What motivated Oscar Wilde to make such a radical statement as this? Oftentimes we are taught in our education system to ‘change the system from within’ or to become ‘successful’ and make positive, small reformative measures to improve society. Democracy is a slow moving beast: it takes time to change a system when it is business as usual, and there’s a reason for that.
People in power have got where they are usually by climbing the ladder of the status quo. The financial, political and social system has rungs that the powerful have climbed – either through hard work or inherited privilege, or both – and they are therefore not likely to try and undermine or weaken it. The status quo has served the powerful very well, and they tend to be fond and protective of it.
Positive change in social structure has always come from beneath. Votes for women, the abolition of slavery, the end of apartheid and British rule in India, the end of slavery (massively influenced by successful rebellions in places like Ghana), the civil rights movement, our welfare system and the NHS. All of these changes were caused by people rebelling against the status quo, and saying in word and deed that there is something drastically wrong. Change must happen now.
Why Rebel? Because, as Naomi Klein says: the science about climate change and biodiversity ‘changes everything’. We could be looking at mass starvation and famine within 10 years, a collapse in global fisheries by 2050, rising sea levels and the whole host of apocalyptic global scenarios. We simply do not have time for business as usual or slow change. The largest body of scientific research ever gathered, the IPCC, has told us we have 11 years to make a drastic change to our carbon emissions. More recent studies say it may actually be closer to 17 months at the time of writing. Our economic and political systems are intrinsically tied to the fossil fuel industry, our infrastructure absolutely reliant on emitting carbon. Business as usual in a situation like this is the equivalent of continuing smoking when one is diagnosed with cancer, of accepting Netflix’s next recommendation when the kitchen’s on fire, of continuing to try and convince your gran that what she just said was racist when she’s already about to have a stroke.
Sometimes, you just need a change of tactic. That time is now.
It’s rebellion or game over, my friends. And I, for one, would like there still to be a life for my children and students long after I’m gone.