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On the white savior industrial complex
August 3, 2012 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Being an object of compassion is not the same thing as being the subject of a story. “I used to joke—and I want to emphasize this is a joke—that you could write that you’d wandered into some obscure backwater in Africa where people had three ears", tells a former NYT correspondent to the Boston Review. The expression white savior industrial complex, coined by Teju Cole in response to the Kony 2012 debâcle highlights the problem of reifying historical processes: it becomes something to be used and milked either as NGO "margins" or as fodder for disaster media. How many older people equate India with "endemic hunger" rather than "emerging power", and how many roads must Africa walk down before we stop calling them war-hungry savages? And is the objectifying discourse a cause or a symptom (or both) of the complex problem of even thinking about Africa?
posted by syntaxfree (90 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 


Here is a good, related article about Nick Kristof and the sort of pacifying voyeurism masquerading as "consciousness raising" that he always pulls.
posted by subtle-t at 8:16 AM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Right now I equate India with perilously overloaded infrastructure.
posted by Egg Shen at 8:17 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think I heard an Indian reporter complaining on BBC4 about how India ought not consider itself a superpower due to a mix of the recent power outages and endemic poverty. I think he phrased it like "India ought to look look inward to its internal problems" I think? I'll see if I can dig that up tonight.
posted by boo_radley at 8:26 AM on August 3, 2012


The "former NYT correspondent to the Boston Review" link doesn't seem to be related to the Boston Review, the quoted correspondent, or the quote itself. Copy and paste error?
posted by zamboni at 8:31 AM on August 3, 2012


To get the attention of the American public, there has to be big news. The more outrageous, the more likely it is for it to reach our ears.

But this isn't just about overseas. Cities like Detroit or Washington DC or Baltimore have to fight a crime stigma that paints them in a light that really doesn't fully reflect the spectrum of experiences that you can have there.

As the normal isn't news, then only the abnormal comes out. That's war, crime, poverty, disease and natural disaster.
posted by inturnaround at 8:32 AM on August 3, 2012


If my nation required foreign aid, I'd love stories that played up the strife and squalor. Nobody is going to help you when you can help yourself.
posted by Renoroc at 8:32 AM on August 3, 2012


Here is a comment I left in a previous thread about how difficult it is to break misconceptions about geopolitical issues.
posted by Groundhog Week at 8:32 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know. The recent online left-wing anger over mainstream liberals (and other concerned Americans) daring to speak about the developing world strikes me as a case of hipsterism gone bad.

I have read essay after essay criticizing the Kony thing, Nick Kristof, and every other totebag-approved cause in the developing world and I still cannot tell what the essential contention is. Yes, the Kony thing oversimplified and suffered from some unfortunate imagery but guess what: millions of Americans now know that there's a warlord on the loose in Uganda enslaving kids and turning them into soldiers. What does that mean? Probably nothing directly: we're not going to send the 101st in to take out Kony. But people - even if momentarily - became better aware of the way that lots of people in the world live.

The bitching about Kristof is even more perplexing. His beat is, essentially, human rights abuses in the developing world. Is the contention that he should write more happy stories about those places? Those stories are not at all hard to find; the business sections of the NYT and WSJ regularly feature stories on African growth and I've seen quite a few major-media pieces on contemporary African culture as well. He writes what he writes and he writes it well; yes, it's simplified, and yes it's designed to provoke an emotional response - but emotion is the staple of leftist rhetoric; you really want to criticize him for that?

I don't know. I just see millions of Americans trying their best, in the midst of their own (complicated, stressful) lives to understand what's going on with other people around the world, and I see a bunch of left-wing haters basically shitting on them for not having a completely nuanced understanding of every situation. Very unproductive, to say the least.
posted by downing street memo at 8:35 AM on August 3, 2012 [27 favorites]


Breaking news: journalism oversimplifies, sensationalizes. Is this whole set of issues anything more or less than that?

I think this focus on "how we talk about Africa" as opposed to more figuring out how to effectively help them solve their problems is itself a problem.
posted by shivohum at 8:38 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Same thing happens with Japan - a docile, homogenous society sailing into irrelevance and decline under an undemocratic elite who coverup the facts about X [recently Fukushima].

Like the Kony 2012 stuff, it doesn't challenge any reader preconceptions and thus makes it easier to sell newspapers.

A lot of reporting on China must be like this too.

Thank god for the benevolent, advanced, and democratic West!
posted by KokuRyu at 8:42 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


This discussion would not be complete without a link to Binyavanga Wainaina's excellent essay, How to Write about Africa.
posted by duffell at 8:44 AM on August 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Lately, all articles referencing Africa as a whole bring to mind this wonderful The True Size of Africa infographic.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:48 AM on August 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


I have read essay after essay criticizing the Kony thing, Nick Kristof, and every other totebag-approved cause in the developing world and I still cannot tell what the essential contention is.

Here are a few contentions I have:

1) Africans are unable to solve their own problems, so people in the West need to do it for them

2) Africa is a basket-case full of warlords and child soldiers and death and brutality

3) All of this exists in stasis, and there is no connection between the policies of Western governments and the story state of human development in some parts of Africa

4) The utter lack of local voices; these campaigns are typically reported on and led by Westerners

5) That problem exists at all.

With this last point, it's worth pointing out that the activities of the Lord's Resistance Army had ended by the time the Kony 2012 campaign had started. Kony had already fled into eastern Congo, and was being pursued by African Union troops. The ongoing violence against rural communities in Uganda is carried out mainly by government troops. Etc. Etc.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:49 AM on August 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


it doesn't challenge any reader preconceptions

Why is this a prerequisite? And there is already an entire genre of journalistic writing dedicated to, "Most people THINK 'X', but did you know that actually 'Y' is correct?"-style contrarianism. Slate.com specializes in this. Forbes and the WSJ specialize in a subcategory of, "this-crisis-calls-for-more-government-regulation-but-in-fact-it-was-CAUSED-by-government-regulation" challenge of reader preconceptions.

Not saying that journalism couldn't be better, but "challenge reader preconceptions" is about as useful as art that thinks its purpose is to "challenge bourgeois norms!"
posted by deanc at 8:51 AM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have read essay after essay criticizing the Kony thing, Nick Kristof, and every other totebag-approved cause in the developing world and I still cannot tell what the essential contention is. Yes, the Kony thing oversimplified and suffered from some unfortunate imagery but guess what: millions of Americans now know that there's a warlord on the loose in Uganda enslaving kids and turning them into soldiers. What does that mean? Probably nothing directly: we're not going to send the 101st in to take out Kony. But people - even if momentarily - became better aware of the way that lots of people in the world live.

One essential contention is that, in prepackaging and simplifying complex issues for western news consumers, "consciousness raising" viral campaigns or op ed columns tend to not actually prioritize what the natives would want. Here's a sample response from a Ugandan re: KONY. It's not just about presenting what is often a one-sided view of a complicated issues, it's also the worry about presenting a "solution" that sounds great to western liberals but no one on the ground actually wants.
posted by subtle-t at 8:51 AM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anyone interested in keeping a current and critical eye on Western misapprehensions of the African continent should be reading the sardonically-named Africa Is A Country.
posted by mykescipark at 8:55 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Celsius1414, you beat me to the punch on that infographic.

Talking about Africa as a coherent thing is essentially impossible. Note how hard it is to talk about the United States as a whole, and Africa is so much larger, and with so many separate countries, that there are very few universal patterns that you can tease out.

I'm far from an expert, but it seems to me that understanding that Africa is about three times the size of the US would be a good first step to take.
posted by Malor at 8:55 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


downing street memo: “I see a bunch of left-wing haters basically shitting on them for not having a completely nuanced understanding of every situation.”

Yes – the whole Kony thing really devolved into the kind of churning hate machine that the internet, in all its cynical liberal-leaning glory, tends to revel in nowadays. I wouldn't have been a supporter of Invisible Children or whatever right off, and I wasn't keen on their advertising methods, but it was crazy how quickly the anger against them ramped up. And how instantly it claimed its victims and moved on.

I think this is more a problem with the nature of internet society than anything else, honestly. And it really is a problem. It is easy to feel somewhat vindicated when we work together to tear apart, say, the Susan G Komen foundation for daring to stop supporting someone we support ideologically. But I wonder if we've really considered that all of these rage-fueled internet-enabled kerfuffles really have consequences sometimes.
posted by koeselitz at 8:57 AM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


1) Africans are unable to solve their own problems, so people in the West need to do it for them

Of course that isn't true, but where has anyone suggested that it is? Not even the Kony campaign said that Africans weren't capable of solving their problems.

2) Africa is a basket-case full of warlords and child soldiers and death and brutality

See above. American mainstream media runs positive stories about Africa all the time, and if you know where to look on the web you can find lots more.

3) All of this exists in stasis, and there is no connection between the policies of Western governments and the story state of human development in some parts of Africa

Again, who's making the contention that this is true? Kristof?

4) The utter lack of local voices; these campaigns are typically reported on and led by Westerners

It would be nice to have local voices leading these things, sure. I don't know what kind of change that would affect though, because people who speak and write English well enough to lead a campaign or report a story in a major American newspaper are likely upper-class and insulated (to a degree, of course) from the stuff that's being reported on.

5) That problem exists at all.

You know, I get a lot of shit on here for suggesting that sweatshops aren't so bad and that factories like Foxconns are serious steps up for people who had previously been subsistence farmers, so I'm not saying you're wrong here. But - surely you can admit that there are some real problems in the developing world; genocide, child soldiers, etc.
posted by downing street memo at 8:58 AM on August 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


“I used to joke—and I want to emphasize this is a joke—that you could write that you’d wandered into some obscure backwater in Africa where people had three ears,” Howard French, former Africa correspondent for The New York Times, once told me. “If it’s not literally true you can get away with that, it’s figuratively true that you can.”

Maybe it's that I'm trying to hard to find humor in the subtlety, but I don't get the "joke." Is it just that American readers will accept any outlandish story about Africa because it's so very exotic?
posted by psoas at 9:02 AM on August 3, 2012


Here is a good, related article about Nick Kristof and the sort of pacifying voyeurism masquerading as "consciousness raising" that he always pulls.

Instead of whining in postcolonial/feminist jargon, the author should go off and do Kristof one better. But that would require getting up out of his superior left-wing armchair and making something that would be more nuanced and actually appeal to the masses--and also subject to critique itself.
posted by shivohum at 9:02 AM on August 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think the issue, downing street, stems from the fact that "totebag-approved causes" in the developing world have become diluted to their shock value alone, stripped of their nuances and formative circumstances. In this context, "understanding" that something's going on adds up to little when people's "understanding" is completely irrelevant.
posted by Chutzler at 9:02 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


And how instantly it claimed its victims and moved on.

What victims? I saw Kony 2012 grafitti in the women's bathroom of Emo's East in Austin last night. They have a booth at most festivals I've seen and their presence in the Christian online world at least is very strong. They are alive and well.

Yes – the whole Kony thing really devolved into the kind of churning hate machine that the internet, in all its cynical liberal-leaning glory, tends to revel in nowadays. I wouldn't have been a supporter of Invisible Children or whatever right off, and I wasn't keen on their advertising methods, but it was crazy how quickly the anger against them ramped up.

I find it really, really troubling that we are so quick to conflate anger and hate. Anger is a rational response to injustice. I did see a lot of people legitimately angry or disappointed with the Invisible Children organization. But to dismiss that as "hate" doesn't help anyone, including IC.
posted by muddgirl at 9:09 AM on August 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Instead of whining in postcolonial/feminist jargon...

The postcolonialist jargon is relevant because KONY's schtick and Kristof's schtick are post-colonialist. The whole argument that, whatever misunderstandings are in these campaigns or articles, and whatever native misgivings are applicable to the solutions they put forward, they're valuable and worthwhile because it comes from the right motive, which necessarily privileges a (typically white, comparatively privileged) western viewpoint of what solutions should be imposed in a "problem" part of the world over the wants and needs of the people who'd be ultimately be affected for the action that is being advocated for. I find it hard not to bristle at shit like that.
posted by subtle-t at 9:10 AM on August 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


But - surely you can admit that there are some real problems in the developing world; genocide, child soldiers, etc.

Well, yeah, but that's often the only story that gets talked about, and Kony 2012 is a prime example. And Kony 2012 was publicizing a problem that had ceased to exist!

The problem with in this case Kony 2012 is that the campaign didn't even include the perspective of Ugandans. And even if it did, are Ugandans a homogenous entity with a single worldview? I don't think so.

The message of Kony 2012 was "Let's hunt Kony down", which is a misguided objective, because the African Union is already looking for him, for example. A better message would have been: "Investigate how your consumption habits are affecting how others live. Investigate how your government is affecting how others live." Or something like that. But I'm no spokesman for Africa or Uganda. Maybe someone who actually lives there can come up with a better message, because I'm no expert.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:21 AM on August 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think the issue, downing street, stems from the fact that "totebag-approved causes" in the developing world have become diluted to their shock value alone, stripped of their nuances and formative circumstances. In this context, "understanding" that something's going on adds up to little when people's "understanding" is completely irrelevant.

Don't you guys understand that in this frame you've set up, the only way to escape the trap of western privilege is to become a scholar of an area in the developing world? If someone doesn't know and doesn't care about the many terrible things going on throughout the world, they're ignoramuses. If someone learns and begins to care but doesn't have the requisite contextual knowledge, they're post-colonial totebaggers. If someone gains the contextual knowledge and campaigns hard, and publicly, for redress of the wrongs done, they're Kristof-style white-man totebag crusaders. Only by deep study (and not a small amount of detachment) can one be qualified to comment on the developing world.

Surely, surely, it is BETTER for people to have some incomplete, imperfect knowledge of the goings-on around the world than to have no knowledge at all. I doubt most people that heard about Kony via the campaign are aware of the online left-hate fest that ensued, but if I were one of those people and I did hear about it, I'd be pretty put off from thinking and caring about that kind of stuff in the future.
posted by downing street memo at 9:28 AM on August 3, 2012 [11 favorites]


Knowledge is good and well, but acting or moving to act with incomplete knowledge is BAD.
posted by Chutzler at 9:32 AM on August 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Surely, surely, it is BETTER for people to have some incomplete, imperfect knowledge of the goings-on around the world than to have no knowledge at all.

All I'm saying is that people ought to get their information from more than one or two sources, should think critically about the information they do get, and also try to listen to the actual people who are being affected.

For example, during the height of the entire Kony 2012 joke, CBC 690 in Vancouver actually interviewed the representative of a Ugandan immigrants association in Vancouver, who expressed frustration with the whole campaign.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:34 AM on August 3, 2012


The problem with in this case Kony 2012 is that the campaign didn't even include the perspective of Ugandans. And even if it did, are Ugandans a homogenous entity with a single worldview? I don't think so.

So the problem with the Kony 2012 campaign was that it didn't include the perspective of Ugandans, but if it had included that perspective it would have been simplistic and wrong because no such thing actually exists.

The message of Kony 2012 was "Let's hunt Kony down", which is a misguided objective, because the African Union is already looking for him, for example. A better message would have been: "Investigate how your consumption habits are affecting how others live. Investigate how your government is affecting how others live."

Oh yeah--that's a message that would really have lit the world up. One can almost see the momentous transformations of people's understanding of the world that would have been set in train if only Invisible Children had put all their resources into a "investigate stuff!" campaign.
posted by yoink at 9:35 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


A better message would have been: "Investigate how your consumption habits are affecting how others live."

Is that a better message, or just the preferred message of your personal political subculture? Is there a coffee-related angle to the Lord's Resistance Army and the Ugandan civil war that would have been particularly relevant to most (any?) people?
posted by deanc at 9:37 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Only by deep study (and not a small amount of detachment) can one be qualified to comment on the developing world.

If someone is going to campaign hard for a policy, and bring western privilege to bear on it by getting a privileged audience to go along, wouldn't you want that someone to have studied the issue deeply? Why it's a bad thing? Does the fact that a privileged campaigner and his audience have good intentions excuse the fact that (i) they've misunderstood issues and (ii) the things they're arguing for aren't actually going to help, and may in fact be detrimental to the people they they think they're aiding?
posted by subtle-t at 9:40 AM on August 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh yeah--that's a message that would really have lit the world up. One can almost see the momentous transformations of people's understanding of the world that would have been set in train if only Invisible Children had put all their resources into a "investigate stuff!" campaign.

So then maybe the "light up the world" tactic is a bad one.

KONY 2012 was (still is) classic ready-FIRE-aim activism. The whole thing troubled the hell out of me because it took such a complicated pile of situations and simplified them down to an at best half-correct version of reality, and also managed to be an ego/Jesus massage for those behind it all.

The word counterproductive comes to mind.

Hell, I lost a friend over it all (for a few days anyway), because my tossing of historical and current facts didn't jibe with the feel-good he had when sent off some Facebook links. Do we want genuine change, or do we want the feel-good that comes from the idea of getting behind something that seems to be going somewhere? There is a difference.
posted by philip-random at 9:41 AM on August 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


So the problem with the Kony 2012 campaign was that it didn't include the perspective of Ugandans, but if it had included that perspective it would have been simplistic and wrong because no such thing actually exists.

Maybe they could have included the perspective of multiple Ugandans?
posted by muddgirl at 9:41 AM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


White Knight: My god! You're wounded! That sword... in your... in your THIGH.

Other dude: Yes, agree that it is definitely a problem, but you -

White Knight: Never fear! I'll save you!

-removes sword-

Other Dude: Well god damn it.

-bleeds-

-dies-

White Knight: ...onwards! To vengeance!
posted by skrozidile at 9:42 AM on August 3, 2012


The message of Kony 2012 was "Let's hunt Kony down", which is a misguided objective, because the African Union is already looking for him, for example.

This, by the way, is incorrect (and that's a little amusing given all the stern lecturing about how you should develop a deep knowledge and understanding of the situation before you deign to speak on it). The African Union resolved to send forces to hunt Kony AFTER the publication of the Kony 2012 video and almost all observers agree that the Kony 2012 video was instrumental in bringing the African Union to that resolution.

It is also worth noting that just as some people can trot out "local Ugandan voices" that criticize the Kony 2012 thing, there are plenty of "local Ugandan voices" who praise it highly (along with the ICC prosecutor, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch etc.--all, no doubt, vile, racist, post-colonial scum).
posted by yoink at 9:45 AM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems typical of liberal thinkers and activists that their complaints about KONY 2012 and Kristof boil down to, "People need to stop being so clever and media savvy when dealing with world problems!" my advice would be to try to beat them at their own game rather than expecting the public to "eat their peas" when it comes to journalism.
posted by deanc at 9:48 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is also worth noting that just as some people can trot out "local Ugandan voices" that criticize the Kony 2012 thing, there are plenty of "local Ugandan voices" who praise it highly

Sorry for the lecturing yoink. I'll try to adopt your tone of snarky condescension more often. Actually you prove my point with your comment above - Ugandans or whoever are not monolithic in terms of outlook. But I never saw any quoted in the Kony 2012 campaign. If you you could perhaps link to an example, it would be great.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:50 AM on August 3, 2012


If someone is going to campaign hard for a policy, and bring western privilege to bear on it by getting a privileged audience to go along, wouldn't you want that someone to have studied the issue deeply? Why it's a bad thing? Does the fact that a privileged campaigner and his audience have good intentions excuse the fact that (i) they've misunderstood issues and (ii) the things they're arguing for aren't actually going to help, and may in fact be detrimental to the people they they think they're aiding?

Of course it isn't a bad thing: it's just that, who really has the time, ability and inclination to deeply study post-colonial West Africa? And even if you did, how could you possibly know that your knowledge remotely approaches completeness?

I made this point back when Kony was a big thing (and the Mike Daisey scandal was bubbling), but it's amusing to see that the internet left was chastising well-meaning Americans for buying into the Kony campaign on the basis of unintended consequences while simultaneously calling for a boycott of Apple for using Foxconn as a supplier. Of course, the same thing applies to that situation: Foxconn has a line out the door every morning of people looking for work, employees' number one complaint is that they don't get enough hours, and factory work is far preferable to subsistence farming. That "context" was neoliberal apology, of course, and those "local voices" were ignored.
posted by downing street memo at 9:52 AM on August 3, 2012


Who has called them vile or scum? (or racist, for that matter? Colonialist seems to be the most-used descriptor)

Re: Amnesty International's response to Kony 2012: "Efforts to arrest Joseph Kony must respect human rights"
For more than two decades, Amnesty International has documented crimes committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army and their horrific impact on the lives of thousands of civilians in Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Uganda.

Amnesty International has also documented human rights violations committed by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces against the civilian communities where the LRA were present, and against captured LRA members.

“It is important to remember that many of LRA members were themselves victims of human rights violations including forcible recruitment,” said Erwin van der Borght “Forces pursuing the LRA must seek to arrest the suspects in accordance with international law.”
posted by muddgirl at 9:52 AM on August 3, 2012


but it's amusing to see that the internet left was chastising well-meaning Americans for buying into the Kony campaign on the basis of unintended consequences while simultaneously calling for a boycott of Apple for using Foxconn as a supplier

As a member of the internet left, I feel compelled to point out that I never called for a boycott of Apple for using Foxconn as a supplier. The Apple angle was always a red herring for me - basically ALL modern electronics use Foxconn or a competitor to supply their products. What's interesting to me is that the response I saw to Daisey's reveal is 100% the same as the response to criticisms of Kony 2012 - either people think it's OK to lie or distort the truth to 'effect change', or they don't.
posted by muddgirl at 9:55 AM on August 3, 2012


Is it possible that maybe none of us has the right to be talking about this and we should let Uganda sort their own shit?

Maybe having the conversation at all (as perpetually under-informed and nearly impotent) helps perpetuate that whole colonialism bit?

Maybe we just don't have the fucking answers and should stop pretending like we do?
posted by Tevin at 9:56 AM on August 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


But I never saw any quoted in the Kony 2012 campaign.

Then you didn't actually watch the video, did you? I suggest you might want to "investigate" this issue a little further before you continue to tell us all what they did wrong.
posted by yoink at 9:58 AM on August 3, 2012


Surely, surely, it is BETTER for people to have some incomplete, imperfect knowledge of the goings-on around the world than to have no knowledge at all.

Dude, is this the same person that wrote this:

No one has yet attempted to explain why, exactly, Americans (or the denizens of any large, fairly self-contained country) should have any particular knowledge of the outside world.

I'm honestly not sure if you're trolling us, but I am honestly interested in how you square those two points-of-view.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 9:59 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


either people think it's OK to lie or distort the truth to 'effect change', or they don't.

In other words, surprise surprise: The Internet Left is NOT monolithic, but it's understandably confusing that different people within the same group have different opinions about things.
posted by muddgirl at 9:59 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm becoming convinced that the most damaging thing that colonialism did to the west was to spawn post-colonialism theory. It's created a mental prism through which everything is viewed as JUST LIKE COLONIALISM!
Is it possible that maybe none of us has the right to be talking about this and we should let Uganda sort their own shit?

Maybe having the conversation at all (as perpetually under-informed and nearly impotent) helps perpetuate that whole colonialism bit?

Maybe we just don't have the fucking answers and should stop pretending like we do?
Would you say that about anything going on in China, the former Yugoslavia, or Egypt?
posted by deanc at 10:02 AM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is that a better message, or just the preferred message of your personal political subculture? Is there a coffee-related angle to the Lord's Resistance Army and the Ugandan civil war that would have been particularly relevant to most (any?) people?

No, but there sure is a link to diamonds, coltan, and other extractives, which certainly have a lot to do with the consumption habits of the global rich.
posted by charmcityblues at 10:03 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Chutzler: Knowledge is good and well, but acting or moving to act with incomplete knowledge is BAD.

Knowledge is always incomplete. Always. We just have to do the best we can, regardless.
posted by Malor at 10:04 AM on August 3, 2012


I'm not sure what your quotation from Amnesty International is supposed to prove or disprove, Muddgirl. The Kony 2012 campaign does not call for anyone's human rights to be disrespected. Here, by the way, is an explicit statement of support for the Kony 2012 campaign from the same Amnesty International website:
There is no denying that Joseph Kony and other LRA leaders have evaded arrest for far too long. The Kony 2012 campaign is a salient reminder of the need to arrest and surrender these LRA leaders to the ICC so they can face trial.
posted by yoink at 10:04 AM on August 3, 2012


Would you say that about anything going on in China, the former Yugoslavia, or Egypt?

Yup.
posted by subtle-t at 10:07 AM on August 3, 2012


Chutzler: Knowledge is good and well, but acting or moving to act with incomplete knowledge is BAD.

Knowledge is always incomplete. Always. We just have to do the best we can, regardless.


I agree with both of these statements. Therefore, continued discussion seems a wise move.
posted by philip-random at 10:08 AM on August 3, 2012


I'm honestly not sure if you're trolling us, but I am honestly interested in how you square those two points-of-view.

That was a different argument where people were suggesting that there's some moral imperative to learn more, or that there's some kind of deficiency in not knowing things that happen abroad. I argued that it made very little practical difference either way (and that typical liberal snobbishness about knowing things about the world was misplaced).

This argument is about people who know some stuff and genuinely want to help.
posted by downing street memo at 10:15 AM on August 3, 2012


I'm not sure what your quotation from Amnesty International is supposed to prove or disprove, Muddgirl.

I'm not intending to prove or disprove anything. I'm reacting critically (NOT NEGATIVELY, but in the sense of "critical thinking skills") to the idea that
It is also worth noting that just as some people can trot out "local Ugandan voices" that criticize the Kony 2012 thing, there are plenty of "local Ugandan voices" who praise it highly (along with the ICC prosecutor, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch etc.--all, no doubt, vile, racist, post-colonial scum).
Is it true that AI praisies IC highly? Where is evidence of this? How does Amnesty International's criticisms of human right's violations perpetrated by the Ugandan army and the SPLA fit with such statements from Invisible Children such as:
The LRA left northern Uganda in 2006. The LRA is currently active in Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Invisible Children’s mission is to stop Joseph Kony and the LRA wherever they are and help rehabilitate LRA-affected communities. The Ugandan government’s army, the UPDF, is more organized and better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries (DRC, South Sudan, CAR) to track down Joseph Kony. Part of the US strategy to stop Kony is to encourage cooperation between the governments and armies of the 4 LRA-affected countries. The LRA was active in Uganda for nearly 20 years, displacing 1.7 million people and abducting at least 30,000 children. The people and government of Uganda have a vested interested in seeing him stopped.

We do not defend any of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government or the Ugandan army. None of the money donated through Invisible Children ever goes to the government of Uganda. Yet the only feasible and proper way to stop Kony and protect the civilians he targets is to coordinate efforts with regional governments.
What does the statement I bolded even mean, in connection with the latter point about how they don't support human rights abuses? How can you both support a government in tracking down Kony, but also not support them? (Again, I don't mean these questions to be NEGATIVE. Just CRITICAL. I always accept the fact that I don't know jack shit about what I'm talking about).

What is the point of raising awareness if we don't take that awareness and use it to educate ourselves about the world, then make informed choices based on the best information available to us?
posted by muddgirl at 10:15 AM on August 3, 2012


Would you say that about anything going on in China, the former Yugoslavia, or Egypt?

Yup.


So where does the "I'm allowed to have an opinion on that" barrier lie? If I'm a Californian, can I have an opinion about what happens in, say, Florida? Why? I mean, I'm not a Floridan, I'm sure that my understanding of their local politics is at best partial and incomplete and that if I went to live there for several years my understanding of the issues would be changed.

So maybe I'm only allowed opinions about my own state? But then, am I allowed opinions about cities other than my own city? Again, there's no way I can possibly canvas all opinions within one of those other cities, right? At best I have incomplete and partial accounts from the local media as a source to form my opinions from. So maybe I have to stick to just my own city?

But then, what do I really know about my own city? I mean, sure, I know a bunch of the people who live there, but it's a vanishingly small and hopelessly skewed sample. Again, the only way I have of forming opinions about what is going on is from media reports--and in some ways the local media reporting is actually spottier and less informed than media reports from distant countries (you don't put your best and brightest reporters on the local city hall beat). So I guess I'm actually only allowed to have opinions and to try to take actions relating to things that occur in my own house.
posted by yoink at 10:16 AM on August 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Then you didn't actually watch the video, did you? I suggest you might want to "investigate" this issue a little further before you continue to tell us all what they did wrong.

I don't think you watched the video, because you are unable to provide an example which illustrates your point.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:16 AM on August 3, 2012


How can you both support a government in tracking down Kony, but also not support them?

Yes, how can you, for example, support your own government in running Medicare and not support them in drone attacks? How is that possible? It's utterly and completely inconceivable that anyone could support a government in one thing and then not entirely endorse every other thing they do.
posted by yoink at 10:19 AM on August 3, 2012


"Would you say that about anything going on in China, the former Yugoslavia, or Egypt?"

Well ... yeah.

I mean. Fuck, what right do I have to make ANY strong claims about these people in their situations? At all?

I do not want people to suffer. That's my claim. But what does pretending like I have a deep understanding of the issues and making prescriptions on how people/govenments should act based on my limited understanding?

Where do I get that right? Honestly?

I think being a good citizen of the world means that I'm aware that there is far too much suffering and that I should look for ways to end it if within my means.

But I also have to be aware that my means are very limited and that I actually have far less power, control and understanding than I wish I did. You say it perfectly, Yoink:

"But then, what do I really know about my own city?"

That's the question only you can answer, and it stands for this whole conversation: what do I really know?

For me, that is a difficult to answer without cringing.
posted by Tevin at 10:22 AM on August 3, 2012


There's a difference between having an opinion, informed or otherwise (which, you know, go nuts) and agitating for action. I don't think we should be cheering on someone who is agitating for action based on incomplete understandings. I think, if you dig back to the sort of backlash around KONY - one of the main concerns was that we're agitating for actions based on incomplete facts, and that actual Ugandans had (to put it kindly) split opinions or reservations on the actions being agitated for. I also don't think we should pat ourselves on the back for supporting someone who agitates on such basis, no matter how good our (or their) intentions are.
posted by subtle-t at 10:22 AM on August 3, 2012


subtle-t, there's a difference between taking what is essentially a conservative (in a good way) approach to "action" in order to avoid unintended consequences and making grand claims about colonialist interference and exclaiming, "WHAT RIGHT DO WE HAVE TO BE TALKING ABOUT THIS!?!?!" Nations should always be held under the microscope and accountable for their actions.
posted by deanc at 10:26 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


But Medicare and drone attacks are two different parts of the US government - we can have one without the other. IC's claim is that the Ugandan national army and other local armies are the only organizations which can track down Joseph Kony, and that the US government should support the Ugandan military in their attempts to do so. But if the Ugandan military regularly engages in human rights violations, which is the claim of Amnesty International, and they haven't cleaned up their act (which is, again the claim of AI) then isn't moral and financial support of them tantamount to moral and financial support of human rights violations? Especially considering that Kony's army, some argue, is effectively contained and shrinking.

As a US citizen, I accept that my tax dollars financially support human rights violations when the US government engages in them.

I think that it's 100% possible for an organzation (as Amnesty Internation does) to say "Look, all parties are doing shitty stuff. Let's fucking knock off the shitty stuff." I don't think Invisible Children conveyed that message with their awareness-raising video.
posted by muddgirl at 10:27 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


but it's amusing to see that the internet left was chastising well-meaning Americans for buying into the Kony campaign on the basis of unintended consequences while simultaneously calling for a boycott of Apple for using Foxconn as a supplier.

The people passing on Kony 2012 may be well-meaning but the people behind it aren't. The campaign was aiming to build support for further and deeper US intervention in an African country, including US "advisers" to Uganda to hunt down Kony. It also amounted to de facto support for the Ugandan government, which is about as nasty as the LRA itself. The young people who took the bait on the Invisible Children campaign may have the best at heart but if that's not actually the case, should we not call them on it?
posted by graymouser at 10:28 AM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Ugh, by "accept" I don't mean "I'm A-OK with it." I mean I acknowledge that this is the truth and instead of doing some "Well, I hate the sin but support the sinner," I advocate to end the sin and point out that the sinner isn't accidentally torturing prisoners, or 'recruiting' child soldiers, or what-have-you.)
posted by muddgirl at 10:34 AM on August 3, 2012


"Nations should always be held under the microscope and accountable for their actions."

Right - by people who are actually, you know, qualified to hold them accountable beyond holding the opinion that x is doing a shitty job of y in z country.

But even that just leads to so much circlejerking in every which direction - like what's happening now, in this thread.

I don't see how sitting around and troubleshooting the world's problems without actually being in a position to affect any meaningful change is anything more than wankery.

"WHAT RIGHT DO WE HAVE TO BE TALKING ABOUT THIS!?!?!"

Do you have an answer for this, aside from disliking over-active anti-colonialism?
posted by Tevin at 10:39 AM on August 3, 2012


There is a case to be made that Invisible Children did a generally good thing by increasing awareness and putting pressure on the Ugandans to arrest Kony, but there is also a case to be made that by selecting particular facts to highlight and perpetuating the dominant picture of Uganda as a scary and bad place where child soldiers kill without consequence and the government isn't competent enough to do anything, they've undermined the government and Ugandan interests.

Invisible Children gave us an incomplete narrative - a very compelling one, obviously, when connected with the other narratives that are prevalent about Africa. It combined all sorts of things that are unmitigatedly bad - child soldiers! poverty! war crimes! - and gave people an actionable thing to do - tell everyone to arrest that guy! - without giving people any context of the LRA, the current situation in Uganda, the current situation in Congo, the relationship between Musuveni and the United States, the financial trail behind Kony, the connection to evangelical proselytizing, and so on. It is unreasonable to expect most of the US to particularly care about these things. But if we don't care enough about them to research the context, we probably shouldn't be the voices speaking the loudest about solutions to the problems.

When we rub out the nuance of an entire continent - or even one political conflict in one corner of one country - and replace it with big dominant narratives (Poverty! Invisible Children! AIDS! War!), we lose the ability to make good, well-informed decisions. Even if we're coming from the perspective of "NGOs and foreign aid provide only good things," the best results come when you get to know a particular situation in its historical and regional context, and tailor solutions to that particular context.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:42 AM on August 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


Here's a photo of the invisible children founders posing with machine guns and bazookas. The guy in the middle probably devoted the same amount of effort and care to selecting a bandana for the photoshoot and perfecting a blue steel look as he did to form a nuanced view on the biggest problem facing Uganda today.
posted by subtle-t at 10:47 AM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


> this isn't just about overseas. Cities like Detroit or Washington DC or Baltimore have to fight a crime stigma that paints
> them in a light that really doesn't fully reflect the spectrum of experiences that you can have there.

It works the same way about any subject, not just overseas, not just stigmatized cities. When a cobra escaped from the Bronx Zoo nobody wanted to hear about the full spectrum of experiences they could have at the Bronx Zoo, they wanted to hear about the cobra.
posted by jfuller at 11:17 AM on August 3, 2012


As a (native English speaking) development worker in francophone sub-Saharan Africa, all I have to say is, "debâcle"? Really?
posted by solotoro at 11:35 AM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


me: “And how instantly it claimed its victims and moved on.”

muddgirl: “What victims? I saw Kony 2012 grafitti in the women's bathroom of Emo's East in Austin last night. They have a booth at most festivals I've seen and their presence in the Christian online world at least is very strong. They are alive and well.”

Well, "victim" may be too strong a word for it – and certainly not a fair one. But I remember the palpable sense of vindication a lot of us felt when Jason Russell melted down publicly. And I remember realizing it, and feeling kind of gross about it. Honestly, when I talk about this, it's because I was part of it. If I could go back and do it again, I'd want to be more measured and balanced. So maybe one could say I'm talking too personally and generalizing about this too much; still, I think this is a phenomenon of the internet age.

me: “Yes – the whole Kony thing really devolved into the kind of churning hate machine that the internet, in all its cynical liberal-leaning glory, tends to revel in nowadays. I wouldn't have been a supporter of Invisible Children or whatever right off, and I wasn't keen on their advertising methods, but it was crazy how quickly the anger against them ramped up.”

muddgirl: “I find it really, really troubling that we are so quick to conflate anger and hate. Anger is a rational response to injustice. I did see a lot of people legitimately angry or disappointed with the Invisible Children organization. But to dismiss that as ‘hate’ doesn't help anyone, including IC.”

I admit that I was a bit angry and disappointed myself with it. Maybe that's what I'm rueful about now. And I still don't think Invisible Children went about it in the right way. Still, the whole thing felt incredibly arbitrary, and while I know a lot of people felt legitimately angry or disappointed, I think when we all come together on that thousands of legitimate feelings can translate into a chorus that isn't quite so nuanced in its message. And, again, that's a phenomenon of the medium of the internet.

Maybe this is not so much about Invisible Children for me. Over the past few years, for the first time ever, we internet people have realized we can enact real and lasting change – or, if you will, actually make ourselves heard and cause damage – just by using our electronic voices. Sometimes I worry that it's easy, in that frame of reference, to give in to the vindictive pleasure of mob justice.

But none of this is an accusation of anybody, I want to be clear. Except maybe myself. There are lots of problematic things in the Invisible Children campaign, and certainly there's nothing wrong with pointing that out.
posted by koeselitz at 11:59 AM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was talking to a co-worker the other day. He casually said he wanted to create a charity, raise money and go build roads in Africa, because roads would solve most of their troubles; and if i wanted to join him.
I asked him if he knew anything about the problems in "Africa", or which problems in which countries, actually; what problems and experience other relief organizations had, why he didn't consider joining one of the existing ones instead of rolling his own, etc.

"What? What's wrong with me trying to help? What bad can come out of it? I just want to help the country".
"Wait, which country?" I asked.
"Africa!" he replied.

Last time i had superficially discussed politics with him was when i saw a Kony poster in the office and exclaimed out loud "Somebody actually paid for this Kony shit?", and turned out he was the one who had bought the kit. The rest of the co-workers just told me "Let's just not have this conversation again."

I'm very ignorant about Africa (and most things in general), but militant people with very ignorant, simplistic and naive views of complex issues grate on me like few things, and it's probably bad on societies near and far.
posted by palbo at 1:32 PM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's the thing: none of this is new.

Sure, Kony 2012 is still new in 2012, but IC isn't new. The whole Kony scenario itself - independent of any western observation of it - definitely isn't new. I've worked with guys nearly my own age in northern Uganda who used to be child soldiers of his - guys who at 10-12 years old were drugged up and sent to kill their own parents because that's the first thing they make you do. I've seen the emptiness in their eyes where I suppose a normal soul once existed. The LRA isn't new to the citizens of Gulu, they've been living it their whole lives.

The only thing that's new about the Kony debacle this year is the much more vast knowledge that the general public in the west has about it, which if you ask me isn't entirely a bad thing. IC got its name from what locals called the kids because they were pretty hard to see walking mostly naked in the dark at night, but its kind of poignant because except for the recent publicity spike, most of the world knows little to nothing of what they still go through. Western ignorance isn't new either (although I suppose 100 troops in Kampala advising the Ugandan government is a fairly new development).

I wish I could say leftist armchair critique of the aid industry was new, but as far as I can tell, its almost as old as the industry itself. A lot of the big name critics are from Africa themselves. They saw aid up close and personal, but I can speculate pretty safely that they never actually needed the aid themselves, because kids on aid don't have the kind of parents who can afford to send them to Oxford or Harvard for their masters before they write some catchy title like Dead Aid or White Man's Burden or something else that's going to make them more rich still and do jack shit for their fellow countrymen they left behind. Nothing new, another book like this comes out every year.

Then there's those pompous first-hand critics who think that because they spent a year or maybe even a few working overseas in some expat exported version of western life in the 3rd world, maybe even actually working for one of the NGO's, they are the voice of authority. Let me tell you something - I've met plenty of them, and the biggest critics seem to be those that couldn't hack it in the industry, and it is not a hard one to hack it in. Sure, life is difficult in the developing world, and there's plenty to bitch about. But water and sanitation of food-for-work programs aren't rocket science.
I realized when I wanted to go into aid work myself that a majority of those decrying it were those who had had the luxury of doing the work themselves before having the epiphany that no one that follows them should do the same. There is something about that which has never smelled quite right to me. I've probably seen 5 different tomes at TED conferences alone (not at the conferences, on the videos), practically thrown in my face about it, complete with expensive infographics based on little or no data and a guy in expensive boots and trendy jeans and sportcoat talking about how his view on aid is somehow earth-shatteringly nuanced.

The worst, in my opinion, are those who've read a few articles or maybe one of the catchy title books, or perhaps at their peak even took a Huma 202 course in college that examined some of how the other half of the planet lives while we spend on a year of college more money than most people need in a lifetime. I don't say this to talk down to everyone who hasn't worked in aid or at least been to a developing country to learn the context. But I wouldn't begin to pretend to be an educated expert on what life as an Eskimo is like when I've never been north of Vancouver, and yet so many people seem to be able to abandon their reason so readily on the 3rd world and talk about it like its a place they actually know something about. I've lived in it in 20 some countries on 3 continents for 5 years this month and I'm not say I'm sure I know much at all. Probably the thing I know best is how much I still have to learn. Nothing much new, I hear these people roughly once a month on Metafilter and could get it weekly or even daily if I wanted to do a brief walk around the internet block.

Kristoff surely ain't new. I don't read much of his stuff, but I've generally thought he paints a pretty accurate picture of things I've seen up close myself, when I do read him. I know this, I've stayed at the same hotels he's been staying at, in Kigali and a few other places, sometimes on the same nights. I know he's not staying in the expensive joints where the UN agency folk and embassy staffers get put up. I can respect that, as simple as it may sound. He's not living a high life, as far as I can tell he is legit in wanting to share with the rest of the world what most of them will never see themselves. But everyone wanting to cut him down for doing that, well, that's not news any more than the stuff he's writing.

The only things that I can see, that are new, are the development indicators of many 3rd world countries, which have changed drastically just in our lifetime, the aid industry heyday years. If you do a cursory study, you'll see that with the introduction of things like clean water and access to basic vaccinations or malaria prevention or other very basic stuff that the west has had for hundreds of years in most cases, many countries have leaped forward in terms of reducing infant mortality rates or increasing life expectancy at birth. In the last 30-40 years, some of these places have gone from almost middle ages standards to the equivalent of the early 1900s. That's huge.

Aid may be very, very corrupt - personally I think that's the biggest problem with it, and I see precious few people trying to actually write about why that is and how to actually fix it. It may even be very broken in some places, in myriad other ways - not relevant, not well planned, not sustainable. Aid definitely needs to be done better and held more accountable. But you can not argue that aid isn't doing anything at all - to do so is to tacitly admit you're not looking at the data - aid is bringing real change.

I'll leave you with a metaphor for anyone who says that the developed world shouldn't be trying to help the rest of the world. In almost every destitute country I've worked in, and by now its fair to say I've been to the majority of the worst, there are few - if any - telephone lines. Land lines were a luxury in most of Africa that simply didn't exist except perhaps in parts of the capital cities. You certainly don't find them running across the countryside, along every road, connecting a country together as they do in the US. Hell, its hard to find a road in most parts of the states that you can't see a telephone pole from somewhere nearby. Africa's the complete opposite - you see, in 20-30 years the west will probably never again raise another telephone pole, and in 50-100 years telephone infrastructure for land lines will cease to exist from the memories of our grandchildren. But in Africa that infrastructure will never have been invested in in the first place, because they were able to skip right to Nokias. They jumped literally 3 generations of humanity in the course of a few years, once a simple technology that we all take for granted every day was introduced to them. Masai goat herders now do their monetary transactions over mobile network because its safer than carrying cash through the bush on their person. Hell, in some ways they're starting to jump ahead of how the west is using their own technology.

I don't get the guilt complex that is so repeatedly thrown at anyone trying to bring positive change in the world. Its not nice and its not new.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:48 PM on August 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'll leave you with a metaphor for anyone who says that the developed world shouldn't be trying to help the rest of the world.

Who is saying that the developed world shouldn't be trying to help anyone?
posted by muddgirl at 1:54 PM on August 3, 2012


I think when we all come together on that thousands of legitimate feelings can translate into a chorus that isn't quite so nuanced in its message. And, again, that's a phenomenon of the medium of the internet.

I think this is a very easy 'trap' to fall into that's only tangentially related to the internet (as I see it in offline communities as well). To me, it seems like the way to break up the impression of a chorus is move past 'awareness' and into the nuts and bolts of a debate (where I can see that a minority of people are virulently anti-Invisible Children, some people are pro-their-issue but have problems with one aspect, etc. etc.), but that's my personality - I don't really know what works for people who aren't compulsive researchers.
posted by muddgirl at 2:00 PM on August 3, 2012


Allkindsoftime - your point:
I wouldn't begin to pretend to be an educated expert on what life as an Eskimo is like when I've never been north of Vancouver, and yet so many people seem to be able to abandon their reason so readily on the 3rd world and talk about it like its a place they actually know something about. I've lived in it in 20 some countries on 3 continents for 5 years this month and I'm not say I'm sure I know much at all. Probably the thing I know best is how much I still have to learn.
is my takeaway from all of these discussions, and seems to me to be the biggest critique of mass media endeavors like Kony 2012. I respect, admire, and envy your years working in the development business, and I trust people like you to give reasonable responses to challenging problems like dealing with the LRA. I do not trust the response of the population at large who jumped, unquestioningly, into Ugandan politics without understanding how much they do not know.
posted by ChuraChura at 2:02 PM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


(And replace Ugandan politics with any number of things that well-meaning westerners do on short term aid and mission trips. I think the point of it all is that there are professionals and educated people who do this for a living and do it understanding what they are doing and why and where and for whom and with whom. They should be the ones directing foreign aid ... not all of us - and when groups like Invisible Children co-opt the development message, everyone loses out except for those of us who change our facebook pictures and feel like we did something awesome and meaningful.)
posted by ChuraChura at 2:04 PM on August 3, 2012


(And by people, I don't mean 'random people on the internet' like me - I mean people in the same community as Invisible Children, like allkindsoftime or Amnesty International on the other end of the scale.)
posted by muddgirl at 2:05 PM on August 3, 2012


Who is saying that the developed world shouldn't be trying to help anyone?

Well, as far as I can tell from this thread, it seems that talking about helping anyone, or even talking about any problems going elsewhere, or even reporting about it, is just a bunch of white-man's-burden, post-colonialist ignorance that does more harm than good.
posted by deanc at 2:16 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Talking about helping" and "actually helping" are two completely different things.
posted by Tevin at 2:18 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm tired of the accusation that anyone who has reservations about things like KONY has to be a far left liberal handwringer. The refrain that comes up again and again in these discussions is something like "well, what's wrong with wanting to help, even though we don't have a full understanding of the problem or what consequences our 'solution' has?" The point, again, is that the "handwringers" don't want to impeach your good motives. However, it'd be a tragedy to let a combination of (i) incomplete understandings and (ii) enthusiasm attributable to good motives lead to a bad outcome.
posted by subtle-t at 2:25 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


And replace Ugandan politics with any number of things that well-meaning westerners do on short term aid and mission trips.

Yeah, this. Also, unrelated but my own personal pet peeve with them, they always seem to get seated in a big huge herd at the front of economy class because they all finished raising their funds 2 years ago when they bought the tickets, whereas mine was bought last month once budget finally got pulled together. You can tell who they are because they all wear the same tee shirts.

Then you have to wait for them when they get off the plane, then somehow hope you can race past them in the terminal so you can get in the line in customs ahead of them. The worst are the ones who have a leader who has been to the country before, because then they know to get everyone in line while they work on filling out their forms.

This is not quite as bad as them trying to direct foreign aid based on ill-informed opinions from IC and their ilk, but in my particular book, it's close.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:25 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Talking about helping" and "actually helping" are two completely different things.

Yes, this is the difficult part.

As far as I can tell, Kristof does not actually play a role in helping anyone. He just reports on what's going on, and has become pretty well known for it. And in fact, for his detractors, that actually makes him dangerous because he's actually successful at pointing out problems and where they exist. Because, in our world of earnest, serious liberalism, actually being competent at building a large audience and creating a successful media awareness campaign is a sign that you're doing something dirty and impure.

(I thought KONY 2012 was simple minded, particularly under the circumstances where the LRA was already on the run, but I'm seeing a lot of hostility to the very idea of international journalism, except insofar as what might appear in analysts' reports. If stuff like KONY 2012 is so bad, the answer is to do a better job at reporting on Africa than they are, not to decry the fact that someone is good at media awareness)
posted by deanc at 2:30 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dude, KONY 2012 is not a work of the journalism and Invisible Children was not doing "reporting" with that video.
posted by subtle-t at 2:39 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


deanc, I guess I wasn't clear on this but I wasn't referring to Kristof (who, full disclosure, I'm not familiar with) or Kony2012. Rather, I was referring to the conversations that develop around events like Kony2012, the conversations about 'what we can do to make a change in Uganda!" that I might have attended on the quad of my college campus, for instance.

That's more along the lines of what I was referring to, not necessarily what the folks with an actual audience are talking about.

"in our world of earnest, serious liberalism, actually being competent at building a large audience and creating a successful media awareness campaign is a sign that you're doing something dirty and impure."

On the other hand, that doesn't automatically mean the message or messenger are good, right? More power to someone who can do this responsibly. But just having that ability is not an unqualified good.
posted by Tevin at 2:44 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I can't figure out if Kony 2012 is "reporting" or "helping", considering their tagline:
Using the power of stories to change lives around the world
I guess both and neither? So we can praise it for both and yet can't judge it for failing at either?
posted by muddgirl at 2:46 PM on August 3, 2012


Dude, KONY 2012 is not a work of the journalism and Invisible Children was not doing "reporting" with that video.

I wasn't claiming that it was, though I can see how I sounded that way. If all the "serious people" are so clever, how did they just have their work hijacked by people who are, as far as I can tell, a pair of amateur filmmakers?

On the other hand, that doesn't automatically mean the message or messenger are good, right? More power to someone who can do this responsibly. But just having that ability is not an unqualified good.

True, but creating a culture where being "serious" means not having that ability, and holding those who do have those abilities in deep suspicion only ends up placing you at the losing end of those who do.
posted by deanc at 2:49 PM on August 3, 2012


If all the "serious people" are so clever, how did they just have their work hijacked by people who are, as far as I can tell, a pair of amateur filmmakers?

Because it's easier to build a viral internet video around a drastically simplified narrative (i.e., daddy's going to help the internet get the bad man)? Because if someone made a video that dove into the nuances it'd just get TLDR(or W)'d? Again, this is a reason why it's bad to base policy decisions on viral internet videos.

I'm not an expert on Uganda, and I HAVEN'T made a viral internet video about how to solve Uganda's problems. I don't see why that's a bad thing for the world.
posted by subtle-t at 2:54 PM on August 3, 2012


Because, in our world of earnest, serious liberalism, actually being competent at building a large audience and creating a successful media awareness campaign is a sign that you're doing something dirty and impure.

I disagree.

That is, though I'm sure that some criticism from the so-called liberal left works this way, for the most part, no, it's more substantive than that (or certainly, the stuff I pay attention to). So the intense criticism of something like Kony 2012 was not inspired by the assumption that they MUST be doing something dirty and impure just cuz, but because their organization really didn't stand the smell test that its enormous (and sudden) surge to world wide phenom status couldn't help but inspire.

I mean, for me, beyond all the storytelling and obvious hucksterism, what struck me hardest (smelled worst) was the revelation that they were a faith-based organization and not being up front about it, that Kony 2012 was really just missionary evangelism 2.0.

And no, I'm not some hardline anti-theist. I just think if any organization should be up front about its motives, it's one that purports to be inspired by Jesus Christ and his teachings.
posted by philip-random at 3:04 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


... or any alleged prophet/savior/son of God.
posted by philip-random at 3:05 PM on August 3, 2012


This is not quite as bad as them trying to direct foreign aid based on ill-informed opinions from IC and their ilk, but in my particular book, it's close.

Ha. I was on a flight to Entebbe just a month ago which had a group of young kids decked out in IC t-shirts. They seemed very sweet and earnest, but in my limited interaction with them I was surprised by how ignorant they seemed of Uganda (not that I'm any sort of expert). I think they were doing some sort of celebratory tour of schools they helped build or something along those line. Long story short, I made sure to race ahead of them so I wasn't stuck behind them at customs.
posted by Falconetti at 4:26 PM on August 3, 2012


It would be nice to have local voices leading these things, sure. I don't know what kind of change that would affect though, because people who speak and write English well enough to lead a campaign or report a story in a major American newspaper are likely upper-class and insulated (to a degree, of course) from the stuff that's being reported on.

Takes my breath away. Its so subtle and insidious and probably the most dangerous thing in these highly unbalanced situations when companies or social enterprises or other well meaning help and assistance is provided to us poor third world brown folks.
posted by infini at 7:24 AM on August 5, 2012




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