Tuesday 11 January 2022

News From Nowhere: If the Greens are to have a future, then they must listen to their past.

Taking Inspiration From The Past: Clio, the Muse of History, is traditionally depicted perusing the book of humanity’s past glories. At need, however, she will put down her book and take up a sword. Never has that need been greater. Only when we remember who we are, where we have come from, and what we have achieved, will we find the strength to drive Clio’s liberating sword through neoliberalism’s black and befouling heart.

THE TRAGEDY OF THE GREENS’ corruption by neoliberalism is that they simply cannot grasp how completely they’ve been seduced. At its heart, the problem is one of generational experience and perspective. The younger generation of Greens, the ones currently in control of the organisation, simply have no experiential connection to the zeitgeist out of which their movement was born. Their entire adult lives have been lived in the shadow of the neoliberal revolutions of the 1980s and 90s. What came before the revolution has been dismissed by its architects and disciples as existing outside the realm of common sense. Those who preach the values and aspirations of those pre-revolutionary times offer news from nowhere – and no one is listening.

They could, of course, learn the origin stories of radical environmentalism by entering imaginatively into the historical circumstances out of which it was born. Historians do this all the time. Watch Mary Beard’s television series on Ancient Rome and it will soon become clear how thoroughly an intelligent and inquisitive human-being is able to not only comprehend, but also inhabit, the past. Beard talks of being captured by the history of the Roman world from the moment she read Tacitus’ chilling judgement of his own people: “They make a desert and they call it peace.”

The problem with the generations that have grown up in the 40 years since Thatcher and Reagan destroyed the post-war social-democratic settlement, is that they have been convinced the past has nothing useful to teach them.

Like the early cartographers who wrote “Here Be Monsters” in the blank spaces of their maps, the neoliberal ideologues tell frightening tales about the times before their “Year Zero”. Anxious to dissuade those contemplating their own voyages of historical discovery, they warn that only bad and mad things lie beyond the well-charted shorelines of the present. Sadly, they have been remarkably successful. The past remains one of the very few foreign countries that millennial “influencers” have no interest in visiting – not least because “they do things differently there”.

One of the principal reasons for the neoliberals’ success is that their own ideologically-inspired break with the post-war world was strengthened immeasurably by the natural inclination of young people to dismiss the world in which their elders were raised as hopelessly passé. Ordinarily, such youthful disdain is reserved for the fashions, art and music of the recent past – so lacking in the manifestly superior tastes of the present. What the Neoliberals merged so successfully was this essentially harmless generational scorn with their own deep ideological hostility towards the ideas and institutions of the entire modern era.

When Baby Boomers like Catherine Delahunty and Sue Bradford condemn the younger generations of Greens for abandoning the foundational beliefs and principles of the Green Movement, all these younger Greens hear is an ideological version of “Taylor Swift can’t hold a candle to Joni Mitchell.” Or, “Where is your generation’s “Godfather”? Where’s your “Catcher in the Rye”? Your “Sergeant Pepper”? Social-democracy, the Club of Rome, Rachel Carson, Earth Day 1971: Catherine and Sue might just as well be touting the virtues of a dusty vinyl version of “Greatest Hits of the 1960s and 70s”. 

Okay Boomer.

Lacking a firm grasp of recent history, the generations at the end of the alphabet do not understand that while their parents and grandparents might have laughed at the “RSA Generation’s” stuffy conformism, and marched against nuclear weapons, the Vietnam War and Apartheid sport, they had nothing but admiration for the extraordinary structures of social care which these earlier generations had built. Moreover, they were full of gratitude for the fact that their own lives would be fuller and more prosperous as a result. The Boomers grew up in the shadow of fascism and genocide. They knew what the generation preceding their own had beaten back – and they loved them for it.

Discouraged from accessing the past, the younger Greens will struggle to understand the extraordinary exhilaration of encountering their own movement for the first time. New Zealand was the first nation to encounter a “green” political party. Inspired by the Club of Rome’s “Limits To Growth”, the Values Party spoke, for the first time, of constructing a future guided by humility and restraint. To hear Tony Brunt and his successors talk about limiting economic growth, and expanding the time in which people could simply be themselves, was to envisage a world “beyond tomorrow”. This was news from a somewhere humankind had yet to reach.

Values Party political broadcast from the 1972 General Election.

The worst crime against History which the Neoliberals have committed, however, is to convince young people that the past was a stinking cesspit of privilege, prejudice and oppression. That their ancestors were monsters – wiping out indigenous peoples even as their axes and machines laid waste to the forests, lakes, rivers and streams which had sustained them for millennia. By painting the past as a hellscape of irredeemable horror, the tiny fraction of one percent who lord it over the rest of humanity, Paul Simon’s “loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires”, are robbing us of the means to rescue the future.

Is there horror in the past? Is it full of murder and rapine? Of course it is – but no more than the horror that daily disfigures the present. Nor are evil deeds all that the past has to show us. Amidst the horror there is heroism. Amidst the murder and rapine there is also empathy and courage, creativity and love.

Human-beings do not suffer injustice meekly, they rise against it again and again and again. Down through the centuries reformers and revolutionaries have dreamed dreams and seen visions. Slavery was abolished. Women were enfranchised. Children were removed from coalmines and cotton mills.

When the armed constabulary invaded Parihaka in 1881, not all Pakeha cheered – nowhere near all. In the end, Apartheid fell. Eventually, gay sex was decriminalised. The past is not simply a catalogue of horrors. It is also an endless source of inspiration and hope.

The Neoliberals would shut the younger generations off from that hope and inspiration. The neoliberals would have us believe that this is as good as it gets. They have – almost – convinced James Shaw and Marama Davidson that the future can only be reached with tiny steps. On a warming planet, rapidly running out of time, that is deadly advice.

Catherine and Sue, and all those who stand with them, are right: this is no time for tiny steps. Humankind has made giant leaps before – all the way to the moon. But the booster rockets that push us towards the future are fuelled by the knowledge of what human-beings have achieved in the past.

Clio, the Muse of History, is traditionally depicted perusing the book of humanity’s past glories. At need, however, she will put down her book and take up a sword.

Never has that need been greater.

Only when we remember who we are, where we have come from, and what we have achieved, will we find the strength to drive Clio’s liberating sword through neoliberalism’s black and befouling heart.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 11 January 2022.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Their entire adult lives have been lived in the shadow of the neoliberal revolutions of the 1980s and 90s. "
Let's call it what it was. Social engineering.

ChrisH said...

Vincent O'Malley reproduces some fascinatingly skeptical 1881 newspaper headlines about Parihaka: https://www.meetingplace.nz/2012/11/the-invasion-of-parihaka-5-november.html/

Archduke Piccolo said...

George Santayana's aphorism still holds good: 'Who does not learn from history is condemned to relive it.'

Odysseus said...

The Greens' fractiousness and susceptibility to millenarian cults needs to be understood in terms of their dietary and other personal choices, particularly veganism. It was reported in the Telegraph today a study last year found that vegan men break wind seven times more often than men who eat meat, releasing thousands of tonnes of methane and other noxious gases into the atmosphere every year. The physical discomfort, frequent need to avoid eye contact with others, and the knowledge that you personally are contributing more than your fair share to the extinction of the polar bear must be a terrible burden. It is time we all showed greater understanding and sympathy towards their plight.

sumsuch said...

Yet another time where you crinkle my brow. You, very realistically, have previously said civilized/industrial society ends without oil. I.e. there's no hope.

My opinion is strong governments for the people, and that always involves reality. Anything else is leaving things open for the short-termer rich. I've cut off my mental-case 4 siblings on that basis. Reality killed the Ozzy Labour victory last time, which scared our Labour as shitless as the winter of discontent but unless fact can be made central fiction will kill us sooner.

Barry said...

The incredible ignorance of those under 40 is mind boggling. Its not just the education system but the under 40s seem to have no interest in finding out what happened before they were born. They lack inquisativeness completely.
This applies to single interest group's especially but goes across society as a whole.

John Hurley said...

I Joined the Greens (one year) but soon discovered we were reading from different books.
I disagreed over immigration


Tino rangitiratanga and law and order.

The Values advert (I voted for them /first time/ on the strength of that) is more akin with Winston Peters yet the know all Swarbrick poo-poohed him (The Nation) as racist and xenophobic.

Kit Slater said...

But the Greens are in the revolutionary vanguard of so much change. They don’t just lack a firm grasp of history, they judge it with anachronistic moralising, chronological snobbery, and, to quote Flaubert, it “causes us to slander our own times.”

They’ve taken to heart that by the social engineering of the young with Utopian idealism through Gramsci’s long march, they can override animal instinct. So the malevolent influence of Marxism eschews patriarchy, gender, hypergamy, hierarchy, rank, role, status, territorialism, ingroup support and outgroup threat, competition, dominance, males with careers and females with child-rearing, fairness, and rites of passage.

Only reactive empathy, the greatest of feminine traits, remains.

Is it any surprise that Greens support lowering the voting age to include youngsters with their innate moral authoritarianism, undisciplined messianism, lack of a sense of balance of interest with their self-referential perspective, and lacking the ability to handle ambiguity or complexity? Useful idiots indeed.

The Left in general has adopted neo-liberalism – and won’t let go – for two reasons beyond Chris’ essay on the social-liberal revolution gaining the support of the professional-managerial class. It offers an increasing voter constituency, and takes all the wind out of Nationals policy sails, leaving them bereft of direction. The irony of it all is that ultimately, the Left’s goal is unchanged from that of the overthrow of all existing social conditions, and in particular, capitalism. Seems on course, doesn’t it?

greywarbler said...

BARRY nO INQUISITIVENESS, NO CURIOSITY. tHIS IS THE TELEVISION GENERATION - SITTING IN FRONT OF A BOX THAT SENDS OUT MESSAGES THAT SINK INTO UNCONSCIOUS MINDS LIKE WATER INTO SAND. Sorry about the capitals but I haven't time to retype. Anyway it is an important message - the input is pre-digested so the little birdies, us, can absorb it easily. And it's in colour so goes into memory and gets mixed with the real.

sumsuch said...

Barry, that's my experience. We were bored shitless in our childhood so we had to reach back to roots. And certainly to the politics of the day for sheer entertainment. The young now are diverted to death. The upslope to a cliff has confounded us.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I'm sure you'll correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe in the past you have counted the anti-GMO protests and subsequent passing of the HSNO Act as victories. I think the opposite is true, those were defeats. Those protests were a fore-runner of the current anti-vaxx protests. They were fuelled by similar fears to those of the anti-vaxxers: that "they" are lying to us, while "they" furtively do "unnatural" things to greatly benefit only themselves, and greatly disadvantage "us".

Two things have changed since the HSNO Act was passed: the science has advanced, and covid-19 has struck.

Among the discoveries flowing from widespread rapid genome sequencing is that kumara,like all cultivated sweet potato, are transgenic. Not from any laboratory intervention, but from an aggressive soil bacteria inserting some functioning bacterial genes into the wild ancestor plant. This was before domestication, and some 8,000 years before humans worked out how to use exactly the same trick in the laboratory. So human colonization of these islands has been heavily reliant on a GMO crop from the time kumara were introduced. (Results reported in PNAS in 2015, from researchers who hoped their findings would help public acceptance of trans-genic foods. Unfortunately, like much else in science these days, peer-reviewed papers in reputable publications originating from research centers of excellence get rapidly swamped by the internet).

But where the anti-science flowing from GE Free NZ has really hurt is due to the extra resistance it has generated to pandemic measures, especially vaccines.

The mRNA vaccines are "gene therapy" that will "alter your DNA"? No, they're not, but where did such ideas come from, and how hard is it to overcome them? How much is that causing extra harm to those already justifiably doubtful of those in authority?

The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is a GMO? Well, yes it is, at least according to the scientists who developed it, and the UK regulators who approved it. But not in New Zealand, according to Medsafe, who note on the product safety data sheet that while it is considered a GMO in other jurisdictions, it isn't under New Zealand law! So much for the "win" of the HSNO Act keeping New Zealand free from GMOs!

So my sympathies are with James Shaw, and against the has beens and never will bees, in the Green Party.

As I recall, James Shaw commenting on TV that he was open to being persuaded that genetic engineering could offer something positive to environmental protection was followed by a public challenge to replace him as co-leader. The Green insurgent considered that comment an unforgivable betrayal of Green principle.

I've never previously voted Green, (or supported Greenpeace), because of their anti-scientific, anti-vaxx like, opposition to modern genetic technologies. I do support Forest and Bird, precisely because they're fighting hard for the environment while being open to at least researching genetic technologies.

I think the current Green leadership has the balance about right between conserving what's worked in the past, and acknowledging the need to change with a changing world, especially in the face of both advancing science and the pandemic.

But use the sword ruthlessly to make necessary change possible? The last parliamentarian to do that was Oliver Cromwell. I don't think the Greens have the necessary ruthlessness in them. We actually do need the necessary ruthlessness, but I don't think it will be found in any current Parliamentarian.

(I prefer to comment anonymously because support for science, especially genetic engineering, gets the anti-vaxx reaction. Which is also why I try and avoid social media, and hope I am indeed contributing here in a quieter corner of the internet to a more thoughtful discussion).

Chris Trotter said...

To: Unknown.

You are quite correct, Unknown, I did celebrate the anti-GE victories of the early 2000s.

You are also quite correct in pointing out that these earlier manifestations of the public's deep suspicion of corporate science have unmistakable echoes in the anti-vax protests of today.

In my own defence, I would point to the uses to which corporate giants like Monsanto were putting the science associated with genetic engineering - which were very far from being benign. My argument at the time, and still today, is that it is not science that we need be afraid of, but who owns it, and what they intend to do with it.

Monsanto and Pfizer are both mega-corporations: where they differ is in the extent to which the public good was served by their scientific achievements.

Monsanto engineered "terminator" seeds that were unable to reproduce themselves - denying farmers the ability to set aside "seed corn" for the next crop, and forcing them to buy their product year after year.

Pfizer and the other big pharmaceutical corporations, with billions from governments desperate to protect their populations, charged their scientists with coming up with an effective vaccine against Covid-19 - which they did in record time. Millions of lives were saved.

The only question that really matters (as Lewis Carrol's Humpty-Dumpty so rightly told Alice) is: "Who shall be master?"

Do the Greens have the stomach for mastery? You suspect not, and, once again, I agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris, same Unknown as 26 Jan at 11:30 here.

Thank you for posting my comments,and thank you for your thoughtful reply.

If I can ask a further favour, could you please post this update, including a request?

The update is from a discussion Jesse Mulligan had with a climate scientist on Afternoons (Tue 01 Feb). This was around how climate change denial is akin to anti-vaxx misinformation. Jesse read out a txt I sent as feedback. I suggested if the climate scientists think they've got it bad now, they should try genetic engineering instead. I added I think anti-vaxx and anti-GMO overlap. Jesse demurred, saying he isn't sure that's true. He added, though, that it might be worth further discussion.

Hence my request. To our friends at GE-Free NZ, please respond. Jesse and RNZ, are, I think, generally friendly territory for GE-Free NZ. If not there, could GE-Free NZ at least please update their own website. Why is there no mention of the covid pandemic at all so far? I would especially welcome specific comment on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

I assume GE-Free NZ are, in fact, fundamentally anti-vaxx, based on their previously expressed, consistent strong opposition to GE vacccines.

However, if I am wrong, I would welcome GE-Free NZ explaining publicly why my view is wrong. I would especially appreciate comment specifically on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Chris, if you or any readers are members, friends or supporters of GE-Free NZ, or know someone who is, please encourage them to respond. If you are prepared to host the discussion here, that would be great. If that's not your cup of tea, can GE-Free NZ at least use their own website to explain their views, please.

Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris, it's the same anonymous from 4 Feb at 15:49 here.

There is a further update. GE-Free NZ posted on Facebook on 17 Feb at 19:47 "There is strong opposition to the mandates. The SARS Cov-2 spike protein is isolated from a genetically engineered process. The mandate not allowing choice and COVID-19 emergency legislation must go". This is alongside three photos that appear to be from the Wellington protest.

I suspect that that post may put GE-Free NZ outside the range of opinions that Radio NZ will currently fully cover. If so, that's highly regrettable. I think their backing of a "GE Free" New Zealand brand getting premium prices is an idea that should be openly and freely discussed. I disagree with GE-Free NZ's views, but I welcome open debate. I think that if a majority can be won to the view science can deliver safe and effective vaccines, there is room to win more people to the view science can also deliver safe and nutritious food.