2014 Reading

Reading 2014: The Locust Effect

June 6, 2014

TheLocustEffect

My introduction to Gary Haugen and International Justice Mission came a few years ago when I read Haugen’s book, Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian. At the time, I didn’t think Just Courage itself to be a monumental work; but as a result of reading the book, I began following the work that IJM and Haugen are leading around the world.

Contrary to my opinion of Haugen’s first book, I tend to think that The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence is monumental, ground-breaking, and a seminal read in addressing this subject.

As the western world and Evangelical Christians (such as Haugen) alike have gradually become more aware of the far-reaching poverty and injustice around the world, a more concerted effort has started to take place to love not only in word, but also in deed. Yet even in the beginning phases of these attempts to help, many organizations and individual efforts have failed to see the underlying, complex problem of violence as they address the crises of poverty, hunger, and health.

Haugen states in the opening of the book:

“But, the world overwhelmingly does not know that endemic to being poor is a vulnerability to violence, or the way violence is, right now, catastrophically crushing the global poor. As a result, the world is not getting busy trying to stop it. And, in a perfect tragedy, the failure to address that violence is actually devastating much of the other things good people are seeking to do to assist them.”

Breaking this down into specifics:

“When we think of global poverty we readily think of hunger, disease, homelessness, illiteracy, dirty water, and a lack of education, but very few of us immediately think of the global poor’s chronic vulnerability to violence—the massive epidemic of sexual violence, forced labor, illegal detention, land theft, assault, police abuse, and oppression that lies hidden underneath the more visible deprivations of the poor.

Indeed, I am not even speaking of the large-scale spasmodic events of violence like the Rwandan genocide, or wars and civil conflicts which occasionally engulf the poor and generate headlines. Rather, I am speaking of the reality my IJM colleagues introduced to me in the years that followed my time in Rwanda—the reality of common, criminal violence in otherwise stable developing countries that afflicts far more of the global poor on a much larger and more persistent scale—and consistently
frustrates and blocks their climb out of poverty.”

As the title suggests, Haugen paints a picture of the destructive nature violence using the analogy of a plague of locusts. In the case of the latter, one can focus on teaching people the best farming techniques, providing the highest quality seeds for planting, and coordinating the perfect planting times, etc… But the amount of effort, the productivity of the farmers, or the working with weather doesn’t matter at all when a plague of locusts comes and devours the crops. The devastation is the same for both the lazy and hard-working farmer, though tragically, it is often those who have put in more effort who feel the crushing weight even more deeply.

And the destructive nature of violence is the same as it is with locusts: providing food, creating jobs, and teaching people business skills will not matter when violence devastates an individual or community.

Along the road to understanding some of the complexity of this violence, I read of many elements that have significant connections to our own lives and history, sometimes making this difficult information to process. From acknowledging that most of these broken justice systems in many third world countries are hangovers from the days of colonialism (police and protective force were designed to protect the elite from the masses, rather than to protect all people), to realizing that many times financial gain (often for many of our own foreign companies operating overseas) is prioritized ahead of confronting corrupt justice systems, to seeing parallels of how some Christian circles have also perpetuated the hurt of abuse as they misunderstand (at best) and mistreat (at worst) those who have been victims of abusers, and to seeing how easy it is to ignore cries for help, both here and abroad, it was challenging to understand how connected we really are to some of these issues.

Haugen also insightfully provides hope for regions with corrupt justice systems by demonstrating that in many western countries, the same levels of corruption have been drastically improved just within the last century.

“With all this in mind, the long view of history seems to offer a powerful lesson: namely, that reasonably functioning justice systems are possible even in circumstances in which they do not currently exist or seem unlikely to emerge. Historically, criminal justice systems that protected the poor and the weak did not exist anywhere and, to contemporaries, always seemed highly unlikely. Now they do exist, in lots of places, for billions of people. But in each case, a pitched battle was fought to rescue the public justice system from abuse for private gain, from misuse for political power, from the dysfunction of neglect, and from slavish bondage to outdated, unprofessional, and ineffectual practices.

The vantage point of history allows us to see that the dysfunctions in the criminal justice systems of the developing world today are normal. That is to say, they are to be expected—not only because utterly dysfunctional criminal justice systems were imposed on most of these countries by occupying colonial powers, but also because it seems that every society must very intentionally and vigorously rescue its criminal justice system from dysfunction and abuse.”

He turns to specific examples of once-corrupt justice systems that are now considered to be excellent examples of justice systems that are in place to work for the good of all citizens. It was, of course, interesting to read this excerpt on the transformation that began to take place in the American justice system:

“For Americans, the earliest forms of formal policing seem to have emerged in the mid-nineteenth century, when cities got fed up with the way every dispute seemed to produce a rioting mob in the streets. In every country, the story of how policing emerged and why is organically connected to the distinctive story of the society at large—and for many historians, the distinctive story of U.S. policing emerges from the fact that American society was “more violent” than other western countries.

To be more precise, by the middle of the nineteenth century, it was becoming clear that Americans habitually rioted about almost everything: from political rivalries to street gangs’ territorial skirmishes; from racial tensions to labor disputes; from reform movements to denominational theological disagreements—there was almost no source of conflict in American society that did not bubble over into street violence. In the 1830s, thoughtful Americans like Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln began wondering aloud if the young republic could survive “the spirit of mob law,” and the “disregard for law which pervades the country.””

And yet the author also admits that while a criminal justice system will not totally eliminate systemic violence, poverty, and corruption, this is nonetheless a necessary catalyst for change. How each community will address violence and poverty will look different every time, and we are just now beginning to skim the surface of such issues; yet, we cannot wait to act until we have all the answers, or we will never be able to act.

This book is most definitely a difficult read at times; but it is nonetheless highly important read for anyone living in the western world, particularly those who are concerned about putting hands and feet to the desire to alleviate global suffering, both spiritually and tangibly. And while it is a heart-wrenching read for many of us, this is the heart-wrenching, daily life for many, many people around the world. Please, read this book. If you read only one more book this year, make it this one!

Video Trailer for The Locust Effect

Table of Contents

TheLocustEffectA TheLocustEffectB

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