Bad, bad, tactics by Extinction Rebellion

This anti-climate change protest by Extinction Rebellion was extraordinarily foolish:

Let us count the ways:

  • It was poorly targetted. Who was disrupted? Commuters in the East End of London. Not wealthy people, not decision makers. Ordinary people trying to get by.
  • It had no thematic connection. The disruption targetted public transport. The net effect was to encourage people to DRIVE to work.
  • It was arrogant and alienating. It elevated the concerns of the protestors over the concerns of people who the protest should aim to persuade. That makes the protestors concerns look insular, out of touch and arrogant. It makes action on climate change politically less likely and easier for politicians to demonise.
  • It wasn’t direct action. Direct action is where people directly intervene for moral reasons against the thing they are protesting against. For example, disrupting the building of coal-fired power plant. The ethics of direct action are a thing in themselves but they very much depend on whether it is justified to directly stop a thing happening. This protest has the theatre of direct action but isn’t. There’s no ethical imperative here to stop people travelling by train.

There’s a moral equation between an extreme situation and extreme action. It is one that gets debated left and right, and within and outside of governments. However, just like war and revolution, that moral equation isn’t a carte blanche. There has to be a plausible connection between the action taken and some reasonable (and proportionate) chance of preventing, ameliorating or limiting the extreme situation.

There’s no moral justification for obviously bad tactics.

5 thoughts on “Bad, bad, tactics by Extinction Rebellion

  1. I’ve seen quite a few comments to suggest that the proposed action was unpopular with XR supporters before it happened, and is even less popular with them now, which gives me some hope that the majority of them know a counter-productive idea when they see it.

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  2. Yeah, the problem with a decentralised organisation is that individual units will take actions that the larger body would not deem acceptable and would not have sanctioned if it had been a centralised operation. We shall have to wait and see if it is weaponised against XR.
    Fortunately (or not, depending upon your pov!) the Brexit farce entered the final scenes of Act III today and the captive audience are trapped waiting to see if there will be an Act IV. (Or V, VI or VII come to that.)

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  3. If I was more conspiracy-theorist than I am, I would posit that getting XR to target public transport indicates that XR decision makers are paid by BigCarBuilders.

    What (vaguely) surprises me is that XR seemingly have not cottoned on to [CLEVER PLAN INVOLVING SIGILS OF EVIL REDACTED]. That would stop people actively burning fossil fuel, be better headlines, and not inconvenience people doing the environmentally less horrible thing.

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  4. It appears that the “affinity unit” within XR that did this has a position of being opposed to all human communities of more than 10,000 people.

    Haven’t seen this directly from them, but similar “deep greens” usually say that the sustainable population of Britain is about four million (the actual population is about seventy million). They are Malthusians and expect there will be mass starvation soon if we don’t dramatically lower the population.

    So, yes, if you believe that the existence of London as a city is unsustainable and will lead to mass deaths, then trying to make all urban life impossible is an appropriate direct action.

    The problem is not their logic; it’s that their premises are utter garbage.


  5. It’s not as easy to organize an effective protest as it looks. Sometimes when a kooky group organizes a counter-productive protest it opens a window for a more sensible group to get an audience with decision makers. In this case, though, there doesn’t appear to have been a coherent target or even a goal.


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