The Tragedy and Delusion of KONY 2012’s Jason Russell

Jason Russell’s KONY 2012 film is indeed very powerful, playing perfectly to an idealistic youth with its simplistic, gung-ho Hollywood sentiment: that human evil can be eradicated and the world finally made good if only Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord, is at last captured and punished. And this youth, by virtue of their youth – believing that humanity can be transformed – have responded in their millions, the film mobilising them to rise up and demand global action.

The intention to stop Kony from abducting children and using them as either cannon fodder or sex slaves is a noble and important one. However, KONY 2012, and the movement around it, possesses the same tragic delusion as Obama’s first presidential campaign – that America and the spirit of all her citizens, the whole world in fact, would suddenly be transformed once he was in office. This has not happened, and never will happen, even with a second term, which I hope he gets. And likewise, the capture of Kony will not bring about such miraculous transformation either, for his victims, the Ugandan people and the world at large.

It is only with age and wisdom that one realises humanity cannot be “transformed”, and though an individual can change, can better his spirit, can choose good over evil, evil shall always occupy his heart, shall always be lurking in his soul. It was Solzhenitsyn who concluded the following in The Gulag Archipelago, after years of immense personal suffering at the hands of Soviet Communism: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various stages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.” Kony’s victims, some of whom I know well, have reached the same conclusion.

Thus, though the arrest, trial and punishment of Kony is vital and necessary, it will not transform the lives of his victims and the lives of future children in Uganda, Africa and beyond. Destroying him, and other warlords and tyrants like him, will not mean the end of human evil. Russell, in KONY 2012, casts himself as a superhero, telling his young son that he will go and get the evil Kony once and for all, and in doing so, restore goodness to the world. And his child believes this brave, philanthropic, compelling statement. And yet days after the film’s global release, this same superhero is detained by San Diego police for masturbating in public, vandalizing cars and screaming obscenities. It would seem that Russell is not only close “to sainthood” but also “to being a devil”, in the words of Solzhenitsyn.

Russell’s family, and the charity of which he is a co-founder, Invisible Children, now push the line given to them by his psychiatrist, that he has suffered from “reactive psychosis”. He likely has, psychosis defined as “a loss of contact with reality”. And yet, according to this definition, he was arguably psychotic even while making the film, such is the extent of his delusion in it. Thus, his naked breakdown, it seems, was less the consequence of extreme exhaustion, stress and dehydration as a result of enormous public attention which contained equal measures of praise and scrutiny, and more his realisation of his own tragic naivety and delusion, that the world and humanity are in fact far more complex than he wants them to be and cannot simply be saved from evil. I wish Jason well with his recuperation: it’s clear he’s suffered enough from the events of the last week and now needs the time to heal.

Just as crucial as Kony’s capture is that his victims are helped to get on with their lives. Invisible Children would do well to use Russell’s film, and the money they’ve raised through it, not only to bring Kony to justice but also to continue to help his victims, to allow “good to flourish” in them rather than “exuberant evil”. The charity does this anyway, its work to be commended, though it would do better to spend less of the money on campaigning now and more on giving to those in need in Uganda.

Mtaala Foundation does not believe it can transform the world, but does believe, and has shown that, it can help victims of Kony and other vulnerable Ugandan children make changes to, and better, their lives, and in turn the lives of others.

Please donate to Mtaala Foundation.

About Nick Taussig

Nick Taussig is the author of four critically acclaimed novels: Love and Mayhem, Don Don, Gorilla Guerrilla and The Distinguished Assassin. He has also written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and The Huffington Post. Marcel Berlins, writing in The Times, called The Distinguished Assassin “gripping, passionate, political and emotional.” Love and Mayhem was described by Alain de Botton as “full of insight and genuine innovation in form and content…capturing brilliantly all the nuances of passion.” Matt Munday of The Sunday Times referred to Don Don as “a great book.” While Gorilla Guerrilla, according to Natasha Harding of The Sun, is a “thought-provoking tale…beautifully told.” He is also a film producer. His recent credits include producer of Peter Williams’ The Challenge, Jane Preston’s Gascoigne, Ron Scalpello’s Offender and Nirpal Bhogal’s Sket (Official Selection at the 55th BFI London Film Festival with two award nominations), and executive producer of Ben Drew aka Plan B’s highly praised BIFA-nominated debut feature iLL Manors and the BAFTA-nominated documentary film Taking Liberties. In January 2013, he set up Salon Pictures with fellow producer Paul Van Carter. Before his career in book and film, Nick studied literature and philosophy at Durham University, where he obtained a First, then went on to acquire a Master’s in Russian literature from the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies. He is also co-founder of Mtaala Foundation, an education partnership and sponsorship programme to create and support a school for vulnerable children and at-risk youth in Uganda; and a trustee of Harrison’s Fund, which fights Duchenne muscular dystrophy, getting as much money as possible into the hands of the world’s best researchers, who are working to find a cure for this horrible disease.

3 thoughts on “The Tragedy and Delusion of KONY 2012’s Jason Russell

  1. I must admit i was disappointed with the eeinrvitw today and am confused by a lot of the comments. While i respect everyone’s right to their own opinions, i would encourage you to first watch the entire video before criticizing or deterring others to watch the video because of misinterpretations you may have (based on a caller). I watched from start to finish because i felt the video was well done and i was captivated by the story it was telling. I thought journalism was to provide a story objectively and allow the readers, listerners etc to make their own determination on their take on the story without bias. Unfortunately however, i felt Roz lead his eeinrvitw with pessiciscm and an accusing and doubtful tone. I agree, if people are questioning the method and the financials then Roz and Mocha should ask but it was just the way in which it was done. Invisible Children does disclose their financial statements from previous years on their website. The question should not be how much have you got in the last 48 hours almost insinuating he’s out for a lot of money for himself, but perhaps to ask how the money that’s donated or pledged is being used and whether they had a ration such as 50% directly towards their programs (also listed on their site), 10 % promotional costs such as flyers, website, t-shirts, 20% for administrative costs such as rent, travel to and from Africa etc and 20% to perhaps their salaries if that’s the case. They deserve a salary. They are making this their full-time life work, taking them away from their famalies at times and perhaps even putting themselves in danger. Monies for other chairities do the same.Also, Roz acted as this is just yet another time when America is expected to save the day and i have to disagree. While Jason has obtained US military help, i believe he is a US cititzen so it’s natural for him to start with his own government. But Jason is taking it many steps further and reaching out to people globally, to create awareness globally and to encourage others to go to their leaders (as he did his) and push for support to capture this man. Whether it works in the end or not, (i beleive it will), i applaud Jason Russell for taking action and dedicating himself to this cause.One last thing, i’m very disappointed and saddened really that Roz thinks that as normal everyday average citizens can make a difference (he aired his doubts this morning). As one voice speaking we may be less influencial but in mass numbers we truly can make a difference. Just like when donating say to Haiti Relief, donating $1 may be all someone can afford but if everyone did that together that could make a huge difference. Together people can make a difference. Perhaps if Roz realized how much even his opinion can persuade or disuade others to action he would realize that one person’s opinion can impact others and make a difference.Why not use that to support a good cause.Game on Kony . SURRENDER.

  2. I heard the Kony thing is a deliberate attempt to create war in Africa, illuminati agenda using musicians etc to publicise….

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