Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chris Blattman isn't as big of an asshole as you thought

I used to like Chis Blattman's blog. I've linked to things I've found on his blog and to the blog, but recently his tone and excitement about being quoted as an expert on why not to get into development and not to care is discomforting.

My discomfort with Blattman, as with many self-proclaimed development experts, has been the worry they take themselves too seriously. There is a long-winded explanation behind that statement, with caveats and provisos and elaborations required. One day I’ll write that up, but not today.

To give credit where it is due, scratch beneath the surface, and Chris Blattman's views are quite simplistic and easily stated. His self-defense is here, and it’s unbearably long-winded and poorly written but comprehensible. Also, my (admittedly limited) knowledge of his finances is that he donates some money to good causes from time to time, maybe even more than the average American with his income. The plugs for his brother in law's charity are nepotistic and disheartening, but you could do worse than to donate by, for example, spending the money on booze.

I would feel more comfortable with Chris Blattman if I saw him, somewhere, explaining that his key findings include the shocking conclusions that "[m]ilitary service [in the LRA] seems to be a poor substitute for schooling [and p]sychological distress is evident among those exposed to severe war violence." If I’ve missed it, help me out.

In the end I don’t think it matters. Many African governments are corrupt and incompetent because the political institutions support that equilibrium, and the West is likely to continue to respond by providing help that offends Chris. I would like to be wrong on this, but I fear Kony will kill again and again, and in 2013 Chris will move to Columbia and continue write more papers no one reads.

Most of what I have written is unduly cynical and trivializing. For all of his weaknesses, Chris Blattman has been more effective than any of us at sanctimonious academic blogging, and someone might have learned to be sensitive to elite African's political identity issues as a result. He can get better, and I hope in time he does.

What’s amazing and obvious is that Kony 2012 might lead us to what Chris admits is "the least worst action" After years of writing rants on unimportant subjects, Chris helped reporters stop burying the lede on Kony 2012 more than four or five paragraphs (example here).

This entire post was a satire of Chris' "defense" of Invisible Children which rephrases what he wrote to apply to his blog.

1 comment:

  1. Steve, I know the guy. Trust me, Chris Blattman one of the biggest asshole I ever met in my life.