May 23, 2005

The Darfur Action Group: Where it's at

So I couldn't help notice Nick Desai's incessant equivocating (some here, more here) over at Dartlog and in TDR about whether the Darfur Action Group is a worthwhile endeavor or not. I quote some of his stances:

This leads me to my opinion of 'activism.' Yes, I do basically oppose it, as it manifests itself on college campuses. I suppose activism came about because people for centuries thought there was nothing they could do to change their government. And certainly rights of assembly and petition are among the most powerful tools of a free society. But 'activism' I consider a different bird from political action. It's largely symbolic. Linking arms, making signs, jumping up and down, chanting, making your voice heard.

Why do I say it wouldn't effect change, specifically in Darfur? I see it as something of a prisoner's dilemma. That is, if all the 'players' (investors) participate, that is the best outcome. There's some leverage. However, if only Dartmouth divests and no one else (or just a few other colleges), then companies will not care, nor will Khartoum or the janjaweed, and Dartmouth will have participated in a futile yet expensive gesture. (I always thought Thoreau looked ridiculous sitting in that jail-- it seemed more like self-indulgence than true protest to me.) You could argue that your divestment will inspire others. People make this argument aboutvoting. One person says, 'I'm not gonna vote. My vote won't count-- it's one of millions.' The second says, 'What if everyone said what you say? Where would we be then??? It's, like, democracy would be shackled.' And he's right. But the decisions in divestment are not simultaneous. If we had 'divestment day,' it just might, especially if others received word that companies would divest. To be effective, it must be a group effort.

So we're to conclude from this line of reasoning that...trying to accomplish divestment is just not worth it--? I would hate to see how effective Nick Desai would be at spearheading action against genocide.

Maybe in another two or three years, when all the rape and murder is complete, he'll have finished expounding his subtle position on the subject.

So here's my reaction to seeing anyone associated with TDR play the voice of moral clarity at such dire moments:

Have you read about that little example of actvism at Dartmouth a few years ago, the one that spoke out again South African Apartheid? Wow, those Revewiers were certainly on the right side with their actions there.

The Review is the institution that once literally led the demolition of the efforts of a large and passionate group of Dartmouth students who were actively trying to contribute to helping end Apartheid through divestment by Dartmouth. The effort of the anti-Apartheid students eventually succeeded and had a big impact in getting going a movement, of awareness and action, across college campuses nationwide, and then beyond colleges. No thanks to The Review. (But go check out this 2004 gem of a post in which R. Bennett Samuel revels in a grammatical ambiguity that makes Reviewers seem like they were the ones fighting the good cause. Right-o!)

Or was that shantytown destruction in the middle of the Green actually a brilliant and meaningful artistic happening by those reticent creative spirits at TDR? They did, after all, destroy it in the name of aesthetics, citing it as an eyesore. And now they, of all people, actually complain in their op-eds of "moral relativism," with their history behind them?

There's a word for this: hypocritical. And despicable. Reviewers who even care: Get off your intellectual high-horse, which is more or less paralyzed when it comes to doing anything productive to end this genocide, and join the movement that's actually getting things done.


  1. This post makes me want to punch a reviewer in the face. Good job, Bateman; you have ignited in me the fury of 1000 lions.

  2. Yes, Desai offers no better alternative.
    Yes, he fails to address any of the points I made on the merits of divestment, and why it has been effective, and will be again in this instance.
    He fails to acknowledge that this isn't a collective action problem, that in fact, each individual instance of divestment helps the groups out there already trying to divest. (That's why this is nothing like voting. In fact, his logic carried over to voting would suggest that's a futile act too, because not everybody will do it).
    Aside from that, look at his argument regarding the nature of activism. Now, if you want to talk about logical faults, here's a great one. It's called the straw man fallacy. He compares the non-partisan anti-genocide campaign with the anti-war movement (now that, Nick, is a completely different bird), and decides that all activism has the same problems as the anti-war rallies.
    The DAG is not preaching to the choir (although, there isn't a specifically pro-genocide group for us to convert, either). The DAG is involved in the campus and Upper Valley communities and is working with other college campuses to spread awareness. Maybe you should actually attempt activism, see how you feel about it, instead of condemning it from an uninformed outside perspective.

    I'm kind of sick of this. You criticize what we're doing, and I respond. And in typical review fashion, you find some other new point to refute. This goes beyond cyncism. You, like much of your paper, is critical and anagonistic for its own sake.
    Either adress the points I've made, suggest something better, or shut the hell up.