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.

10 comments:

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

http://archive.boston.com/travel/articles/2004/11/07/new_zealand_at_a_crossroads/

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.