Beyond Today: a values story, and the Greens’ story

Beyond Today coverBeyond Today: a values story is the Green party’s story. On the Greens’ fortieth birthday, it says Values is a history of which the party should be very proud, and values are the new politics

We need the quants, and the poets, both. We need the activists and the Members of Parliament, the individuals, and the collectivists.

We need Green values. We need us all.

Let us begin.

So ends Beyond Today: a values story, to be launched at the Greens’ AGM on June 1, 2012.

May 30 is the anniversary of the 1972 launch of the Values Party, and the whole day on June 1 will be about Values: a Values reunion, fortieth birthday celebration and book launch, co-located with the AGM.

Beyond Today: a values story is all about the Greens. It’s a book about the past, and a hopeful future. It’s taken me the best part of a year to write, in my moonlight hours; and it owes Pundit quite a lot, because the first drafts started here.

It’s prefaced by a quote from Paul Kingsnorth, who isn’t hopeful at all: he writes blogs with titles like “On the correct management of despair” and thinks that the best way to spend his time now is climbing The Dark Mountain. “Join us,” he writes “we leave at dawn”.

As Kingsnorth – environmentalist, recovering activist – tells it, the green movement has been taken over by “quants”, has lost its way in the corridors of business and power. He writes witheringly of eco-socialism: “a conflation of concepts that pretty much guarantees the instant hostility of 95% of the population”.

He dismisses sustainability, concurring with Alex Steffen, that for too many people it means trying to sustain the anthropocene, not the Holocene, in which we make and shape the world, and it’s all about what our species wants – not the climate in which we evolved, or the Nature of whom we are part.

He thinks green politics has lost sight of its roots and sold its soul:

I can’t speak the language of science without a corresponding poetry. I can’t speak with a straight face about saving the planet when what I really mean is saving myself from what is coming. … I am leaving. I am going to go out walking …

Beyond Today: a values story is my answer to Kingsnorth, because I think he and I are talking about the same things: ecocentrism, transformation not business as usual, but above all, the importance of a story, a clear and simple story about what it means to be green.

He thinks that the best we can do now is prepare for the worst – but to me, the story still matters.

The perspective is that we are headed, very fast, for a big cliff.

The Greens’ first principles in the charter are about ecological limits: ecological wisdom, and ecological sustainability, which “is paramount”.

Expressed as a policy, they’re about ecological economics: a different way of being, in which nature writes the rules, and growth can’t be the answer, because it’s the problem.

It’s this that defines the Greens – makes them not Labour, not left, but Green – along with values.

The Values philosophy is one that looks after the forgotten ones, that says enough: enough of the environment, enough to be happy, enough for you as well as for me.

“Enough” is one of the clues to Green policy. It is the thing that binds conservation and socialism and sustainable society, for all of these, simply expressed, are the same. I have enough now, they say. This part is yours.

And there you have it: a party that pursues, in equal parts, environmental, economic, and social reform.

Politics aside, I think the practical thing is this: how to tell people the Green story – the whole story, not just your favourite bit – when most party members have never heard it.

It’s 40 years since the Club of Rome published its book called The Limits to Growth, 40 years since Values campaigned on zero population and economic growth policies, to sustain quality of life in a finite world – and won 5.2% of the vote in 1975, the same percentage of the vote that in 1999 under MMP would bring the Greens to Parliament.

In the circle of life, or something, in 2012 the Club of Rome is now talking about values, and stories: how when you meet someone new, it’s not facts that you tell them, but stories; and it’s stories and values that make a religion, among the most transformational human forces.

In 1990, some Greens rejected Values. A whole lot more have probably never heard about it. The composition of the two parties is similar, so are the policies, and Values’ is a story of which the Greens ought to be very proud.

Values, the world’s first national-level Green party, 40 years too soon politically, was out in front.

We may now be 40 years too late to change the world in time, but in 2012 the Greens are once again talking Values’ language. Co-leader Russel Norman’s first speech after the 2011 general election was about the Christmas story. Mr Norman, an atheist, spent 20 minutes reminding Parliament of the Christian values of “love and compassion towards each other”, “truth and justice between one another”, and “awe and respect for the natural world”:

St Francis of Assisi wrote sermons for the birds and taught us to live simply and value nature for its own sake … Those values of love, generosity, and a reverence for nature should not sound so out of place in this Parliament. But the talk in here is dominated by a different kind of worship - one of economic growth, at all costs.

It’s those values that will define the politics, and in particular, opposition politics, for the next 40 years.

In its secret heart, Beyond Today: a values story is a think piece. It didn’t start life intending to be a book, and I am a bit shy about calling it one. I thought about it a lot; I hope it makes you do the same.

It doesn’t try to answer all of the questions, such as: how to be a radical party, and start a revolution voters don’t want; and how to reconcile the strengths, but also fatal flaws, in consensus decision-making.

Nor could it. The Greens themselves don’t yet know all of the answers.

It says one thing some members won’t like. The Greens are an ecological economic party, a party that puts the environment first, not a party of the Left – and a party that implicitly, in its first charter principle, stands for diversity and inclusion.

This is not about the Left. It is about all of us. All of us, being human differently – learning how to be different, and celebrating difference, but also learning how to live together. Learning how to live.

The Greens are the “voice of the voiceless” – but not exclusively so.

The quants and the poets are both needed, but I would argue that, right now, the poets ought to take the leadif indeed that is ever something that poets are capable of. We have no shortage of arguments about numbers and machines, but we do have a great shortage of workable stories. That is to say: stories that dont just have happy endings, but have convincing plots as well.

— Paul Kingsnorth “The Quants and the Poets” (April 2011)

33 thoughts on “Beyond Today: a values story, and the Greens’ story

  1. I am so, so pleased that you have taken the time and trouble to write this book, this story of NZ’s proud Green heritage. I hope it makes its way far and wide and reminds people of the true valuables in life. Thank you so much!

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  2. I’m all happy to see some political history being written, but from this post I can’t make head nor tail of what politics the book is promoting. The language of the post seems couched in that deliberatly vague language that the social democratic wing of the environment often uses which fails to call a spade a spade and ends up meaning all things, or nothing, to anyone.

    I’ll keep an eye out for the book though, even if the cover design does make it look like a Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet.

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  3. Green politics, Sam.

    The cover design is a tribute to Values’ Beyond Tomorrow manifesto from 1975 – before your time, perhaps – and if you find the language vague, well, I encourage you to buy the book. You’ll find it’s quite succinct.

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  4. Ugh. 1970s design, no wonder.

    ‘Green Politics’ can mean anything from the scary eco-nationalism and racism promoted by some far-right movements to the ‘primitivist tribalism’ nonsense promoted by some US ‘anarchists’ and everything in between. This is exactly what I mean by vague language.

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  5. Launching the Greens’ 2002 election campaign, co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons paraphrased Gandhi’s maxim: “First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they fight you, then you win”. “Every great truth,” she is reported as saying, “is first ridiculed, then violently opposed, then accepted as self-evident”.

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  6. Actually the Greens have to choose left or right for one very simple reason. Once the decision of having enough is made, the question becomes “enough for who?” Any answer beyond the trivial immediately establishes different winners and losers. How do you distribute a scarce resource? Your answer to that question unavoidably puts you on a left-right spectrum.

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  7. I was wondering just the other day if anyone was going to write the definitive history of the Values Party.

    I knew Tony Brunt before he launched Values, attended the Party’s launch all those years ago, and was quite involved in its early days.

    Looking forward to reading your book, Claire.

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  8. I absolutely believe in caring for the environment, social justice*, and a respect for the fact that humans are not the only species that count. I think we all do. Policial differentiation is about methods – not values. New Zealand is turning into a fucking Stalinvania in the name “values” and it’s making us worse – not better.

    Such a pretty picture on the cover of that book. I would like to take New Zealand there. My policy suggestions would – current “green” policies wouldn’t.

    *Which to me is taking only as much as you give, mixed with compassion for those who can’t give as much as they need, and also contempt for gluttony in a world still with desperate poverty.

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  9. Sam:

    This is exactly what I mean by vague language.

    Yet your language is even vaguer and far less interesting.

    Geoff:

    Actually the Greens have to choose left or right for one very simple reason.

    Incorrect. As Claire pointed out it, the first decision is figuring out what enough is — that is an environmental issue, we cannot exceed the boundaries put on us by what is physically available. The second decision, the distribution of resources, would under a Green system, be done in a more fair and logical way. As shown by current Green economic policy this is a mixture of market and government, whatever will get the fairest and most logical distribution of resources. Neither left or right economic thinking currently do that.

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  10. Andrew, I find your policies as expressed in this blog rather scary actually – more like dictatorship than inclusive of people. The means do not justify the ends – the means are the ends.

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  11. +1 Raptor re left vs right

    To get bogged down in that sideshow is a waste of time and replaces actual discussion with ideological posturing.

    Effective and maximally efficient – I will use these word rather than ‘fair’ which to a degree implies equal – and ergo, logical allocation of finite natural resources requires the combined intellectual, labour and capital horsepower from across the private and public sectors to make it happen.

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  12. Janine:

    My eugenics flavoured “policies” are obviously scary to a casual observer. But realising the alternatives, not to mention the status quo of our domestic world, is even scarier.

    The best thing that scary people like me can do is create a blog so others can correct me for where I got it wrong. Alas – still waiting to be corrected!

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  13. Andrew, if you paid a little more attention you might realise that many of the “observers” here are not that “casual”. It’s not that we don’t understand what you are trying to say, it’s just that we find it disgusting.

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  14. It’s not that we don’t understand what you are trying to say, it’s just that we find it disgusting.

    I dunno, solkta.

    I think if Andrew’s hypothesis proposed the immediate liquidation of quasi-intellectual beardie hat wearers as the primary progenitors of Der Untermenschen, it might get some traction. ;)

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  15. Hmmm – would there be an age limitation on that, Gregor? Who determines whether they are quasi-intellectual or not? I’m a bit worried for some people I know…

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  16. Gregor W,

    Demonstrating that you’re not quasi-intellectual begins with providing sound arguments that show how your opponent is wrong. Not pointing out physical appearance.

    Alas, I am still waiting for the true intellectuals to explain to my furry little face how I got it wrong with my eugenic insights.

    In the real intellectual world no view is ‘disgusting’. It’s either right or its wrong.

    …and besides. This is a better more representative picture.

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_HkYbXrkNb1g/TEMMCU7vuiI/AAAAAAAAAHo/7NNxp161F7c/s1600/ANDY_4.JPG

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  17. “Yet your language is even vaguer and far less interesting.”

    Really? Have you actually read any of my political writing?

    “As shown by current Green economic policy this is a mixture of market and government”

    So you’re advocating social democracy?

    “…whatever will get the fairest and most logical distribution of resources. Neither left or right economic thinking currently do that.”

    Ummm… saying ‘fairest and most logical’ is a bit like saying ‘whatever is nicest’. Pretty much the entire debate between left and right politics can be summed up as a debate over the meaning of the word ‘fair’.

    ‘Logical’ is an even more fraught word. In politics, ‘logical’ is merely a term one applies to one’s own beliefs in order to belittle one’s opponent’s views. Very John Key.

    Come on, this is politics 101. Responding to charges of vagueness with “it’ll be fair and logical” is just proving my point.

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  18. “To get bogged down in that sideshow is a waste of time and replaces actual discussion with ideological posturing.”

    This ‘sideshow’ has been a basis of a couple of hundred years of political debate. It’s arrogant to suggest that has been a waste of time – without the political development of the left, the Green Party wouldn’t exist.

    And calling it all ‘ideological posturing’ is just rather banal or childish anti-ideological posturing, a sort of political sneer rather than a useful position.

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  19. AA @11.16 In the real intellectual world no view is ‘disgusting’. It’s either right or its wrong.

    You must be thinking of mathematics. Disciplines like Philosophy, Politics, Sociology and History are not so absolute.

    To quote Wikipedia:

    The distinctive quality of the intellectual person is that the mental skills he or she demonstrates are not simply intelligent, they focus on thinking about the abstract, philosophical and esoteric aspects of human inquiry and the value of their thinking.

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  20. Andrew, the last person to put eugenics into practice was pretty much opposed and overwhelmed by most of the other people on the planet. If you didn’t get what I meant above, I’ll expand.

    You cannot justify the ends you want(perfect people, however you define that) by the means you advocate(compulsory control of breeding, language, customs etc etc).
    Moving towards a fairer, more sustainable world has to be by fair and sustainable means – we have to be the change we want to see.

    Right and wrong, as Soltka has pointed out is not so clear-cut. Very likely there are and have been Green policies and actions that are not absolutely “right”, but perhaps the major thing the party tries to do is to act in good faith in the light of available information. GE is an example of that – the information we have is disquieting, so we oppose allowing it out of the lab.

    Sustainablility and fairness have to be guiding principles, and I agree with Sam that the definition of these has been argued about for several hundred years – no-one, not even you, has the only answer.

    There is only process; and the processes you have put forward are repugnant to me (and others too by the looks) because they are not fair and, given the likely revolt against many of them, they are not sustainable either.

    Your ends may be admirable, but your means have to be congruent. However imperfectly, the Greens I know recognise this and try to do that.

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  21. Science and logic have their place. They are useful tools.

    The quality of a human society however, is not something we measure very well, and the history of eugenics indicates strongly that the idea has flaws for us that make it difficult or impossible to accept it for a human society. It is a good way to breed horses and pigs. … but is a tool that breaks societies when it is used on humans.

    I would not find it disgusting as an idea. It is “logical”. I am however, reminding that humans are not philosophical truth tables, or a scientific experiment… or a breeding program. The disgust comes of remembering the ways in which it has gone so badly wrong in the past.

    BJ

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  22. How do you distribute a scarce resource? Your answer to that question unavoidably puts you on a left-right spectrum.

    Not sure that this is true. It seems to me that the methods that work WELL are all based in economics. That is, that the distribution of scarce resources is generally solved by the values placed on them by different people and prices people are willing to pay.

    The distribution of money in CURRENT economies and a monetary system that sets up borrowing and growth as a sacrament is however, profoundly flawed.

    Is that “Left” ? “Right”? Neo-Austrian? People on the far right AGREE with parts of this. The Central Reserve Bank is a flawed concept. Fractional-Reserve Banking is a Ponzi scheme. Money should not be based on debt.

    Yet removing those problems is key to obtaining the no-growth society that is unthinkable to current economists.

    BJ

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  23. bjchip:

    Yes. But the early history of surgery was a horror show at times too. Should we dismiss it today outright because of this? You can do any right thing wrong. The Nazi horror story is ultimately beside the point as to whether or not we should have some level of eugenics today.

    Will our species biologically degrade without some eugenics? Maybe a conversation on the topic should start from that question alone.

    solkta:

    Please read my posts from a more relaxed position so you can get the essential meaning right. I can’t be bothered correcting trivial criticism.

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  24. It was always only a matter of time before economic rationalism would lead to a rationalisation of a return of eugenics to the political discourse.

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  25. Interesting, I was commenting about the topic raised, rather than any of the positions taken, and the response is a request to do the latter.

    Sorry, but the topic of why this issue is being raised again now – in an era of current austerity and prospect of future shortage of resources is more interesting and should be the issue being focused on.

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  26. @ Sam

    This ‘sideshow’ has been a basis of a couple of hundred years of political debate. It’s arrogant to suggest that has been a waste of time – without the political development of the left, the Green Party wouldn’t exist.

    You’ve misread me, Sam.

    I’m haven’t suggested that the battles of the past were irrelevant. I’m saying that I don’t think future Green positioning should be determined by the battles of the past.

    Pontificating on where Greens should sit on an arbitrary left-right continuum is pointless as is the historical Left claiming ownership of the Green message.

    Furthermore, I not a proponent of the “Left=good, Right=bad” meme. I think the Green movement could and should incorporate ideas from across the spectrum.

    If you believe that to be banal and childish then by all means, fill your boots.

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  27. “Pontificating on where Greens should sit on an arbitrary left-right continuum is pointless as is the historical Left claiming ownership of the Green message.”

    Well, pontificating is pointless by definition, so I can’t disagree with you there. ‘Claiming ownership’ isn’t really the point either, the problem is when the Greens try and arbitrarily, remove themselves from a left-right spectrum, or from other forms of political taxonomy, either out of fear that too clear a message will put off some supporters, or because they don’t understand the terms and models.

    “I not a proponent of the “Left=good, Right=bad” meme.”

    Me neither.

    “I think the Green movement could and should incorporate ideas from across the spectrum.”

    Sweet and dandy, but the core values of the Greens need to reflect the collective nature of social progress and environmental well-being, rather than the individualistic nonsense promoted by the right. This makes the Greens a left party of some sort. No point pretending otherwise.

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  28. “the core values of the Greens need to reflect the collective nature of social progress and environmental well-being, rather than the individualistic nonsense promoted by the right.” – of course, so broadly speaking the GP is much more in tune with the so-called left, but has to part company on some of the ideas and processes that are incongruent with sustainability of people and environment.

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  29. What happened to the 40 or so people who stood for Values for parliament in 1972?
    Where are they now?
    I was 25 then and was the candidate for Tauranga, now retired to Sarawak, after a career as an architect.

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  30. In 2012 keeping values such as activism including the support of any green operation is of great importance. Besides, we borrow this world from the next generation! Go green and active then!

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