On the 31st October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. The awareness of this action’s long-term significance may have escaped him at the time. With swathes of people turning against the Catholic Church, which had been the most powerful force in Europe for countless years, any doubts about its effect cannot have lasted long.
On the 31st of December 2018, Extinction Rebellion issued a “Declaration of Rebellion” against the British Government. The event was passionate and inspiring. One hopes it will have a similarly galvanising effect as Luther’s hammers had upon the Church. Indeed, it will need to if we are to survive the ecocide standing before us.
This time of year has a feeling of rebellion. The haze of Summer, which somehow seeps well into September, starts to lift. Suddenly we are plunged into darkness and our clocks go back. An extra hour’s sleep never feels quite enough. Halloween is a time for Trick or Treat – far more of an American tradition than a British one. There’s something anarchic about the whole idea that I find appealing – the act of sanctioned, carnivalesque begging. Is giving sweets to strangers paying homage to that sense of hospitality we fear losing, or are we symbolically paying tribute to monsters we have no way of controlling?
Imagine if this practice happened constantly throughout the year? The Trick aspect of Trick or Treat is presented as a last resort if children do not get the treats they want. But really Trick is more of a word for the whole masquerade of Halloween, and its anti-authoritarian semblances, for dressing up as ghouls and ghosts. Halloween is about joyful anonymity through masquerade. It feels in some sense like an age-old protest. Or at least an exorcism of bad spirits.
Costume parties run into November. And in Britain unlike the US we have Guy Fawkes Night. When I was a child, it always struck me as unpleasant to celebrate someone’s execution with bonfires and burning effigies. It took an imagination like Alan Moore’s to reinvent the Guy Fawkes imagery as an act of rebellion against a future British fascist state in his comic V for Vendetta to symbolically spin something out of Guy Fawkes’ vengeance at years of smouldering mannequins. On the night of the 3rd November, I sat in a plush London cinema watching the film version; a tear ran down my cheek at the inhumanity and the cruelty the film portrays. The message is very much that a certain ruthlessness, based on revenge, is if not necessary then at least inevitable for a mass popular uprising. The lead characters “V” and “Evie Hammond” delight in gleeful destruction – art as political violence.
In some senses, the Extinction Rebellion is similar – more subtle and much more forgiving than the swashbuckling anarchist of the aforementioned tale. Rather than taking pleasure in chaos, Extinction Rebellion presupposes that worldwide chaos is already occurring. Waking people up to their fate involves not blaming or taking out our anger on those who stand against us: the government and big business. Their resistance involves presenting us with half measures to global warming: they cannot face up to destruction, they will waver until the last minute to Midnight. It is only through grieving the extinction that is presently happening that we can hope to change the status quo. People do not know what they have until it is gone. Sadness is powerful and also political. Meanwhile, we have to be creative and artistic against a backdrop of violence and destruction. We have to speak truth to the emotions that lay in the realm beyond a climate apocalypse: both a collective mourning for what we are losing and a collective joy in what we are building anew.