In our current century of the self, our propensity to express ourselves with manufactured identities is nothing short of ironic. In fact, In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman summarizes this phenomenon, “assum[ing] that when an individual appears before others he will have many motives for trying to control the impression they receive of the situation”. We see these roles being cast in both covert and outspoken ways alike, from the way we dress to our political ideologies. Somewhere between the cynicism of setting a lasting impression and the sincerity of our own interests, we find ourselves in roles that define who we are. We are defined by our job titles, the products we use daily, and our ability to stay up-to-date with technological innovation. Krznaric challenges this idea of identity in the modern day stating, “In wealthy countries, especially, we treat it like a distant colonial outpost where we can freely dump ecological damage and technological risk as if there was nobody there”.
Is our infatuation with our current identities robbing others of influence and opportunity? At what level is our negligence in supporting our future populations considered criminal? With climate action lawsuits against governments and corporations spreading across 28 countries, some activists would argue the line is a lot closer to our current practices than we may think. The most famous in the United States, the plaintiffs of Juliana v. Gov, argue that the government\’s affirmative actions that cause climate change have violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources. In relation to Goffman’s description of our obsession with identity, is the role of a good ancestor one we should be more adamant about portraying?
Roman Krznaric terms a group of people who are starting a countercultural movement in favor of the planet as “time rebels”. A new installation in New York City takes this title a bit literally. Installed by project co-founders Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd for Climate Week, the “Climate Clock” counts down the years, days, hours, minutes, and seconds left to curb greenhouse gas emissions enough to give Earth a 67% chance of keeping the world under 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. Through an artistic display of urgency, this piece urges the public to stop and question what the date is counting down until.
Not all time rebels use exhibition as their media however, as different rebel activists are constantly pioneering new movements to disturb the peace. With the leadership of Time’s 2019 Person of the Year Greta Thunberg, students worldwide began school strikes every friday in effort to bring attention to the issues younger generations will have to adapt to. The efforts of the time rebels have now started taking action at the ballot box too. In 2019, teenagers across Europe began lobbying their parents and grandparents to give them their votes in the European parliamentary elections of that year. The hashtag #givethekidsyourvote went viral on social media and was spread by climate campaigners as far as Australia.
Another member of the time rebels movement includes Katie Paterson and her ‘Future Library’ where every year, a famous writer will donate a book which will remain completely unread until 2114 when the whole collection will be printed on paper made from a forest of trees planted for this very purpose. Efforts like this fight against the system because they allow for time to mediate, strengthen, and ensure long-term solutions rather than our current methods of constant band-aids to keep from changing the system. These time rebels weave their identity as good ancestors into their current works and relationships with people. However, due to the countercultural nature of investing in the future rather than the greedy security of immediate gratification our culture promotes, these time rebels\’ ideas have been pushed to the side by lawmakers, corporate heads, and people of power.
Will the idea of intentional ancestry ever trump our obsession with personal legacy? The time rebels believe that yes, it will.