Extinction Rebellion and The Search for Meaning
In a world where every taboo is broken, and all anchors are let loose people are desperately seeking solid land. With the ground shifting under our feet small and large interest groups vying for support for niche causes, there is desperate need for a universal noble ideal that can bring everyone together.
In the last ten years, we have seen the world turned on its head. America has voted to be led by a highly unorthodox president, the British people have opted for what is proving to be an elusive European isolation, and 300 million people spend hours every day watching cat videos on Facebook. In the meantime, there are 63 new genders and children as young as seven are having gender reassignment on the National Health Service. What used to be on our plate now has rights, and every day a new interest group appears on the horizon and demands to be heard. The world is a confusing place, and amid this Babel, we cannot tell what is relevant anymore.
In this search for meaning, it is no surprise that extinction rebellion united the world in ways that niche causes couldn’t. With its clear and noble purpose of preventing mother earth from shedding its ice caps, it provided a platform for everyone to vent their collective frustrations with the state of the world. Its few (but powerful) detractors can easily be dismissed as Luddites, and even the wealthiest people can do their bit in a beautifully designed Tesla.
In this article, I want to advocate boundaries, because it is the lack of such boundaries that has created this profound and universal need for meaning. In a world of inclusion, boundaries are making us uneasy especially those that involve privilege that keeps some in and some out. We have been demolishing barriers haphazardly, and often it is an excellent thing but not always. In our hurry to make things “fair” our compass has lost its needle. Should Oxford open its doors to everyone? Would it still be Oxford? Many will advocate that excluding the poor from elite education is not only unfair but also counter productive. Fewer however have the answer of how to push these boundaries so that they are more inclusive, but also selective at the same time.
In some cases, technology can come to the rescue and pushed the boundaries in an undisputed positive way. Not that long ago dyslexic people could not become police officers because they could not pass the written exams. Currently such exams have been replaced with situational based oral and digital assessments which give the same opportunities to dyslexic groups and everyone is happy. But would we be as happy if the boundaries for policemen or firefighters were stretched to include those who could not pass the physical exam?
And what about the walls around our own homes or the borders of our country? Should our neighbourhood include foster homes, low-income housing or council estates? What would happen if our countries allowed anyone to come in and seek their fortune? Would we be better off as united humanity, or should we retain our national boundaries and current religious makeup?
Boundaries that are created by our need for privilege are everywhere and define our communities. Of course, questions about lines that divide are not easy, and the implications are interrelated and mind-boggling. For example, the world has come to the logical conclusion that it is unfair to exclude any member of the LGBT community, but it is more divided in its inclusion of the millions of immigrants that land on our shores. We are similarly divided and conflicted when it comes to the rights of those who share the earth with us. Are the rights of a pig in Denmark the same as the rights of a child that was unlucky enough to be born in Syria? Is it wrong to demonstrate for one and ignore the other? We live in a society without clear answers.
I advocate that boundaries for communities are a necessary anchor. Even those who protest about boundaries generally wish them to be changed rather than eradicated. They want in the boundary walls and once they are in they often want the walls closed. Our society needs to become clear about what boundaries we are prepared to accept, instead of hypocritically pretending that we wish to have none.
Protesting about the environment, following the battle cry of a teenager and chanting at Trafalgar square is, of course, a noble and wonderful cause. Still, it is also a sign of a society that has lost its compass and its boundaries. We simply don’t know what to support and live in constant fear that what we say next will offend or exclude. Extinction rebellion provides a home, a compelling and indisputable, boundless circle of meaning. For our world to prosper however, we will need to have an honest discussion about our appetite for boundaries and set them in a way that is reasonable and productive.