What I’ve Been Reading: Friday 7th September 2012

I’m running just to keep up at the moment so only two links today. A lot of my time is going to the curation of Análisis Latino‘s content, so if you read Spanish head there for a selection of three articles daily covering the Latin American region. We’re also on Twitter and Facebook </end advertisment>.

It’s a little lengthy, but Australia and Indonesia: Beyond stability, towards order, by Dr Scott Burchill of Deakin University, is full of interesting and useful insights on the intersection between international relations and human rights. Despite its focus on the problematic Indonesia-Australia relationship many of Burchill’s arguments are more broadly applicable. His search for basic principles to guide diplomatic relations between liberal and illiberal democracies is enormously relevant.

It cannot be assumed that the Western path to modernity will ultimately command universal consent. Australia needs to accept that Indonesia could follow a different route – one that is seen domestically as more legitimate and appropriate – and should not wait for Jakarta to conform with the expectations of neighbours. The value and advantages of liberal democracy should nevertheless be actively promoted by Australia as an incentive to those within the Indonesian polity striving for higher levels of political development, but it should be done in a way that doesn’t hector or lecture from a position of ethical superiority.

Paktika Province, Afghanistan. Image: The U.S. Army, via flickr

Anna Badkhen’s PTSDland, from the most recent Foreign Policy, is a  heartbreaking look at the mental health effects of decades of violence in Afghanistan.

During World War I, when military physicians described soldiers’ traumatic reactions to war as “shell shock,” about nine out of 10 war casualties were fighters. But after nearly 50 years of the Cold War and more than 10 years of the war on terror, the way we wage war is more personal. Terrorism battlefields recognize no front lines. Vicious sectarian rampages pit neighbor against neighbor. Victims of genocidal campaigns often know their attackers by name. In the most current conflicts, at least nine out of 10 war casualties are believed to be civilians, writes psychologist Stanley Krippner in his book The Psychological Impact of War Trauma on Civilians.


COMMUNAL PSYCHOLOGICAL WOUNDS — what medical anthropologist Arthur Kleinman has called “social suffering” — permeate the lives of survivors scraping by in unimaginable poverty amid collapsed infrastructure, the common afterbirth of modern combat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 30 and 70 percent of people who have lived in war zones bear the scars of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Violence in Afghanistan has become socialised; domestic violence is increasing, and a new generation is growing up in an environment in which insecurity is rife – even in the home – and problems are solved with fists. Or weapons, which are also rife.

Again, this is not a story about Latin America, but it is a story that (almost) could be. Small arms are freely available throughout most of the region* and many countries are dealing with post-conflict situations (Peru and  Guatemala, among many) while Colombia attempts to bring an end to four decades of guerrilla warfare and Mexico is on the front lines of an apparently unwinnable war on drugs.

Action on Armed Violence reported recently on Latin American States’ Capacities to Address Armed Violence**, drawing attention to the lack of government focus on the normalisation of victims’ lives after episodes of violence. I find it all rather alarming.

* The Global Peace Index contains this and other interesting indicators. I’ve analysed the report here.

** I discussed this report for Análisis Latino, here [sp].


Speaking of violence, this one came to my attention after we closed Análisis Latino for the week: Polémica por el “día del militante montonero. Briefly, for non-Spanish speakers: certain ultrakirchnerista groups in Argentine declared today, 7 September, Montoneros Day, the Montoneros being a left-wing Peronist guerrilla group active in the country in the 1960s and 1970. (Today’s Kirchnerism is an off-shoot of Peronism).

The journalist supports free expression providing there is no government involvement in the celebrations, and I’m almost inclined to agree, although I find it abhorrent. In Argentina, there is a very blurry line between the government and its allied social movements, and this complicates the matter. Furthermore, I think the glorification of violent political action to be extraordinarily damaging, whether it comes from the government or not. Gabriel Salvia wrote an equally interesting piece for AL, firmly condemning any initiative of this nature.


Finally, the Internet as a hyper-democratic medium?

The Internet is a never-ending election. Google is worth hundreds of billions of dollars because it learned that a link to a website was essentially a vote for that site’s content. Today’s Internet is an ever-expanding set of fractal democracies. We vote billions (trillions?) of times daily through tweets, retweets, pins, repins, reblogs, likes, and favorites, ad infinitum. We can parse these votes based on demographics, and—thanks to mobile devices—by location, too.


Kony 2012 perfectly demonstrates the flaws with the usual system of focusing as much attention as possible onto one abstract idea. It willfully followed the script of a presidential campaign with Kony as its anti-candidate, but it didn’t work outside the context of a national election. The Internet allows for—and seems to demand—a more democratic and nuanced approach.

This is interesting. I worry that the Internet and its anonymity/depersonalisation  tend to amplify the worst in people (hello, trolls) and lead to greater polarization but… this is really interesting. Of course, for now this is really only a conversation for “developed”, wealthy countries where everybody’s online….


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