Kony: I know what's going on here.

A forum I use has a thread titled "Kony: What is going on here?" There is some discussion of the issue, and the predictable skepticism and cynicism. But most posts are just people baffled at how quickly this thing sprouted up out of the blue. One user said "I got a video about Kony in a mailing list for a Melbourne nightclub. This is getting absurd."

I know what is going on. Here is what is going on.

A group of people who are very passionate about one very specific issue in a very distant part of the world have used the manipulative magic of media to draw attention to their issue.

That issue itself provokes immediate moral outrage, but any serious attempt to address the issues runs you almost immediately into the same miserable and disgusting human quagmire that afflicts every corner of this festering planet. The only available suggestion for a solution, the only solution left these days, is "send money". There is no reason to trust that sending money in this situation will do any good whatsoever. 

At the same time, and entirely coincidentally, there is a huge population of highly interconnected chatty westerners who have over the past few months convinced themselves that they, collectively, have the ability to foster real and significant change. Collectively, they have no particular hobby horses to guide them to particular causes; indeed, much liquid crystal has been displayed concerning the lack of "focus" that prevents the collective from establishing a stable social role. Nevertheless, the collective recognizes the power it has to affect change-- real, significant, global, humanitarian change-- and so they are, collectively, hungry for opportunities to exercise that power. They want a cause to rally around. 

In this case, and again entirely coincidentally, the media manipulation was successful and the meme replicated enough so that we are discussing the issue here. There is no particular reason why this particular video was successful, compared to any of the dozens of other videos describing situations of equal or greater moral significance. It just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It also happened to be disconnected enough from most other discussions that its novelty could spark a flourishing discussion virtually ex nihilo. We can't assume from the mere fact that this meme spread quickly that the issue warrants the immediate attention of the collective over other issues that they might be neglecting.

For better or worse, though, the collective attention has shifted to this cause, for at least the moment. Those of us who realize what is going on and are smart enough to do something about it are taking this opportunity to educate people. It is obvious that this meme has spread this fast because most people are entirely ignorant about both this situation and the larger political and social context in which it is occurring. In other words, the right response to this situation is precisely to educate yourself and others about the issue in order to think clearly about its implications and significance, and what solutions if any are available.

But the bigger question is what this means for the collective. How might they be manipulated next, and who will be clever or lucky enough to profit off their combined gaze? What issue will they happen to thrust into the spotlight next, and how best should we prepare for the fallout? More importantly, how can we harness and control that collective power to give it some structure and focus, and to make sure the effort of their combined labor and attention actually bear fruit?

Original Post: https://plus.google.com/u/0/117828903900236363024/posts/CqJpMpiJgox