Sunday, March 11, 2012

A word regarding KONY 2012.

Dear people I know,

I’m not going to debate about this anymore. I’m sick of the whole thing, but since right up to this morning it’s still warranted argument and accusing me of not caring about geopolitical crises (really? do you know me?), I’ll say this one thing and then shut up. However, don't even try to accuse me of lacking compassion. If your understanding of the world is so limited as to include only "not caring" or "supporting a terrible, destructive plan," then the problem is yours, not mine.

Now, if you're still with me...

I want to get one very basic point off my chest regarding this Kony 2012 business: at the very least, those of you supporting this crusade need to admit to yourselves and the world that you are advocating for war. I know that's not how you choose to think of it, and it’s certainly not how the Invisible Children organization wants to characterize itself, but saying, “We just wanna get this guy to the Hague” is nonsense on a level so absurd that it embarrasses me that I feel the need to explain this. There is no nonviolent way to depose and capture a warlord. Unless that video was so touching that Joseph Kony’s going to just turn himself in, there needs to be military action; and when your team’s knights in shining armor go in to end child suffering, guess who will be manning the front lines of defense? That’s right: child soldiers.

Maybe that doesn’t bother you. Maybe you’re saying to yourself that unfortunately a few lives need to be sacrificed to save the thousands more. Cracking eggs to make omelets, and all that. Except that there aren’t thousands suffering under Joseph Kony; there are hundreds at most (and not all children). You see, that high number from the video was an estimate of the total number of victims over several decades. So if we’re talking about the present situation, Joseph Kony is less like Hitler than, say, a more violent and enduring Warren Jeffs; and the main resemblance he currently bears to Osama bin Laden is that he’s been chased out of his home nation and is hiding out in the Democratic Republic of Congo, dying, surrounded by what’s left of his supporters.

That’s right, he’s not in Uganda. So you’re not just advocating for war, you’re supporting a movement that proposes to get behind the Ugandan government’s incursion (with US military aid and direction) into another country altogether. All to catch one guy. That’s a government, by the way, that’s guilty of its own human rights abuses (surprise!). And believe me, there are plenty of people who will be happy to cooperate so they can fill the power vacuum left open by this one guy whom a bunch of formerly apolitical facebookers are suddenly convinced is such an important representative of a worldwide problem that we should all train our focus strictly on him because some American traveler made a very specific promise a few years ago.

So I’m glad you’ve been made aware that this is a problem, and Invisible Children is to be commended for bringing this to your attention, but it's a mistake to commend the Kony 2012 campaign past that very first step. If you think that this one guy is the problem, and that the answer to that problem is to uncritically go along with a plan hatched up by a few Americans living out some White Man’s Burden fantasy in league with the Ugandan government, and to ignore the objections of better established aid organizations and the Ugandan people themselves, then Kony 2012 has already done plenty of harm in its own right.

There are better ways of helping Kony’s victims, and once they’ve been addressed, I hope you don’t need sleek videos and rubber bracelets to raise awareness about the plight of “invisible children”—paramilitary or not—in the DRC, Liberia, Chad, Sudan, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Burma, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, India, Chechnya, Haiti, Colombia, El Salvador, and so on down the long list of places and people who won’t be affected one bit by this sudden enthusiasm for myopic international heroics. This is a much bigger and far more complex problem than can be conveyed in a half hour-long video; its solutions must be worked out by the people directly impacted rather than externally by European and American crusaders; and we should consider that the incredibly sudden explosion of this particular “solution” after a decade of this charity's operation comes suspiciously close on the heels of the discovery of oil in Uganda (plus a recent push to loosen up restrictions on extracting foreign chemicals, including cobalt, found in the Congo).

And once all these questions have been carefully examined, you will still have barely scratched the surface. As you develop this new awareness of a horrible problem, it's important to also remain aware of the fact that there are many, many forms of aid that hurt more than they help. 

There are better charities than Invisible Children and their Kony 2012 campaign, ones that assist afflicted people without limiting their self-determination, and base their actions on reasoned considerations of facts on the ground rather than emotional reaction to exploitative media campaigns. Below are some links, in case you’re really interested in helping. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Of democracy, faith, and bodily fluids.

Rick Santorum, a fervent Roman Catholic (I take issue with his stranglehold on what that designation means, but that's not the issue here), says that he felt like throwing up upon hearing John F. Kennedy's speech about the separation of church and state.

Rick Santorum, a fervent Roman Catholic, wouldn't even be a viable candidate today had it not been for that speech and the discourse of which it was a part (nor would Romney, but he's at least admitted as much).

So Rick Santorum, a fervent Roman Catholic and the primary beneficiary of John F. Kennedy's speech on the separation of church and state, is nauseated by that very same speech.

Rick Santorum is not just a fool. He's as close as one can get to embodying Proverbs 26:11 without literally being a vomit-eating dog.

"As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly." (KJV)

 *Image brazenly pilfered from one of the single most wonderful places on the internet, Hyperbole and a Half.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Conference on literature and religion at UCI.

Hey there. It's been a while. Anyway, I'm one of the people organizing this conference and, if you're still reading this blog and this topic interests you, you should come. And if you're not reading this blog and the topic interest you, you should come. And if you're a tumblr-er, tumble this page:

Literature { } Religion
Inaugural Conference for the Study of Literature and Religion.
The University of California, Irvine.
Friday, May 11, 2012.

Studies of the relationship between literature and religion have picked up significant momentum in recent years, with many scholars in the humanities, arts, and social sciences taking a “religious” or “postsecular” turn in their work. This conference seeks to gather scholars across varied disciplines and areas of expertise to explore the wide variety of intersections, parallels, collaborations, ruptures, and inspirations to be found under the rubric of a discussion focused on literature and/or/with/on/of/against/about/in religion. 

Without privileging either term or limiting the prepositions or conjunctions between them, UCI’s “Literature { } Religion” conference is conceived with all the broadness that its name implies.  We seek extensive engagement with various religious traditions both Western and Eastern, monotheistic, polytheistic, or non-theistic. Papers may include but are not limited to studies of any literary, rhetorical, narrative, or textual aspects of literature and religion. We invite essays on exegesis and hermeneutics; discursive intersections of civil and canon law; ethics and justice explored in religious and secular literature; the poetics of holy writings; political theology; orthodoxies and/or heterodoxies; humanisms; religious art and imagery; literary works about religion; secularization and the post-secular; religious aesthetics; literature as a mode of religious engagement; comparative literary and religious studies; and conflicts mediated through literature and religion. Papers will be 15-20 minutes long to permit time for discussion.

Finally, there will be a plenary session with Professor Jack Miles (UCI), Pulitzer Prize-winning author of God: A Biography and editor of the forthcoming Norton Anthology of World Religions, which will be published in two volumes at almost 4,000 pages in Fall 2013. Professor Miles will share his views and lead a discussion on the relationship between literature and religion.
This conference will take place on Friday, May 11, 2012, at the University of California, Irvine.

Those who heed the call for papers should send abstracts to Brian Garcia (, to whom inquires may also be addressed. Abstracts should be no longer than 300 words, and should arrive before January 30, 2012. Invitees will be notified by March 30, 2012.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Speechless (because immigrants took my speech).

So, I saw this ad today on CNN. I don't even have any further commentary. I saw this fucking ad on CNN in the afternoon and that's crazy to me.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Democracy in a field of brambles.

I recently returned to the Old Testament and can’t help thinking that there’s a strong anarchist strain to be found there. I never really thought that before, but I just see it everywhere this time around. There are some obvious moments—Pharaoh’s defeat, Samuel’s warnings against the establishment of a kingdom, much of the prophetic tradition—but even those parts most dedicated to military triumph and the Law end in disaster precisely when a transition is attempted from the taking of land to the establishment of state authority. The very founding of the chosen nation constantly undermines itself in subtly—and sometimes not so subtly—ironic ways.

What’s fascinating is not only that this is in the text, but that it goes largely ignored by Christian anarchists, who, as far as I know, focus almost exclusively on the pre-Pauline New Testament.

Now, it could be said that the Old Testament’s critiques are simply anti-monarchical. Indeed, I think it’s a miracle of human ignorance that the Old Testament was ever used to unquestioningly prop up monarchies, but there’s more to it: inherent in its denunciations of monarchy are important warnings about empire which our not-monarchy has yet to heed. Furthermore, to restrict the Old Testament’s message to ancient feudalism is to miss some of the Bible’s most important points about the nature of power—and thus to prove it obsolete in our time (a judgment which, no doubt, some readers of this blog will find unsurprising and correct anyway).
Seriously, America? This is effective propaganda?

These musings, in pretty much this sloppily-conceived form, have been bouncing around in my mind recently and complementing my general discontent with the current state of democracy in the U.S.; with my disgust at how hard most people will actually try to remain as ignorant as possible as to the origins of their condition; and with my bewilderment as to how the hell it is that a voting public can be so easily duped into repeatedly and enthusiastically accepting the sorts of candidates which make up our elections.

Enter the Book of Judges, chapter 9. Gideon's already refused the throne and denied it to his sons on the grounds that no human king should rule over Israel (see what I mean?), but now he's dead and his illegitimate son Abimelech has declared himself king. In so doing, he kills his brothers; but Jotham escapes and yells the parable of the bramble king from a mountaintop.

I think this sums up the current political landscape rather nicely:
7 When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim, and cried aloud and said to them, "Listen to me, you lords of Shechem, so that God may listen to you."
8 The trees once went out to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree, "Reign over us."
9 The olive tree answered them, "Shall I stop producing my rich oil by which gods and mortals are honored, and go to sway over the trees?"
10 Then the trees said to the fig tree, "You come and reign over us."
11 But the fig tree answered them, "Shall I stop producing my sweetness and my delicious fruit, and go to sway over the trees?"
12 Then the trees said to the vine, "You come and reign over us."
13 But the vine said to them, "Shall I stop producing my wine that cheers gods and mortals, and go to sway over the trees?"
14 So all the trees said to the bramble, "You come and reign over us."
15 And the bramble said to the trees, "If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon."

Friday, August 5, 2011

from "A Key to the Lock"

"To sum up my whole Charge against this Author in a few Words: He has ridiculed both the present Ministry and the last; abused great Statesmen and great Generals; nay the Treaties of whole Nations have not escaped him, nor has the Royal Dignity itself been omitted in the Progress of his Satyr; and all this he has done just at the Meeting of a new Parliament. I hope a proper Authority may be made use of to bring him to condign Punishment: In the mean while I doubt not, if the Persons most concern'd would but order Mr. Bernard Lintott, the Printer and Publisher of this dangerous Piece, to be taken into Custody, and examin'd; many further Discoveries might be made both of this Poet's and his Abettor's secret Designs, which are doubtless of the utmost Importance to the Government."

- "Esdras Barnivelt, Apothecary"
(aka, Alexander Pope, reviewing his own work)