Aleppo is the new Kony2012, or Against ‘Awareness’


You have seen the tragic photographs from Syria, though if you primarily get your news from television you probably only see the ones from rebel held areas. This gives you feelings, as it should if you are not a sociopath. It does not give you context, and it does not give you knowledge to make meaningful determinations on the conflict on its own right.

In 2012 I was an academic working towards a doctorate in International Relations. Most people are apathetic on foreign affairs, which is fine, so long as they do not vote based on this apathy. Usually, they did not. Then suddenly we were bombarded with desperate cries of ‘Kony! He has a child army! We have to do something!’ These cries, and the breifly famous documentary (partly made by evangelicals, it should be noted) contained blatant context-free arguments and even built up a threat that was long out of date into some kind of fashionable cause. This is the difference between ‘Awareness’, as it is commonly called, or perhaps being ‘woke’, and actual knowledge. Knowledge requires research, going deep, understanding structural issues and context. Knowledge is hard but rewarding, Awareness is easy and shallow.
Anyway, yesterday Gary Johnson made a legitimate ass out of himself by not knowing what Aleppo was. No dispute there. A serious knowledge fail. One I will not defend nor should even really be defended. But it has become a major rallying point by SensibleSerious™ types to defend the validity of their increasingly death spiral-ing two party system. You know, the political system that perpetuates massive levels of divisive ignorance in the first place. This, I find, to be as much as exercise in ignorance as Johnson’s lack of current event understanding.
Gaffes like these act as an excuse for those who fancy themselves informed but often are in fact anything but to crow on about something they themselves know practically nothing about save ‘bad things happen there and golly gosh we should do something so I can feel better’. It is an attempt to paper over the cracks in the facade they have built about being informed. Because it is not knowledge that these people prize but rather the *pretense of knowledge*. The much vaunted value of ‘awareness’ is merely a means of paying lip service to a concept without doing the actual work to understand it. But outside of name-dropping their knowledge base this is no better than Gary Johnson on anything requiring facts, context, or more than a superficial understanding. Effectively, it is the collection of a vocabulary for the sake of appearances in snarky tweets or cocktail parties, not the acquisition of knowledge. It is the acquisition of pretense of knowledge alone and nothing more.
And in this regard, Johnson is actually superior to many of his critics. He did not duck or dodge around the issue, he flat out acknowledged he had no idea and asked about it. For a politician in America that is actually commendable. Meanwhile, in order to explain it to him the news media which supposedly prizes itself on global affairs knowledge, made itself look like even a bigger ass than Johnson in attempting to explain what Aleppo actually was.
I have followed the Syrian Civil War since its inception. I am informed of the various actors and alliances. I have knowledge, not ‘awareness’ and analysis and research, not just feelings. The major party candidates may be ‘aware’ about Syria but both have actively terrible plans they would execute regarding it.And let me state this bluntly to Bill Maher watching New York Times op-ed reading bien-pensants: I can criticize Johnson’s ignorance…but you can’t. Your superficial awareness isn’t part of the solution, its part of the problem.  It might even be better if you stopped being ‘aware’ and stuck only to topics you were willing to actually engage with beyond talking points. To engage with no knowledge is worse than not engaging at all. Look at how congress voted in the run up to the Iraq War on the promises of faulty intelligence. For many, not engaging at all may in fact be the best case scenario. For all of us, in fact.
Perhaps what our society needs is less of this awareness, not more.

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