I’ve been really interested in the reactions to some online videos lately, most noteably the KONY2012 phenomenon.
What interests me is that this video has now been touted as the most viral video of all time; not a video of a cat being forced to play the piano, not a video of a celebrity flashing a boob at a live concert, but a 30 minute video showing one of the most dangerous war lords of our time, and asking you to help by creating awareness and fighting ignorance over this issue.
If you don’t know what I’m on about (and have half an hour):
In the midst of all the controversy I’ll put my cards on the table and say that I thought the effort came from a good space. I don’t believe the makers of this video had anything but the best intentions at heart, but the moment this video went viral, out came the knives. The makers were criticized for their tactics, their ignorance, their suggested solutions, and their budget. Now I don’t necsssarily agree with everything they say, but that doesn’t matter really, I’m not appointing myself armchair referee over their attempt to make a difference. What encourages me is the effort, and the concern for people on the other side of world, and the fact that it seemed to capture the imaginations of the public. Surely that’s a good thing?
But there seem to be a great many critics for this sort of thing out there.
I had an experience which higlighted this the other day reposting the following video to my Facebook feed:
One of the responses I got seemed far more concerned about the fact that the ladies were ‘scantily clad’. He bemoaned the use of ‘shock tactics’ in the raising of awareness for human rights issues.
Another comment in the same thread suggested that this was just another example of ‘slacktivism’. This is a term which was bandied around a lot shortly after the KONY2012 video experienced it’s meteoric media rise. In this case I suppose it suggests that videos like this just encourage people to watch a video and pretend they care about the subject matter. It becomes trendy to get the KONY poster, or ‘like’ the video, but little else is accomplished.
Hang on a minute though; surely this is the fault of the end users of the videos: we fat schlubs who sit at our computer screens and retweet the video to our friends feeling like we’ve made a difference. We can’t blame those who actually used blood, sweat and tears to make the video for our own inaction. Their hopes were to create some much needed awareness. Mission accomplished I would suggest, in spectacular fashion in fact.
The makers of these videos aren’t the ‘slacktivists’, we are.
And it’s not ‘them’ making the video that makes us ‘slacktivists’, but rather it’s the video that simply highlights what we already are: people who usually don’t care about anything outside our individual daily reality. Perhaps we are threatened because we know we should be doing more, so our defensive inclination is to point out the flaws of those who attempt to highlight injustice in our world so we can let ourselves off the hook and get back to the latest episode of 30 Rock.
It’s incredibly cynical to criticise those who get off the couch just because we want an excuse not to.
Now I know that, because I don’t shy away from criticism, I am often labelled a cynic, but I’m afraid on this one I am actually the optimist. I think this kind of effort on the behalf of the disenfranchised shows humanity is actually getting better. I really do. I think humans are being redeemed before our eyes.
Specifically: it hit me recently is that humanity is getting a global conscience for the first time in history. Now you are going to have to take a mental step back from the crime in your suburb, the corruption of your government, and the fact that the trains never run on time, to see the big picture with me for a moment.
Not long ago humanity was largely tribal. This meant that small groups looked out for their own interests, and were happy to pillage their neighbors to get more stuff for their group. When the Pentateuch speaks about ‘an eye for an eye’ it was actually a progressive law at the time because it ‘limited’ retaliation. Back then it wouldn’t have been unusual for a tribe to go over and slaughter their neighbors for an imagined slight.
Then humanity began to organise into Kingdoms and Empires. Rulers were charged with taking care of vast tracks of land, and their subjects who dwelled there. Kingdoms formed alliances for the good of their subjects and people were able to live in a relatively more secure world. Rome, in particular, advertised the Pax Romana (Peace of Rome) as they embarked on their conquests. Of course we know that kingdoms work better for those at the top than those at the bottom. Kingdoms also spawn slavery and abject poverty, so whilst it claims to be an enlightened form of society, it has very obvious flaws.
Then we enter the era of Colonialism, or as it should probably be called, “The rape and pillage of the world by white people.” Britain in particular ran all over the globe taking huge swaths of territory for themselves at sword point, or as Eddie Izzard puts it; “with the cunning use of flags”. They sadly valued the strategic geography or the natural resources of a region far above it’s local populace, and it was all justified with an alarmingly elitist worldview.
But as the world became more and more connected colonialism was brought into the cold light of day and shown for what it was. In the west we are beginning to see what we’ve done and many desire to make things right, though few yet know how.
Suddenly we are globalised and we give a damn about others who belong to a different tribe, or those who are poor and have nothing to offer us. The ethnocentricity of the kingdom era and the colonial era is slowly crumbling and we are really starting to see each other as the ‘broad sea of humanity’. All are my brothers and sisters, not just those who look like me, or share my accent. “Who is my neighbor?” Well everyone.
I don’t know if you heard but George Clooney was recently arrested in front of the Sudanese Embassy:
For these people:
I am very prone to cynicism when it comes to Americans protesting, and I know all the rhetoric regarding ‘white guilt’, and ‘liberal grandstanding’, but I really think these people give a damn; certainly more than those of us who throw stones at them from the side lines.
And I think this kind of concern for people halfway across the globe, who are nothing like us, is new.
No one expected the Assyrians to feel bad for their brutality during their conquests. We never heard of the Romans wanting to fight for the unjust treatment of other tribes unless it was in their interest. But now we have a situation where we care about ‘others’ in a way which is, historically speaking, unprecidented.
Is there a better sign that humanity is being redeemed?
But there is a branch of Christianity out there (a very vocal one) who genuinely believes that any kind of redemptive talk in the ‘here and now’, any call to actually make the world a better place, is a waste of breath.
A few weeks ago I was speaking on this blog about our responsibility to close the gap between the rich and the poor. I said I hoped for a future where there was less poverty and more equality. I had a good friend of mine quote me Ezekiel 13:10-16, in response. It says:
“‘Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?
‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: In my wrath I will unleash a violent wind, and in my anger hailstones and torrents of rain will fall with destructive fury. I will tear down the wall you have covered with whitewash and will level it to the ground so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it[a] falls, you will be destroyed in it; and you will know that I am the LORD. So I will pour out my wrath against the wall and against those who covered it with whitewash. I will say to you, “The wall is gone and so are those who whitewashed it, those prophets of Israel who prophesied to Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her when there was no peace, declares the Sovereign LORD.”
Now I’m used to being bullied with verses taken out of context, so I didn’t take it too personally, but I think the accusation (and thinly veiled threat) is that by speaking about the sort of stuff I do in these posts, that I am just ‘white washing’ the ‘fact’ that humanity is rotten and we’re all going to burn.
That’s cynicism, and I’m sorry but I don’t think the Bible supports you in your view. You may be able to wrestle the odd verse out of it’s context to make it mean “we’re all evil, and the best solution is to build churches and hide away in them”, but the trjectory of scripture is definitely hopeful. Humanity is not going to the dogs, it’s moving in a redemptive direction, and I believe we can see it happening.
Sure there are unjust wars and genocide, crimes, corruption and human rights abuses, but they have always been with us… what hasn’t been present before is a collective conscience about them; a sense of global responsibility for those who are from a different tribe. Obviously this isn’t yet an all pervasive view, but it’s spreading. The bigots are slowly dying out with each generation, and a new love for all of humanity is on the rise.
We are beginning to understand racism and root it out.
We are beginning to make human rights a reality for all.
We are learning that religious tolerance is the only path to peace.
We are making inroads over gender inequality.
It now matters what the working conditions of the makers of your tshirt, or iphone are like… and that is a relatively new concern in global consciousness.
None of these things have been fixed yet, but at least we’re talking about them globally for the first time. We’re writing books, shooting photos, and producing videos which challenge our collective conscience.
Is there a better sign that we’re growing up as a species, and hopefully growing towards what God always intended us to be?
There is much reason for hope.
Take it from a cynic.