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While protesting has always been part of us, pushing for change with the hands of extremism is new in the human experience.
Protesting has been the right of the people since tribalism. As human beings, we are bound by groups which we align with. Leadership in those groups can be a tenuous position, never taken for granted. In the animal kingdom, there is often a fight for the top job from younger, stronger, more capable contenders. The same holds true in the human corporate world and indeed most places where we rely on appointed leadership. It’s most certainly evident in the political landscape. Protesting is in our DNA.
Most of the freedoms we take for granted today have arrived due to political and social agitation of what was once considered an extremist position. Equality in the workplace, environmental concerns, LGBTQ rights and the union movement were all once considered extreme. Today they are commonly accepted as holding a legitimate place in our society having brought about a change for good.
It seems to me though that recently we’ve devolved into more violent extremism instead of activism for change. We are no longer seeking to improve society but to destroy others’ version of it.
Before reading further I encourage you to put down your bias, just for a moment. Being pro or anti the position of any of these examples is not the point. There is a common theme of violent extremism among them and it’s that which I hope to address.
In recent years we’ve watched the anti-fascist group, ANTIFA, attempt to silence those they oppose on the right/far right of politics. Confusingly, despite being proclaimed anti-fascist, they emulate fascism. ANTIFA have acted violently in their protests when there was otherwise no harm or disruption to the community from those they oppose. They’ve caused massive disruption, particularly in Melbourne, where they’ve protested anything and everything they consider to be “far-right”. They have openly stated they feel vindicated in inciting or causing violence to those they oppose. They claim to assert their power of free speech by silencing the right of others to theirs.
The Christchurch massacre was also a violent protest on our doorstep. Inarguably, the most violent of recent times. The gunman was “protesting” Muslim immigration policies. In a form of sick retaliation, he chose to target peaceful people for the actions of otherwise unrelated violent people who shared their faith. In the gunman’s delusional mind, the whole tribe were responsible for actions of a few from a different but distantly related tribe. This twisted logic is the same which is broadly applied by anti-Muslim sentiment in the wake of Islamic terrorist attacks which have taken place around the world.
It is nonsensical. It also fails to address the issues which will ultimately bring about civil protection from extremists actions.
We cannot or should not remove or impinge on the rights of others for the sake of pursuing an agenda…through violence and intimidation.
Currently newsworthy in Australia is the rise of vegan activism. While I loathe drawing a comparison between vegans with murderous terrorists, it exists all the same through extremism.
Animal rights liberationists have been causing disruption to meat and dairy and other livestock producers in a way that has been threatening, causing intentional fear to personal safety and loss of livelihood. The human rights violations of people going about their ordinary business have been monumental and life-altering. Despite much evidence, there has been little to hold these activists to account in prosecutory terms.
Agitation for change has always been necessary and the position has always been considered extreme, but when and why did we become so violent in our pursuits?
For many of us, the line is crossed when the law is violated, such as impinging on the rights of an individual, including physical and emotional harm. The irony here is that the very civil rights individuals once fought for in years past are now being violated by those who, had they been alive at the time, would have fought for those rights themselves.
It’s arguable that the human brain has not evolved past its primeval state of fear-based and reactionary thinking. Despite altruistic goals of wanting a world of peace we appear destined to stand and fight to the death or by any violent means necessary for tribal success. If there is a better way in activism, precious few seem to be living by it.
But there are a few.
Some of the most truly influential people of our time are the ones who stand by their beliefs without feeling the need to dominate others. They are the ubiquitous quiet achievers within our communities. Your vegetarian child, the vegan café owner, your gay or straight friends and family, or the mixed-race family living next door. Diversity, acceptance and cultural change is also an inside job.
While we may be tribal by nature, the underpinning brain structure is that we are hardwired for connection. We are drawn to people who we not only agree with, but who we can create a bond with. When we learn to create those bonds through understanding and experiencing each other’s point of view, we will find an easier, less adversarial path to change.
Perhaps we need to stop being so hurried and dogmatic. Influence through who we are, not what we demand. We cannot or should not continue to remove or impinge on the rights of others for the sake of pursuing an agenda which is ultimately intellectually dishonest through violence and intimidation.
In the words of Mother Teresa: “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”