Thursday, March 15, 2012

I think I've figured out what it is that bothers me about the Kony 2012 campaign...

I wasn't going to write anything about the "Kony" video or Invisible Children, since so much has been said already -- just do a Google search for a plethora of information.  And, it's not that I disagree with the basic premise: clearly, bringing Kony to justice and helping the children who have been harmed and brainwashed by Kony are good things.  I won't  begrudge anyone who has signed on their support for such an endeavor.

Still, something about this whole situation has made me uneasy, and I wasn't sure what that could be, until today.  I think, now, I can say what bothers me about the campaign more clearly.  My primary concerns have little to do with the common accusations being tossed around ('they didn't think it through carefully enough', 'they aren't really spending their money wisely', 'this is just a superficial fix on a very complicated problem', etc).  Those may or may not prove to be true.  Yet, as has also been pointed out, at least they are trying to do something to help.

My actual concern stems from the 'media hype' mentality that such a campaign needs to thrive.  And that reflects a deeper concern: Why is it, exactly, that so much attention and response has been given to this issue, when there are many more serious (at least in sheer numbers of deaths) problems in the world that don't seem to register with people?  For example, it's a well-known fact that thousands of children die every day from hunger and treatable diseases.  It's something we all know, and yet it barely tends to register a blip on the 'social media outrage' meter from day to day.

I'm afraid to say that the answer is fairly simple: people quickly become desensitized to suffering, especially overwhelming suffering that isn't directly facing them.  I'm not blaming anyone for this.  I'm no better.  It seems to be just the way human beings deal with life.  But that bothers me.  It bothers me that most of us will see images and information at least several times a day detailing the vast amount of suffering in the world, but it barely registers.  It bothers me that, apparently, in order to get our attention, we need to be shocked into recognizing a problem.  Since the Kony situation is quite shocking, it gets our attention.

And, I think, that is what bothers me most about the situation: the fact that we need to be shocked into paying attention.  At first blush, that may not seem like such a big deal.  So we need to be shocked into paying attention once in a while, what's the problem?  We just have to find new and creative ways to shock people into paying attention.

But, I'm afraid, that will only exacerbate the problem.  Think about the first time you were shocked by some serious problem in the world.  Now think about how you view that problem several years on.  Very few of us, I'm afraid, maintain the same level of outrage or concern.  Those that do tend to become humanitarians and work directly with the people being affected by the issues.  Most of us do not.  This isn't meant as a guilt trip; it's simply the fact of the matter.  Unless we are committed to lifelong personal/vocational involvement, we will grow dissociated from what shocks us after a while.

The Kony 2012 campaign probably can't be replicated.  A Kony campaign every year would soon be tuned out by all but the most committed individuals.  And, if people get used to being shocked, then the effect simply won't be the same.  Now, hopefully it won't need to be repeated, if Kony is captured and brought to justice.  But what about all the other issues that face our world?

In the long run, if we fall into a pattern of 'shocking' people using social media, like the Kony 2012 video does, with causes that deserve immediate attention, what will happen to our desensitization?  Will it -- as seems likely -- simply grow?  This ultimately would be a very bad thing, I think.  Can such an increase in desensitization be avoided, given the ubiquity of social media, and the likelihood that those who, in the future, want to draw attention to an important issue, will use similar methods to Invisible Children?  Will we start tuning out Youtube videos the way we tune out Feed the Children commercials?

It seems to me that there should be a different way of getting people to pay attention and become involved in the sufferings of the world.  But, honestly, I'm not sure what that might be.  And that bothers me.  Perhaps someone out there in the blogosphere has some insight to share?  On the other hand, perhaps I am wrong, and people will not be so quickly desensitized to issues like the ones raised by Invisible Children.  I hope not.  But it still bothers me.  Should it?  What do you think?


SuJ'n said...

My friend, David (also a theology PhD), posted this blog post almost the same time you posted yours.

pitcher12k said...

I think it should bother you, and others, that it takes something 'shocking' to get people to pay attention enough to actually do something about human suffering. The part where you talk about taking a minute to consider a cause I was once fired up about...yeah that was kind of a sting. It is sad to me to see that I have also become desensitized, and I struggle to find a way to keep going with it. Really, I think we just have to realize that we can't just try to find more and more passion or caring or whatever inside of ourselves, but we have to go to God so that we can get filled by His love and forgiveness..I don't believe it is something that can be done by human effort alone.