Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Goodbye, Amnesty International

Years ago I was a member of Amnesty International. I bought bookfuls of airmail stamps. I wrote letters to prison wardens in Poland, Peru, and Cuba. They were very nice letters, and I spent hours working on them. I hope the US Postal Inspectors enjoyed them very much.

There was definite focus to AI. The focus was on the prevention of torture and imprisonment for non-crimes. Members did not address letters to their own governments. The point was objective devotion to simple common principles, and politics was right out of it. In fact, AI still claims "A.I. is carefully impartial. It does not support or oppose any government or political system." Only now it's a pathetic lie.

The rot set in the Eighties, and the first indication I had of the calamity was this: Suddenly, every dirtstick Rock Star on the planet was in Amnesty International. This was a fatal and irreversible development. AI might have survived an influx of Bulgarian KGB agents or Cthulhu worshippers, but not the likes of Jackson Browne.

AI had always been based on the power of the ordinary citizen - appealing to reason, not celebrity. It was ordinary people speaking out for ordinary people. Mrs. Myrtle Simpson knows what you're doing to Omar Zamani in your Iranian prison, and Mrs. Myrtle Simpson cares. After all, there but for the Grace of God goes Mrs. Myrtle Simpson. And if she knows and cares, imagine how many other people do.

Now that Brian Damage and the Putrifaction Blisters were running the show, a few changes were going to be made. First of all, the political impartiality was over with. Apart from money and a few guitar chords, the only thing a Rock Star understands is one-note idiotarian politics. (Actually, they no longer bother with knowledge of guitar chords.) Dispensing with politics, therefore, was horribly unfair to our new masters, Rover and Prick. Prince and Sting, I mean. It was like not having a wheelchair ramp. It was like not having a handicapped parking space. Where was Dave Matthews supposed to park his thirty-ton f--king tour bus?

In no time at all my organization was all over the news, along with its new agenda: Human rights are best served by imposing every Rock Star's lame understanding of Socialism on everybody - or at least, on everybody but Rock Stars. Thus spoke Bruce Springsteen - whom, we were told, was to be addressed as "The Boss". This was especially hard on me, because in those youthful years I had Bruce Springsteen mixed up with Rick Springfield. I couldn't understand why I was suddenly taking orders from a David Cassidy marketing clone.

Reduced to being the lowly tool of teeny-bopper bait, I became less religious about wearing my little Amnesty pin. I did not have a silk-screened Bay City Rollers t-shirt to wear it on. I did not even own a Bryan Adams album. All I had was Joy Division, which was all wrong somehow. Suddenly, I was a worthless poser. My girlfriend rubbed it in by getting a crush on Jackson Browne, which she naturally described to me in detail. I could imagine some poor bastard in Uganda being tortured in exactly that fashion, with no one but Carlos Santana to save him now.

I soldiered on for a while before I stopped writing my letters. I know that many good and honest people still soldier on in that organization, underneath the racket. Wasn't it silly and selfish of me to feel betrayed? Wasn't it petty to quit out of distaste? Does "We Are the World" suck so much that it sucks all meaning out of existence? Did I ever care?

On reflection, I would have to admit that maybe Rover and Prick have a point. Maybe their mega-million-dollar concerts do much more good than all the Glen Wishards and Mrs. Myrtle Simpsons in the world. Maybe, underneath all their noise and nonsense, something gets through to somebody. Maybe that's true of the Beautiful People in general. Empty as they seem, they make things happen. I should know - I lost my very first girlfriend to a Leif Garrett cult. With any luck, she's suing the creep for child support.

If all of this is true, then the entire premise of Amnesty International was fundamentally flawed from the start. Let's face it, the fabled grassroots citizen is a creature of limited utility. If a bunch of rich, blow-dried falsetto freaks in stretch pants stole Amnesty International and took it for a joyride, then at least somebody got some use out of it. And because of this, somebody probably wrote a fat check that I never could have convinced them to write, and maybe the check did somebody some good. So what do they need me for?

Of course, I might note that Rover and Prick could have started their own Human Rights organization - they could have started sixty Human Rights organizations - instead of trashing mine like it was a Motel 6. I'm sure the Universe (that infinite space of eternal silence) will duly note my complaint.

Since my unnoticed exodus, Rover and Prick have been supplemented by other bits of left-liberal detritus, like the current Secretary General Irene Khan, who amuses herself and her Harvard classmates by comparing George Bush to Pol Pot. That really cracks up the Beautiful People at Georgetown cocktail parties. ("AI does not support or oppose any government", except when it comes to supporting Saddam Hussein's personal ownership of Iraq, and opposing the regime of Darth Bushitler.) Such sophistication is lost on the little Red-State proles, the Glen Wishards and the Mrs. Myrtle Simpsons, those obsolete tools of yesteryear. Whatever happened to those funny little people?

Consoling thought: Somewhere there's a Tanzanian prison guard who really misses reading my letters. "Whatever happened to that guy who was always writing to us?" he muses. "I used to get such a kick out of him. I wonder if he ever learned how to use a semi-colon? Oh wow, somebody just uploaded the new U2 album ..."

And a couple of lessons have been learned: The old saw that "Organizations which are not explicitly conservative tend to become liberal over time" and "The number of human rights complaints against a country is inversely proportional to the number of abuses they actually commit" (Moynihan's Law). Also, you just can't compete with Rover and Prick. Prince and Sting, I mean.

UPDATE 5/29: A lonely voice crying out in the wilderness? Not your humble narrator, no way in Hell.

David Nishimura at Cronaca:

It’s painful to see what has happened to an organisation once held in almost unanimous esteem ... If Amnesty’s obsession with indicting the USA has led it to trivialise the worst crimes of the 20th century, we shouldn’t be surprised to see it similarly diverted from giving due weight to the worst of the 21st.