Utne Reader Visionaries share their latest projects, ideas, and visions for the future.
Kalle Lasn is the co-founder of the Adbusters Media Foundation, editor-in-chief of Adbusters magazine, and author of the books Culture Jam and Design Anarchy. Lasn was recognized as an Utne Reader visionary in 2001 for his efforts to reclaim Western culture from the influence of corporations, consumption, and advertising.
This article originally appeared in Adbusters.
So you’re sitting in the coffee shop sipping your latte and staring at your iPad and you think you know what’s going on eh?
You flip through some images and read the latest news about some disgruntled guys in some far away place who are wearing face coverings and brandishing AK-47s and RPGs. They are the enemies, the story says. Luckily you’re reading some “liberal” journalism so you’re getting some good in-depth analysis and not just a knee-jerk disregard of whatever these people stand for. They’ve got a few legitimate grievances you find, but mostly they’re fanatics.
So now you’re informed about some of those pockets of ultra-Islamist barbarism springing up in parts of the world. You think you might have even connected some of the dots on your own about why this phenomenon is happening. Then you scroll down some more and it gets all fucked up again.
You check out those crazy people in Nigeria who call themselves Boko Haram. They want a complete overthrow of Western cultural and economic values (Boko Haram literally means “Western education is sinful”) and they are so fanatical about their cause that they vow to kill anybody who criticizes them.
How is this possible? Even your liberal arts degree knows you can’t excuse this type of cultural relativism. Our governments, our NGOs, our peacekeepers, our business leaders are enlightened, right, building schools for these peoples girls and handing out candy and toothbrushes to their shoeless kids? You tap your finger on the screen which starts a video where one of these Boko Haram guys says “democracy is not a decree of God” and “I rejoice in the killing the way I rejoice in cutting chicken.”
What the hell is with these people? Where does their terrifyingly dystopic logic come from? What is it they want and why do they think they can get it by bombing government buildings, public squares and even churches? We in the West are wiser now from our failed soirées into Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ve learned to not sow the seeds of this kind of blowback. Right?
So now you’re left with only one conclusion: “My god they must be bloodthirsty barbarians, evil creatures who need to be droned into submission.” But something in you is still not satisfied. And each time you probe a little deeper you realize that there are billions of people out there living in a dog-eats-dog state of poverty that we in the West would find inhuman and unimaginable … you understand that we have no idea about what it takes to maintain some modicum of social cohesion in these desperate places … and when you delve a tad deeper you may even start to think that these rebels may actually be at the cutting edge of a multi-faceted global revolt against Western-style capitalism: usury, petrol-states, Lady Gaga, Coca Cola, the IMF, World Bank, that whole decadent, self-serving kaboodle …
Then you click to a mini documentary which shows an African man who hasn’t eaten for days carrying his half dead goat to market in a last desperate attempt to buy some food for his starving family … to sell off the last remaining goat that this year’s drought has not killed yet … there he sits, on the screen of your tablet, in the hot sun all afternoon and nobody wants to buy his goat because who wants to buy an emaciated dying goat?
Suddenly you realize the same world that lets a man starve to death in some no-name place clutching a shitty old goat is the same world that sells Hummers and air conditioners and $1000 stilettos and Super Big Gulps less than 24 hours away in any direction from that very same dying man; the same world that at this very moment offers you travel deals on the corner of your screen because Google knows based on how long you’ve been lingering on this page that you are interested in Africa and maybe want to go there.
You take your hands off the tablet and warm your cold fingertips against the cardboard to-go cup of your latte. You get a bit angry at the injustice. You get a bit shameful. You go back to scrolling again …
There is horrific pain, suffering and death happening right now in Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso and across Africa and the Middle East and other parts of the world. You might think that for us in the West things look bleak: you may lose your job and your house, tuition might go up and you may not be able to afford your morning lattes much longer, but in places like Northern Nigeria, climate change induced drought – largely caused by us in the West – is decimating people by the millions … And you know it is only going to get worse.
If you’re living, like that guy with his goat, in a world where death is always lurking just around the corner, then maybe it isn’t so inconceivable that it would one day dawn on you that you too may want to join Boko Haram?
If so, God save us all …