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.