It’s complicated — responding to Kony 2012

“Thinking critically is not the same thing as thinking cynically,” Dianna E. Anderson writes in a post on “On Kony 2012 and Thinking Critically.”

That’s an important distinction, although I suspect “thinking cynically” is actually an oxymoron. That’s why cynicism can be so tempting — it exempts us from the hard work of having to think and pretends to free us from responsibility.

The surprising popularity of the Kony 2012 video launched by the American advocacy group Invisible Children is problematic on several levels, as discussed in the many links below. I don’t want to see idealism exploited or misused. But neither do I want to see it dismissed or stomped into the ground. And most of all I don’t want to see it diluted into a narcotic.

On the positive side, Kony 2012 could potentially do for human rights what Hands Across America did for homelessness. On the negative side, Kony 2012 could potentially do for human rights what Hands Across America did for homelessness.

Pleasantly Eccentric: “Kony 2012 — I was viewer 57,733,541

I sincerely applaud the efforts of this film maker to draw attention to this problem of children soldiers. If this has raised awareness among youth in our country that is going to stick and inspire some to make a career out of advocacy and international aid then that is time well spent. … Am I going to wear a bracelet or put up a yard sign? Nope.

Unmuted: “You Don’t Have My Vote

Kony and LRA must go. That’s where my agreement begins and ends with Invisible Children’s work. I appreciate the organization’s commitment to the issue and can see its good intent, but I strongly question the group’s approach, strategy, and work.

Michael Wilkerson: “Joseph Kony is not in Uganda (and other complicated things)

It would be great to get rid of Kony.  He and his forces have left a path of abductions and mass murder in their wake for over 20 years.  But let’s get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn’t been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.

First, the facts. Following a successful campaign by the Ugandan military and failed peace talks in 2006, the LRA was pushed out of Uganda and has been operating in extremely remote areas of the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic — where Kony himself is believed to be now. The Ugandan military has been pursuing the LRA since then but had little success (and several big screw-ups). In October last year, President Obama authorized the deployment of 100 U.S. Army advisors to help the Ugandan military track down Kony, with no results disclosed to date.

Zack Hunt: “10 Things ‘Kony 2012′ Reveals About the 21st-Century Church

8. We like our theology to fit on a bumper sticker

… We want everything to be simple and easy to digest, which is why we ignore so many other global issues. We don’t want to deal with the messiness of complex global problems. It’s easier to pretend that everything can be solved with simple solutions. Which is why a 30-minute video about a nearly 30 year old atrocity is so appealing. And when I say “theology” I’m not simply talking about its abstract, intellectual side. If that’s all theology was, then perhaps fitting it on a bumper sticker or poster would be ok, but theology is meant to lead to a particular way of life. When our faith is reduced to nothing more than a Facebook share or colored bracelet, it’s not faith at all. It’s simply a nice thought that requires no action.

Ethan Zuckerman: “Unpacking Kony 2012

What are the unintended consequences of the Invisible Children narrative? The main one is increased support for Yoweri Museveni, the dictatorial and kleptocratic leader of Uganda. Museveni is now on his fourth presidential term, the result of an election seen as rigged by EU observers. Museveni has asserted such tight control over dissenting political opinions that his opponents have been forced to protest his rule through a subtle and indirect means – walking to work to protest the dismal state of Uganda’s economy. Those protests have been violently suppressed.

The US government needs to pressure Museveni on multiple fronts. The Ugandan parliament, with support from Museveni’s wife, has been pushing a bill to punish homosexuality with the death penalty. The Obama administration finds itself pressuring Museveni to support gay and lesbian rights and to stop cracking down on the opposition quite so brutally, while asking for cooperation in Somalia and against the LRA. An unintended consequence of Invisible Children’s campaign may be pushing the US closer to a leader we should be criticizing and shunning.

Enuma Okoro: “Kony 2012: Who’s Telling the Story?

It can [be] difficult to recognize or remember that the culture and people of whom you are historically a part already embeds within you an ongoing narrative about what it means to engage the world and others. What we really forget is that there already exits a master narrative (it’s Western-European by the way) constructed through histories of colonialism, economic, environmental, and physical violence, and racial classification.

See also:

 

  • Kirala

    It strikes me as very complicated because on one hand, Bad Thing That Needs To Stop. We never, ever, ever want to be guilty of the lazy “it’s not my problem” response. On the other hand, This Probably Isn’t The Best Way and Respect Others’ Right To Solve Their Own Problems. We don’t want to be guilty of the condescending “it’s my problem now, not yours” better suited for children, and we certainly don’t want to make things worse.

    My main takeaway: this is making an excellent research topic for my debate class.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Maybe it’s me, but I don’t see the “Kony 2012″ issue as terribly complicated:

    1.) The financial information about Invisible Children is enough to keep me from ever donating to their organization. Massive overhead, and never been externally audited? No thank you.

    2.) The LRA has been around for 25 years, and very smart people have been trying to find good solutions to address this very complicated problem involving not just one man or an insurgency movement, but a terribly dysfunctional region. Don’t get me wrong, easy answers are appealing because, well, they’re easy. But if there was an easy answer, one that could be solved with money, it would have happened already.

    3.) Speaking of the appeal of easy answers, the BuzzFeed link of people reacting to the Carl Weathers screenshot from “Predator” falls somewhere between classic trolling and ‘people who believe Onion articles are real’. It’s trolling, to be sure, but the trolling works because people are looking for the quick, easy connection.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Let me clarify:

    I think the LRA, the politicial leadership and the power structure in Uganda and surrioudning areas are terribly complicated, and definitely a Bad Thing That Needs To Stop.

    However, I think Invisible Children is 25 years late to the party; I think they are exploiting a terrible, on-going tragedy by framing it in a simplistic light and promoting it to the least-informed, least-connected, least-powerful persons with the intent of exploiting guilt for financial profit. I think the “Kony 2012″ narrative is not complicated at all: it’s manipulative with the lone goal of raising money for IC, with little or no consideration of how to actually affect any meaningful positive change.

  • John Small Berries

    “That’s why cynicism can be so tempting — it exempts us from the hard
    work of having to think and pretends to free us from responsibility.”

    I’ll have to disagree. My cynicism, earned through painful experience, moves me to investigate more deeply many of the claims I hear or read, instead of simply accepting them at face value. If something seems too good to be true, so outrageous as to provoke immediate indignation, or contrary to general expectations, I always, always look for other sources to confirm or refute it, because I’ve found that such claims are often not trustworthy.

  • Kirala

    1.) The financial information about Invisible Children is enough to
    keep me from ever donating to their organization. Massive overhead, and
    never been externally audited? No thank you.

    2.) The LRA has been around for 25 years, and very smart people have
    been trying to find good solutions to address this very complicated
    problem involving not just one man or an insurgency movement, but a
    terribly dysfunctional region. Don’t get me wrong, easy answers are
    appealing because, well, they’re easy. But if there was an easy answer,
    one that could be solved with money, it would have happened already.

    I think both those objections could be overcome by not giving any money. There are nonfinancial ways to further the Kony 2012 cause. I don’t know whether politically supporting the cause of donating Western tech and training is as effective as they say, but it does seem to be a reasonably new element to the problem. It also doesn’t involve any donations to IC.

    I’m much more concerned about the arguments re: African agency.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    To be fair, Weathers was a total backstabbing bastard in ‘Predator’. 

  • CharityB

    Isn’t that the difference between cynicism and skepticism? The former is more like, “I don’t trust anyone” (or, more likely in real life, ‘I don’t trust anyone except for my narrow group of speakers who can do no wrong, which typically includes Limbaugh or some guy making a documentary about how Bush did 9/11′). The latter is essentially science. “Show me the proof.” “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

    I don’t think Fred is advocating some kind of blank slate, uncritical acceptance of every argument. I think what he’s pushing back against is the tendency of Real Serious Thinkers to take the premise “It’s more complicated than that” to the extreme conclusion of “So therefore there’s nothing that anyone can do, so we might as well just give up”. It’s an approach that the RSTs (hey, new acronym!) use to dismiss not just foreign adventures but addressing domestic problems as well.

    There’s nothing we can do to reign in the banks, so we might as well not even try. There’s nothing we can do about homelessness, so we might as well not even try. There’s nothing we can do about rape culture, so we might as well not even try. That’s the kind of cynicism that’s as destructive as blind, careless optimism, not discernment and skepticism.

  • vsm

    I don’t know whether politically supporting the cause of donating
    Western tech and training is as effective as they say, but it does seem
    to be a reasonably new element to the problem. It also doesn’t involve
    any donations to IC.

    It would, however, involve giving tech and training to the region’s other armies, which aren’t exactly known for their adherence to human rights.

  • CharityB

    And that’s
    the problem with the approach that we take in a lot of issues like this. We try
    to divide a complex situation into clear-cut ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. You
    can’t make the Ugandan army or groups like the SPLM into the Order of the
    Phoenix or something any more than you could do that with Northern Alliance in
    Afghanistan.

  • Lori

    I’ve refrained from having anything to say about Kony 2012 (not just here, but anywhere), because no one wants to hear my 45 minute lecture/Power Point on the problems of humanitarian intervention or lack of same and I’m not sure I can be coherent at a reasonable post length.

    I will say that CharityB is right about our tendancy to want to have a good guy & a bad guy. The problem with that is that if none exist we tend to create them and that way lies disaster.  

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I always start getting suspicious of sudden ZOMG WARLORDS pieces about Africa, because oftentimes it’s the USA or some other Western nation that helped create the situation in the first place through arms deals or other covert (sometimes corporate-backed) destabilization operations.

    Furthermore, while “a pox on both your houses” isn’t always right, in many cases it seems to hold true when you start looking at the “other side” of the conflict: as we’ve seen the legitimate Ugandan government is no prize-winning candidate for love and peace either.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    It’s an approach that the RSTs (hey, new acronym!) use to dismiss not just foreign adventures but addressing domestic problems as well. There’s nothing we can do to reign in the banks, so we might as well not even try. There’s nothing we can do about homelessness, so we might as well not even try. There’s nothing we can do about rape culture, so we might as well not even try. That’s the kind of cynicism that’s as destructive as blind, careless optimism, not discernment and skepticism

    What drives me into a frenzy is that the same RSTs (we’ll see if it catches on) who say this do so while there are organizations that have been fighting to address these causes for years or even decades!

    The LRA isn’t a hopeless cause; there have been smart, intelligent people fighting to change the culture, the power structure, the political and social climates for years. The problem I have with “Kony 2012″ is that it neatly erases all of the well-thought out efforts, all of the mistakes made and lessons learned, and acts as though IC has a new solution that’s never been tried before!

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    Because I am a bad person, the first thing that came into my head was “My Little Kony”. Anyone want to do an MLP/KONY mashup?

  • Kirala

     

    It would, however, involve giving tech and training to the region’s
    other armies, which aren’t exactly known for their adherence to human
    rights.

    Yeah, I’m with you on that being an Issue. But my point was that the integrity of Invisible Children itself is almost immaterial to the campaign. The campaign could continue just fine without any further monies to IC.

  • Kirala

     

    The LRA isn’t a hopeless cause; there have been smart, intelligent
    people fighting to change the culture, the power structure, the
    political and social climates for years. The problem I have with “Kony
    2012″ is that it neatly erases all of the well-thought out efforts, all
    of the mistakes made and lessons learned, and acts as though IC has a
    new solution that’s never been tried before!

    Chris, I’d deeply appreciate it if you could link me to any news about those efforts. Like I said, I’m trying to use this issue to teach my kids about research (and not taking things at face value) – credible sources showing the history of the region would be incredibly useful. I can find plenty of current stuff, but pre-campaign info would be invaluable.

  • Basketcase

    Sadly, I seem to be the most well-read of my friends in regards to KONY 2012. And when I posted one of the rebuttals on my facebook wall, I got several comments about how “well, he should be stopped anyway”, which is fair, but I dont think those people even bothered to read the article and realise anything about what is actually going on and what they are possibly actually suggesting in regards to “helping”. Meh.

  • Lori

    I always start getting suspicious of sudden ZOMG WARLORDS pieces about Africa, because oftentimes it’s the USA or some other Western nation that helped create the situation in the first place through arms deals
    or other covert (sometimes corporate-backed) destabilization operations. 

    This is part of what makes issues like Kony 2012 so knotty. Who wears the “good guy” label and who gets the “bad guy” one often depends on which point in time you use as your marker. Even if you try to take the long view you’re still faced with the fact that there’s a problem right now and to solve it you have to deal with current conditions. In many parts of the world, Africa certainly near the top of the list, you don’t have to wade very far to find yourself totally in over your head.

    For another example of this see the debate that’s going on right now at Lawyers, Guns & Money about a certain sort of effort to end sex trafficking.

    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2012/03/knights-in-shining-armour

    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2012/03/responses-to-sex-trafficking

  • Aguilaoro88

    I, for one, have not watched the video and have no intention to, but I can’t wait for the Gary Brechter article about this.  Considering his track record, he’ll probably dig up a whole other side of the story, like he did with Laurent Nkunda.

    It seems to me, though, that there is no possible solution to this problem that doesn’t involve somehow ‘breaching the agency of the Ugandans’ except to step out of the issue entirely.  It seems to me that pressuring our legitimate government into handing the legitimate government of Uganda a big ol’ cheque for millions of dollars (or its equivalent weight in PKMs and Toyota trucks, or whatever else he wants, though I hope we’d give him Chevy trucks and we’d make back on spare parts) is the absolute opposite of stealing Uganda’s agency.

    I am unsophisticated folk, but it seems to me that Kony is primarily a military security problem, the sort best dealt with by military security means.  I understand how troublesome the narrative of the White Savior might be, but that’s just from the flick – the actual narrative, assuming the goals of the campaign come to light, would be the White Sidekick, providing all the olive-green materiel to the Black Hero who wades into Haut-Zaire and pulls the trigger.  We wouldn’t be stealing their agency any more than we stole, say, South Korea’s in 1949.  If there’s no sincere belief that the Musuveni government would do that, then it seems we have to go back to the drawing board and start again about what it means to respect agency when there’s apparently none to respect.

    Sincerely, I find the entire ‘You don’t have my vote’ article troubling; it seems that underneath its purple prose, the thrust of the article is, ‘my organizations have been in Uganda dealing with this for longer, and I resent all the attention the Kony campaign has gotten and how it hasn’t name-checked its gratitude/passed some of that easy money along to our work.’  It seems a bit self-serving.

    Edit:  Actually, Gary Brechter wrote an article about the LRA years ago entitled ‘Altar Boy vs. Altar Boy in Uganda;’ the Exile has recently reprinted it.  Considering its frank and frankly gleeful discussion of every kind of violence and cruelty, however, I’m not going to link to it.  Seek it out at your own risk.

  • P J Evans

     Not just unaudited, but their financial sources seem to be mostly toward the dominionist end of the political/religious spectrum. Which would keep me from doing anything to support them.

  • Anonymous

    I get the same feelings about any kind of online petition or campaign. Before the SOPA/PIPA triade, I couldn’t recall a single internet-based campaign that worked, and SOPA/PIPA was a unique situation that got even the megasites involved. You probably won’t see something like it again. Everything else is usually superficial affairs, like that dumb “Make your avatar a cartoon to stop child abuse” Facebook campaign, which was openly and rightfully mocked. I tend to view online campaigns like that demotivational poster saying “Prayer: how you can think you are helping when you are really not.”

  • Anonymous

    Off the top of my head there’s the 4/3/2010  iTunes U lecture “Lord’s Resistance Army: A Spent Force or Continuing Threat?” from the Center for Strategic and International studies:

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/lords-resistance-army-spent/id481335560?i=111096409

    It in particular deals with the 2009 Christmas massacre of around 400 villagers in Congo-Kinshasa, and also discusses projects to prevent future massacres (e.g. building cell phone towers so people can get messages warning them the LRA is in the area).

    On domestic side, the US government keeps denying people asylum for giving material support to the LRA, a class II terrorist group.  This is despite the fact that the people in question were kidnapped and forced to work for the LRA under pain of death.  Here’s one such case:

    http://www.jonesday.com/files/Publication/62b4cb7f-1ff7-4774-bc4f-4b550ca462bb/Presentation/PublicationAttachment/747ad727-6732-48c0-89b5-4fdf41950e62/Lamb.pdf 

    (Jones Day is the firm handling the her immigration appeal; a relative was a partner in the office working on the case which is why I’m familiar with it).

    For a fictional take on the issues there is the graphic novel series Unknown Soldier written by Josh Dysart:

    http://www.amazon.com/Soldier-Vol-Haunted-House/dp/1401223117/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_2 

    I’ll add that the LRA is very definitely the bad guy here.  In the above mentioned Christmas massacre the LRA marched into the villages claiming to be government soldiers chasing the LRA and asked where the children were ostensibly to protect them.  They then beat the adults and youngest children to death, frequently with the village children being forced to kill their own families.  The boys would then be forced to become drugged out soldiers while the girls would be cooks and/or sex slaves.  Figuring who the good guys are is very hard, however.  After the above mentioned woman refugee escaped from the LRA she was kidnapped and tortured by police trying to get information about the LRA’s activities.

  • Anonymous

    There’s been an interesting discussion about this on Tumblr. In particular, the fact that white America can get all worked up over black children in a different country but not so much as give a single damn when black children in this country are killed due to racism (for instance, George Zimmerman murdering 17yo Trayvon Martin, and then walking free).

    I think this is an interesting manifestation of white guilt; the desire to do something to say ‘see, I’m not a racist!’ while that something is ultimately not-productive and changes nothing in *this* country beyond giving liberal white people something to pat themselves on the back for.

    Don’t get me wrong – Kony was and is an evil man. But Uganda, and the rest of East-Central Africa, have been dealing with this for longer than Facebook’s existed. It’s horrible, yes, and something should be done about it (something is being done about it, actually; they’ve been fighting against him for a long time), but why can’t we get so worked up about stuff like Zimmerman murdering a black teenager in Florida? Let’s worry about our own shit, first.

  • L8rmon

     

    Kirala:  “This Probably Isn’t The Best Way and Respect
    Others’ Right To Solve Their Own Problems.” 

     

    Right!  This was William F.
    Buckley’s argument of why he voted against the 1964 civil rights act.  It was a State and local problem and should
    have been solved at that level.

     

    Chris Doggett:  “The financial information about Invisible
    Children is enough to keep me from ever donating to their organization. Massive
    overhead, and never been externally audited?” 

     

    Chris, I don’t know where you got your info or what your standards are (is 16%
    administrative expenses “massive” for a charity of their size?) but Charity
    Navigator (http://www.charitynavigator.org/)
    rates them 3 out of 4 stars. Not great but not that bad.  And Charity Navigator says they are independently
    audited, but reduced their rating score a little because the auditor did not have
    an oversight committee.

    The thing that baffles me the most is all of the angst because the
    Invisible Children video over-simplifies the situation and does not delve into
    the just how bad the Angolan government is. 
    True but completely beside the point. 
    Governments respond to pressure and, particularly, desire to have
    respect.  Raising awareness of Joseph
    Kony around the world will put pressure on all of the central African governments
    to do something about him. 

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    I woke this morning to an email from Amnesty International. They seem to have reacted to the Kony 2012 thing by trying to leverage it for more awareness and pressure of the general problem of child soldiers.

    This strikes me as an eminently sensible response to the much oversimplified Kony2012 campaign.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    “My Little Kony” has been done : http://bronies.memebase.com/tag/kony-2012/ 

  • NEW KNOW

    ———————-EXTREME RED ALERT!—————————–

    KONY is a CON job. 

    Funded by the ever sinister Rockefeller EUGENICS borg
    —this is obvious propaganda to promote capstone
    military invasions of resource rich third world lands.
    (KONY happens to sit on such lands).

    Word is out!

    —JOLIE’s a CFR and UN front for Globalism,
    plunder and the most horrifying of EUEGNICS agendas.

    (7 MILLION Africans were killed in Uganda alone
    under UN auspices –ON RECORD)

    KONY’s a side show of a side show.

    Meanwhile, Hollywood and media BURY without a trace
    the RED China-Korea Halocaust even as they reap the
    rewards of VAST slave labor.

    Finally —-KONY’s narrator sounds like a total creep
    –and his manner as he exploits the kids for emotional
    effect –is creepier still.

    STEER CLEAR!

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Your link to Charity Navigator is broken, so I checked it out myself. Yes, they rate them at 3/4 stars (51.52) … as of March 8th, 2012. Their previous rating was 2/4 stars from September 2011. I find the timing of this to be a bit questionable. Setting that aside, there are several good 4-star charities that serve the same mission with better background. (see below for link)

    Chris, I don’t know where you got your info or what your standards are (is 16%administrative expenses “massive” for a charity of their size?) 

    Digging into their financial statements, on page 7, looking at the “total” column of expenses, I see that “direct support” (that would be the actual money spent on the cause of the organization) makes up about 33% of their total expenses. Staff wages plus travel and transportation costs make up around another 1/3 of their total expenses for the year 2010-2011.

    (for what it’s worth, I work as an accountant. For a non-profit organization. So yes, I understand what “direct supports” are in this context, and yes, my standards for charity include an expectation that money spent towards the cause be more than 1/3 of their total expenses)

    As for the rest, here’s a round-up of criticism (with a lot of links) that was accurate as of March 7th, 2012

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    JOLIE’s a CFR and UN front for Globalism,
    plunder and the most horrifying of EUEGNICS agendas.

    I have often thought that Brad and Angelina were conducting a sort of eugenics programme, but with their genetic makeup, HAVING SEX constitutes a eugenics programme.

  • Schneidertm2

     Invisible Children commented on some of these critiques: http://www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html

  • Lori

    But if Brad & Angie were conducting a eugenics program they would have reproduced more and adopted less (not at all), yes?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    L8rmon?

    It was Uganda, not Angola. If you’re gonna condescendingly lecture someone else about how right you are it behooves you to not get your own facts wrong.

    Also, people?

    The original movie is six years old.

  • Lori
  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Aaaaand then this happened.

    I’m not sure whether I’m a bigger fan of the hat-trick of “masturbating in public, vandalizing cars, and possibly under the influence of something”, or the triumvirate of “exhaustion, dehydration, and malnutrition” it’s being blamed on.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Well, it’s official. Kony 2012 is run by a bunch of get-rich-quick flim-flam artists.

  • Lori

     

    I’m not sure whether I’m a bigger fan of the hat-trick of “masturbating
    in public, vandalizing cars, and possibly under the influence of
    something”, or the triumvirate of “exhaustion, dehydration, and
    malnutrition” it’s being blamed on. 

    You have to give him props for bringing something new to this tired line of bull. Any drunken rock star or actor can claim exhaustion and dehydration, but it takes someone special to throw in malnutrition. I assume because Africa, that’s why. [eyeroll]

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

     Actually, if you do nothing but drink liquor, you actually can become exhausted, dehydrated, and malnourished fairly quickly. There’s also a nasty feedback loop where the alcohol depletes certain vitamins which can then trigger a depressive episode, which the person is likely to self-medicate with more alcohol speeding up the cycle. Not saying that’s what happened, but clearly something was out of kilter for this man, and I’m relieved to read that he’s getting medical attention.

  • Lori

    I agree that something is seriously off with this guy and I hope he’s getting the help he needs. I just seriously doubt that exhaustion, dehydration & malnutrition are the actual issues.


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