There Seems To Be A Predictable Lifecycle Here

Like the rise and fall of empires, or the tendency of revolutions to overshoot into excess, there are recognizable patterns to history.  Along these lines, there seems to be a pattern emerging in 60's and 70's era advocacy groups.  First, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore turned on the organization he founded, criticizing it for ignoring science and being anti-human.  Now Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein is criticizing the organization he founded:

I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group's critics"¦.

When I stepped aside in 1998, Human Rights Watch was active in 70 countries, most of them closed societies. Now the organization, with increasing frequency, casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies.

Nowhere is this more evident than in its work in the Middle East. The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region"¦.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch's Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

Something I missed the other day, was this indicator of how far from its principles HRW has drifted:

A delegation from Human Rights Watch was recently in Saudi Arabia. To investigate the mistreatment of women under Saudi Law? To campaign for the rights of homosexuals, subject to the death penalty in Saudi Arabia? To protest the lack of religious freedom in the Saudi Kingdom? To issue a report on Saudi political prisoners?

No, no, no, and no. The delegation arrived to raise money from wealthy Saudis by highlighting HRW's demonization of Israel. An HRW spokesperson, Sarah Leah Whitson, highlighted HRW's battles with "pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations." (Was Ms. Whitson required to wear a burkha, or are exceptions made for visiting anti-Israel "human rights" activists"? Driving a car, no doubt, was out of the question.)

This reminds me of when the Innocence Project added Janet Reno to its board (though I still think they do good work).


  1. nom de guerre:

    the late michael crichton, a guy *much* smarter than any of us here, (unless there's someone else around who graduated "summa" from harvard and then aced med school, giving that up to make big-budget hollywood movies and boink starlets and write books and own hit tv shows when not traveling all over the world and living a life of incredible luxury and wealth), noted this phenomenon in 'state of fear', IIRC.

    i'd add only that what crichton identified as the inexorable leftward drift of charitable/activist organizations is *universal*, ranging from the ford foundation to HRW to all the rest.....when that happens to *each & every* one of them, it ain't random or accidental.

  2. LoneSnark:

    This is why freedom is awesome. Old foundations become corrupted and go away, and new foundations rise to take their place.

    Or, that is the theory. Why is it not happening? Do these aged and failing foundations have a sustainable competitive advantage I am unaware of?

  3. gn:

    Seems to me organizations go where the money is, either left or right, and broaden/modify their agenda to appeal to new donors. Pretty obvious survival/growth tactic.

    Puts an interesting spin on certain shifts in, say, the Episcopal or ELCA churches.

  4. Bertha Minerva:

    Erin Pizzey went through a similar thing with her work against domestic violence. She opened the first "battered wives" center in England back in the 70s and was the toast of the women's movement for a time --- but when she observed that women sometimes batter men, too, and that men can also be victims of domestic violence, she became persona non grata in her own movement.

    You can read about more her on wikipedia.

  5. morganovich:

    at least there is one good thing to come from this trend in which every successful revolutionary movement ultimately becomes the next entrenched power elite:

    great music.

    both the who's "won't get fooled again" and the clash "death or glory" are fantastic songs that speak directly to this topic.

    google the lyrics.

    great stuff.

  6. TakeFive:

    I belive the founder of MADD also turned on the organization when it morphed into a neo-prohibitionist group.

  7. spiro:

    Kind of like when Media Matters became the de facto White House Press Office...

  8. ArtD0dger:

    There seems to be a similar problem of capture of philanthropic trusts by fringe ideologues (e.g., the Ford Foundation). If I ever become a billionaire, I think I'll make sure to dissipate my entire fortune on present charity rather than letting it fall into a vulnerable endowed fund.

  9. Michael:

    While these are "private" groups, Obama has shutdown the federal government departments that oversaw human rights in China, Russia and the Middle East. The more I see of this guy, the more I come to believe he likes brutal authoritarianism.

  10. Brad K.:

    @ ArtDodger,

    If you become a billionaire, please do something useful with any extra money - create jobs. Build something useful that employs people in a meaningful way.

    Help communities with a need to develop craftspeople to meet those needs.

  11. ArtD0dger:

    Brad K. - Definitely. But the problem with creating job is that it tends to aggregate money rather than dissipate it. (When done properly, anyway.)

  12. Brad K.:

    @ ArtDodger,

    The best I can offer - is from the old TV Kung Fu show - from frugality comes generosity.

    Hire good people, for things they are good at. Look at offering positions, when you can, that aren't production positions. Comfort things - perhaps child care, or food service specialties. Librarian. For one generous world-building example, look at the SF novel by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, _Conflict of Honors_. Consider how the (fictional) space ship dutiful passage, and how the crew is handled and organized.

    Hire for productivity, certainly, but allow also for growth and nurturing of a community of your workers, your local community, perhaps research and growth for the future.

    If food gets too expensive for your workers, consider hiring or investing in someone to help provide food. Or furniture, or counseling. Look for weaknesses in protection against the environment, the economy, or hostile forces, and address your attention toward minimizing such risks to yourself, your endeavors - and those you have invited to depend upon you.

    Schools might be built, or time made available for crafts and learning. Etc.

    As you point out, though, at some point the respectful and responsible thing to do is to stop "helping", to sell off enterprises to those doing the work, to enable those you have brought together to proceed on their own. This should free up assets for other endeavors that would likely have come to mind, or to expand your efforts where they might do good.

    I am sure, in the event all you have is cash and no idea how to help, that a casual conversation with anyone in the Salvation Army would help identify some possibilities. (I don't believe fundraising, in general, is a good idea, moral, nor respectful of self or others.) The Salvation Army is nearly objective, and nearly free of corruption. They don't play games with unions, with special interests, and usually they know where unmet needs exist.

    Possessing large amounts of money seems to create an automatic aura of being correct. Perhaps the best you could do, then, would be to act and present yourself as an icon of modesty, discipline, and austerity. Disciplined, many folk need little more than sufficient food, shelter, and . . ahem . . companionship. Perhaps you would find dabbling in arranging marriages to be fulfilling. Done well, arranged marriages have a much better success rate.