Everybody loves to hate a good real life boogeyman. They are the human incarnation of all that is evil and wrong with the world of our time, a super-simplified personification of devil incarnate in human form. Their very existence on this planet tugs at some deep-seeded nerve uncomfortably exposing a small amount of our well-concealed cognitive dissonance and forces us to lash out in anger and admonishment. Bring Kony to Justice! Take down the LRA! How could they do this to children?! Invade Uganda! Invade the Democratic Republic of Congo! Invade South Sudan! Send in the bombers and drones! For God’s sake just do something so I can go back to my dinner and enjoy the weekend!
Unfortunately for those of us more inclined to deal with actual reality rather than emotional activism, modern war and geopolitics do not possess any black and white truths or simple solutions. Instead they exist within an incredibly complex and interconnected world where everything takes on a unique and constantly shifting shade of gray. For every military or political action there are innumerable second and third order effects. For every dictator or warlord there are systems and structures keeping him in place, giving him weapons and authority, and motivating others to fill his vacant shoes should he ultimately be vanquished. And for every activity which catches the public eye there are a hundred more which go unseen and unknown, only to be forgotten through the course of history.
Personally, while I have a good bit of personal sympathy for the feelings of Mr. Russell and his Invisible Children campaign (from what I have found he seems like a genuine good-hearted activist and I’m not really buying too many of the conspiracy theories at this time) I really don’t understand what type of a impact he actually hopes to make, what precedent he hopes to set, and what world he hopes to leave for his children by painting such a complex mosaic of poverty, resources, and violence in simple black and white and then trying to use it to influence foreign policy. The popularity of the film and the movement is certainly not surprising though. It is basically a direct appeal to human emotions, mixed with a couple celebrity endorsements, and a very straightforward solution to a clearly stated problem. As a whole, I feel it reveals much more about our society at this point in time than anything about the LRA or any of the Central African nations or militias. The simple fact that our level of awareness of the rest of the world has grown so shallow that we need a Youtube video to remind us that people are actually dying violent deaths on a regular basis (although not so much in Uganda as a result of the LRA recently), or that poverty and resource scarcity lead to real problems should be sending shockwaves through our communities, our media sources, and our educational establishments. Yet our society has become so isolated from reality that any snapshot we get of the inconvenient truths of actual human suffering causes an emotional disguised as a humanitarian reaction aimed more at alleviating our own cognitive imbalances than achieving anything resembling long-term sustainable solutions. While we seek no harm in trying to bring attention to these uncomfortable realities (and indeed there are a lot of issues that could use a bit more attention) when all we have to offer are half-truths and obviously biased interpretations of facts I’m afraid we really aren’t achieving much at all.
The problems of Central Africa are incredibly complex and interconnected through multiple states and regimes. A thorough history of the region is far beyond the scope of this post (and if you don’t have the motivation to do a bit of research yourself I really don’t understand why you are reading any of my bullshit in the first place) but suffice it to say that the Kony video only paints at best a 5% picture of the reality on the ground. By most accounts his force numbers only in the low hundreds and isn’t even operating in the country of Uganda at this time. Although that region has a long and bloody history of wars and conflicts spilling across borders, the greater threat his tiny force poses to international security is at best minimal. And then of course there’s the issue of natural resources in a region rich in oil and just about every kind of precious metal known to man…If you are looking for possible ulterior motives for any type of military intervention, do a bit of research and see what you come up with…then see if you still support US military involvement in Central Africa…
In the end, if you want to solve some of the problems of our world, positively address your own feelings of injustice, and do something positive for the future of your children, you need to start by developing your own level of education. You need to discover the true nature of the realities you perceive, question all the facts and reports that you can, and determine for yourself what types of solutions might exist to these problems. Activism certainly has its time and place but only the most straightforward, nearly black and white problems can be solved by such a popularized simplification of issues and realities. While it can set the agenda for discourse (which at least the Kony 2012 video has succeeded in doing) the more thoughtful among us are right to be weary of popularized policy decisions based on upon militant awareness campaigns. For real problems, we need real solutions. For real solutions, we need to move a bit beyond popular movements and develop real strategic discourse where all potential costs and benefits are weighed equally with deference always given to the value of human life.
Ultimately, you will likely find that the majority of the unnecessary pain and suffering in our world is a product not of the false demons or boogeymen of our own mythical creation but of the unsustainable systems and structures we have established in our society, of the false incentives based on accumulation of wealth and power at the expense of humanity, and of the scarcity of resources which we hold so dear in our modern consumer-based culture. Until we figure out how to correct these core problems it makes little difference to humanity whether we go about killing one bad guy or another. The system perpetuates the violent disposition, not the other way around. While I’m sure it would be no disservice to humanity for someone to successfully put a bullet in Mr. Kony’s head the question of where to go from there must be answered before action is taken. Killing tends to lead to more killing and if your chosen course of action is to kill one bad man after another until there are no more left on this planet it is likely that you will quickly either run out of bullets or out of luck. Let’s hope cooler and better informed heads prevail on this one. Thank you for your time and your compassion, Mr. Russell, but please get out of this game before you inadvertently kill a lot of people. As for everyone else…pick up a book or two and learn something…then we’ll talk about saving the world…
14 MAR 2012, 0400(L), Sharana, Paktika, Afghanistan