23 April 2014

Chris Trotter: the Greens are the last hope for "we" ?

It is rare that a commentator on the left exposes so readily the fundamental difference in understanding and approach to politics as Chris Trotter most recently did in The Press.  In that article he posits almost exactly the narrative the Green Party would want you to understand - which is that the Greens, and only the Greens, are revolutionary and wise, and out for the good of the many, unlike the other parties out to sustain the status quo and the "counter narrative" of "neo-liberalism" - the pejorative term originating from the left, used to dismiss and debase any and all who promote capitalism.

The notion that the Greens are fighting a lonely vanguard in a fundamental struggle is understandably appealing to an aging Marxist, who has witnessed with almost endless bitter dismay, at the edifice of New Zealand's own - and dare I say carefully worded - national democratic socialism - crumble after it nearly bankrupted the country.  You see the autarchic, egalitarian, isolationist, "full employment" "golden age" Trotter harks back to, is reminiscent of the same sort of nationalist "golden ages" that autocrats all over the world point to.  An age that was destroyed by traitors to the cause, who "sold us out" to foreign capital.

Never fear, the Greens are here, because the new threat is global annihilation, and they alone are "dedicated to the practical application of ecological wisdom".  The "politics of ecological denial boasts some extremely powerful backers".

What untrammelled nonsense.   A ridiculously simple view that fits the intellect of someone who regards The Simpsons as a comprehensive social narrative, but one that doesn't actually fit facts.  It isn't Montgomery Burns vs. the people, as much as Trotter wishes it were.

The Neo-Malthusian narrative Trotter expounds has been refuted by the likes of  the late Julian Simon and more recently Bjorn Lomborg, dismissing the completely inaccurate forecasts of the ludicrous Paul Ehrlich.  The gross exaggeration of the global warming narrative has created a growing number of people increasingly less willing to grasp the ecologism propounded by the Greens, demonstrated no less by the party's own embrace of poverty and economic issues as a way of gaining votes.  The world isn't running out of water, minerals or food, or indeed fossil fuels, and the natural environment does not have "unrelenting despoliation", indeed conditions for humanity have been improving markedly.

However, that spoils the philosophy of ecologism, which appears Trotter is clinging to, as the counter to "neo-liberalism".   He sees it as the "We" vs. the "I", exactly how he sees socialism vs. capitalism.

The strawman that the left consistently throw up is thrown in by him in that "neo-liberalism" "repudiates the inter-relatedness of all living things in the name of the sovereign individual".

This, of course, is complete nonsense.  The real difference is not belief that there are relationships and interdependencies between people and the environment, but the belief that this can and should be defined and constrained by the state.  You see, to the left, power and influence is driven by the state interfering, with the idea that people could positively interact, trade and care for the environment without state direction almost bewildering.

By contrast, ecologism as he says "rejects entirely the logic of individualism in the name of the interdependent whole".  Of course, what Marxists mean by individualism is to consider that if we were all left to our own motives and interests, we would be predatory and destroy other people and the environment.  

Trotter claims National and ACT are "committed to purifying and intensifying the competitiveness of our market system", which besides the exaggeration (certainly for National), ignores the more human element that individual freedom is about choice, responsibility and dynamism.  It isn't just about markets, although Marxists for much of the 20th century spread the myth that advocates of capitalism wanted every human interaction to be a financial transaction.  Nobody says that, nobody believes that, it's just a strawman put forward by the left to fit their almost crypto-fascist "corporatise the world" narrative.

Yet the left resist this so Trotter says, of course, "we should not be surprised at the constant and increasingly aggressive misrepresentation of the Greens' political project.  Wittingly or unwittingly, the existing order's guardians are positioning the Greens at the centre of a narrative of exclusion".

He notes that ACT and National regad the Greens to be the most recent mask of "their oldest foe, Communism", without refuting it.  Yet the Green Party, with the exception of concerns over state surveillance of communications and drugs policy, is entirely a project of more regulation, socialist transfers of property, and nationalisation of sectors of the economy, as well as xenophobic opposition to foreign trade, investment and even culture.   How is that a misrepresentation of a party that is very much old fashioned socialism, dressed up in the ecologism cause?  

Indeed, the ecologism looks shaky when you consider how, despite the decade plus of scientific evidence about the benefits to agriculture and the environment, the Greens reject genetic engineering with a level of religious fervour and faith that would look a bit too fundamentalist for Colin Craig's Conservative Party.  Even on smaller scale issues when the environment rubs up against socialist rent seekers the Greens support, the latter win, such as the Green Party's unfathomable opposition to foreign ships carrying domestic cargo between NZ ports - purely because the maritime unions don't like it, even though it is good for the environment.

Consider the hysteria over electro-magnetic radiation from privately owned telecommunications companies with substantial foreign ownership, but not from the state owned public broadcaster.  Indeed, in saying "In the spirit of Isaiah" he hits the proverbial nail on the head, for the Greens are a faith based political movement. 

Trotter's view is that his lamented Labour Party (which he has considered tainted since the days of Roger Douglas and David Lange, and only partly redeemed by Helen Clark) is doomed unless it embraces this movement.  The movement which fits Trotter's age-old Marxist point of view that we have a "planet-consuming greed of financial capitalism", which of course is nothing new for socialists, or indeed fascists, all of whom regarded capitalism and individual entrepreneurship with disdain when compared to their projects to transform human beings.  You see that is the project the Greens embrace.

Softer they may be, but they want to change all who are not true believers, by regulating your food, regulating your business, taxing your success, making you pay to get your kids educated into the true faith, making you pay for those with families that don't pay for themselves, making you pay for those belonging to groups deemed "oppressed" by the current order.  Labelling us all by the categories of gender, race, sexuality and income, to determine whether you're "privileged" or "disadvantaged" and using state power to take from some to give to others.

It's not really about the environment, as convenient as it is to make the environment into the project of urgency.   It's about wanting to remake humanity, and it is, at its heart, a set of firmly fixed beliefs about what is good and what is bad.  Local (especially indigenous) good, foreign bad.  Collective, co-operative good, competitive bad.  Public hospitals/schools/broadcasting/utilities good, private bad.  Organic, old-fashioned (non-Christian) faith based good, scientific, laboratory based, "chemical" bad (unless the science fits the agenda).   

Communists wanted to create the "new communist man" who would give from all of his abilities and take only what he needed.  Fascists wanted to create the "new patriot" who embodied all of the hallmarks of heroism, hard work, family protection (virility/fecundity), strength, beauty, good health, purity and contributing to national "achievement".

Most ecologists don't carry the eliminationism both communists and fascists espouse, but they carry the elements of both.  The Greens carry much of the Marxism, but also curiously touch upon the "healthy lifestyle" and xenophobia of fascists, although they would vehemently deny the latter, it is the end result of their desire to put up walls on trade and investment around the borders.

So you see Trotter, unwittingly, outlines what is the fundamental difference between the movements towards individual freedom and the movements towards state collectivism, or as he would say "neo-liberalism" vs "ecologism".

They come down to trust in the state vs. trust in individuals.

The Greens, and indeed the left more generally, regard individuals as being malignant, predatory, destructive and not minded to care about others, or the environment.  They have a suspicion that individuals, left to themselves, will destroy us all and leave many people poor, starving and ignored.  Of course, they are exempt from this, being the "enlightened" ones who know best how to plan, regulate, tax, spend and organise society in a way that avoids all that.  The flipside is that they regard the state, as the embodiment of society, and the expression of the "general will" of the population, the arena to debate and allocate "rights", "resources" and "privileges".  Libertarians, indeed conservatives and whoever else comes within the "neo-liberal" paradigm, regard the state with suspicion, believing that it ends up being captured by rent-seeking interests that disadvantage the vast majority, and that "rights" aren't actually up for the vote.

In short, there is little new in the battle between the Greens as the new statists, and the likes of ACT (and some elements of National) as the classically liberal (and indeed conservatives) - it is the battle for the role of the state vs. the individual.

As such, given that the "environmental crisis" narrative is elements of truth dressed up in much hyperbole, the "great battle" Trotter envisages actually wont happen.

For as much as the Greens will it, there are growing numbers of younger voters who whilst sympathetic to the environment more generally, are highly sceptical of statists of all colours, and reject the Green Party's embrace of the state as the answer to all problems, and the continued pleading of the structuralist identity politics that the Greens try to use to claim the moral highground for women, Maori and indeed young people themselves.

ACT's recent rebirth as a truly small government party partly reflects that, and the National Party has growing elements of that thread of thinking spreading within its membership and caucus.  

Labour is troubled because it knows, despite many of its members sympathising with the Green philosophical message and even some policies, it has senior members who know too well that much of this either doesn't work or has serious unwanted negative consequences.  So Labour is waiting for enough New Zealanders to get fed up with the John Key show that it will govern by default, and expect the Greens to at least grant confidence and supply.

The Greens meanwhile, have had a long period of relatively minimal serious criticism of their philosophical and political programme, or scrutiny of their bizarre past utterances.   After all, it was in 1998 that Jeanette Fitzsimons said that it was the last Christmas that New Zealanders could "trust a potato".

So no, the Greens are not the last great hope for the planet or humanity, but they are for hardened Marxist true believers like Trotter.  He has long given up on the Labour Party being hardened socialists, and sees in the Greens the chance to overturn the capitalism he so despises, and so benefits from.

So the Greens are the last great hope for the political social engineers - those who want to remould humanity to fit their utopia through state force - who want to embrace a project that is, fundamentally, quite authoritarian and intolerant.  There are few New Zealanders, proportionately, who would embrace such a project on traditional religious grounds, as the failure of the Christian Heritage Party attests to, and the lack of fundamentalist Muslims denies.

So, the Greens are, perhaps, the last great faith based movement  - a complex faith that is selective about science, selective about technology, and selective about who is gain privileges and booty and who is to lose it, through state force.   However, it is first and foremost a faith based movement that has curious parallels to others through history, that want government not by the people and for enshrining and protecting them = but to change them.

In Chris Trotter's language, "neo-liberals" want to protect your right to be yourself and live your life in peace.  "We", in the world of individual freedom, involves lots of  "Is" interacting voluntarily whether as friends, families, communities, traders or clubs.   It is non-exclusive, it isn't defined or limited by the state.

The Greens will categorise you, as to the extent to which you will be made to surrender your property and your freedoms, or gain someone else's property and powers, so that you fit into their collectivised, classified grouping of the new "Green" man or woman, Maori or Pakeha, employer or worker, parent or child, rich or poor, oppressed or (ex) oppressor.  

In the world of Chris Trotter's "we" there isn't much room for "I".


James said...

Very good.

Anonymous said...

A well written post. It will be an interesting election, I suspect.

B. Whitehead

Anonymous said...

Its is interesting that the australian Labour party is trying to distance itself from the unions. One union spokesman offered the view that the unions were the only thing stopping labour from moving further to the left (Greens). who would have thought?

Kiwiwit said...

Great blog, Liberty.