April 5, 2012 Leave a comment
Like many others, I joined the fray to discuss the viral phenomenon that is Kony 2012 when it was first released a month ago. The debate about the video/organization/movement had many centers of energy. One that I found especially interesting was the question about how much an organization can simplify a complex situation to raise awareness before that simplification becomes morally problematic. I, like many others, argued that when advocating for the use of international military force/police action it can quickly become immoral to simplify and/or to act in such a way as to promote such action without “doing one’s homework.”
Well, Invisible Children has now released a follow up video directed at answering their critics.
It seeks to address/correct head on several of the most persistent critiques of the first video. In the new video the voices of Ugandans and other affected Africans are given a prominent space. The history of the conflict is told in more detail. Viewers are informed about the current size of the LRA, around 250 soldiers, rather than told about the more than 30,000 children it has abducted over roughly the last three decades. The development work if IC is highlighted more prominently than it was in the first video (which mainly focused on awareness raising and advocacy). And a more nuanced defense of the use of international force is presented than the simplistic “get the bad guy” narrative told in the first video. Overall, I believe the video satisfactorily addresses many Kony 2012 critics and I applaud them for quickly and seriously taking the voices of critics into account (even if the video begins with a jab at ivory tower academics!).
More interesting than this, however, is the moral argument that the video makes. Basically, the argument is this:
1. We’re all connected. “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” as Martin Luther King Jr. would say.
2. Modern technology, especially the internet, makes this metaphysical connection more easily experienced on a material level. Thus, one should use such technology to motivate people to recognize their interdependence and live into it.
3. Modern history condemns the over-determined desire to recognize political fictions like national boundaries and sovereignty. The rash of genocides in the twentieth century proves this moral-political stance empty and impotent to restrain evil. We live in a global world. We are global citizens. We must act as such.
4. The way this is expressed in law is in the quite new international law doctrine of “the responsibility to protect.” This moral and legal doctrine requires the international community to act, even with force, if a national government is unable/unwilling to intervene in situations of gross human rights violations.
5. However, modern politics still too often functions within the parameters of the old system and must be pressured to make such morally required international actions.
6. Therefore, awareness raising and advocacy are the necessary first steps in being a moral global citizen.
At least, this is how I read the moral logic of IC’s argument.
As a young scholar of the relation of religion and theology to international human rights law I find this fascinating. I have yet to make up my mind whether I accept the moral logic of the “responsibility to protect,” but I lift up here what I lifted up in my first post. This logic seems as ready as earlier logics of colonialism, imperialism, and militarism to accept and promote violence to end violence.
In many ways, the logic of global interdependence is one I readily accept. I have learned that lesson from MLK, Desmond Tutu, and many others. However, IC seems to have learned that lesson from MLK without learning the equally important lesson that violence begets violence; only nonviolence can break the cycle of violence. Our interconnectedness and interdependence doesn’t just imply that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. It also implies that violence anywhere is violence everywhere.
This is my wariness with the doctrine of the responsibility to protect. I worry that rather than decreasing mass international violence, as it is intended to do, it will actually increase it as more and more state actors begin to invoke it to mask and justify the violence they commit in other nations.