snark isn't a bad thing
From Alanna Shaikh's wonderful UN Dispatch post on tropes used against aid critics:
Complaints about tone and attitude. “You are mean. You are shrill. Your tone is too aggressive. Don’t be so snarky. You’re not talking in a way that helps people listen. You should be nice to people who want to help and criticism isn’t nice!”In other words, man up.
If you actually want to help people, you need to put your ego aside. Listening to criticism that’s phrased in a mean way is probably the least ego-wounding thing that is going to happen. You will go on to encounter communities who don't want to partner with you, staff members who think you’re an idiot, and government officials who think they can lie to you and get away with it. You need a thick skin to work in international aid. If you can’t handle some snark, you probably can’t handle all the misery your project will put you through as it gets going.
I think snark has its place in aid debates. Sometimes using humor is the only way to draw serious attention to a problem. Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying at how bad an aid idea is, how poorly thought-out a government decision was, or how horrible a situation innocent people have to endure can become.
Snark has its place. There are other times, though, when it really does detract from constructive debate. I'm inclined to think that the debate over 1 Million Shirts has struck a good balance between the two. How about you? Is a little snark useful? Would we be better off just playing nice?