Monday, December 17, 2007

Marketing war, disease, and genocide

Over the weekend, I spent some time reading the first few chapters of Bill Bonner and Lila Rajiva's brand new book, Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets.

This is shaping up to be a very interesting book so far, so I'll probably write a brief review when I've finished the book, but for now I want to mention something more topical.

During a chapter on war and its accompanying atrocities (with some exaggerated and others ignored), the authors discussed Belgium's colonial rampage through Africa.

They cited the Congo, where agents of Leopold II had, "treated the local blacks worse than slaves; they were rounded up, starved, beaten, and worked to death in forced labor camps. An estimated 10 million died." This is suffering and death on the scale of (or greater than) the Holocaust of the 1930s-1940s, but it is little mentioned today.

This may be due to the passage of time, or the fact that the Congo remains far removed from our location and thought to this day. In its own time, the Congo was a subject taken up by writers such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Joseph Conrad, and Mark Twain, and in recent years by Thomas J. Fleming and others.

Still, very little is said today about the past suffering in the Congo. For that matter, there seems to be little attention to the ongoing strife and suffering in the Congo today, which is where the following Chicago Tribune article comes in.

The question that this article poses is this: with 4 million people killed and 800,000 displaced in the Congo over the past 10 years, why aren't more people paying attention?

From, "Congo: The invisible war".

Three years after the Bush administration officially labeled the crisis in Darfur a genocide, thus elevating it above other wars in Africa, many Congolese -- and not a few aid workers -- are asking essentially the same question as Masirika: With the Congolese death toll now 20 times higher than that of Darfur, and given that the worst killing in Darfur ended in 2004, why aren't outraged U.S. activists lighting candles in Central Park to "save" hapless Congo?

As the article points out, the crisis in the Congo has taken second stage to the genocide in Darfur. Is it because the tag word genocide has yet to be applied to the killings in Congo?

Maybe the attention deficit is due to the fact that we've yet to see our first Hollywood movie detailing the tragedy and the plight of Congo's people. All these ideas and more are mentioned in the article.

Which brings me to this point. It seems that war and disease must now be marketed with celebrity advocates in order to draw public attention. Just as the hit song or movie is propelled to the top with a positive-feedback loop of success and advertising (success breeds success), it seems the same is now true for the currently fashionable example of disease or war. Today, some genocides are better marketed than others.

But we have to ask the following question: given an unlimited amount of public attention to each global conflict, what good can we expect as a result?

Does increased foreign aid to war-torn countries help people in need, or does it actually have a negative effect for the common people by enriching tyrants and warlords while prolonging human suffering, as globetrotting investor Jim Rogers has argued?

Is there a way to ensure that the people who need help and resources are getting it, rather than having these resources surreptitiously plundered by the outlaws in control? Do sanctions work? Will foreign trade and increased international contact and involvement actually provide a positive, stabilizing effect on war-torn lands?

These are some of the questions that need to be examined if we are truly seeking to help people, instead of just boosting our own conscience and sense of altruism by donating money to the fashionable cause of the year.