When we first seriously consider the climate change facts, we tend to feel down low and hopeless. It’s tempting for a while to withdraw into a semi-private world where we feel worried or helpless. It’s normal too. Our existential situation is difficult. We or our children are likely to have it much rougher in future than we do now. We may not pull through as a species.
But why do we take the climate news privately and silently so very often? Answer: Because there’s a social and cultural taboo against taking it any other way. But if we do take it another way, we control the climate conversation. We fail to do it partly because the taboo stops us going there. Invisibly. It’s like a colorless, odorless gas no radio, TV, newspaper or social media tells you about.
But the social taboo is there and if we want to control the climate conversation, or our own lives, we’ll need to notice it.
The taboo works by being invisible. It’s invisibility is there to ensure easy social order because when it’s in operation, nothing needs to be thought through, just followed through. Conformity makes everything easy until it doesn’t. This used to help make the world go round, though it had a crazily high personal cost, but in the climate emergency, just following is disastrous. We’ll need to break the status quo. To get through the climate impasse, we’ll have to bust the taboo against simply following. And we’ll have to do it personally and en masse. That’s the strength of Extinction Rebellion. It was ready to bust the taboo and it’s power came from its clear willingness to do so.
But the social norm to not do that is deep and treacherous. It’s like the devil himself, or perhaps it is the devil himself. The social norm to just conform is our greatest enemy. It’s also our greatest ally if we’re aware of it because, to the extent that we are, we’re no longer beholden to its dictates. We’ll see after, by what happened, how willing we actually were.
No one can tell another how to do this either, though others notice how we actually act. Everyone has to find their own way. It won’t be easy because the taboo lives inside each of us. It’s not written down in a book. We’re the keepers of the taboo that says Thou must not question the way things are done. And the climate emergency is profoundly at odds with the social contract. Society has no way of addressing a problem like this, no understanding of it. It’s built to fight enemies, not a problem who’s source is us.
When we’re first drawn into the climate story we’re hardly aware of any of this. And the mainstream media, tinkering as they do with ideas of climate change, doesn’t see any of it either. They’re the voices of the social rules after all. That’s their job! The mainstream media are trapped inside the hidden social rule. So is our political life. And so are we citizens when we aren’t aware of the taboo against knowing who we are, when we haven’t worked to break off the shackles.
But there’s a relatively easy way to do all that: It’s to do it together. In the presence of others who also stepping out of the social shackle we make a new social norm on the fly. It’s easy then to understand that the commandment to follow the social rule is empty and hollow, made of paper. That it’s like the Wizard in Oz, a little man behind a curtain. It’s doing it with others that makes it possible. It’s doing it with others that makes it so much more enjoyable than being alone in our room with a big problem.
This is part of a series over the next weeks on breaking out of hidden social control and disrupting the status quo. Lots more on this in Evolutionary YOU, if you want more. For a free drop-in online interactive groups to explore social control directly together, look here. An intensive closed group starts soon as well – there’s more we can do together in a group in which people are no longer strangers and are committed for being together for a period of time.