those voices are falsified or blocked entirely from the discourse.

*standing ovation*
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:04 AM on March 21, 2012 [44 favorites]


From Dambisa Moyo's book, Dead Aid:

"There's a mosquito net maker in Africa. He manufactures around 500 nets a week. He employs ten people, who (as with many African countries) each have to support upwards of fifteen relatives. However hard they work, they can't make enough nets to combat the malaria-carrying mosquito....

With the market flooded with foreign nets [from well-meaning aid projects], however, our mosquito net maker is promptly put out of business. His ten workers can no longer support their 150 dependents (who are now forced to depend on handouts), and one mustn't forget that in a maximum of five years the majority of the nets will be torn, damaged, and of no further use.

This is the micro-macro paradox. A short term efficacious intervention may have few discernible, sustainable long-term benefits. Worse still, it can unintentionally undermine whatever fragile chance for sustainable development may already be in play."

posted by ChuraChura at 8:05 AM on March 21, 2012 [32 favorites]


Part of me really gets annoyed at the fact that progressives seem to save the most hurtful venom for those whom they agree with 90%. I understand that writing pissed off articles at African warlords really doesn't help, but it seems like, even on Metafilter, an asshole of a Republican will get a simple "Fuck you" while some of the most knock down, drag out fights, with metatalk highlights, take place when one progressive disagrees with the means, not the end, of another.

Feverish worry over that awful African warlord. But close to 1.5 million Iraqis died from an American war of choice. Worry about that.

This.


Ok, people protested in the streets, people voted for people that were against the war. How the hell do we deal with the fact that half the country disagrees with us on a fundamental level, at least?
posted by zabuni at 8:10 AM on March 21, 2012 [20 favorites]


It's kind of fascinating to see a leftie novelist committing the same sin of group identification that Iran hawks indulge. I would wager that at least 80% of the people at TED Talks either protested the Iraq war at the start, or went against it early on (oh David Remnick, you poor sucker). They are *quite* worried about U.S. foreign policy and its effects. The people who aren't... are not listening to TED Talks! But he seems to think that one white person is just the same as any other, that "U.S. policy" is a great big monolith rather than the result of a bunch of rather fierce arguments, and that he's blowing our Atlantic-reading minds by suggesting that U.S. policy sometimes makes life worse for people in other countries. I don't think that's particularly racist, but it is incredibly stupid.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:14 AM on March 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Individual issues in Africa (and everywhere) have to be considered in contexts that are inclusive of everything that has provoked them to unfold. Our exponentially complex world is so far gone that to be on the right page requires a tremendous amount of work. And to get everyone up to speed knowledge-wise in order to even have a coherent global conversation is so dizzying a task that until we evolve into cyborgs I just don't see it happening.

TL;DR we are fucked until we become cyborgs.
posted by pwally at 8:17 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm going to double down on the cynic hat.

Well I doubt this really plays that well in the US to people who are seeing their debts rise up and the futures for their children grow dimmer and dimmer. I imagine people are going to prefer a 1%er person like Newt Gingrich who is clearly just abusing money for the most egotistical and lurid reasons imaginable, to a naive rich guy who doesn't think he should be required to sacrifice his position, but does think we should be informed about what he thinks are the biggest problems in the world.

I am personally pretty sick of private charity, and I don't think I'm alone. The amount of money these people have accumulated is obscene, and the idea that because they utilize some of it on fanciful but hopeless programs that get their names in the news is disgusting. Here's what we should actually do, take the money from you via taxes, namelessly and thanklessly, and spend it as best helps society after having input from experts on the most crucial problems, not from rich people with too much free time.
posted by SomeOneElse at 8:19 AM on March 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


The idea that it actively promotes disrespect of other cultures is a little strange, imho

Enthusiasm is an affectation of the cryptosyndicalist bourgeoisie. Technology is the instantiation of enthusiasm, and should be shunned by all correct cadres.

The correct proletariat cadres know that the only acceptable emotion is despair. Those who profess non-communitarian responses must be cleansed with the cynical fist, so that the subproletarian unhumans may be mercilessly exterminated without pause. They demand it of us with their every waking breath, and we will provide it unthinkingly.

Let us take this opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the proper path of global rectitude, global victory, and global extermination. Only through correct cultivation of the true proletarian disdain may we carry through to the glorious goal of universal suffering.

Join me brothers, that we may drape the world with the gray flag of victory!
posted by aramaic at 8:19 AM on March 21, 2012 [16 favorites]


Flood: "TED talks? Most of those are scientific, or social sciences.
I don't really see how TED fits into this.
"

Maybe the whole water filter thing?

I like TED talks, but I think they focus too much on how great the ideas are, instead of just the ideas themselves.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:22 AM on March 21, 2012


"What Africa needs more pressingly than Kony's indictment is more equitable civil society, more robust democracy, and a fairer system of justice."

I work at an NGO that assists developing countries with exactly these things, and I think this point is absolutely right. There is a huge difference between trying to solve someone else's problems for them, and helping people to solve their own problems themselves. It's the difference between saying "I know what you need" and asking "what do you need?"
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:25 AM on March 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


zarq: I'm glad you like it :)

Being slightly more serious, I think TED can often fall into the classic fallacy of proposing technical solutions to social problems. People like the technical solutions because it means that they don't have to confront the difficult social issues underlying the problem in question. When the technical solution inevitably fails (as technical solutions to social problems usually do) everyone has moved on to the next thing & so the real problem never gets fixed. Then the whole cycle starts all over again when the next well meaning activist comes along to try and fix the problem with their new solution.
posted by pharm at 8:29 AM on March 21, 2012 [16 favorites]


Also, can't remember the source, but I remember someone contrasting the behavior of the Chinese vs. the behavior of white Europeans in Africa. China is actually doing things like building infrastructure because they see Africa in terms of its resources and as a market for consumers, labor, and materials.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:35 AM on March 21, 2012


What Africa needs more pressingly than Kony's indictment is more equitable civil society, more robust democracy, and a fairer system of justice.

Are the two mutually exclusive? Aren't we shitting on people for trying to make a small difference because they aren't trying to make a big difference?
posted by rocket88 at 8:35 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I only disagree with the suggestion that the "White Savior Industrial Complex" is either a new thing or more prominent than a generation or two ago. That "We Are The World" song totally saved Africa, didn't it?

I would wager that at least 80% of the people at TED Talks either protested the Iraq war at the start, or went against it early on
Which is why so many of them cancelled their New York Times subscriptions to protest its Iraq War Cheerleading (which it never fully apologized for, and, hey, look! It's doing it again with Iran!)
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:35 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's the difference between saying "I know what you need" and asking "what do you need?"

Or, for that matter, asking "What are your strengths, and how can we support you in developing them?"

There are organizations that have attempted to support rather than provide for developing societies/communities.

One of the interesting ones is Future Generations, whose mission is Future Generations teaches and enables a process for equitable community change that integrates environmental conservation with development.

Theirs is a process, not a product, that builds capacity, not just offers resources.
posted by entropone at 8:35 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


This article is pretty great.
posted by Chungking Express at 8:43 AM on March 21, 2012


Another important quote that gives some policy details:

Success for Kony 2012 would mean increased militarization of the anti-democratic Yoweri Museveni government, which has been in power in Uganda since 1986 and has played a major role in the world's deadliest ongoing conflict, the war in the Congo. But those whom privilege allows to deny constellational thinking would enjoy ignoring this fact. There are other troubling connections, not least of them being that Museveni appears to be a U.S. proxy in its shadowy battles against militants in Sudan and, especially, in Somalia. Who sanctions these conflicts? Under whose authority and oversight are they conducted? Who is being killed and why?

In short, sometimes a well-meaning, ignorant person can actually make problems worse by doing the "common sense" thing. Surely we have all done this - I know I have.

I think many of us both want to feel good about ourselves and achieve meaningful outcomes, but it's very easy for the desire to feel good about ourselves to trump any kind of outcomes-based thinking. So we often insist that anything that seems "common sense" or "generous" must contribute to meaningful social change and must not have a significant down side, because then we can feel good.

Also, then we can feel powerful, but sometimes there is nothing helpful you can do.

I once planned an event that went terribly wrong. Without going into details, I will say that it was a disaster on almost every level - interpersonal, ideological, organizational. In talking about this event with someone who gave me valuable critical feedback, I said something like "but some of it was out of my hands because of the limits on participants' schedules - I had limited control over [who could participate and various other things]." She said to me, "Wouldn't it have been better to have canceled the event and had nothing at all than to have had an event which made things worse?" And those were the words of wisdom. Given the resources that I had, the best actually possible outcome would have been to have no event whatsoever, but because I was committed to the idea of "doing something", I charged ahead and made things worse. Luckily, I was not in charge of a major aid program and so did minimal harm.
posted by Frowner at 8:43 AM on March 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


As someone who finds themselves increasingly on the outside looking in at the progressive camp, I can say this whole thing has the air of cultural superiority about it.

It's one thing to say, hey, the Kony campaign was dramatically simplified, ignores the opinions of actual Ugandans, has a slightly creepy neo-colonial vibe to it, etc. It's quite another to pile derision on people who mean very well, which is the direction most of this commentary has taken, particularly from white writers.

Digging into my stereotype bag, it feels a lot like people who were Death Cab fans before they got big slagging off all the people who heard them on One Tree Hill or whatever.
posted by downing street memo at 8:44 AM on March 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Which is why so many of them cancelled their New York Times subscriptions to protest its Iraq War Cheerleading

Interesting that you not only have a database of TED attendees, but have cross-referenced it with versions of the NYT subscriber database from multiple dates. Or just made up a straw man to prove a point. One of the two.
posted by kersplunk at 8:46 AM on March 21, 2012


TED talks? Most of those are scientific, or social sciences.
I don't really see how TED fits into this.


Tweet three is what I was trying to say in that TED thread the other day, only much better put.

I consider myself a pretty good reader, but I'll admit in this case that I really don't understand the point here. Then again, to quote the author "A good [article / comment] doesn't need to have a point."

Your bracket insert is the equivalent of "'water is [dry],' according to Cole." He was specifically and explicitly drawing a distinction between his work as a novelist and an essayist, viz. that in the former he relishes ambiguity and whereas here he was trying to be clear and persuasive. I cannot concur with your self-assessment.

As for Cole's point....those are some compelling, thoughtful tweets. But when it comes to something like the State department's boilerplate BS in favour of democracy....I wonder what he really wants, or if what he seems to say he wants is possible, or wise. All diplomacy is dissembling; the United States is hypocritical because it claims to value freedom and serves its own interest. Other powerful countries may be less hypocritical, but merely because they make no such claim in the first place, and nakedly serve.

He's right about the saviour complex, too, of course. But these is an ambition in extremity which I necessary to drive people toward unpleasant work...after all, they're certainly not going to get paid doing it. How much more grand to travel halfway across the world, to endure the same conditions as the poorest of the poor, then to be a social worker back at home....it's a tough gig either way but only one brings glamour. I don't have any answers either, of course, I'm just afraid that if we really did cut the bullshit we'd find there's nothing underneath, it's turtles and blowjobs all the ways down....
posted by Diablevert at 8:46 AM on March 21, 2012


...some of the most knock down, drag out fights, with metatalk highlights, take place when one progressive disagrees with the means, not the end, of another.

But the thing is ... the means of the "White Savior Industrial Complex" don't lead to the ends that people intend them to. Foreign aid being paid out in the form of loans have led to the huge, horrible cycle of debt trapping a significant proportion of African countries and increased corruption. Food aid in the form of surplus corn flooding the markets in developing countries have completely destroyed local agricultural prospects. Shoes and secondhand clothing donated to African countries have ruined livelihoods of local producers of shoes and secondhand clothing. Integrated development and conservation programs have attracted more people to environmentally sensitive areas and spurred further environmental degradation. There are hundreds of similar examples.

The fact is that people telling simplified versions of these stories allow people to congratulate themselves for knowing and caring, and then move on with their lives after participating in some Activism, like posting a link to a video, or an article. It lets us all off the hook, when instead (as Cole points out), we should be figuring out how we can use our mobility, our money, and our influence as members of Western Nation X, to take nuanced looks at complex situations and then figure out what the means are, and to what end.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:50 AM on March 21, 2012 [16 favorites]


But close to 1.5 million Iraqis died from an American war of choice.

This is OT, but in the interest of precision and accuracy, how was that number arrived at and what exactly does it specify (excess deaths, violent deaths, etc)? It is literally the largest estimate that I've ever seen, and smaller estimates have been labeled as implausible.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 8:55 AM on March 21, 2012


I do not like the image in that article either, of the angelic blonde dude rescuing all these dark children from horrible fates. It's super-creepy. But "savior complex" doesn't capture it; it's the natural human tendency to think of the world - particularly the abstract world - in terms of stories, with good and bad guys. For most of us, Africa exists only in our imaginations, and we need stories to understand even a tiny bit of it. This is not a phenomenon to which progressives are immune - Occupy Wall Street is one big story, about the similarly abstract world of high finance.

What kills me about this line of commentary is that we're presented with all the context and complexities about events in Uganda with respect to Kony, and asked to acknowledge that Uganda and Ugandans exist in a complex system immune to white saviorhood. But these same pieces ask Westerners to super-humanly transcend our own structural barriers (societal and psychological) to understand these complexities - something that almost certainly will not happen.

If you want people to begin to understand an abstract world, you need to dramatically simplify that world and create a narrative. We can't overcome that limitation.
posted by downing street memo at 8:56 AM on March 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


What these people need is a white dude! is certainly a resonant theme for American audiences. Along with Hey, I can fix this, I'm a NICE WHITE LADY.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:08 AM on March 21, 2012


If you want people to begin to understand an abstract world, you need to dramatically simplify that world and create a narrative. We can't overcome that limitation.

Well, to argue out the other side of my mouth, as I am wont to do --- maybe you need a story but you can change the story, change the frame. Fashions change, and there's fashions in everything. "sustainability," micro-finance --- these are en vogue and part of what makes them do is that they are more attuned to the agency of the recipient. Every aid model will have flaws and virtues; as the former are discovered people react against them and the fashion changes. It is to be hoped I suppose that some of the shifts are true evolution, towards stuff that actually does work better; likely if it is we would cease to think of it as being optional. Conversations like this are a part of changing the story, changing the outline if the avatar of the Virtuous Man we all seek to embody with this behaviour...
posted by Diablevert at 9:11 AM on March 21, 2012


I agree with the article. I think that, at least part of this, is a wholesale lack of faith in the democratic process. In the wake of various bubbles bursting, the financial meltdown, massive amounts of corporate money in politics, and a thousand other failures of our society (echoed endlessly by a 24 hour news media, which would have you believe the world is ending in a different way each morning) people don't really have much faith in elected officials to do anything. Probably rightly so. The alternative to this is to throw money at problems, but not tax money because you can't trust those clowns in Washington to throw it the right way. Instead it's thrown towards charities which are equally feckless or inept, and possibly even more so. The mode of the average person isn't citizen (since civil society by way of democracy is broken), but rather as a consumer. You can pass along advertisements on Facebook, and organize boycotts, or make your political statement by what you buy.
posted by codacorolla at 9:24 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Feverish worry over that awful African warlord. But close to 1.5 million Iraqis died from an American war of choice. Worry about that.

Trying ... to ... worry about ... two things at once ... Head pounding ... must stop [KABLOOM]
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:30 AM on March 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


may we have a tv tropes warning on links? I just fell down the rabbit hole and didn't climb out for 20+ minutes.

(love the site, but man, it's like crack)
posted by jb at 9:37 AM on March 21, 2012


I agree with the article. I think that, at least part of this, is a wholesale lack of faith in the democratic process. In the wake of various bubbles bursting, the financial meltdown, massive amounts of corporate money in politics, and a thousand other failures of our society (echoed endlessly by a 24 hour news media, which would have you believe the world is ending in a different way each morning) people don't really have much faith in elected officials to do anything.

I've noticed a real change in tone on MetaFilter over the past few years. More anger.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:50 AM on March 21, 2012


I found the article thoughtful. It's interesting how defensive we are when someone points out the obvious and suggests that solutions are at best going to be complex and messy.
posted by maxwelton at 9:52 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or just made up a straw man to prove a point.

No more than the poster who pulled the 80% figure out of his ass. In fact, less so, because I used the less specific reference "so many of them". How many NYT subscribers have canceled their subscriptions in protest of something written there? Here's the only one I could Google up, and everyone knows how Paul Krugman controls the rest of the paper's content.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:53 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


This reminds me quite a bit of the Ivan Illich speech on the Peace Corps:

I am here to suggest that you voluntarily renounce exercising the power which being an American gives you. I am here to entreat you to freely, consciously and humbly give up the legal right you have to impose your benevolence on Mexico. I am here to challenge you to recognize your inability, your powerlessness and your incapacity to do the good which you intended to do.

I am here to entreat you to use your money, your status and your education to travel in Latin America. Come to look, come to climb our mountains, to enjoy our flowers. Come to study. But do not come to help.

posted by allen.spaulding at 9:54 AM on March 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


Trying ... to ... worry about ... two things at once ... Head pounding ... must stop [KABLOOM]

It's not that you can't worry about two things at once, it's that the specific solution we're discussing for the worries about that awful African warlord is very similar to the process that lead to all of those dead Iraqis.
posted by cdward at 10:03 AM on March 21, 2012


Another way you can tell who's serious about local culture and context flavoring efforts to help and make a difference, and who's just culturally posturing: look at how many people applaud articles like these, yet turn around and suggest boycotting Apple over their labor practices.
posted by downing street memo at 10:12 AM on March 21, 2012


Look, we all know that if these guys really cared about Africa and it's problems, instead of getting involved with a charity, they'd be making cynical comments on Metafilter. the 101st Chairborn Brigade is the REAL solution to everything!
posted by happyroach at 10:15 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you want people to begin to understand an abstract world, you need to dramatically simplify that world and create a narrative. We can't overcome that limitation.

This idea is what I found most disturbing about the IC video. I'm a pessimistic guy, but this is far more cynical and defeatist than anything I would have dreamed.

If this is really true - if the only real way to make change is slick ad campaigns and simplistic narratives - then we're stuck in an endless game of political football, constantly losing ground to whoever has the most money.

I think the truth is just the opposite; that real, transformative change only comes from engaging people and teaching them to recognize that the world can be understood and changed by people like them, who aren't professionals or celebrities.
posted by cdward at 10:17 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


If Americans want to care about Africa, maybe they should consider evaluating American foreign policy, which they already play a direct role in through elections, before they impose themselves on Africa itself.

Is this not kinda problematic? People who might actually care about Africa are probably a small subset of voters, and have a choice between whatever package o' policies the Democrats and Republicans offer publicly at election time every 4 years. What happens if the cause you care about isn't one that's even on the table? I understand that people should probably familiarize themselves with the issues before diving in headfirst, but surely some things can be dealt with outside of US foreign policy...or even in response to US foreign policy to address its effects.

The American government did not see fit to support the Nigeria protests. (Though the State Department issued a supportive statement -- "our view on that is that the Nigerian people have the right to peaceful protest, we want to see them protest peacefully, and we're also urging the Nigerian security services to respect the right of popular protest and conduct themselves professionally in dealing with the strikes" -- it reeked of boilerplate rhetoric and, unsurprisingly, nothing tangible came of it.)

What is something tangible the American government could do here? What could the small subset of American voters that care about protesters in Nigeria do to influence the American government and other voters?
posted by Hoopo at 10:22 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, so the point of the article is to say that we have to stop making things worse in Africa via shitty foreign policy.

It also seems to be saying that there is a link to privileged white folks making it worse in Africa via foreign policy and the privileged white folks trying to make it better in Africa.

The insidious undertone is that it is getting worse so that privileged folks can swoop in and be the hero. Like starting a fire then putting it out, or something like that.

From the article:

What Africa needs more pressingly than Kony's indictment is more equitable civil society, more robust democracy, and a fairer system of justice. This is the scaffolding from which infrastructure, security, healthcare, and education can be built. How do we encourage voices like those of the Nigerian masses who marched this January, or those who are engaged in the struggle to develop Ugandan democracy?

Who's spouting White Saviour principles now? Telling Africans what they need - robust democracy, fair justice system. Oddly, the people guiding foreign policy often ask the same questions, but ultimately use shitty selfish methods to effect it.

I have no opposition, in principle, to such donations (I frequently make them myself), but we must do such things only with awareness of what else is involved. If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.

Wait - how does he know what's going on in the minds of people donating to charity? And what else, is he proposing that people be tested before they text money to a foreign charity? I'm not sure I know what he's saying here. There seems to be a dissonance.

I get it if he wants people to be better educated about the evils expounded by the US government on third world countries. But I don't think that making people question their charity is a good way to do it. People help where they can, and effect change where they can, and sometimes it has to do with convenience.

I think that this article is really more of a well-meaning rant than anything else, and doesn't propose any solutions to the problems he's complaining about.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:29 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Another way you can tell who's serious about local culture and context flavoring efforts to help and make a difference, and who's just culturally posturing: look at how many people applaud articles like these, yet turn around and suggest boycotting Apple over their labor practices.

Cultural posturing, or signaling, is no doubt a huge driver of opinion. I can see how some MF folks could applaud the article and simultaneously suggest boycotting Apple, even if there are incongruities to be found between the two issues. Nobody ever said signaling had to be logical.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:36 AM on March 21, 2012


"I get it if he wants people to be better educated about the evils expounded by the US government on third world countries. But I don't think that making people question their charity is a good way to do it."

I disagree, I think making people question their charity is incredibly important in making sure that whatever monies they are donating are going toward helping in the long term rather than perpetuating what has become a sick system. This article is less about individual donations and more about the self-perpetuating system that's now in place: hence the the term "Industrial Complex". The pushback I'm seeing is from people feeling personally affronted that their desire to help is being criticized. It's not the impulse to help that's being examined so much as what form that help ultimately takes, and whether it's actually helpful or *harmful* to the communities it purports to support. (I was going to say "rescue" rather than support, since that's the loaded word at the center of this article but there are organizations out there that are trying to lend support in a way that's directed by the communities being aided rather than from the outside in).
posted by stagewhisper at 10:37 AM on March 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


If Americans want to care about Africa, maybe they should consider evaluating American foreign policy, which they already play a direct role in through elections, before they impose themselves on Africa itself.
*****
Is this not kinda problematic? People who might actually care about Africa are probably a small subset of voters, and have a choice between whatever package o' policies the Democrats and Republicans offer publicly at election time every 4 years.


There is a middle ground of sorts. Instead of social-media'ing so that people send old t-shirts to African villages, one can do social-media'ing to rouse people to affect policy - not just by voting, but by pressing those elected.

The focus is different, but the same useful means can be applied to a more effective end.
posted by entropone at 10:39 AM on March 21, 2012


I think there is something else driving this. I don't usually want to put down people's good intentions, or their desire to good work. And I think social media has, on the whole, been a good thing for activism -- it was rather extraordinary to see a nonhierarchic, genuinely grassroots response to Rush Limbaugh recently, and it seemed to be effective.

But the downside to it is something I have started calling Facebook Outrage Du Jour Activism. I see it from a lot of people I follow. Every day something new pops up that they are angry about, usually in the form of a simplified narrative that can be communicated in a single Facebook post or link, with a simple call to action. A few days later, the activism has ended, like a tantrum that just needs to spin itself out. And these are people who admit to not following the news in general, and tend not to evidence any clear political ideas beside the fact that they can work themselves up into a froth every so often.

I suppose it's a double-edged sword. There are some simple evils in this world, and there are some problems that are vastly helped by simple calls to action. Boycotts can work, as can donating money. But, when you start reducing complex problems down to simple talking points to harness a sort of inchoate online outrage, I think there is a very great risk of the problem getting middied and the solution being short-lived and ineffective.

But maybe these are just the growing pains of a new kind of activism. Social media is, in the long picture, still a very new thing, and the power of social media activism is newer still.

Nonetheless, it is a bit annoying to discover people I fundamentally agree with are sometimes so shallow and reactionary, with no politics other than what is making them mad at the moment. I would like less of this.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:41 AM on March 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


The insidious undertone is that it is getting worse so that privileged folks can swoop in and be the hero. Like starting a fire then putting it out, or something like that.

I think that's a paranoid misreading of the essay. He's saying that many of these charitable efforts may be succeed in making the contributors feel good about themselves, while not doing much to help their intended targets, because people don't really understand the complexities of the situation they're trying to fix.

Who's spouting White Saviour principles now? Telling Africans what they need - robust democracy, fair justice system.

A first-generation Nigerian American who grew up mostly in Nigeria?
posted by Diablevert at 10:46 AM on March 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


Cultural posturing, or signaling, is no doubt a huge driver of opinion. I can see how some MF folks could applaud the article and simultaneously suggest boycotting Apple, even if there are incongruities to be found between the two issues. Nobody ever said signaling had to be logical.

The two positions are logically inconsistent. "Let local people handle their own affairs" is not ambiguous.
posted by downing street memo at 10:49 AM on March 21, 2012


There is a middle ground of sorts. Instead of social-media'ing so that people send old t-shirts to African villages, one can do social-media'ing to rouse people to affect policy - not just by voting, but by pressing those elected.

The focus is different, but the same useful means can be applied to a more effective end.


Somehow I've managed to avoid this Kony 2012 business almost entirely; I think it's because I don't use Facebook. I can't comment on what they're getting right or wrong. But this is from the Kony 2012 website:

"We are taking action to ensure these two things:

1) That Joseph Kony is known as the World’s Worst War Criminal.

2) That U.S. and international efforts to stop Kony are bolstered with a more comprehensive strategy for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR).
"

It's pretty much exactly rousing people "to affect policy - not just by voting, but by pressing those elected," not shipping used t-shirts, and it's specifically called out.
posted by Hoopo at 10:59 AM on March 21, 2012


The two positions are logically inconsistent. "Let local people handle their own affairs" is not ambiguous.

I agree. But like I said, it's about signaling. Not reason. MeFites are not immune. I don't think anyone is, really. It's more about staking out ideological ground for others to see.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:00 AM on March 21, 2012


The two positions are logically inconsistent. "Let local people handle their own affairs" is not ambiguous.

Both involve giving their US dollars to a western organization in a way that influences the practices in another country; to question that influence and consider not participating in it is not inconsistent whether you agree with any given position or not. That one is charity and the other is commerce may not be such a key differentiator, particularly given the Friedmanesque hype about the benign effects of globalization; the two are conflated on both sides of the issue.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:04 AM on March 21, 2012


>people send old t-shirts to African villages

This, of course, creates more problems than it solves.
SWEDOW flow chart.
posted by obscurator at 11:09 AM on March 21, 2012


A first-generation Nigerian American who grew up mostly in Nigeria?

Ha! Fair enough.

He's saying that many of these charitable efforts may be succeed in making the contributors feel good about themselves, while not doing much to help their intended targets, because people don't really understand the complexities of the situation they're trying to fix.

Okay, that makes more sense to me, but there is still a disconnect. It's a "so what" issue for me. Who cares if people feel good about doing things they think is charitable? It doesn't fix anything to make them feel bad about it.

The problem with charities not helping their intended targets is a problem with charities, not the people who support them. I think the bigger problem of things like the Stop Kony campaign had to do with the campaign, not the people who jumped on the bandwagon.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:12 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


This, of course, creates more problems than it solves.

(I think that was his point)
posted by Hoopo at 11:13 AM on March 21, 2012


Both involve giving their US dollars to a western organization in a way that influences the practices in another country; to question that influence and consider not participating in it is not inconsistent whether you agree with any given position or not. That one is charity and the other is commerce may not be such a key differentiator, particularly given the Friedmanesque hype about the benign effects of globalization; the two are conflated on both sides of the issue.

Sorry, but Hon Hai and Foxconn is a Chinese company doing business in China, a country that certainly has the power to regulate those companies if it wished. The main complaint Foxconn workers have about their jobs isn't the (admittedly very rough) conditions; it's the fact that they don't get enough overtime.

Boycotting their products is functionally identical to white saviorism; it's the assumption that the actions of white Westerners can save impoverished people from their fates. In this case, it would provide Chinese workers exactly what they say they don't want, which is a reduction in hours.
posted by downing street memo at 11:23 AM on March 21, 2012


It is true that many people, myself included, want to engage in actions that help people in need because it feels good to do so. I don't see this as a bad thing, and I am not seeing how this feeling is connected to the color of a person's skin. Most people who live in a western country are probably much better off, as regards access to human needs like good food, shelter, education, ability to participate in society, etc. Some may even feel ethically obliged to help people who are less fortunate then themselves.

The problem, though, is that it is very difficult and probably full of pitfalls and landmines to actually be truly helpful and useful to someone you don't understand. Perhaps too often, as the author points out, not enough effort is made to truly know and understand the people who are supposedly being helped. And people may think they are helping when actually they are not. A lot of mistakes have probably been made, though intentions were good. But to call this a "White Savior Industrial Complex" seems very hostile to me, and surely not helpful. And, yes, racist.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:40 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


We are taking action to ensure these two things:

1) That Joseph Kony is known as the World’s Worst War Criminal.

2) That U.S. and international efforts to stop Kony are bolstered with a more comprehensive strategy for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR).

It's pretty much exactly rousing people "to affect policy - not just by voting, but by pressing those elected," not shipping used t-shirts, and it's specifically called out.


1) Kony was already a marginal character in the eyes of pretty much everyone.
2) Those efforts were naive, not terribly thought through, and/or counterproductive.

Furthermore, the Kony 2012 campaign appeared to be more a creative outlet for Jason Russell than about the welfare of Ugandans. And Ugandans themselves seem, at best, unimpressed with the campaign.

Okay, that makes more sense to me, but there is still a disconnect. It's a "so what" issue for me. Who cares if people feel good about doing things they think is charitable? It doesn't fix anything to make them feel bad about it.

The problem with charities not helping their intended targets is a problem with charities, not the people who support them. I think the bigger problem of things like the Stop Kony campaign had to do with the campaign, not the people who jumped on the bandwagon.


Making people feel bad about doing counterproductive work in the name of charity can be a very positive development. The way charity achieves positive outcomes is by doing work that makes for a positive outcome. I've no doubt pointing out ineffectual charitable efforts can give those who've contributed a big sad. But that's the point! It stops people from wasting their time and effort, and hobbles ineffectual charities for doing ineffectual work.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:42 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Boycotting their products is functionally identical to white saviorism;

First of all we're talking about Apple products subcontracted to those companies. Second, it doesn't change what we're talking about; someone declining to participate in contributory economic activity that enables or rewards certain outcomes in another country. Again, you may not agree with the choice but it's not inconsistent.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:43 AM on March 21, 2012


1) Kony was already a marginal character in the eyes of pretty much everyone.
2) Those efforts were naive, not terribly thought through, and/or counterproductive.

Furthermore, the Kony 2012 campaign appeared to be more a creative outlet for Jason Russell than about the welfare of Ugandans. And Ugandans themselves seem, at best, unimpressed with the campaign.


Yeah I'm not trying to defend the Kony guys, I know nothing about it. I haven't even watched the video. The issue is that my take-away from what's being suggested here is that you shouldn't contribute to anything without essentially being an expert on it first. That would be crippling to so many charities, many of which do good work.

But fear not, good people of Metafilter; I am doing nothing for anyone! I can still feel good about myself, right?
posted by Hoopo at 11:49 AM on March 21, 2012


1) Kony was already a marginal character in the eyes of pretty much everyone.
2) Those efforts were naive, not terribly thought through, and/or counterproductive.


An appropriately cynical assessment might say the choice of Kony was not naive, but calculated in providing a singular, well-defined boogieman without allies, thus trying to ensure a thoroughly non-controversial campaign. The fact that it didn't is a proud achievement for what some would call the "the 101st Chairborn Brigade".
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:50 AM on March 21, 2012


"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth!"

"What if it's a Trojan Horse?"

"Beggars can't be choosers"

"Beware of Greeks bearing gifts!"

I propose that we carry the conversation entirely using such sayings.

"The law of unintended consequences"

"The perfect is the enemy of the good"

Add your own.
posted by VikingSword at 11:51 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


It doesn't fix anything to make them feel bad about it.

If feeling bad makes them think about their actions in the future then yeah, it does help.
posted by cdward at 12:09 PM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Can you find a way to make them think about their actions that doesn't involve insulting them or making them feel bad?
posted by rocket88 at 1:24 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Probably, but would it be worth it? I spend most of my fixing-the-world time on things that are much more fruitful than trying to educate the endless supply of privileged people who do ignorant things. Making them feel bad has a pretty high bang/buck ratio.
posted by cdward at 2:06 PM on March 21, 2012


Making them feel bad has a pretty high bang/buck ratio.

Assuming they're a) listening to you and b) aren't put off charitable causes completely. Otherwise telling people they're doing something shitty by putting something on Facebook or whatever when it's better described as meaningless might get you a lot of apathy for your proverbial buck. It is a mistake; you risk cutting off a huge source of revenue for good causes.

Most people--as in the vast, vast majority of people--are pretty ignorant about what's going on in the world. Not everybody has the time. Not everybody reads the news. Not everybody is up on politics. Not everybody is an expert in international aid. Even worse? There's no consensus among people who are experts, who do have specialized education, who do read the news, about the appropriate way to tackle the world's problems. I think it's more or less assumed that the people who canvas and solicit donations for whatever cause are more knowledgeable about it than you are, and by giving to people or organizations who are going out and doing something about it, yeah you might feel good for doing it, but that's not really the cause of the problem, it's a side effect.

I spend most of my fixing-the-world time on things that are much more fruitful than trying to educate the endless supply of privileged people who do ignorant things

I just threw up a little.
posted by Hoopo at 3:01 PM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Making them feel bad has a pretty high bang/buck ratio.

I've been on Metafilter for quite a while. My experience, especially on this site, has not been this. Guilt does not make people less bigoted. Guilt does not make them thin. Guilt does not make not poor. It does not make them eat organic/vegan/non-fast food. It does not make them drive fewer miles per day. It does not make them treat cyclers with respect. It does not make them vote for laws that would benefit environment causes/women's health/the poor.

All I've ever seen guilt do is make people defensive, and if applied in sufficient quantity, apathetic.

And guilt delivered with scorn for the people it's aimed at doesn't do a damn bit of good, in any medium, real or virtual. In fact, it's probably one of my least loved things about this site.
posted by zabuni at 3:06 PM on March 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Putting something on Facebook or whatever" isn't what's shitty. The shitty part is supporting shitty ideas.

Don't forget that the specific example that we're talking about here is a campaign for American military intervention (because we know that always works out well, right?) and military support for a corrupt government.
posted by cdward at 3:07 PM on March 21, 2012


If people are, out of ignorance or privilege, doing the wrong things for the right reasons, then education is precisely what they need.
posted by rocket88 at 3:09 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


All I've ever seen guilt do is make people defensive, and if applied in sufficient quantity, apathetic.

We're talking about preventing people from supporting bad ideas. Guilt takes away the cheap thrill of being part of a "movement". Moving them from supporting the bad idea to being apathetic towards it is exactly the desired result.

If people are, out of ignorance or privilege, doing the wrong things for the right reasons, then education is precisely what they need.

You're not wrong, it's just a question of where to apply resources.
posted by cdward at 3:31 PM on March 21, 2012


The people who live in the region were unhappy with the movie. Cenk and Anna, the people discussing it in the video think it's a national pride issue, but what if they're just worried that a major push to go after this guy might result in a lot of violence and bloodshed in the region. They aren't able to get many interviews in after the movie, because there's a gunshot and people run away.

It seems like with the Kony 2012 video what a lot of people are saying is that it relies on the of thinking that says "Saddam is a bad guy, so taking an action against him must be a good idea"

I don't know how analogous the Kony thing is. Maybe getting rid of him will be easy and quickly make the world a better place. Maybe there is enough information out there that you can do the numbers and estimate how risky it would be. I don't know. but I don't think Invisible Children knew either and I don't think they did any math.

---
Part of me really gets annoyed at the fact that progressives seem to save the most hurtful venom for those whom they agree with 90%. - zabuni
Well, results matter. If what these guys are doing is harmful, what difference does it make that we might "agree" with them?

Plus, what makes you think these guys are progressives? (or "Liberal" might be a better term here*) Christian evangelicals have been all over Uganda lately, remember the connection between people like Rick Warren and the politician there who wanted to ban homosexuality -- on pain of death. I'd heard invisible children was connected/funded by that that right-wing "cultural exchange" movement.

Doing a google search for "invisible children right wing" I found this This claiming they actually coordinated with Martin Ssempa, the kill the gays guy. Jason Russell the leader cum naked pavement pounder spoke at liberty U in 11/2011 and said:
"A lot of people fear Christians, they fear Liberty University, they fear Invisible Children - because they feel like we have an agenda. They see us and they go, "You want me to sign up for something, you want my money. You want, you want me to believe in your God." And it freaks them out."
Here's an article about their funding, funded by a lot of the same people who fund right-wing evangelical things.

So I don't think it's fair to say that I would agree with 90% of what they believe.

(*Of course, historically turn of the century progressives were mostly Christians. Historically 'progressives' were very different then modern liberals, who just started calling themselves 'progressives' because the republicans turned "Liberal" into a bad word, and they were too lazy to do anything about it. Many actual progressives, like Woodrow Wilson were racist, not 'product of their time' racist but way outside the norms of the era. They were into Eugenics, and prohibition as well - in comparison, modern day liberals basically have the same ideals and values as 1960s liberals like MLK, JFK, etc)
Feverish worry over that awful African warlord. But close to 1.5 million Iraqis died from an American war of choice. Worry about that.-- cdward

Trying ... to ... worry about ... two things at once ... Head pounding ... must stop [KABLOOM]
-- Tell Me No Lies
Before this movie came out, there were already US troops in Uganda. This is someone who had been inactive for a while. What if all this pressure causes him to "reactivate" like the black hole at the center of a galaxy, except instead of sucking in matter and releasing a plume of gamma rays, he's sucking in children to become soldiers and releasing corpses? Putting pressure on this guy might cause more instability, requiring more militarism, more fighting, more death.
The issue is that my take-away from what's being suggested here is that you shouldn't contribute to anything without essentially being an expert on it first. -- Hoopo
Right, but usually that's done by working through an established channel, not by just doing whatever pops into your head, while pissing off the people you're claiming to help


---
"There's a mosquito net maker in Africa. He manufactures around 500 nets a week. He employs ten people, who (as with many African countries) each have to support upwards of fifteen relatives. However hard they work, they can't make enough nets to combat the malaria-carrying mosquito....

With the market flooded with foreign nets [from well-meaning aid projects], however, our mosquito net maker is promptly put out of business. His ten workers can no longer support their 150 dependents (who are now forced to depend on handouts), and one mustn't forget that in a maximum of five years the majority of the nets will be torn, damaged, and of no further use.
-- ChuraChura quoting Dambisa Moyo's book
On the other hand, the "aide is bad" argument is as dumb as some of the "white savior" nonsense. Why should people die so one hypothetical person can keep his job? And why would he employ people rather then simply importing nets from China?

Yes, certainly protectionism can help local industries, but protectionism that costs lives isn't a good way to do things. Someone who knows how make mosquito nets could also make fabric.

A sensible thing would be to help him by providing equipment and training that he could use to scale up, rather then letting people die of malaria.
>people send old t-shirts to African villages

This, of course, creates more problems than it solves.
SWEDOW flow chart.
-- obscurator
Then how come every time I see pictures from Africa, people are wearing second hand clothes from the west? It's probably the biggest change in the images we've seen from there over the past few decades, I think. Importing of second hand clothes for retail is big business there, even if people stopped 'donating' to Africa it would still be imported, there is a profitable commercial market for it.

I think in some cases the need to be contrarian and believe something that seems obviously true overwhelms people's brains. Yes, we all know the "Give a man a fish" thing but that doesn't help if they 100 miles from water, or if they don't have a rod and reel or if you need a license to fish or whatever.

There isn't a one-dimensional vector that says if you support aide to Africa, you also support invisible children the Kony 2012 thing. Are there problems with the way Aide works? Probably. But a bunch of conservative think-tanks promoting the "Aide never works" thing are about as reliable as those same think tanks when they make bullshit claims about global warming.

The purpose of Kony 2012 isn't to distribute mosquito nets or vaccinations or build roads or power lines - its to instigate state violence against someone the makes of the film didn't like. Maybe he deserves it, but it's not going to be cost free.


--
Boycotting their products is functionally identical to white saviorism; it's the assumption that the actions of white Westerners can save impoverished people from their fates. In this case, it would provide Chinese workers exactly what they say they don't want, which is a reduction in hours. -- downing street memo
Okay, that is completely ridiculous. functionally identical. If you believe that the working conditions used to create iPads is inhumane, and you pay for an iPad, then you are participating in something that is inhumane.

Lets imagine two different situations: 1) You hear a fight in the next apartment. You think there might be domestic abuse. Do you break down the door and try to break up the fight? Do you worry that might make things worse in the long run, as the abuser might take out his humiliation on his wife later. Do you're worry your hearing wrong and maybe nothing is going on and you'll ruin their door for no reason?

Now another scenario. Money is tight, and you just found out your girlfriend spent money you need for gas on Farmville credits. You're angry, and you want to punch her in the face. Should you refrain from punching her in the face?

Are those two choices "functionally equivalent"?

One involves choosing whether to act and try to make things better, the other is a question of whether or you should choose not to act in a way that makes things worse.

With the Foxconn thing, it has nothing to do with being a "White" savior. As you point out, the people most responsible are the Chinese government. The question is whether you want to benefit and support that arrangement, or should you demand that products you pay for be manufactured in a humane way?

It seems like some people in this thread can't understand that it's not a binary switch where "all activism is stupid and counterproductive" or "all activism is good".

It's entirely possible for some things to be bad, and some things to be bad even if they are vaguely metaphorically similar in some abstract sense.



---
Now, Let's look at TED.
TED talks? Most of those are scientific, or social sciences.
I don't really see how TED fits into this.
-- Flood
Lol seriously?

Just looking at their site now, in chronological order
#3 is T. Boone Pickens talking about natural gas,
#4 is "Victims of the city"
#6 is "lisening to shame"
#7 is "The $8 billion iPod"
#8 is "Religion, evolution and the ecstasy of self-transcendence"
#13 is "why you will fail to have a great career"
#14 is "Design to change reality"
#15 is that beachball thing that was posted,
#16 is "Coding a better government"
#18 is "the clues to a great story"
#19 is "We need to talk about an injustice"
#20 is "The power of introverts"


I would hardly call that science-heavy.
Should we respect the needs and values of other cultures if we are considering getting involved or directly interfering with them? Sure. But I really don't think TED is part of the "White Saviour Industry" problem. -- zarq
Not really, but they take the same cavalier attitude towards knowledge that Kony 2012 takes to preventing war crimes.
I would wager that at least 80% of the people at TED Talks either protested the Iraq war at the start, or went against it early on
Which is why so many of them cancelled their New York Times subscriptions to protest its Iraq War Cheerleading (which it never fully apologized for, and, hey, look! It's doing it again with Iran!)
-- oneswellfoop
Before it started? I highly doubt it. These people were the influential voices. How many influential voices were out there opposing the war before it started? Hardly any. #3 above was T. Boone Pickens rambling on about natural gas. T. Boone was one of the major funders of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who ran around lying about John Kerry in 2004. Niall Ferguson is another Neo-con who gave a TED talk recently, basically praising the British empire. It somewhat ties into this thread as well, since "White mans' burden" was a major justification for it.

---
But the downside to it is something I have started calling Facebook Outrage Du Jour Activism. I see it from a lot of people I follow. Every day something new pops up that they are angry about, usually in the form of a simplified narrative that can be communicated in a single Facebook post or link, with a simple call to action. -- Bunny Ultramod
Remember how everyone changed their profile picture to a cartoon character, and then child abuse ended forever?
posted by delmoi at 4:10 PM on March 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Right, but usually that's done by working through an established channel, not by just doing whatever pops into your head, while pissing off the people you're claiming to help

Invisible Children has apparently been around since 2004 and enjoys a lot of endorsements from all kinds of high-profile famous people etc. To someone that gets informed about things like this through Facebook, that seems pretty established, doesn't it? I gather you're talking about the actual guys IN Invisible Children; I'm talking about people who put it up on Facebook or buy a T-Shirt or whatever else people do for this Kony 2012 business.

Facebook Outrage Du Jour Activism.

This isn't a new thing and isn't much different from those bracelet or ribbon campaigns 99% of the time.
posted by Hoopo at 6:22 PM on March 21, 2012


Invisible Children has apparently been around since 2004 and enjoys a lot of endorsements from all kinds of high-profile famous people etc. To someone that gets informed about things like this through Facebook, that seems pretty established, doesn't it? I gather you're talking about the actual guys IN Invisible Children; I'm talking about people who put it up on Facebook or buy a T-Shirt or whatever else people do for this Kony 2012 business.
But is apparently associated with the same "western" (i.e. American) religious nutters who have been pushing anti-gay laws in Uganda
posted by delmoi at 9:54 PM on March 21, 2012


This reply to Cole's article is excellent.

As for the MeFi discussion:

Ugandans themselves seem, at best, unimpressed with the campaign

Citation? I'm interested to see how representative samples of the Ugandan population respond to the Kony 2012 campaign in carefully conducted surveys.
posted by fatehunter at 10:13 PM on March 21, 2012


I'm more interested in hearing what White people have to think. I hope a couple post here.
posted by Chungking Express at 7:23 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


A few things bothered me about this article, especially in light of the fact that Teju Cole is clearly a very intelligent and well-spoken man. The article's largest shortcomings were really hard to reconcile with the nagging fact at the back of my mind, that Cole really should know better.

Most of my other concerns have already been discussed above, but the largest issue I took with the article (and subsequent discussion) is that we've already implicitly accepted the labeling of this issue as the "White Savior" complex. He's taken an issue that is largely delineated by nationality (American) and class (Upper-middle), and unnecessarily added racially-charged language to his argument.

Yes, race and class are (sadly) closely correlated in America, but there are enough exceptions to the rule that someone like Cole should know how dangerous it is to conflate and generalize the two. In my own (admittedly anecdotal) experience, the brand of activisim that Cole is deriding is by no means limited to white people.

Somehow, this makes me feel squicky, and seems to cheapen his argument.

You can find plenty of arguments against Invisible Children and the Kony 2012 campaign without bringing skin color into the conversation. It's a red herring, and a dangerous one at that.
posted by schmod at 8:29 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Citation? I'm interested to see how representative samples of the Ugandan population respond to the Kony 2012 campaign in carefully conducted surveys.
Well, the Al Jazera peace was from the specific area where Kony had been active, which seems like the most relevant. It's not a scientific poll, sure.

Can you link to any Ugandans who are fans of this? I'm not aware of any, all the reaction I've seen has been negative.
posted by delmoi at 8:52 AM on March 22, 2012


But this really is not the equivalent of, say, most of the entries in Stuff White People Like, where race is largely a proxy for class; what he's referring to here is a pathology stemming very specifically from white privilege and colonialism, and has roots going back hundreds of years. This passage is specifically about white people, for example, and trying to substitute Asian-Americans here simply doesn't make sense:

"One song we hear too often is the one in which Africa serves as a backdrop for white fantasies of conquest and heroism. From the colonial project to Out of Africa to The Constant Gardener and Kony 2012, Africa has provided a space onto which white egos can conveniently be projected. It is a liberated space in which the usual rules do not apply: a nobody from America or Europe can go to Africa and become a godlike savior or, at the very least, have his or her emotional needs satisfied. Many have done it under the banner of "making a difference." To state this obvious and well-attested truth does not make me a racist or a Mau Mau. It does give me away as an "educated middle-class African," and I plead guilty as charged. (It is also worth noting that there are other educated middle-class Africans who see this matter differently from me. That is what people, educated and otherwise, do: they assess information and sometimes disagree with each other.)"

No doubt you have an argument lined up for why this is a symptom of affluence rather than race, but it very obviously and clearly is a (well-intentioned) White Thing, wherein under the banner of helping out those poor suffering third world people, it's really about you as a white person, really about you attempting to absolve yourself of the guilt you're carrying around and make yourself feel better. It's played out for centuries and to ignore it as a well-established racial phenomenon is very dangerous. Maybe someone out there can provide a nice, serious, academic bibliography on postcolonial whiteness to convince you that it's not a "cheap argument?"
posted by naju at 8:56 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's disingenuous to say that there's no racial component here. In a lot of ways, it goes right back to the White Man's Burden and the urge to civilize and improve the lot of the Brown Poor. That's not to say there aren't lots and lots of non-White people participating, but I think taking race totally out of the equation is a silly thing to do - and also ignores his point about the way the US is afraid of radical brown voices.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:57 AM on March 22, 2012


ChuraChura: " That's not to say there aren't lots and lots of non-White people participating, but I think taking race totally out of the equation is a silly thing to do - and also ignores his point about the way the US is afraid of radical brown voices."

I'm not making that argument. There's undoubtedly a racial component, but I think that it's disingenuous to label this as a "white" thing in 2012. There are too many exceptions to the rule, and I thought that we'd all agreed that stereotypes were a bad thing?
posted by schmod at 9:05 AM on March 22, 2012


I was trying to (quickly) make the points naju did ... and subsequently lost all the nuance by typing three lines instead of something eloquent.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:07 AM on March 22, 2012


wherein under the banner of helping out those poor suffering third world people, it's really about you as a white person, really about you attempting to absolve yourself of the guilt you're carrying around and make yourself feel better.

Are you speaking strictly for yourself, or are you assigning a motive to other people's actions that they don't even know they have?
posted by rocket88 at 10:02 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you speaking strictly for yourself, or are you assigning a motive to other people's actions that they don't even know they have?

I'm not making this stuff up out of whole cloth, the 'white savior', 'mighty whitey', and white man's burden narratives are very, very familiar, old, and constantly recurring. And people can have unconscious racial motivations, and other people can call them out on it without being able to read minds. But lest you think Teju Cole and I are calling out every single white person who wants to help out third world countries, please remember that I'm speaking about a specific frame of mind that we see popping up over and over in countless obvious examples, both historically and in the present day. Simply put, if it doesn't apply to you, then it doesn't apply to you. I think the overwhelming groundswell of support for Kony 2012 without any real examination of the issues is one of the more obvious demonstrations of this phenomenon in recent memory. You're free to disagree.
posted by naju at 10:51 AM on March 22, 2012


Honest question: Has the cultural relevance of the Kony 2012 backlash actually eclipsed the original campaign by now?

It's probably just confirmation bias, but I've seen far more "groundswell" gathering against the campaign than I have for it.
posted by schmod at 11:31 AM on March 22, 2012


The video has been seen a bajillion times. How many people watched it, liked it, and then promptly moved on with their lives. I'm guessing a whole bunch.

I also need to remember not to use my baby's gift MeFi account to post my (brilliant) snark.
posted by chunking express at 11:46 AM on March 22, 2012


« Older Print your own graphene   |   Ordinary Batman Adventures Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post