My experience with the Kony 2012 debacle started out as casual interest when the Kony 2012 video first began circulating, evolved into casual disgust when I began seeing the intensity of the criticism Invisible Children was receiving, and turned to utter horror when TMZ posted videos of Jason Russell’s breakdown and the criticism only intensified.
Invisible Children has been demonized for more reasons than I could list, but some of the main issues seem to be that Invisible Children does not have an external auditor and spends most of its money on marketing, it’s oversimplified the Joseph Kony narrative and has cast Uganda as a helpless child that the powerful United States needs to rescue, it monetarily supports the Ugandan military, and it’s convinced millions of uninformed young people that changing the world is easy and that they have the power to do it.
I’m mostly interested in the last point, because I believe it’s the key to the others (though I do want to mention that Invisible Children’s main strategy is marketing. Marketing is Invisible Children’s chosen vehicle of change. Criticizing a non-profit for spending the bulk of its money on its main purpose for existing is ridiculous). A leader in a Christian missions organization posted this meme on Facebook recently, and it pushed me over the edge on this issue:
The cynicism of this just kills me. The cynicism of all of this just kills me. The author of the anti-Invisible Children blog Visible Children wrote in a recent post that people shouldn’t support KONY 2012 “just because it’s something. Something isn’t always better than nothing. Sometimes it’s worse.” That’s an insightful comment, and it’s true. But this is clearly not one of those cases. Nothing is not better than something, when it comes to a man who has abducted thousands of children, forcing them into sex slavery and murder. This is just…so…not one of those cases. Let’s imagine, for a moment, that every one of the criticisms of Invisible Children that I’ve outlined above is valid. Let’s say Invisible Children wastes much of the money it raises, it’s exaggerated the atrocities or distorted the timeline of Joseph Kony’s actions, it’s imperialistic in its awareness-raising, it supports a Ugandan army that has its own problems with raping and looting, and it has convinced young people that changing the world is easy, when it is really very hard. Even if all of this is true, nothing is not better than something, in this case. A friend of mine wrote today, “There’s a quote floating around this world that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. But it seems that right now in our world, we would rather see evil triumph than see good men do something.” I couldn’t agree more.
It’s not that I think the basis of our disdain for Invisible Children is that we want to see children suffer at the hands of Joseph Kony. I think it’s that we feel above it all, above the impossible idealism that Invisible Children embodies. We are too world-wise, too afraid of being thought fools to have that kind of hope, so we latch onto anything the internet provides us with that can validate our sense of self-righteous condescension. I submit that many of us adopt the criticisms of the negative articles because of our inherent fear of looking foolish, because of the murderous intent we hold for idealism in our hearts, and not vice versa. We don’t move from reading the articles to being skeptical of movements like Invisible Children. We begin at that place of cynicism and adopt seemingly reasonable explanations for why we feel the way we do.
It is no easy thing to be an idealist. It takes a degree of bravery that I find increasingly rare. I wish every teenager would watch a thirty-minute video and become a social activist. I wish every human had Jason Russell’s activist, idealist heart. And I wish that every cynic could see that theirs is the path of the coward.