“Hypocrites are welcome in Extinction Rebellion”, says XR’s founder, Roger Hallam. For the record, I like this statement. I am in favour of listening to others, of being polite and empathetic, and practicing humility. We are all full of contradictions. And I’m clear that compassion has a vital role to play in the process of revolution.
It may be primarily a religious statement to “forgive us our sins”, yet in the material world of challenge and struggle any notion that we can live either a benign or a perfect life is ludicrous. Consequently, too harsh a judgement on each other is nothing other than destructive.
Being a hypocrite may be summed up as saying one thing whilst doing the opposite, or vice versa. Such a judgement upon another’s behaviour starts from a presumption that we are in charge of our own circumstances. In fact, as individuals we do not create our own environment and have only limited choices, some of which we’re ignorant of, absent of information and knowledge that may open the doors of choice.
There is, nevertheless, a place for judgement. Everything we do affects those around us. Even hermits have an impact upon the environment, not least by their abstention from helping humanity to tend rather than destroy Nature. It is also the case that our ideas have an impact – they inform and determine all our actions. Our thoughts affect others.
So I’m hesitant about the Extinction Rebellion’s mantra of being non-judgemental, only because the “Rule” appears much misunderstood, a bit like the associated Rule of being “beyond politics”. Both are quite liberally used to shut down debate, hopefully quite the opposite of the original intention. We are trying to save humanity and all life on earth from extinction at the hands of human-made climate catastrophe.
How do we agree about what to do? Judgements about each other’s opinions are important, because every belief corresponds to actions, and every action moves towards anti-human or pro-human results.
Being non-judgmental must surely mean preventing pre-judgement – assumptions made with insufficient evidence – and at the same time acknowledging the universal vulnerabilities of being human. Before damning someone else have you taken sufficient time to look at yourself? And in any case, is damnation essential…for what outcome?
I damn Fascism on the basis of evidence of the Holocaust, damn racism on the basis of it’s vicious denial of fact, damn sexism and homophobia for reason of their denial of equality and human rights, and disablism for the lack of collective provision for a common humanity. These judgements are in my mind essential for human survival.
We must therefore argue with each other about the small “p” political direction of travel, not only to clarify our own ideas but to test possible actions before carrying out possibly negative or destructive activities. XR’s dismissal of Party Politics as having not worked for sustainable development and the protection of the environment – surely a factual statement – doesn’t then require us to be beyond having political opinions or debate.
In this period of General Election in the United Kingdom, political debate and argument with all its pedantic word-play and double-speak hypocrisy, is vital. My observation so far is of a distinct paucity in the ability and readiness to debate without malice. Sides have been taken despite or without attention to facts or alternative ways of seeing. The cry of “hypocrite’ has become over-used as a tool of self-protection and condemnation of “the other”. This has all the resonance of a society scared, defensive and descending towards individual survival mode. Cowering from the threats of predation, hardship and climate catastrophe, we are repelling all borders and dismissing all those outside our chosen mini-clan.
We appear to have dismissed Reason as well as reasonable behaviour. What is needed now more than ever is robust, fulsome and informed debate about what is to be done, and yet we are being denied the atmosphere in which this can happen. It appears we have been set one-against-the-other by a set of contrived hostilities that divides us all and allows the current state of affairs to continue unchallenged.
If we’re all hypocrites then Truth is of no value and debate is without purpose. Choose your bunker and slam shut the door. The alternative? To recognise that we would like to live in a world where we do not have to be hypocrites, where we can live meaningfully without destroying the environment, in a harmony with each other which offers self-determination through social discourse and negotiation.
In which case, we’re not hypocrites at all. By acting to negate the negation we are being true to ourselves: living in an oppressive society but at all times challenging that oppression; needing to work to survive but challenging all exploitation of people and natural resources; having to shop for food but boycotting key pollutants; surviving in a carbon-based economy but seeking-out alternative futures. That’s Life.
Ultimately it is in the nature of the Capitalist System to compete, exploit, oppress and go to war. Challenging someone’s pro-Capitalist views is not to condemn the individual but to object to being led into a cul-de-sac. Any reliance on Capitalism as a system able to prevent the coming Climate Catastrophe is bound to fail – to rely on the carbon industries to end carbon-use in time to save the environment is beyond belief. We must practice political thought and use informed judgement to argue with each other. Only through debate can we agree the way forward. To prevent argument is indeed the greatest hypocrisy.