A few words about “Kony 2012”

I have some small experience with skepticism on the internet and in social media. It’s usually a pretty hard slog, because people don’t like being corrected, especially when they’re passionate about something. So you’ll see people posting stuff that you find on Snopes, and you have to painstakingly explain to your friends and more gullible family members that it’s generally not a good idea to forward along things that are unsourced, particularly when they don’t pass the skeptical ‘sniff test’. And then someone gets into a fight over it, and it’s 2 or 3 days before it stops spreading like wildfire.

Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to a video called “Kony 2012” with the question “thoughts?” Now, as hipster as this makes me sound, I’ve actually known who and what Joseph Kony was for a few years now. I’ve even talked about him (obliquely) on this blog before. There is no question in my mind that Joseph Kony represents everything that is evil about humanity. I try to avoid describing people as ‘good’ or ‘evil’, in an attempt to recognize that the environment is a much better predictor of behaviour than anything that exists within us organically. Even still, the methods and actions of Mr. Kony are so beyond comprehension and empathy that I struggle to even see him as a human being. His only saving grace, politically speaking, is that he’s been allowed to commit his atrocities in a place where the rich and powerful nations have more or less ignored him.

This video, created by an advocacy and humanitarian aid group called Invisible Children, is designed to strip away the anonymity that allows Joseph Kony to engage in his grisly campaign. Their reasoning is that if people are paying attention, there will be sufficient political pressure to “do something” (which, in the case of Invisible Children, means hunting him down and either arresting him or killing him). The powerful imagery of the video, coupled with the shocking reality of the situation, immediately provoked huge reactions from people who had no idea that any of this had been going on.

Almost immediately, the criticisms came pouring in about the “charitable” practices of Invisible Children, whether slick and well-polished videos were the “best” way to spend money, whether the funding actually went to the children they claimed to be representing, whether social media was the correct way to bring about a campaign like this, whether Joseph Kony was even still in Uganda (he isn’t, by all reports), the list goes on. The predictable backlash against people caring about things and derisive calls of “slacktivism” arose quickly, and within the span of a day, the campaign had become a punchline against white hipsters. So it goes. I’ve had a day to roll this thing around in my head, read some analysis, and talk to a couple of people before arriving at an opinion, and I think there are some important issues for you to think about.

First of all, there is no doubt that Joseph Kony is a bad guy and I would not be sad if he was suddenly not on the planet anymore. That being said, he does not exist in a vacuum. The political reality of Uganda is far more complex than a 30-minute video (which isn’t even about Uganda) can bear out. Joseph Kony may be ‘the bad guy’ in the story, but it does not follow that the Ugandan army is ‘the good guy’. Furthermore, a military action that strengthens the Ugandan army at the expense of the LRA isn’t necessarily a net benefit for Uganda or its neighbours. The actions of the LRA are absolutely horrific, but the solution to the problems in Uganda lie in strengthening Ugandans: their access to secure food, education, economic opportunity. To the extent that Invisible Children does this, I support them. To the extent that the Kony 2012 video is not about those things, I do not.

Second, I see very little about the religious climate from which a Joseph Kony springs. The Lord’s Resistance Army is not accidentally or ironically named. Mr. Kony truly and devoutly believes himself to be on a mission from Yahweh, and he uses the same line of reasoning that William Lane Craig does to justify his use of child soldiers. This fact doesn’t make it into the video, nor does it come up in the public discussion of the campaign. As I said – Joseph Kony does not exist in a vacuum, and neither do his beliefs. Ugandan Christianity is a particularly odious brand, and it should not surprise anyone that an extremist like Kony can flourish in such an environment. No Gnu worth hir salt should let this opportunity pass – this is the harm of religious faith: it permits a Joseph Kony and robs us of the ability to understand him in full context.

Third, I cannot help but see the spectre of half-blind imperialism and colonialism once again rearing its ugly head. Most (if not all) of the African continent continues to bear the scars of generations of colonial occupation – understanding this fact is as easy as recognizing the fact that national borders were drawn by European powers, not the population. In fact, a new kind of non-state colonialism is the reality for much of the continent today, with large multinational corporations holding control over not only the land, but much of the political system. While people cluck disapprovingly about the “corruption” of African leaders, they conveniently omit the fact that the destabilization of African leaders is a consequence of the influence of these corporations, which sell their products to us. We may not have created Joseph Kony, but we certainly fund the system that makes him possible. For us to call for action to go in and kill him without recognizing the role that we played in his rise is an unforgivable amount of hypocrisy that will only result in a continuation of the underlying problem.

Fourth, I find it interesting how quickly the ‘debunking’ happened. As I said, I have some experience with social media skepticism, and I can’t think of any example where a meme like this fell into disrepute so quickly. Given that the whole purpose of the campaign was predicated on the ignorance of North Americans about Africa (borne, I argue, of racism), I cannot help but suspecting that this same racism is what makes us uncharacteristically ‘skeptical’ of this campaign. If I were being particularly cynical, I’d say that we were looking for a reason to dismiss this campaign because a) we don’t care; and b) we want an excuse to continue to do nothing. I don’t know how much of the response this cynical interpretation explains, but my understanding of the ways in which racist attitudes manifest themselves simply does not allow me to dismiss it as frivolous.

So to sum up, I am glad people are paying attention to Joseph Kony. He’s a monster, and one of the (thankfully) few examples of pure evil we have in the world. However, I cannot help but be frustrated by the fact that a problem as large and multifaceted (and critically important) as the problems of Uganda are being reduced to a level of simplicity worthy of a cartoon supervillain. I can only hope that at least some of the attention being lavished on the LRA spills over to the more pressing issues of economic and political stability that underpin everything in not only Uganda, but across much of the African continent. My concern is that, as in most cases of social media ‘activism’, this storm will pass without us having learned anything at all.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

Below, please find some worthwhile reading:

Stop Kony, yes. But don’t stop asking questions

Stop Kony: Activism or Exploitation?

Invisible Children and its Kony 2012 campaign in the spotlight

Viral video focuses debate on Uganda rebels


  1. mynameischeese says

    I was the first of my FB friends to backlash against the video (shit, that sounds totally hipster). After watching the video and getting frustrated at the white-man-saves-Africa cheese of it, then at the fact that Uganda’s history of colonialism was left out of it, then at several other problematic aspects of the documentary, I decided to take a time-out before I posted anything. I kind of anticipated that people might read my backlash as a cynical, “I’m going to find a reason to hate this so I don’t have to care” thing by some people. So before doing anything else, I made a donation to MSF. I donate to them in small installments whenever I have change in my paypal anyway and I share their blogs and stuff on FB, so I don’t think people can let the video take credit for inspiring me to donate.

    Then, after getting all the ranting out of my system to a friend behind the scenes, I went back onto FB and posted links to Ugandan bloggers who were not happy with the video or IC. Did you see the photo of the charity hipsters with guns posing with the military? Poor taste.

    Anyway, that’s not to say racism didn’t play a part in the backlash, but I honestly think that there were some extremely problematic things in that video. I also think that maybe the video might have triggered an on-guard response from some of the backlashtivists precicely because it was so sleek. When I first clicked on it and saw that it opened with footage of happy people using Facebook, I thought it was just an ad and that the real video was due to start any moment now. That kind of sleekness is out of genre for a social injustice documentary and is jarring.

    The other jarring thing was that the viewer knew they were going to watch a documentary on Africa, but the first few minutes were a white American man and his kid. Even white people who are mostly oblivious of their privilege should have smelled something funny when that happened.

  2. mynameischeese says

    Oh and shit, I should have said that atheist blogs are the only reason that I knew anything about the LRA and/or Uganda in the first place, so yeah, atheists, get on this!

  3. left0ver1under says

    The growing discussion of Kony reminds me a lot of CNN’s “war on slavery” that they’ve been pushing. It sounds more like a distraction and a publicity and image campaign rather than any real concern. I agree with Crommunist, that Kony or human traffickers are the scum of the Earth, but there are bigger problems – most importantly, the problems that cause scum like Kony to be possible.

    Events like the Bhopal disaster, Somali pirates or 9/11 didn’t come out of nowhere. Bhopal happened because Dow forced India to reduce safety standards. Somalis are pirating ships because of illegal fishing and dumping of garbage in Somalia’s territorial waters. Anti-US sentiment exists because of blind US support for Israel, US meddling in other countries, and US support for corrupt regimes like the Shah and Suharto.

    Those who benefit from corrupt acts want to continue “business as usual” and avoid culpability for their actions. Nothing happens in isolation, though some want to pretend it does. This will sound self-serving because it benefits westerners a lot, but if the Occupy Wall Street movement were successful at toppling multinational corporations, it would do more to end human rights abuses than any UN sanctions ever would. When corporations no longer profit from doing business with corrupt regimes, said regimes will fall.

  4. Desert Son, OM says

    Is one of the challenges about educating privileged people of privileged foreign countries (such as me in mine) about colonialism the understanding that the response to complex and horrific circumstances is not simple reaction while harnessing the emotional momentum of genuine human compassion and empathy?

    I ask in parallel to my comments about this issue over in the thread on Stephanie Zvan’s Almost Diamonds.

    Post-colonial liberalism may include many instances of, for lack of a better term, “guilt response,” and I’m fairly sure I’ve done this (and may be doing it now). The idea that my ancestors or national predecessors actively perpetrated ills against others not just incidentally but systematically, so when I see contemporary example of inhumane behavior the appropriate response is Must! Act! Immediately! rather than Act In An Informed And Conscious Manner As Soon As Possible To Maximize Best Effect.

    The Immediate Uninformed Response seems problematic from several standpoints. First, what you’ve described, Ian: a response uninformed, misapplied, insufficient, ineffective, strictly palliative. Second, it’s a potentially questionable motivation: this is a good act and it redeems my nationality or absolves me from careful inspection of my privilege! instead of it being the right act to take regardless of its relationship to me or the history of my nation. Yet still no action takes place in a socio-cultural or historical vacuum!

    How to help teach the privileged to respond in a genuinely empathetic way that does not perpetuate colonialism? Is it similar to anti-racist efforts to support leadership from within oppressed minorities rather than acting as stewards of appropriation that happen to allow representatives from the oppressed minorities along for the ride? Is even that too simple an analysis of the complexities at work? Am I in my own ignorance even now asking the wrong questions, or grossly misunderstanding and so reinforcing my own white male colonial entrenchment?

    mynameischeese at #1:

    So before doing anything else, I made a donation to MSF.

    I send MSF my support when I can, also.

    Fuck, the more I grapple with this, the more ignorant, the more helpless, the more heartbroken I feel.

    Still learning,


  5. Pen says

    While people cluck disapprovingly about the “corruption” of African leaders, they conveniently omit the fact that the destabilization of African leaders is a consequence of the influence of these corporations, which sell their products to us.

    Consequently, our only real scope of action against the situation is consumer action and the boycott of products. Politically, we’re also disempowered by the corporations. Privileged, yes, but that does not necessarily equal powerful.

    Consumer action for political ends is hard to do, and of course expensive, and well, basically has a lot of pros and cons, but it is worth thinking about, because it is quite possibly the only thing most people actually can do (as opposed to just talking).

  6. Kendra says

    “His only saving grace, politically speaking, is that he’s been allowed to commit his atrocities in a place where the rich and powerful nations have more or less ignored him.”

    Quoi? I paused over that line for a few minutes, and I’m still not entirely sure why and from what Kony’s geography has saved him.

    Much like Desert Son, my response to Konygate2012 is something like despair. I am cynical enough to believe that Kony will disappear from my Newsfeed as quickly as Jeremy Lin has.

  7. says

    The kind of widespread condemnation that usually comes with action like his. You want to take bets as to how many people would get away relatively unnoticed if ze lived in Belgium?

  8. maureen.brian says

    Before watchers of the video leap to the conclusion that either it’s not true – it’s very true – or that the solution is to start another three wars they should maybe be asking themselves one question. How come they didn’t know about Kony?

    With absolutely no additional effort beyond reading my usual newspaper and talking to the occasional Ugandan, I’ve known about him since a couple of years after Museveni came to power.

    No, that doesn’t make me clever or a goody-two-shoes. It makes me despair, despair that we are so much slaves to this “he’s a Good Guy, he’s a Bad Guy” approach to world affairs that we cease to be able to take in facts or to exercise as much judgement about power politics as we do about how we want our steak.

    And do stop berating yourself, Robert. You are light-years ahead already! No, that doesn’t solve the problem but, hell, you knew there was a problem to be solved. Not everyone knows that.

  9. Sarcen says

    Let me start by saying that I am not sufficiently familiar with the situation in Uganda or the history of IC to comment on the truthfulness of the Kony 2012 video or appraise the spin that some people see in it. But I do have some thoughts about how people (including skeptics) have responded to it.

    1. “There are bigger problems” is almost never a valid response and it certainly isn’t here. Sadly, this is the continual response I hear to this campaign among several others activist movements. I find it strange and disturbing that it keeps coming from the skeptical community: Dawkins used it against Skeptchick, Meridianfrost and Thunderf00t used it against the Occupy movement, and in both cases it was a confused, frustrated surrogate for real criticism. Don’t get me wrong, in ALL of these listed cases there are ample criticisms to be made, but this is not one of them.

    2. I also keep hearing about how this video leaves out the colonial history of Uganda and Africa as a whole. I will grant that it does, but I don’t see how that in any way speaks to the validity of its purpose. Sure, there’s no doubt that many of the conflicts in Africa today spawn to some extent from colonialism and the way it ended. But is it necessary to give a pedantic sermon covering four hundred years of brutality and racism before we consider doing anything that has to do with that continent?

    3. I’m sure the situation in Uganda is more complicated than Joseph Kony. I know their government is just as rabidly Christian as Kony himself (they are the ones trying to make homosexuality a capital offense) and I don’t see any value in propping up such a despicable regime. It may be less important to capture or kill Kony than it is to dismantle his power base in that country (especially if he’s already fled its borders). But that doesn’t make this particular campaign sinister for pushing for the capture of Kony himself.

    4. Activists are usually forced to work in a self-imposed vacuum. Otherwise, the temptation is to become overwhelmed by the enormity of interconnected problems. We don’t tell someone fighting poverty in a developing nation, “Why are you bothering with this? Poverty is just the product of the socio-political situation in this country and its neighbors. We shouldn’t give these people food until we stabilize their currency!” Can you imagine? And yet that’s kinda the argument here. The people at IC, if they’re like any legitimate activist organization (from capturing war criminals, to feeding the hungry, to curing Parkinson’s) have to keep their focus narrow, they accept support wherever they can get it and deliver the “facts” of their cause as bluntly as they can.

    Okay, I’m done.

  10. Change says

    Given that the whole purpose of the campaign was predicated on the ignorance of North Americans about Africa (borne, I argue, of racism), I cannot help but suspecting that this same racism is what makes us uncharacteristically ‘skeptical’ of this campaign. If I were being particularly cynical, I’d say that we were looking for a reason to dismiss this campaign because a) we don’t care; and b) we want an excuse to continue to do nothing.

    Wonderfully said. I didn’t realize until I read this that it was exactly what I was doing—skeptical of the entire issue because I wanted to absolve myself of my ignorance. I guess my (subconscious) line of reasoning goes, “if it really was that bad, I’d have known about it (and perhaps done something about it) a long time ago.”

  11. says

    1. First of all, I didn’t say that there were “bigger problems”. What I said was that the problem that they are talking about is bigger than they are representing it. It does no good to run half-cocked into a situation and start calling for action when you don’t actually know what you’re talking about.

    2. In the same vein, one cannot understand anything worthwhile about Joseph Kony and the struggle against him without understanding Uganda more contextually. Failing to understand the climate in which he exists gives you a cartoonish version of the problem that will, ultimately, drive you to make ridiculous recommendations. It’s akin to the people who chastise atheists for focussing on Christianity, failing to take into account that a) Christianity is the most familiar and immediate problem for most vocal atheists in North America and Europe, and b) it is not in fact the case. I’m sorry that you find the discussion of brutality and racism (I’m not sure where you got the 400 years thing from) so “pedantic”. Actually no, I’m not. You’re a dick. Fuck you. It’s relevant to the discussion, and the fact that you find it “pedantic” is a perfect illustration of the problem – we are ignorant about the issues and don’t care enough to learn before “fixing” things.

    “Is it really necessary to understand the situation before we go and do something about it?” Yup. Otherwise you end up looking like Paul Wolfowitz.

    3. If your method of capturing Kony is propping up the Ugandan army (which is essentially what they are advocating), then yes it is absolutely sinister.

    4. I’m really not sure why this point keeps eluding you, but I’ll try using an analogy. If you’re trying to hit a target with an arrow but you don’t bother adjusting your aim for the wind and the distance the arrow has to travel, you’re going to miss the target. You might, in fact, kill the guy who’s standing near the target. IC is essentially asking people to fire directly at the target, and because their approach lacks the necessary perspective, they will miss it (and probably cause major damage). And yes, believe it or not, NGOs are in fact learning that providing direct aid often makes the problem worse.

  12. says

    I saw this video come up a few days ago, but have been avoiding it for the simple fact that I am a total coward.

    Scary movie scenes have given me PTSD-like symptoms. Days of sleep loss, irrational fears, paranoia. I still have regular, recurring zombie nightmares years after watching the opening scene of the Dawn of The Dead remake. (I’m not offended it people laugh at this. I know it’s absurd and it makes me laugh too.) I don’t know why my brain does this to me, but I do not like it. So I avoid things that I think will have the potential to provoke that reaction in me. Like I said, coward. I’m ok with this, but I just wanted to make it clear that I didn’t avoid watching it because I don’t care.

    Anyway, I didn’t know who Kony was before this. I’m glad I know now, and I do appreciate the extra context people have given the video (indeed the whole situation) because that helps me understand it without having to be traumatized by it. So thanks for the thoughtful commentary and extra links.

  13. Sarcen says

    1. Let me clarify this point: I was NOT responding directly to what you said, but to what many of the criticisms have been INCLUDING some of the people who have posted here. One person literally wrote, “…but there are bigger problems.” It is THAT kind of mentality I am responding to here.

    2. Tell me precisely what circumstances they ought to have included, then? You made a specific criticism that they didn’t give context, but your given range of context couldn’t fit in some libraries, let alone a 30 minute video. Are there certain circumstances of history that specifically mitigate the degree of moral imperative a person ought to have in the face of someone like Kony?

    ***Also, my use of the word “pedantic” refers to the TELLING of the history, not the history itself, which should be clear from a re-reading of my original comment (as well as the definition of the word). I realize you misunderstood what I said and that you had an understandably emotional reaction, but I think I’m owed an apology for that.

    3. Certainly it may make them myopic, but not necessarily sinister. If the people behind it are sincere, they are probably anxious to capture Kony via whatever ethical means are available We may may question their judgement about what’s genuinely more harmful (they may not see the regime as evil) or what’s ethical (they may not see a problem in using one evil against another).

    4. Your metaphor would be meaningful if they were recruiting for direct action, but they are looking for public support for action that is already underway. My point relates to the specificity of a given activist cause in relation to the criticism that their cause is without merit in the big-picture sense, not its methodology.

    If, on the other hand, the metaphor is meant to diminish the value of their goal (i.e., cast the capture of Kony as a poor goal in the context of Ugandan well-being), then I again refer you to my analogy. If there is a specific reason why trying to capture Kony would likely be harmful (as opposed to, at worst, only slightly helpful) to Ugandan well-being (aside from the tenuous assertion that weakening him strengthens the government), then the metaphor would have merit.

  14. Sarcen says

    Sorry to break this up, but I forgot to mention it in my previous response. You questioned where I got a figure of 400 years of colonialism. As I understand, the Portuguese have had permanent settlements in Africa since the 1500s, with the other powers joining the party in the mid 1700s and the whole of the continent (including Uganda) being partitioned in the mid-late 19th century. Upon reflection this could actually produce a span of 300 or 500 years of colonialism, so a figure of 400 years is not an especially egregious flub on my part.

  15. says

    As soon as I saw the film focus more on this filmmaker’s kid rather than the task at hand, I knew I was in for a real treat.

    One thing I am happy about, is that through my critique of Kony2012 on Facebook I found out that one of my running buddies founded a charity that I WILL support in Uganda. I had no idea she had done all of this amazing work with schools there. She saw a need for work to be done in their education system and has spent both her time and money to get it done. Also without the need of proselytizing like so many charities in Africa do.

    http://educatingafricaschildren.org if anyone is interested in checking them out.

  16. says

    One person literally wrote, “…but there are bigger problems.”

    I was going to respond to that, but then I read the whole comment. The point being made is that there are larger problems to consider in the specific context of Kony. Going in and intervening without knowledge of how those larger problems will affect the specific goal of “removing him from the battlefield”, as it were, has the potential to go seriously pear-shaped.

    Are there certain circumstances of history that specifically mitigate the degree of moral imperative a person ought to have in the face of someone like Kony?

    You’re talking past me. Kony is a bad guy. Insofar as people now know that, great. Saying “now let’s go do this thing” is the mistake. I think I was pretty clear in distinguishing those two arguments. And considering I highlighted some specific issues in the span of 1200 words, I imagine they can find somewhere in a 30 minute video to talk about the history of Uganda and the current political reality.

    I realize you misunderstood what I said and that you had an understandably emotional reaction, but I think I’m owed an apology for that

    You’re correct. Your comment did not warrant that reaction, but I don’t think your meaning was nearly so clear as you think.

    Certainly it may make them myopic, but not necessarily sinister

    If we’re getting into the issue of intent then no, they do not have a maleficent purpose. However, you know what they say paves the road to hell. Their myopia is compounded by the myopia and ignorance of their intended audience. They make no effort to give the relevant details of their issue, which is what causes problems repeatedly in these kinds of situations. It is the geopolitical equivalent of yelling “fire” in a crowded room – people are rushing all over the place all amped up to Stop Kony, without having anything close to the necessary information to make such a thing possible.

    aside from the tenuous assertion that weakening him strengthens the government

    Well the army, but it’s not a tenuous assertion at all. That is precisely why U.S. troops are being deployed there.

  17. left0ver1under says

    Obviously you missed the point, or you are deliberately trying to avoid it. I immediately followed “bigger problems” by saying we should deal with the cause of the problems. Treatings symptoms doesn’t cure disease, but you are taking the “symptom” view of problem solving, as if enough cough syrup will stop encephalitis or bombing Al Qaeda will solve the injustices that lead muslims to support them.

    I gave an example, which you deliberately ignored or can’t grasp why I said it: There would be no Somali pirates if there were no pirates invading their waters. If there were no European or Asian boats fishing in Somalia’s waters, and no countries dumping garbage in their waters, would there be any Somalian pirates? Unless you’re dishonest, the answer is no. But instead of solving that, the world corruptly pretends the Somalis are the problem and sends gunships to the horn of Africa to protect the illegal shipping.

    Would Kony exist or have as much power, as Crommunist mentioned, if there were no destablization of African countries by western countries’ meddling? Very likely not. Would it be easier for the world to offer support against Kony if the western meddling had not created a corrupt Ugandan government? Obviously, yes. How is admitting those things the same as saying Kony is “not a big problem”?

    If you deal with the cause of the problem, you solve the problem or make it easier to solve. But you don’t want to, or don’t see the point in it.

  18. mynameischeese says

    2. If this charity was just advocating distributing aid like food or medicine in Uganda and they neglected to mention Uganda’s colonial history, I think I’d get over that. But the fact is they are advocating American military intervention (that’s in the video)without mentioning the colonial history! That is absolutely reckless!

    Think of all the times in history that the US military or CIA has gotten involved in wiping out a “bad guy” with allegedly good intentions and bad consequences. Remember all the US-backed coups in southern Vietnam? If only America had acknowledged that Ho Chi Minh was the result of French imperialism, they might have understood the fruitlessness of foreign military intervention.

    And because America has such a fraught history of using the military or CIA to install pro-American puppet leaders in other countries, any time they get directly involved in a postcolonial country’s problems, that country then has a legitimacy issue.

  19. Brownian says

    While people cluck disapprovingly about the “corruption” of African leaders, they conveniently omit the fact that the destabilization of African leaders is a consequence of the influence of these corporations, which sell their products to us.

    Further to that, we conviently edit our own narratives to paint ourselves as more noble and less corrupt than we really are.

    And now for my hipster cred: I lived, for a short period of time, in Uganda back in 1999. The LRA was active then, with Kony at the head, and Museveni had been president for the thirteen years since his NRA deposed Milton Obote, and hadn’t yet held an election during that time. Naturally, many/most Ugandans felt a general election was due. Many of those I spoke to also expressed a concern that the country not run into the sort of problems they felt Kenya faced, where votes were split along tribal and therefore geographical lines, with those regions that generally supported the winners (or were the ancestral lands of the tribe to which the winner belonged) being rewarded with new roads and infrastructure. I remember inwardly clucking my tongue as you described, before this thought hit me: “Waitaminnit. I’m from Alberta. The same party has been in power since before my birth. Ridings that vote for anyone other than the PC nominee are felt to be punished after the election. What the hell do I have to feel superior about?“*
    Of course, I’m not trying to claim the level of corruption is equal, but that our Canadian hands are far from clean, either locally or globally.

    *I understand this paragraph includes some pretty facile descriptions of some complex issues, but I’m trying my best to recount my younger self’s understanding of these conversations at the time.

  20. Colin Mackay says

    Just some thoughts on Kony 2012.

    Firstly, it would seem that at least one “…Ugandan journalist isn’t very impressed with the Kony 2012 video that’s gone viral this week. “It simplifies the story of millions of people in northern Uganda and makes out a narrative that is often hard about Africa, about how hopeless people are in times of conflict.” She adds: “If you are showing me as voiceless, as hopeless, you have no space telling my story, you shouldn’t be telling my story.” ( http://goo.gl/P4LVy )

    Secondly, there is the hint, at least, of ‘invisible children’ being linked to the dominionist NAR. An article by Bruce Wilson of Talk to Action noted that “…Foreign Affairs charges Invisible Children with misrepresenting the facts…” ( http://goo.gl/IKyi3 ), further, that a “…Foreign Affairs guest contributor Michael Wilkerson notes the deceptive nature of the KONY 2012 video, narrated by Jason Russell. ( http://goo.gl/dqnGz )

    It was also noted by Wilson that “…in a November 7, 2011 appearance at Liberty University, as part of Liberty’s Fall Convocation speaker series, Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell hinted that Invisible Children was also an evangelizing effort, and during his talk Russell coached Liberty University students on what could be characterized as extremely low-key, or stealth, evangelism.” ( http://goo.gl/RINeX )

    Third, it would not surprise me to find that ‘invisible children’ has close ties to the NAR. If so that would mean a very real attachment to the Uganda kill the gays bill, and other fundamentalist positions. According to Avert (see link) “Uganda is often cited as a rare example of success in a continent facing a severe AIDS crisis…Yet, praise for Uganda’s prevention efforts has waned in recent years, with particular criticism levelled at US-backed abstinence campaigns. There are indications that Uganda’s HIV prevalence may once again be on the rise” ( http://goo.gl/1kC4a ) Why aren’t ‘invisible children’ campaigning against these atrocities? Or the witch burnings http://goo.gl/i4aVX .

    I won’t belabour the observation that “Invisible Children’s finances are sorta sketchy” ( http://goo.gl/iMB6q ) which you can explore for yourself here: http://goo.gl/AtFsv . 2010 seems the most interesting.

    All of this however is but a distraction. The real question I have is about stealth evangelism. If ‘invisible children’ is involved in ‘stealth evangelism’ who exactly are they trying to evangelise? Could it be that their recruitment target is actually the 20+(?) million viewers of the video?

    Disregarding the financial windfall of say a 5% hit rate at $30 per pop, $30 million, and the fact that the UN, various NGO’s, and several governments have already committed resources to addressing the problem, and the problems, according to Rosebeth [above], have been alleviated to the extent that she believes internal management of the situation would be better, and that Kony’s army has been reduced to but ‘a few hundred’ ( http://goo.gl/eWnYL ).

    What if the intention of the ‘pledge’ taken by who knows how many rests not on altruism, but the psychology of commitment where “…as psychologist Robert Cialdini observed, a person’s commitment to a particular course of action sometimes “grow legs.” Once we become clearly committed, we have a strong tendency to gradually increase our level of commitment to that course of action. In doing so, we often lose sight of the original reasons and justification for choosing that course of action in the first place” ( http://goo.gl/GxuAm ).

    If ‘invisible children’ is a recruiting arm for the theocratic right who, having failed to disclose any religious connection, asked you, or your child, to pledge an allegiance how happy would you be? I think this time we should spend as much time as it takes to uncover the truth.

    Oh, an for all the people calling for US forces to go in and kill a foreign national this makes for interesting viewing http://www.ted.com/talks/bryan_stevenson_we_need_to_talk_about_an_injustice.html?source=google_plusone .

  21. Jermaine Walker says

    Thought-provoking post, touching on a lot of really important points. Probably the most well-balanced post I’ve read. I do have one small point of contention, though.

    While I certainly wouldn’t declare followers of Christianity/religion innocent of any number of atrocities, I feel it is a little unfair to therefore indict the institution, as though faith itself is to blame for the acts of individuals. Any number of religious faithful live out their days in relative anonymity between a desk and a copier, or in a village with their families, never dreaming of the evil we discuss.

    As I said, though, great post!

  22. says

    Glad you enjoyed it!

    as though faith itself is to blame for the acts of individuals

    Faith, in these circumstances, can be seen as what we in the epidemiology biz call a “necessary but not sufficient cause”. Yes, not everyone with faith does stuff like this, but the vast majority of those who do things like this are motivated by religious belief (Kony undoubtedly is). Those few who don’t do them for explicitly religious reasons (i.e., Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao) still exhibit the same kind of zeal for a non-supernatural entity. Faith removes any kind of need for a reality check, and because many people believe in some version of your tenets, it provides a handy smokescreen to disguise the more monstrous aspects of your specific agenda. People are therefore more willing to follow you when you couch your crusade in religious language.

    I do blame faith. Remove faith from Joseph Kony and you’re left with a very different picture.

  23. Ing says

    I was very disappointed to learn about the backlash. I had hoped that something would be done about such a horrible person and situation. Is there anything actually productive that can be done?

  24. says

    About Kony specifically? That’s where you want the military involved, and they are. His organization, by all accounts that I’ve heard, is still dangerous but circling the drain.

    In terms of what good you could do (i.e., who to make the cheque out to), you’d be better served with small-scale, on-the-ground development agencies with a specific mandate for education or economic development. I’d be willing to bet that you could find out some good secular ideas from the Uganda Humanist Association.

  25. Charlotte says

    Faith is the only good thing we can cling to in this ungodly world. You confuse faith (i.e., a loving and willingly obedient relationship with the one true God) and delusion. Kony does not have a relationship with God as a follower of Jesus. That he says he does is part of his delusion brought on by extreme spiritual illness, and you unquestioningly accept it because you are rabidly and irrationally anti-Christian (or anti-religion, however you want to phrase it).

    Those of us who are true followers of Jesus and who do have a relationship with God, based on faith, can see through this man’s claims as delusional. It’s not difficult to ascertain, with discernment. However, discernment is generally in short supply among those who do not know God as their father, and that includes most self-professed Christians as well as atheists.

    If you want to know what a true Christian is, read the New Testament, paying close attention to Jesus’ words and to how he acted. Does Kony act or speak like that? Do most self-professed Christians? How about atheists?

    Rhetorical questions, of course. My point here is that you condemn someone for being something that he is not (Christian) because you misunderstand what a Christian is. The same ignorance and bias you accuse Kony 2012 supporters of exhibiting, you exhibit yourself, under the guise of ‘enlightened’ atheism.

    I think Wittgenstein said it best: “Whereof man doesn’t know, thereof he should be silent.”

    I hope some day you come to know God as your loving Father and Jesus as your Lord, leader, brother and best friend.

    And, for the record, I do not see Kony as either a “monster” or “evil”. I see him as a very spiritually sick man who has made monstrous and evil choices and is living the consequence of them. No-one ever escapes karma. Sick people need help, not hatred. Hate begets hate, and killing begets killing. The cycle can stop with you. Jesus said it best: “Love your enemies.” You don’t have to like someone to love him; you just have to see him as human and weak and easily tempted to do wrong (just like you and me) and to ask God to help them. Oh — and not to say bad things about them, even though you think they deserve it. That’s ‘loving your enemies’. Are you up to the challenge, or will you instead choose to continue to be part of the problem by hate-mongering?

    Certainly, the man needs to be apprehended and punished, but he does not need to be hated.

  26. Jermaine Walker says

    I actually feel a bit less troubled given your clarification. But I still think the rebuttal below is sound enough that it bears repeating:

    “The reality is that it is a plain and simple, indeed brutal, fact of history that over the past 100 years, atheism, as an ideology, has been a driving force used directly to plan, plot, organise and carry out the mass murder of millions of people.”
    – Neil Powell

    The rest of the essay can be found via the link below, if you would like its proper context. But even in light of its sound arguments, I still would not feel comfortable attributing the actions of those mentioned primarily or solely to their position on faith. I would argue that the platform acted more as an unwitting vehicle for their already misguided delusions.


  27. says

    Destruction of religion by force is not a necessary consequence of atheism or even anti-theism. Belief, in the absence of evidence, IS a necessary component of theism. The argument is not even close to being sound. You should probably avoid citing essays by a guy who clearly has no idea what he’s talking about.

    Also I have made exactly zero claims about atheism being a superior moral system (it’s not any kind of moral system, as a matter of fact). What I am saying is that Mr. Kony believes sincerely, piously, religiously, in what he’s doing. He’s not using religion as an excuse, his actions are motivated by his religious beliefs. Those who follow him do so because they believe he is speaking for a supernatural being. Religion teaches us to be entirely uncritical of certain claims – you simply must believe, and failure to do so will result in everlasting punishment.

  28. Jermaine Walker says

    I never claimed that atheism was morally superior or inferior to any other belief system, either. In fact, I made the argument that atheism may very well be a scapegoat for the injustices performed by deeply troubled individuals. While I may be persuaded to believe that atheism is not an actively anti-religious point of view (I have heard reasonable arguments to the contrary—granted, you seem dissatisified with my opinion of what is “reasonable”, it would seem), the same type of defense could be made for peaceful followers of religion. While belief in some unobservable phenomena is central to religious faith (it could be argued that the same is true of certain facets of strict materialsm), violent, irrational, fanaticism is not.

  29. says

    The two are not parallel, though. That is my point.

    The violent fanaticism is licensed, inspired, and (most importantly) protected by faith. You cannot get to these kinds of atrocities without either a) having some kind of psychopathy, or b) believing that your actions are justified by your belief. Unlike atheism, which is merely a response to a claim, faith is a specific encouragement to eschew material or rational means of discovering truth. It postulates that truth can be imparted and must simply be believed. Kony’s actions are explicitly justified along faith lines. The fact that most people who have faith do not commit these kinds of actions is testament to the fact that most people are not fundamentalist believers. If you take the teachings of the Bible seriously and literally, violence is justified. Even (despite Charlotte’s LOL-worthy assertion to the contrary) the New Testament or simply the teachings attributed to Jesus of Nazareth.

    Atheism on its own is not hostile to religion. Atheism is a stance. Someone says “I haz a Jezuz” and the atheist says “I dun believes you”. Anti-theism is an active stance against belief – recognizing that unjustified belief is dangerous and can lead to disastrous outcomes. It is not a necessary component of anti-theism that religious institutions must be destroyed by force. It is certainly not my position (although you have not made that accusation, and I recognize that). I don’t know what one would call this kind of “atheism by force”, but it is not a position that is logically grounded in atheism. There is no atheist ‘tenet’ justifying the violent destruction of religion. There are several religious tenets that explicitly justify the use of violence in defense of the faith.

    That, in short, is why the argument is not reasonable as presented.

  30. says

    Thank you for posting your thoughts on the Kony discussion. I think you’ve made some great and important points.

    For starters, I am not typically inclined to get into these types of debates. I sort of hang out with the “hippie-dippy, creative entrepreneurial, it’s-all-good-nay-amazeballs!” bloggers, so I feel a bit out of my element. But I am a seminary student, and I write a blog about the restoration of Shalom on earth, which essentially stems from a “faith-based” point of view. That said, I don’t feel that my beliefs align closely with many Christians—at least not the ones who like to hang out online and leave a trail of self-assured, self-righteous comments. Anyway. I felt compelled to add my two cents.

    In my opinion, it’s not entirely fair to blame faith/religion for Joseph Kony. You can blame Joseph Kony, and I agree that his beliefs played a role in determining his actions. But blaming Christianity for Joseph Kony is like blaming eugenics for the Holocaust; you can’t blame an idea for a genocide.

    I think you were on to something when you said that Kony didn’t arise in a vacuum. I am not familiar with Ugandan Christian ideology, but it seems to me that another root cause of this trouble is political. Religion on its own is not potent enough to cause this caliber of damage. False religion when it is bound to a government’s political agenda becomes lethal.

    I know I run the risk of being pegged a hyper-religious nut job, but I do want to add that, strictly speaking, Jesus did not set out to take over the world. And, notably, his followers wanted him to. He did take sides on occasion, and he had his opinions about the political climate of his day, but he proposed creative nonviolence to overcome injustice.

    You can read the Hebrew Bible and infer a vengeful God. You can read the New Testament and find an anti-Jewish agenda. The Bible was written by flawed people (ahem, men) who were shaped by the politics and customs of their day. That’s why it’s so important for people (especially Christians) to remember that the entire Bible was not meant to be taken literally. The Bible is a collection of writings, some of which were heavily metaphorical, allegorical, poetic, and in some cases just plain wrong. And admittedly, we do pick and choose on occasion. Sometimes the culture has changed dramatically, and old customs and ideas just do not fit with a modern ideology. Or information is lost in translation, and doesn’t seem to make sense anymore.

    But reading seriously and reading literally are not the same. Indeed, in reading a poem seriously, it might very well do harm to read it literally. The Bible should be studied carefully, and understood in its cultural context.

    To sum up, because I’ve gone off on all sorts of tangents: If violent fanaticism is, as you say, protected by faith (I would seriously question the accuracy of that interpretation, although that may be irrelevant), then it must be granted some authority (via government or other political power) to truly become dangerous.

  31. says

    “LOL” – nice comeback dude.

    Way to prove your rightness by laughing at someone with a different perspective than you.

    And I’ll quote YODA on this – “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to Hate, Hate leads to suffering.”

    To interpret that to you – An LOL response to a well thought out reply on a well thought through post sounds like fear to me.

    But it is your blog and you are entitled to your own opinion, just as it is Kony’s right to be filled with such hatred.

    We are born with the option to love or hate and we have a lifetime to act on those intents.

    The extreme Consequences of these intents produce people like Mother Theresa or Hitler. But it starts with just one scoff.

    Every war does…

  32. says

    Oh these are just too precious.

    I am under no obligation to give any stupid, meaningless, proselytizing comment a thought-out response. Especially if that comment reeks of having not bothered to read the article it’s supposedly commenting on. Charlotte decided to use this platform to preach instead of offering a substantive point.

    You’ll notice on this very thread I engage with people who disagree with me. I talk through their arguments and respond accordingly. If that person has offered nothing but canned responses and shitty apologetics, they only get a ‘LOL’. It’s more than they deserve. It’s definitely more than you deserve with your “you’re like Kony because you laugh at people instead of painstakingly addressing every single fallacious statement they make” implications.

    I hope you stub your toe on something.


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