Friday, March 07, 2008


WHILE THE VIDEO IS NOT THERE, I did manage to find this abstract of POWER'S TED TALK from the TED blogger Bruno Giussani.

READ, if you like, and MARVEL at all the links Bruno puts in his post!


Harvard political scientist and writer Samantha Power is tasked with the closing speech. Ted08power She wrote a book on genocide, and a new one (just out) called "Chasing the flame", a biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN envoy in Baghdad who was killed in the first suicide bombing in 2003 (book cover left). She is a powerful proponent of bringing human rights back to US foreign policy -- see her essay on "The Human-Rights Vacuum", arguing that the erosion of US influence around the world has created "a void in global human-rights leadership". She may get her voice heard by the next president: she's an adviser to Democratic candidate Barack Obama (she wears an Obama badge on stage).
On April 31st, 1994, in the middle of the Rwandan genocide, the NYT reported that 200 to 300'000 people had already been killed. An American congresswoman from Colorado met that day with a group of journalists, and one asked why there is so little response out of Washington, no hearings, no denouncing. She said: "It's a great question All I can tell you is that in my congressional offices in Colorado and in Washington we are getting hundrds of calls about the endangered apes and gorilla populations in Rwanda, but no one is calling about the people". The truth is that while we have developed endangered species movements, we don't have an endangered people movement, we have a Holocaust museum but we haven't really created the movement-of-never-again. Now, almost out of nowhere there is an anti-genocide movement, it grew up in response to the atrocities in Darfur, there are more than 300 anti-genocide chapters in universities in the US (bigger than the anti-apartheid movement) and the idea that not being an up-stander, but being a by-stander, has a price. This has led to the referral of the crimes in Darfur to the international criminal court etc. But evil lives on, people in refugee camps are surrounded by janjaweed militias. We have achieved alot, but still far too little. Why? Several reasons. The movement such as it is stops at America's borders, it's not a global movement (BG: that's not exactly true, there are movements in other countries, the UK government has been a key player in trying to broker peace, etc). Second, US has a credibility problem in international circles, it's difficult to remain credible when you denounce genocide on Monday, declare waterboarding as acceptable on Tuesday, and ask for troops on Wednesday, as the current US administration is doing.
She turns to Sergio Vieira de Mello. He was a cross between James Bond and Bobby Kennedy. He was ingenious, spoke 7 languages, was successful with women; and one could never tell if he was a realist masquerading as idealist, or the other way around (BG: I met him twice, and that's an accurate description of him). He worked for the UN in Bosnia, Rwanda, Congo, Kosovo, East Timor and many other countries. "He was the cutting edge of our experimentation with doing good with limited resources". Four lessons from his life on how to prevent evil from prevailing:

  • His relationship to evil is something to learn from. Over the course of his career he changed alot, he had alot of flaws but he was very adaptive. He started as someone who charged, attached, accused. Then in Southern Lebanon in 1992 he said to himself that he would never use the word "unacceptable" again. He became almost obsequious, even negotiating with the Khmer Rouge. But towards the end of his life he had achieved a balance, don't ignore history, don't ignore what the wrongdoers have done but go into the room and discuss with them.
  • He espoused and exhibited a reverence for dignity that was really unusual. At a micro-level the individuals around him were visual, he saw them. At a macro level, dignity was at the center of his action.
  • He talked alot about freedom from fear. Fear is not a concept that we want to walk away from, but let's calibrate our relationship to the threat. Let's not hype it, let's see it clearly. Fear is a bad advisor.
  • Because he was working on all those hard place, he was very aware of their complexity, humbled by it, but not paralyzed by it. We, there seem to be a temptation to pull back from the world. We can't afford to pull back, it's a question on how to be in the world.
If we want to see change, we have to become the change.



that is all.


The Curiously Dull Mint said...

thanks so much for posting this. rock on.

combray said...

Which makes this such an extra bummer

Unknown said...

Just to nitpick, it seems unlikely that the NYT published anything on April 31st, 1994. Or April 31st of any year, for that matter.

I do however appreciate this post.