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Saturday, June 02, 2012

Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakauer

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way:

Having enjoyed Krakauer’s work in the past, I picked up this Kindle single on spec. Turns out to be quite a read. Krakauer was an emotional and financial supporter of Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time, the mountaineer who created a non-profit empire building schools in Pakistan ostensibly as a way to thwart the influence of the Taliban and Islamic revolutionary teaching. He became somewhat of a cult figure and was soon jetting around the country giving inspiring talks about his good works. Emphasis on *his* good works.

Krakauer, who had donated $75,000 to Mortenson’s foundation, the Central Asia Institute, became disenchanted as he heard more and more stories of misuse of funds by Mortenson and his lack of accountability. This single is the story of Mortenson and Krakauer’s investigation into the Foundation.

That story is interesting enough, but I have become intrigued by the thesis proposed by Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind As it happens, I poked around the 60 Minutes website, seeking more information about the Mortenson case. In early April 2011, they broadcast a story detailing some of the allegations against Mortenson and his foundation. I didn’t watch the show, but I did read all 354 comments about the story on their website. Commenters were divided into two camps: those who had an emotional attachment to Mortenson and his good works and who accepted everything he said at face value; and the other, a very small minority (perhaps 10%), who were more interested in presenting evidence of Mortenson’s malfeasance, arguing that just doing “some” good was not enough to ignore facts related to his lack of accountability and problems with the CAI. Both sides would respond to each other but rarely listen to what the other was saying. It seemed to me a classic example of what Haidt saw in the dichotomy between emotional and rational ways of looking at issues. I won’t try to summarize Haidt’s book here but will save that for my review later. Nevertheless, it was disheartening to see how little communication surfaced in the comments between the two groups which consolidated based on their respective pre-conceptions.

A good friend and I discussed this with regard to the Wisconsin recall election, Andy unable to understand why so many union members were voting for Walker, totally against their economic interests, and I trying to apply Haidt noting that it represented a difference in prioritizing values. If, for example, you believe that supporting authority and that same-sex marriage is an abomination, your view of the world will be less influenced by the economic interests valued more highly by other groups. (That’s presented perhaps a little simplistically, but I think you’ll get the idea.

Since Krakauer’s little essay appeared (by the way, I love Kindle shorts) Mortenson has settled for more than a $million with the Montana Attorney General (he was charged, among other things, with using CAI funds for personal expenses and the IRS was after him also for not declaring those as income.) The CharityWatch organization (American Institute of Philanthropy) has also published several articles detailing the CAI’s malfeasance. 


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