Friday, March 09, 2012

More Thoughtful Responses On Kony 2012

On Complexity, Awareness, and Social Action
What I am advocating for is that before you take action you dig deeply into the issue before pushing people with political power to use international force in a nation and continent not your own. That is not a flippant decision to make. And to do so based on emotion or slick marketing is socially irresponsible. You may decide, as other thoughtful people have, that doing so is what is necessary, but please do so realizing that it should be a last resort.
(Note, this blog started with a commitment to complexity.)

And via McCarty's blog, this comment by Mr. Okwonga in The Independent is an important comment on the whole issue. He writes:
Invisible Children asked viewers to seek the engagement of American policymakers and celebrities, but – and this is a major red flag – it didn’t introduce them to the many Northern Ugandans already doing fantastic work both in their local communities and in the diaspora. It didn’t ask its viewers to seek diplomatic pressure on President Museveni’s administration.

And one from the ever-insightful Knowledge Management 4 Development (KM4Dev) listserv: KONY2012 – a story in one flavour

This linked me to a great video by Chimamanda Adichie on TED about "one story". And her talk reminds me of a very formative paper I read by Richard Shweder, "Moral Maps, 'First World' Conceipts, and the New Evangelists". In it, he writes:
...I am a cultural pluralist. My version of cultural pluralism begins with a universal truth, which I refer to as the principle of "confusionism". A "confusionist" believes that the knowable world is incomplete if seen from any one point of view, incoherent if seen from all points of view at once, and empty if seen from "nowhere in particular". Given the choice between incompleteness, incoherence, and emptiness, I opt for incompleteness while staying on the move between different ways of seeing and valuing the world.

And one more that I read via Mr. Thorpe's post: Kony 2012: history, nuance, and advocacy’s Golden Rule

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Exaggerating Truth To Be Effective?

...and another thing...

I was reminded of another video that got me a bit unsettled last year. I refreshed my memory and came across another thoughtful piece in The Guardian: Unwatchable: should charities use shock tactics to get attention?

It speaks about when it is and isn't OK, in the writer's opinion, to exaggerate, shock and make the general public uncomfortable. I'd guess there will never be a right answer to this. I agree with this statement: "Sometimes it can be tempting to prioritise effectiveness over truth. I know of campaigns that have deliberately exaggerated statistics and claims to provoke a reaction. It has sometimes worked, but in the long-term an untruthful strategy may well lose support and legitimacy."

How you convey "the truth" matters. In my last post on Kony 2012, I guess I was saying that I didn't like their message, but it provoked me to act (not buy posters, but get to work in my own way).

The makers of "Unwatchable" state:
We know we’ve made something which many are going to find disturbing and thought it was important to explain why we went to such lengths. The issue that hundreds of thousands are targeted by weaponised rape as a tactic of destroying communities to control mines has been with us for over a decade and still continues.

The last sentence doesn't answer an important question: who is using rape as a weapon? So the awareness-raising "truth" will make people more anti-mining rather than think about who uses rape and why they are able to get away with it. Mining companies have a huge responsibility to prevent their complicity, but the truth is that such violence doesn't just disappear if you even could set up a programme to mine only "rape free" minerals so tossing out your iPhone won't do anything. In short, this is a less effective campaign than Kony 2012, in my opinion, especially as it makes people less open to thinking about ways that natural resources present an opportunities for development.

And, the assumption that if you see wealthy white people getting raped means we should care seems like an "effective" tactic, but makes my stomach turn. Maybe that's just my displeasure with the way of the world rather than a comment on the film.

This video on "Why we made this?" is really worth watching. But I still don't change my opinion. And if you ask me, nothing can be more horrific than the story itself, told in graphic detail with no professional directors and filmmakers.

Kony 2012

Holy Thursday morning distraction! I must blog!

The buzz around Kony 2012 reached my inbox early, encouraging me to drink even before lunch. I watched the film -- I cried a bit, rolled my eyes a lot and felt old for not being able to socially network like my younger socializing friends. Mixed emotions.

I've got no major problem with the filmmakers. I think it's naive. But I value and respect what it takes to organize. I also value the tone of their responses to the criticism. Dialogue is good and they are responding in detail to their weaknesses and inviting you/me to ask harder questions.

At the end of the day, I really value the push of encouragement at the end of this post -- go and read the Crisis Group analysis from November about this problem! If 1% of the 26,684,765 people who see the film on youtube do that (and go further still), that's a lot of better informed people on a really complex issue.

If some naive guy wants to push for the urgency of now, it may make me cringe on many, many levels, but I was "there" once too and I did far less than him to try and raise awareness. More power to him. Maybe in the buzz of outcry against and outcry to support, we'll all get a bit more creative about how to deal with the complexity. The the fatigue that comes with dealing with complexity is real, it's not going away, so I appreciate the kick in the pants. In fact, all this stuff is even making me re-think Bono, who I have long criticised for his shallow and over-simplistic approach to social change. But Bono is making a case that often leads to better, more specific critiques of aid and development. So, well done, Bono (even if I think your music is still shit).

Here's to all the over-simplifies, even you Bono! And to everyone who knows it's more complex, use your disgust at the over-simplification as a new push to get more creative at making your solutions heard.