My hastily considered thoughts on the sudden notoriety of Joseph Kony

I've read a selection of articles about the KONY 2012 video since I watched it yesterday, so I'm going to take some time to write out the conclusions I've drawn so far.  This is sort of a thinking-out-loud piece, and I will definitely be following up on the issue more, and, if it seems like the right thing to do, continuing to blog about it. Kony and Hipsters

My first thought on the subject, a direct response to a lot of the Reddit complaints and general atmosphere in response to this sort of issue, is that it's really freaking annoying how many people's first reaction to activism is to attack their peers for sharing a video that indicates an amount of concern for humanity.

I'm not sold on Invisible Children,  because apparently their practices and finances are kind of shady.  I definitely want to look more into that.  But I don't see how any effort of consciousness raising could really be an intrinsically bad thing.  Even if the attention Invisible Children is getting from this will just enable their bad decisions, the appropriate response, if you have a problem with that, is not to get holier than thou about your preemptive apathy.  It's to research the issue and tell those peers what they can do to help.

Consciousness rasing

I think part of my problem with the backlash is that a lot of people seem to think that just knowing about the problems in the world doesn't help, or is even in some way counterproductive.  I do think that there's such a thing as too much consciousness raising, but that's not the case with the Kony issue. Two days ago, I'm 90% certain I didn't know anyone who knew enough about Kony to care.  Maybe some professors.  Certainly not any friends.

And this campaign is, if nothing else, a specific, concrete vehicle for the people of the most industrialized world to comprehend some of the horrible things that happen in some of the less industrialized parts of the world.

Deus ex Machina

As a community, the internet has a lot of power, when we mobilize well.  There's even more power in the government, and international governments.  I'm not saying the Kony issue is an easy one to solve.  But all else being equal, overkill wouldn't be such a bad thing here.  It seems like a lot of people have this expectation that we're supposed to play fair with the scale of the opposing armies with which we engage.  We don't really have to do that.

Caring about Caring

Another thing that really bugs me about the people complaining about the consciousness raising of the Kony 2012 campaign is the criticism that the hipsters jumping on board with it just want to be seen caring about things.  I can't think of a more shallow complaint:  doing decent things because you want people to see you doing decent things is not worse than being an asshole because you want everyone to see that you don't care what they think.  It's better.  There's no sense in which it's not better.

"I heard it first" -- the hipster mentality and sustained attention

All that said, there are real criticisms to be made of this approach.  John and Hank Green have raised the one I think is most relevant -- the internet's ability to focus intensely on a subject does not necessarily translate to the sort of sustained attention and pressure, over the course of months or years, that can actually help solve a problem on an international scale.

Provisional conclusions

I don't quite trust the Kony 2012 campaign.  I'm glad for the consciousness raising they're doing, but I feel I need to do a lot more research before I support them directly.  That said, it would be a waste not to take advantage of this massive, proactive interest in good on the part of the internet, and it would be nice to see the internet rally around a problem other than SOPA, which, though definitely awful, was ultimately about protecting the internet, not protecting innocent others.

Barring some very good reason not to, I intend to keep blogging about this.  I might set aside a day to keep news updates on the Kony issue, although I'll have to see how much energy I have to put into reading about it.  For now, I promise an update on my research on Kony this Saturday.  I'll let you know what further conclusions I've drawn then.