Sunday, July 23, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" part xv

HUMANITARIAN MISSIONARIES

The penultimate section argues that the left was so depleted intellectually and politically by the 1990s that it no longer had a credible economic alternative to neoliberal capitalism, so leftists settled for softening the edges of the new globalization.

"The adversary was no longer social injustice caused by unchecked economic power, but evil caused by bad people who adopted wrong ideas. The catch was that this approach, applied to foreign countries, can all too easily be used to justify intervention, leading back to imperialism at its most aggressive."

Lots of broad generalization there, but notice how she shifts the arguement from being about actions to 'ideas'. Lord knows there were plenty of 'bad ideas' floating around Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but NATO didn't bomb Belgrade because of a Dobrica Cosic speech.

I'll need to quote at length here:

"The exclusive focus on moral and humanitarian issues, with an emphasis on victims, was fostered by a certain privitization of progressive activism during the last quarter of the twentieth century. As political parties and mass movements declined, single-issue movements grew. These in turn engendered non-governmental organizations (NGOs) taking the form of small (or in some cases large) businesses using advertising to "sell" their good works to donors, whether private or public. The requirements of fund-raising favor consensual causes with immediate emotional appeal. Moreover, while NGOs may benefit from the aura of relative innocence related to being "non-governmental", all of them are by no means strictly "non-governmental". Many depend on contracts from governments. Some ostensible "NGOs" are set up by governments to intervene in the political affairs of other countries."

I felt the need to quote at length because I hope you can see the context in which Johnstone articulates a theme she frequently refers to--call it the 'cult of victimization'. She often speaks (as she does in the Borojevic interview I was reviewing before I acquired a copy of "Fools' Crusade") about what I will paraphrase as a 'cult of the victim,' where the media use emotionally laden images and narratives to shape public demand for governmental action.

After touching on this theme, she moves briskly on to the admittedly provocative point about the privitization of progressive activism. While I suspect she's switched cause for affect here, I don't want to dismiss this particular insight offhand.

The above quotes both display the same bland indifference to concerns of individual justice that permeate Johnstone's work on the former Yugoslavia. What concerns Johnstone is how the situation in Bosnia and Kosovo might have been used, manipulated, exploited, or influenced by the U.S. and its allies. What actually happened in Bosnia and Kosovo is of little concern.

1 comment:

Owen said...

I think you can see a valid starting point for Johnstone's arguments. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, opponents of the capitalist model no longer had a collectivist model (criticised or otherwise) that could be offered as an alternative to the neo-liberal or social democratic models of capitalism.

The motto of anti-globalisation "Another World is Possible" sums up the "start again from the bottom" approach that took the place of the collectivist model. There's a conflict within the anti-globalisation movement between the element of tentativeness and the willingness to explore new options and a desire not to allow the movement to dissipate its strength.

Johnstone attacks humanitarianism for providing a cloak that serves to hide the reality of collusion with the power structures responsible for the violence that gives rise to himanitarian concern and to dissipate opposition.

Humanitarianism is a dangerous distraction from the central issue of the fight to wrest control of economic power from the hegemonists but as real human beings we live in a real world, where humanitarian issues aren't simply on a branchline from the main track of history, they're a matter of life and death for some of us.

Which is important when "In the long run we're all dead".