In 1784, Immanuel Kant asked: ‘Was heisst Aufklirung’, a question Michel Foucault rendered relevant for us: What is this world, this period, this precise moment in which we are living?

Opportunities to reflect critically on this question are always present, offering us pathways to engage in our world. In the words of Roshi Bernie Glassman, the powerful space of the unanswered question provides fertile terrain for deep listening and appropriate social action.

Last week, there was much public debate on the duty to protect life versus the respect of laws and frontiers. On 29 June, Captain Carola Rackete forcibly landed Sea Watch 3 at Lampedusa, Italy. Her boat, sailing under a German flag, was carrying 42 people who had been rescued off the coast of Libya earlier in the month. When the survival conditions on board had become critical, Rackete forced the boat’s landing in contravention of an Italian naval blockade. She was arrested, but then released several days later when a judge affirmed her duty to protect life.

On the same day as Rackete’s release, double air strikes on the Tajoura Detention Centre in Libya killed more than 60 people and injured scores of others, just one more massacre among so many in the ongoing contest for control of Tripoli’s criminal-militia nexus. Among the civilians detained in Tajoura were migrants arrested by Libyan forces—part of an EU-crafted policy response to manage human smuggling across the central Mediterranean and to prevent the hundreds of thousands of people who are (in this precise moment) trying to make their way to Europe.

That human smuggling will remain a booming business should surprise no one in our interconnected global political economy of suffering. Tragically, frustratingly, both contemporary EU policies and great acts of individual courage shriek their futility when considered in light of the many millions of people expected to migrate in the next two decades due to conflict, climate change and hunger. From the Mediterranean to the Rio Grande to the endless frontiers separating the penury from the plenty of our world, today’s migration patterns are simply the nexus between inequality on a global scale and the inextinguishable desire for human dignity.