When I talk about bad approaches to social issues, this is the kinda thing that fits the bill.
Many Internet commenters are saying things like “But hey! Homeless people are earning money! WHERE’S THE PROBLEM?!”
The problem – like the problem with Kony2012 – is in thinking that this is actually accomplishing anything. What we (whereby “we” means people with enough privilege to be hanging out reading this blog) might think of as good ideas – or as any kind of solution – are often far off the mark. The idea of consuming our way out of entrenched, systemic problems – whether buying WiFi from a homeless person or jewelry from indigenous peoples – is appealing, but is also, at best, a band-aid on a gaping wound: the problem of poverty is structural, and any genuine solutions must be so as well.
This is the grand advantage of microcredit (which is also an imperfect beast), for in transferring wealth to those in need, it enables the impoverished to direct their own entrepreneurialism. Rather than getting visits from Brooklynites bearing Vogue, microcredit supports the develop of local business within one’s own community, rather than relying on exports and consumption by virtuous Americans.
This isn’t about cynicism, or snark. "I’m just being practical" is the constant refrain of cynics, but the thing is, when resources are limited and people’s lives and livelihoods are at issue, one must be practical – practical about whether or not one’s actions are actually having a measurable, positive impact. In the case of Kony2012, they’ve certainly succeeded at pissing off Ugandans. Whether or not that was their aim is irrelevant – the road to hell is, as the old saying goes, paved with good intentions.