The latest YouTube phenomenon is Kony 2012, a 30-minute clip about a citizens’ campaign. It’s had 76 million hits.
Campaign for what? Well, the moving spirit here is film-maker Jason Russell, a pretty typical young white bleeding-heart liberal of our benighted age. He told an interviewer for PMc magazine that, quote, “My middle name is Radical.” Mr. Russell has fixed his attention on a certain Joseph Kony, who is a warlord in Uganda, East Africa.
The first thing you notice about these leftist yuppie world-savers — well, perhaps the second thing, after the glow of smug self-righteousness radiating from every exposed part of their Whole Foods–fed, mountain-bike-trimmed, natural-fiber-clad bodies — what you notice is, they they are the greatest trend-hounds known to anthropology. To call them a herd of sheep would be an insult to sheep, who are rugged individualists by comparison.
The trend du jour for the granola-and-Birkenstocks crowd is East Africa. I don’t know why this should be so, but you see it all over. There’s an ad they show on TV for something called GoToMeeting.com, featuring a bunch of these Bobos working together to bring clean water to villagers in Kenya. There’s just something about East Africa that excites them — possibly connected to President Obama’s Kenyan origins, I don’t know.
Anyway, from what I can gather, this Joseph Kony is no worse than half a dozen other “big man” types in sub-Saharan Africa. These warlords infest the region, all running to the same techniques: recruiting child soldiers, committing mass rapes, firing up the troops with cannibalism, drugs, and weird religious heresies. You can open any newspaper any day of the week and read about one you didn’t know of before.
Take for example this Tuesday’s New York Times, page A4, column 2 at the bottom, headline: “Hague Court to Decide Where Former Dictator of Chad Will Be Tried.” The Big Man here is Hissène Habré, former dictator of Chad in Central Africa, one of the poorest countries in the world. Mr. Habré is charged with looting the place, which must have been quite a trick, and with, quote, “political killings, torture, and a host of other brutalities.” Go on, admit it: You never heard of him. To quote the Times again, quote: “His fearsome rule has been largely forgotten in a region where other strongmen and conflicts have since monopolized the news.” End quote.
Nor has Uganda been spared the Big Man plague. One of the biggest of all the Big Men, Idi Amin, was in charge of the country all through the 1970s. You remember Idi Amin. [Clip: "Most Amazin' …"] That’s the one. The general descent into barbarism that’s characterized much of modern Africa was more depressing than usual in Uganda, which in the first half of the 20th century was considered the jewel of East Africa. Winston Churchill visited it when he was Britain’s Colonial Secretary in 1908. He called it “a paradise on earth” and “a tropical garden.” Now it’s a filthy corrupt slum, ranked 204 out of 225 by GDP per capita in the CIA World Factbook — down in the bottom decile.
Well, this Kony 2012 video on YouTube, the one with 76 million hits, is the latest in a series going back to Band Aid, Live Aid, and the Darfur campaign in which young middle-class white Westerners get together to do something or other for the poor of Africa. Indeed, it goes all the way back to Mrs Jellyby in Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House, whose attentions to the natives of Borrioboola-Gha (“on the left bank of the Niger”) left her no time to spare for her own kin.
Says Dickens, speaking as the narrator of that novel, quote: “It struck me that if Mrs. Jellyby had discharged her own natural duties and obligations before she swept the horizon with a telescope in search of others, she would have taken the best precautions against becoming absurd . . .” End quote. You will sometimes see the phrase “telescopic charity” in this connection, inspired by Dickens — who, let it be remembered, was a great humanitarian, but an even greater observer of human folly. “Telescopic charity” — a phrase worth remembering. Blogger Brendan O’Neill of Spiked.com is even more caustic than Dickens. He refers to these Kony 2012--type phenomena as “The White Tweeter’s Burden” — another phrase to take note of.
These Kony 2012 folk are, as Dickens said, absurd in their conceit. At one point in the video, Russell says, quote, “If we succeed, we change the course of human history,” end quote. I can think of several things that might change the course of human history, but none of them is located in Central Africa. In fact, I can’t think of any aspect in which Central Africa has made any contribution to civilized human history at all.
At another point in the video we hear, quote: “Arresting Joseph Kony will prove that the world we live in has new rules,” end quote. I don’t see that. Hissène Habré got arrested, didn’t he? I don’t hear people saying: “Wow! The world has a whole new set of rules now!” General Butt Naked of Liberia — remember him? — got arrested, and is now a charismatic preacher doing TV interviews. His specialty, you may recall, was the preparations he made before leading his troops into battle. He would kill an innocent child, cut out its heart, slice it up and feed the slices to his troops. Then he’d strip naked and lead them towards the guns.
Other African psychos went into politics with great success, and now strut on the world stage, receiving standing ovations at the U.N. and no doubt also at Al Sharpton fundraisers. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, and Joseph Kabila of the Congo, who had a children’s army of his own in his guerilla days, are all happily ensconced in their presidential palaces, along with half a dozen other African Big Men I can’t be bothered to look up. That’s Africa. That’s the way things go in Africa.
In cases like this, however, those of us not on board with the project need to temper our cynicism. Certainly the Kony 2012 campaigners are absurd; but they mean well, and as free citizens are free to organize and raise funds to end up in the president of Uganda’s Swiss bank account. (You might want to look him up. Name is Yoweri Museveni. Jefferson Democrat – not.)
Where it gets obnoxious is where they start roping in politicians to their cause. They’ve been doing that with some success, and last fall the Obama administration actually sent 100 U.S. soldiers to Uganda as “advisers” on the urgings of these Kony 2012 moral narcissists. That’s our money, our national prestige, and the lives of our troopers, now on the line in a conflict of zero importance to our national interests.
Let the Kony 2012 campaigners campaign all they want, and spend their money any way they like. Good luck to them. This is exactly the kind of group that wise politicians should shun, though. Yes, I’m looking at you, Senator Inhofe. There is no public interest here, so give them no public resources. Smile politely at them when they show up, listen without interrupting to their presentation, then give ‘em a slice of fruit cake and send ‘em home. Let Uganda deal with its own warlords. It’s none of our national business.