Empty calorie activism

This is my second attempt to unpack the hot mess that is the Kony 2012 project.  If you haven’t heard of it (and I really can’t believe you haven’t) you can get caught up here.

I’m not going to go through all of my problems with the video or the campaign since others have (thankfully) done a wonderful job of doing so already.  In particular, please check out the Kings of War posts on the subject (here and here).

There are a couple of issues I think are worthy of discussion.  First is that the video which garnered 40 million hits is an emotional plea and not based on facts or logic.  In 30 minutes you get about 10 of Kony (yes, a very bad guy) and 20 of the filmmaker, his 5 year old son and video of young, pretty (and mostly white) people all looking like they’re having the MOST AMAZING (it’s so much fun!) time in voting for the next American Idol fighting an insurgency in Central Africa via clicking Facebook and emailing Oprah.

This bothers me for three reasons:

  1. I’m an INTP and has a visceral aversion to arguments that abandon all pretense of fact or logic and attempt to win solely by appeals to emotion
  2. We’re now more than a decade into a series of very costly (in human and material terms) wars and apparently the only thing it takes for many people to give the old wheel another spin is a snazzy YouTube video.  That gives me a great deal of pause.  Of course, for most there hasn’t been a war over the past decade.  At least, not one that had any meaningful impact on their lives.
  3. My last reason is, I suspect, the reason why we have #2.  So many people have internalized the idea that we can have costless activism.  We’ve gotten so enraptured with the internet that we actually think it can do more than we really can with it.  The fact is you aren’t going to depose a dictator via the internet (you need people willing to actually go in the streets for that), you aren’t going to feed the poor with the internet (you need someone to gather and distribute the food for that) and you aren’t going to win wars with the internet (you need people willing to kill and die for that).

It’s not easy…it’s not pretty…but saving the world rarely is.

As JM says at KoW:

It is immoral to try and sell a sanitised vision of foreign intervention that neglects the fact that people will die as a result. That goes for politicians as much as for Jason Russell.

And if you think about it…this is sort of a replay of Iraq.  Easy military action promised? Check! People told this won’t cost much in terms of casualties or money? Check! Told the world will be full of unicorns and ponies once we get ‘the worst war criminal in the world’ out of circulation? Check

It really gets me mad that I consider myself a ‘liberal interventionist’ (well, less than I was in 2001 but I haven’t abandoned the idea completely.  Yet, this is just stupid.  Of course, the organizers don’t explicitly say ‘we want to launch a military intervention’ but there’s no other way to accomplish what they want and they clearly hint at it.

So here I am.  Normally a booster of crowdsourcing, engaging with people normally not involved in international affairs, activism and approaching problems from new directions, now I am poo-pooing the lot.

I guess networking everyone was the easy part.  Now we’ve got to educate them.


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