At the moment when all humanity lives under the menace of possible annihilation, for the very means of this annihilation have ceased to be illusory, then the whole of the real, all at once, descends into fiction.
Marcel Mariën, Théorie de la révolution mondiale immédiate
When the world ends, people come out of their apartments and meet their neighbors for the first time; they share food, stories, companionship. No one has to go to work or the laundromat; nobody remembers to check the mirror or scale or email account before leaving the house. Graffiti artists surge into the streets; strangers embrace, sobbing and laughing. Every moment possesses an immediacy formerly spread out across months. Burdens fall away, people confess secrets and grant forgiveness, the stars come out over New York City…and nine months later, a new generation is born.
There is something overwhelmingly simple about the Extinction Rebellion (and sister movements: the student school strikes for the climate, earth strike, climate offensive), its idealism; an idealism that in part explains its resonance in the rapid multiplication and expansion of protests.
From the movement, we learn that we are in the midst of an ecological emergency. If we fail to see this, it is because the truth has been hidden from most. The science however confirms the worst case scenario and it is for the movement to get the truth out, or to force those who hold the reigns of power, to see it.
The movement’s demands:
- Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
- Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
- Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice. (Extinction Rebellion Demands)
The ambition of creating “citizens assemblies”, and the Rebellion’s advocacy of “openness”, “mitigating power”, “autonomy” and “decentralisation” (Extinction Rebellion Principles and Values) are, at least on first reading, noteworthy.
The appeal to government however as the central agent of change (it is for the government to declare the “ecological emergency”, it is for government to legislate protective measures) is both naive and dangerous.
Naive, because a government, or the State, is not a neutral force mediating and managing conflicting private interests for the common good. It is an actor unto itself, with its own interests, as well as subject to the interests of others, who seek to influence, control and dominate the State for the promotion and securing of their ambitions.
If it is then the Extinction Rebellion’s intention to sway government by the truth, then it falls into naivety (e.g., the naivety of a pacifism of principle), for what has truth to do with politics or power, when it is power than helps to define truth.
If, on the other hand, it is the Extinction Rebellion’s ambition to “force” or “take” political power (“We set our mission on what is necessary: Mobilising 3.5% of the population to achieve system change – using ideas such as “Momentum-driven organising” to achieve this.” Extinction Rebellion Principles and Values), even if the latter is imagined in a different form from how it is presently institutionalised, then the Extinction Rebellion appears as a political vanguardism in disguise.
We leave aside here the question of whether the ecological crisis can be addressed without contesting capitalism (it cannot be, which is why asking capitalist governments to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025, or more generally, to promote “sustainable”, “green” forms of doing business, is naive. See: Green Anti-Capitalist Front).
More immediately disturbing perhaps is the movement presenting itself as the harbinger of truth, incontestable because scientific, and affirming as its goal human species survival.
If present human social life is profoundly destructive of other life, the movement’s message is driven by a politics of fear, the fear of our, human disappearance. And thus the cry of crisis, the demand for sacrifice and the exigency of government action, at a national and global level.
Crisis, survival, fear, sacrifice, the nation State: this is a language strangely reminiscent of 20th century fascism, and it is a danger that hides behind a movement that ostensibly is concerned with human well-being. But well-being is not equivalent to survival and if the latter is the goal, then all manner of sacrifices can be called for, can be demanded, especially in the hands of States bestowed with the powers of a “state of emergency”.
It is not our contention to smear the Extinction Rebellion, nor to call any of its protagonists fascists in sheep’s clothing. There is however is a desire for hegemony which beats beneath its surface, a desire that it would be well to unmask.
Our contention is not that there is an emergency, in the form of an eminent threat of human extinction. Our contention is that the extinction has already occurred, that it is already too late, that we or our descendants have already ceased to be, as humans capable of projecting collective futures of fulfilled desires. We are already the walking dead: carbon levels are already too high, waste in all its forms poisons the whole of the planet’s ecosystems, biodiversity has been decimated and the massacre continues relentlessly, and more terrifying monsters await, in the form of mass dislocations of peoples, wars, violent climate phenomena, water and food shortages, nightmare authoritarianisms, unmanageable wastes and the like. Any State response equal to the scale of the situation, simply understood as a crisis, can only be equally violent, and that is no response whatsoever, or at least no response that we could defend.
Any contemporary, radical politics must begin from the point of our extinction, and not from the fear of it.
And should we replace the metaphor of crisis (crisis implies separation, discrimination, discernment, judgment, and therefore judges) with that of apocalypse, meaning uncovering, disclosure, revelation, then it is not judges who are called forth, but idiots, without truth, and thus capable and desirous of living, and of living freely and equally, even among our self-made monsters.
And should even then we fail, well, then good riddance to the species, for what life remains on earth will fare far better in our absence.
For over a week, beginning on April 15, the Extinction Rebellion in Britain carried out a series of occupations and protests in spaces that moblised many thousands. We share below two videos from the Guardian, the first summarising the protests, while the second is a series of interviews with organising figures within the movement. It was this last video that finally pushed us to write this post.