Stopping Kony (is) for Dummies

Stopping Kony (is) for Dummies
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It feels almost superfluous to even summarize at this point.

If you want, you can be like 66 million other people and watch this half-hour documentary on YouTube, which will teach you all about the Ugandan terrorist leader Joseph Kony, and all the wicked horrors of indiscriminate murder, mutilation, and child-enslavement he has inflicted upon his fellow countrymen. Then you can feel outraged and well-informed, and share the video with your friends so they can learn about Mr. Kony and get outraged and well-informed too. End of track one.

Begin track two: If you want, you can read this article in Foreign Policy magazine, written by a master scholar of Ugandan politics, that talks about all the errors, omissions, and half-truths in the anti-Kony documentary and the small-headed naivete of all the social media people who have been so eager to blindly pass it around. You can also perhaps read this Tumblr blog, which is written by another smart guy who talks about how crooked and self-serving the organization that made the anti-Kony documentary is, and how dangerous and doomed their ill-conceived campaign to topple him has been. Then you can feel outraged and well-informed, but in a different way. A better way.

The famed and controversial sociologist Charles Murray has written a new book recently in which he posits that the greatest social crisis facing modern America is an ever-widening class divide between the nation’s white working class and its white educated elite. He holds that these two groups are more alienated from each other than ever in terms of geography, wealth, education, taste, religiosity, social habits, and morals. They don’t understand, like, or even see each other very much anymore, and Murray worries it’s a class conflict shaping up to be every bit as troubling as anything the country has seen prior.

I mention this because I feel the whole Kony thing is such a glorious case study of Murray’s America in practice. The #stopkony activism was the quintessential campaign of prole America; flashy, ignorant, sensationalistic, emotional, knee-jerk, extreme, and easy. Anti-#stopkony activism, in contrast, was self-righteously intellectual, moderate, cautionary, academic, professional, and complicated. Hating #stopkony was not really about Uganda at all, but rather a revolt of the educated class against the tactics and tone of a certain segment of society who really shouldn’t be trying to express political opinions in the first place. #stopkony, by contrast, was swept up in the opposite narrative; its populist proponents believed that here was an important cause that those snobs in Washington and the UN and elsewhere had unjustly ignored in their typically out-of-touch way.

If democratic politics is merely a modern-day substitute for armed conflict, then social media may very well be the modern-day substitute for class war. The Internet is a great equalizer in many ways, but it’s also proving to be a great social divider in countless others. It is not , for instance, a medium particularly well-equipped to promote a common culture of shared middle class bourgeois sensibilities, in the same way traditional mass media output like Hollywood films, sitcoms, and genre fiction historically has. Instead, the Internet is defined primarily by its sub-cultures, those narrow dens of taste and background that safely insulate us from anything not comfortable and familiar. Social media has not yet embraced subcultures quite far enough, so it predictably remains the most tumultuous and divisive sector of the Net.

Smart, well-off, successful people are forced to read news feeds clogged with the stupid chain letters, urban legends, and trashy photos of their dopey friends from high school, while lower-class types are bombarded with whiny “first world problems” and entitled, judgmental displays of snobbery and decadence. Since everything we say and do online is already dramatically exaggerated and stylized, the non-stop demonstrations of personal expression that flow from Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Pintrest, Youtube, and the rest is helping ensure that much of what we see and experience from those in the class outside our own is particularly lurid and caricatured, which invariably yields hardened stereotypes and negative impressions on both sides.

As an over-educated snob myself, my allegiances obviously were with the anti-#stopkony people from the beginning (indeed, it may say something about my own bubble that I actually learned about the anti-#stopkony campaign before I had even heard of the movement it was opposing). But it was only after I finished the toon above, with its pompous call-outs to esoteric historiana at the expense of those who didn’t take several years of upper level political science, that really I began to wonder if maybe I was just strengthening the walls of an already solidly reinforced echo chamber.

To what extent are you starting to see the growing class divide of contemporary North America play out in your own Internet adventures? And, I suppose more broadly, do you buy into the larger thesis that the very way we observe, interact with, consume, and opine about politics and current events is becoming unavoidably pre-determined by this us-versus-them divide between a certain educated elite and everyone else?


  1. Arppy

    We finally get to see a rendition of Hindenburg. His mustache is glorious.

  2. @Andy928766

    I just figured is was another one of those things were people thought that by tweeting enough and liking enough on Facebook, they would actually be making some sort of difference.

  3. Thomas

    I started the first 3 minutes. Recognized it as a cheap bid for fame built on the heart strings of ignorance.

    Uganda isn't a wonderland with mickey mouse and big macs, but time and again people have gone to Africa with the intent to help and got nothing done. I'd rather see nothing done than simply replacing one tyrant for a new one, with resulting bloody civil war, 5 years later.

    I would disagree that its the class divide though. I see this more as willfully ignorant upper and middle class throwing their support into this. Part of a long line of guilt campaigns to make well off people feel guilty, and that they have to take care of the world. An outdated idea popular the past few decades.

  4. J.J. McCullough

    I'm not sure if these sorts of guilt campaigns primarily target the wealthy. I think wealthy, educated people are more inclined to support bureaucratic NGOs that don't rely on as brazenly emotional appeals to make their case. Something like micro-lending, or Engineers Without Borders would be very upper middle class charity cases.

    Those "help feed the starving children in Africa!" infomercials you see late at night, or like, "adopt a cleft palet baby" campaigns at the grocery store seem most targeted to the lower clases, who tend to be more inclined towards immediate solutions to glaring, highly-visible problems.

  5. Thomas

    I'm more on the line of videos like Stop Kony or kick a lot of musicians were on to send aid to Africa. While the help save the same starving child for 20 years is more likely to keep pulling in lower class income I see the shiny flash that acts like a well informed source to pull from the wealthy and middle class.

    If Stop Kony was going to pull support from the blue collar workforce I'd expect a televangelist angle in their message. or perhaps more direct emotional visuals. Instead, what I see, is their main imagery has news sources, interviews, and catchy music that is more common for someone of white collar backgrounds to keep interested in.

    If you want to compare Stop Kony to a save the starving children movement I'd point out that the save the children movement ads often never stop showing squalor, children, or sad eyes. Even if they have a host talking he's usually in front of or walking through a slum. They also use over the top heart tugging music to pull on people's emotions, and often the colors are muted to complete the utter sense of suffering. A lot of this is also shared lately in Animal Rescue groups. Stop Kony has very little visual shock, and a lot of spoken interviews, such as the child saying he wishes he was dead. The music is oddly upbeat, and the colors are bright (eg: Red w/ black text flag).

  6. Thomas

    or the giving kick a lot of*

  7. ThePsudo

    Those starving children or animal rescue ads are only 30 or 60 seconds long. You have more time for interviews in a 30 minute documentary than in a 30 second TV spot. Both appeal to emotion by outlining the extent of the damage and both are shallow and one-dimensional in their analysis of the sociopolitical causes of the problems they depict. Understanding the true validity of the comparison requires recognition of both the similarities and the differences at the same time.

  8. Thomas

    I actually believe StopKony's length to be part of its targeting. Turn on a soap opera on network tv and you see scenes that blitz past in barely enough time for the actors to get more than 2-3 sentences out (the most dramatic sentences ever of course). Soaps are very much associated with blue collar working. A single episode having dozens of scene changes to cover all the dramatic events they want to pack in.

    Those short commercials for starving children and rescue animals fall into that short and dramatic mindset.

    StopKony reminds me of a documentary I watched trying to say the Indian Point nuclear power plant near New York City was a ticking time bomb. I believe Rory Kennedy did the documentary. The message was built on fear that a terror attack on the power plant could be devastating. It uses a few shocking imagery of Chernobyl medical problems, and the stored waste was going to be the doom of the city. If you believed it you'd probably came away thinking nuclear power reactors were made out of tissue paper and dreams, and that every one was about to fail.

  9. Wyatt T.

    This is a good point actually.

    I also heard all the 'intelligent' critiques of the video long before seeing a link to it – from both my university-educated Quebecois and Canadian worlds (this is obviously not a cultural but a class phenomenon). Naturally my first reaction was to dismiss the Kony video.

    This is a bit like the climate change 'debate' – it's not because another group holds an opposing view, that the view has any validity.

    However, the problems arise when the dismissal of the viewpoint gets interpreted as a dismissal of the person/group – this is where the us-vs-them gets so bitter.

  10. ThePsudo

    This comic is the first I've heard of this Kony issue. But I've had my own problems lately.

    I can certainly vouch that both of those groups exist. In my years of talking politics online, I've seen plenty of both: the "we're right because we have education" crowd and the "we're right because we live in the real world" crowd. Admittedly, both sides are right an awful lot, but those reasons aren't why. Education and real-world experience both help, but neither make you infallibly right. There's an inherent need for people of any background to be open to the possibility that they're wrong. It's one of those faults that everyone is quick to see in those around them and slow to see in themselves. We think we can't be wrong because we have these reasons, which seem or feel indisputable even when they're not.

    I don't have any particularly impressive education credentials to fall back on, but I empathize strongly with that side's focus on facts, logic, and proof. I don't have any particularly impressive life experience, but I've seen enough to recognize that what seems right on paper is often crap in practice. I probably emphasize more strongly with the prole side, since my gut reaction to hearing conclusions from experts is almost always "Just because you think you've proved it provides me with no reason to believe it myself." I do trust my gut reactions; like when I assumed Loose Change was wrong even in the awkward period between watching it and, later when I found enough evidence to factually dispute it, or last year when I declared that Romney would lose to Obama even though others were saying it would be between Bachmann and Perry.

  11. Jon Bennett

    I'm not sure if it's the " flashy, ignorant, sensationalistic, emotional, knee-jerk, extreme" working Whites clamoring to remove Kony. These people are generally isolationists of the Ron Paul/Pat Buchanan ilk. There might be some Neo-Con support for it, but I'd guess it's extremely limited.

    Obama sent troops to neutralize Kony some months back, but it was so low key, that I don't particularly see why he'd want it publicized now. I really don't see any segment of the US population or political spectrum that would have any real inclination or political benefit from making Kony an issue.

  12. Tail

    Some one Knows who Ron Paul is. happy day

  13. @Cristiona

    The internet makes everything weird. Things people wouldn't believe for a second suddenly become gospel truth, and don't get me started on how rapidly it accelerates inter-personal relationships. The thing is, people have, literally, the world at their fingertips. The amount of information that can be accessed and viewed has never been greater, and it's never been easier to get at. You don't have to pour over tons of microfiche or ancient newspapers, or hoary tomes of forbidden lore in the locked rare books section of the library. Just slap what you want into google and you've got it. Or go to the evil Wikipedia and follow the links to their sources.

    But nobody does this.

    I've been knocking around the internet since 1995, and connecting in more limited ways since '92 or so. Essentially, I hit the broader internet right at the same time Snopes did, and I'm pretty sure I've been using it, more or less, since I started. But I still run into people today who have never heard of it. Who unquestioningly forward urban legends and chain letters and the like that have existed online for over a decade and probably go back 50 years offline. Hell, one of my coworkers is still collecting soft drink pull tabs for charity.

    I don't know how much of it is a class divide, though. There are plenty of intellectuals who believe nonsense. Who change their Facebook avatar to stop child abuse. Who add a "twibbon" to support $RandomPopularCause. The classes may be further apart than before, and may have less contact with each other, but they both have suckers, and you don't need to be rich and over-educated to be cynical.

  14. ThePsudo

    You say, " You don't have to pour over tons of microfiche or ancient newspapers, or hoary tomes of forbidden lore in the locked rare books section of the library. Just slap what you want into google and you've got it."

    I think the problem is that you can get information on basically any topic with a quick Google search, but to get complete and accurate information still takes as much work as ever. The default position on a new topic has changed from self-aware ignorance to the false illusion of education created by superficial knowledge.

    I certainly agree with that both sides have their suckers. In the international language of The Big Bang Theory, the class divide could be described as Sheldon vs. Penny: both extremely competent in their ways, and both suckers pretty routinely, too.

  15. Kadin

    Worth pointing out that Charles Murray likes to make things up because he thinks they sound true.

    Another way to put it is that, as we say in our book, the culture war is not a battle between rich liberals and poor (or middle-class) conservatives or even a battle between rich conservatives and lower-income liberals. Rather, the culture war is between rich liberals and rich conservatives.

    It’s not the Prius vs. the pickup truck, it’s the Prius vs. the Hummer.

  16. Zulu

    What I'm seeing is the effects of people taking advantage of social media's ability to connect them with exclusively like-minded people, or subculture as you put it. Just the other day, a more or less straight ticket Republican conservative posted on Facebook that the US federal government was purposely corrupting unemployment numbers. All of the responses were from like-minded people. There was no discussion, only echoing the sentiment "it's sad what the government is doing" because many of his friends who can view his messages on their Facebook share his political views. While I'm not an economist, I'm an economics major, so I explained how the labor department calculated the unemployment number, what it means, how it can be interpreted, and basically that the government uses more or less the same methodology for decades. But my words fell on deaf ears. No matter how reasonable you can be, some people are so entrenched within their group of friends who share and strengthen each other's beliefs they are blind to everything that threatens those beliefs. It's as if this person and his friends are of a tribe pitted against other tribes. Voicing views should always be encouraged, but when they are only echoed it stirs no debate nor ideas, hence ignorance. That is what I'm seeing, and it's ironic, because you would think social media would expose people to many different people. It can, but it can just as easily cater to people's same socioeconomic class.

  17. ThePsudo

    Heh, I've used labor department statistics and methodologies in a likely similar way to argue against a (left-wing) Canadian who argued that the American government lies to the American people about the extent of their unemployment problem as part of his "Canada is better than the USA" thesis. I do recognize a little validity to the idea that any large movement of people entirely out of the workforce is, in a sense, a kind of hidden unemployment, but it is hidden by a mistaken understanding of the methodology used rather than by malicious governance. Understanding things makes them clear in a way that government fiat cannot.

  18. Yannick

    "some people are so entrenched within their group of friends who share and strengthen each other's beliefs they are blind to everything that threatens those beliefs"

    This. Exactly this.

    I refer to such groups as "Echo Chambers". They make reasonable discourse very difficult. I've been exposed to many, and all branches of the spectrum have them.

  19. ThisGuy

    I also don't know if this is a class issue. I'm an undergrad at stanford and the kony video is forwarded by students of whatever background. I'm not sure skepticism is so class-based, anecdotally I can think of people who reacted negatively to KONY 2012 that are smart or not-so and rich or not-so.

  20. Kento

    Jordan Morris fan?

    The appeal of this #stopkony thing is very interesting. It reveals there is a large part of Anglophone North America that wants something to believe in, and is capable of believing in something, if perhaps only in the shallowest, easiest way. That #stopkony spread so quickly doesn't mean by itself that there is no competition for meaningful content in contemporary v life, but we know from our own experience that many aspects of life now are shallow, maybe pointless. #stopkony may demonstrate our stupidity, our ability to be manipulated, how proud we can feel when we make the safest political pronouncements, but it demonstrates that we haven't all lost the ability to believe in something, and maybe there is some hope there.

  21. David Liao

    I just thought it was nice that people gave a crap about Africa for the better part of a day. If you had that kind of sustained attention, you'd see the start of real relationships between the West and Africa instead of the alternating phases of victimisation and sporadic aid.

  22. Hentgen

    I am not really sure the pro-#stopkony and anti-#stopkony is an example of an uneducated/educated divide. This seems to me to cleave opinion among the educated along compassionate and pragmatic lines and I think it is really highlighting some stark moral contrasts.

    Typically, anti-#stopkony critics have focused on the inherent dishonesty of the Invisible Children campaign, while the #stopkony crowd counters that these criticisms are missing the point. We're seeing a divide over those who favour "the ends justify the means" and those that do not.

    I have thought of this as the rise of some kind of militant tolerance movement, a mirror of the neocon's military adventurism. I can see the birth of some strange political alliances, as foreshadowed by the fact that it seemed, from their video, that Invisible Children's best relationship in Congress was with a Republican senator.

  23. Jon

    Interesting piece in the post, essentially anti-anti-#stopkony.

    He is an undeniably horrible person who, while weakened, is not neutralized in a way that Noreiga or Ceausescu were.

  24. ThePsudo

    It seems like the two sides are talking past each other, not actually debating.

    For example, the Washington Post piece talks of Kony's lack of recent activity in Uganda as if it were used as a defense of Kony himself (as if people were saying "he's not doing it anymore, so leave him alone"), but the VisibleChildren blog mentions his lack of activity in Uganda as a reason that supporting the Invisible Children charity would be ineffective at confronting Kony. The Washington Post's argument doesn't actually refute VisibleChildren's.

    The internet is great at providing information, not organizing it.

  25. KyleEverett

    I only forwarded the video on my personal facebook page because I do think its a sham a man like him is still running free. While I don't support the Ugandan government, that doesn't stop me from wanting to see the rule of law enforced. Kony was indicted by the International Court yet little is actively done to ensure his capture. Its nice to see people actually want to see something done. A man like Kony should be notorious for his crimes and universally reviled.

  26. monapublican

    I was reading your piece and noticed you made a comment on Charles Murray. Quickly recognizing his part in The Bell Curve:


  27. monapublican

    Just to let everybody know before thumbing me down is that I read the entire piece. I just said that because I can't take Charles Murray seriously because of the controversy surrounding The Bell Curve.

  28. ThePsudo

    Why should igniting a controversy inherently invalidate anything he has to say? It's a good reason to view his new statements in light of the old controversy, but not to deny any possibility that his comments could be valuable. If Hitler says 2+2=4, it's still true.

  29. Jake

    Why is it always the US has to do something? Why can't the US stop being lazy and do something? How many warlords are in the Balkans that the UN knows are there and just are too lazy to act? Quite a bit.

  30. Yannick

    Are they lazy, or do they recognise that military intervention makes things worse for everyone?

  31. Jack

    Can't stop loving Hindeburg's glorious epic moustaches!

  32. Republicalifornian

    In my (limited) experience, I don't think the #stopKony and anti-#stopKony folks break down the way that you've put forth in this post. Full disclosure: I haven't watched any of the links, so I'm just going off who in my facebook feed has posted what. The #stopKony posts have come from both conservative and liberal friends, with more posts coming from the latter, who definitely identify with the educated elite group you mentioned. In contrast, the first anti-#stopKony post came from a guy whose main extracurricular activity one year in business school was trying to get girls to pose for a co-ed calendar. Haven't really seen any anti-anti-#stopKony, but I haven't gone deep on this.

    Granted, anecdotal evidence is not proof, but my experience doesn't fit your narrative.

  33. Salty Liam

    As soon as this Kony thing started going crazy on Facebook, I instantly wanted to start ragging on it, like the typical "self-righteously intellectual, moderate, cautionary, academic, professional, and complicated" gentleman I am

    But as soon as every loudmouth snob on my FB started with the hate, I decided not to be "that guy." The only thing worse than the naivete of the #stopkony crowd is the mean-spirited put-downs of the anti-#stopkony crowd.

    And for what it's worth, I haven't seen an absolute educated/prole divide on this issue, but it's definitely something that is present to an extent. Fine observation, sir.

  34. freddy mercury

    your all gay


    ur all gay go suk it in the corner