Goodness is not simply a western virtue: A response to Gotham Chopra’s post on Kony 2012

Editor’s Note: This comment, from Lex Steppling, was shared with us via Facebook. In the statements below, Lex is responding to the sentiments Gotham Chopra posted earlier today about the backlash against the new documentary, Kony 2012. If you are not familiar with the film,  Kony 2012 was created by the US-based charity organization Invisible Children. The goal of the film is to launch a widespread social media campaign that raises awareness about the crimes of former dictator and leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony.

In the first 24 hours of its release, the film has provoked enthusiastic and angry condemnation alike. Please share your thoughts in the comments below. We will continue to update this post with insights from the Intentblog community as they come in.

Lex Steppling:

I don’t want to try and analyze this (situation) in any kind of binary context. I do appreciate and applaud the well thought out and difficult work being done by people around the world. Genocide in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda does need to be talked about, and the complexity of such conflicts should be engaged. That is not, in my opinion over-intellectualizing.

Western-based non-governmental organizations have done some great work, but they have also been a huge part of the problem. Rigorous dialogue about these questions is essential, and a promising development that the internet has facilitated. To ask such questions and to be critical is far from elitist. Kony 2012 is purposely simplifying and making spectacle of a set of problems in order to illicit a response with what I’m absolutely sure are the best set of intentions. (The) fact is, it is easier to get a grant in order to help “Africa” than it is to do most other human development work. I put Africa in quotations because I feel it has become an abstract synonym for humanitarianism.

There are problems there, many of which are brought up in this article. International solidarity work is very important. People are good, and want to see a peaceful and compassionate world, and that is a struggle I can’t imagine not lending myself to. I do think however, that if and when we choose to do global work in a specific and linear fashion, that we better make sure that we are indeed helping. There are groups of people in all countries that may have thought of it already and could really use some help, rather than an external savior. Goodness is not simply a Western virtue, an idea that I find implicit in the Kony 2012 campaign.


  1. Well, what s missing is a political analysis in a sense. Which is largely your point, but its also that the paternalistic west is the cause of all this. The legacy of colonialism and the remaining attitudes about "helping". First heal thyself. The Imperialist model has to be examined and dealt with, otherwise you are just applying feel good band aids to a problem that is systemic. The fact the US still trains mercenaries and arms them is rather a salient point here. That the west has huge mining interests in africa and private security forces is also to the point. One cannot start to talk about compassion or whatever until one deals with the historic forces at work.

  2. I think one of the more interesting debates is how "invisible children" was able to get a decades-old conflict which hasn't been in the news for years to be the "must solve" problem – just by creating and sharing a documentary. No disrespect to the filmmakers – but it's not the quality of the film that's doing it. There are plenty of causes out there, with mediocre and impressing documentaries about them, that no one cares about. So why Uganda? Why is the conflict in Syria not eliciting the same response? My take – it's the genius of the Kony 2012 campaign. the simplicity of the message, a way to focus all the blame and evils of the world on one man, is very appealing. It's black and white, good versus evil. It makes me wonder how Kony 2012 will change the way other activists, organizations and marketers utilize social media. There are a lot of people that would interested in the Kony 2012 magic formula.