Thursday 28 July 2022

Tu Ingrate Vireta!* Stabbing The Green Caesar.

Struck Down: As James Shaw saved the pure Greens from themselves in 2017, they resented him. As he secured the Climate Change portfolio for his party, they suspected him. As he achieved cross-party support for crucial climate change legislation, they condemned him. And, as he was white, and male, and straight, and admired by a clear majority of Green Party members – as well, unforgivably, as the Prime Minister herself – they slew him with 29 daggers.

WHAT ARE THE GREENS telling us when they allow 29 people to overrule the wishes of 71 people? In essence, they are telling us that, in their political party, minorities count for more than majorities. Or, to put it more bluntly, the Greens are telling us they do not believe in democracy.

For those who look back fondly on the co-leadership of Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons, the Greens’ antipathy to democracy will be hard to accept. The Green Party they remember seemed very much a party of human rights and freedom, and its consensus-based decision-making process struck many as the epitome of political inclusiveness. Masking the fact that making decisions this way  actually disempowers people, stands among Rod’s and Jeanette’s most important contributions to the Green Party’s electoral viability.

How much harder it would have been for their party to crest the 5 percent threshold if Rod and Jeanette had openly repudiated traditional democratic decision-making processes. “We believe in allowing minorities to overrule majorities” is hardly an election-winning slogan!

The Greens’ anti-democratic instincts constitute one of the more important reasons why they have never allowed themselves to become a mass party with tens-of-thousands of members. And it’s odd, isn’t it, that they haven’t? When you think of the huge numbers of young people eager to do all they can to rescue the planet from disaster; or the scientists desperate to make themselves heard; or the workers keen to stop contributing to the despoilation of the natural environment; it’s astonishing that the Greens are not, far-and-away, New Zealand’s largest political party.

What is it, then, that leads the Greens to believe – like Lenin’s Bolsheviks – that “fewer, but better” is the way to go? The answer is brutally simple: a mass party, in which everyone has an equal say, and policy reflects the will of the majority; is a party whose ideological purity will very soon be compromised, and its political priorities side-tracked, by people with “unacceptable” ideas. Bluntly, Ecologism and Populism do not mix.

Those who join the Greens do not enter an open party, with simple, practical structures, but a strangely opaque organisation whose rules and rulers are hard to find and difficult to understand. It is a party of initiates who assess, rather than welcome, newcomers. How likely are these newbies to measure-up to the ideological and procedural strictures of the Greens? Will they be disruptive? Will they challenge the party’s precepts? Are they racists, sexists, homophobes, transphobes, and/or Islamophobes? Do they know what it means to be te Tiriti centric? Are they familiar with the jargon and buzz-words of the contemporary Left? What are their pronouns?

How many meetings will an ordinary person, keen to fight climate change, attend before people of indeterminate gender, with purple hair, talking menacingly of heteronormative white privilege, convince them that it might be wiser, and more enjoyable, to be a Green Party member who “works from home”. One? Two? Assuming, of course, they don’t decide they’d be better off getting involved in some other – any other – political party?

Fewer, but better?

Even the saintly Jeanette Fitzsimons had her Leninist side. I well recall an old time ecologist, one of those who fought to “Save Manapouri”, approaching me with a bitter tale of intolerance and exclusion. Unconvinced by Catherine Delahunty’s interpretation of the te Tiriti o Waitangi and its meaning, this Green Party member had argued for a more nuanced Treaty policy. Fatal mistake. When he put his name forward for the Party List he was informed bluntly by Jeanette that his views on the Treaty made him unfit to carry the Green banner into an election. His name was not even allowed to go forward to be ranked by the members – lest a lifetime of contributions to environmental politics prompted too many of them to overlook his “racism”.

To be accepted into the body of the Green Church, one must be willing and able to recite its catechism word perfect – and without demur.

This is the critical political weakness of the Greens – their unwillingness to repose the ultimate determinative power of their movement in the collective judgement of their party’s members. In the inner sanctum of the Green temple burn four torches: Ecological Wisdom, Social Responsibility, Appropriate Decision-Making, and Non-Violence. Their sacred flames are tended by priests and priestesses whose manner of induction remains mysterious, but whose powers extend even to striking down a co-leader, should his dedication to the party’s guiding lights be deemed insufficient.

As James Shaw saved these pure Greens from themselves in 2017, they resented him. As he secured the Climate Change portfolio for his party, they suspected him. As he achieved cross-party support for crucial climate change legislation, they condemned him. And, as he was white, and male, and straight, and admired by a clear majority of Green Party members – as well, unforgivably, as the Prime Minister herself – they slew him with 29 daggers.

And the 71 daggers, whose owners supported this Green Caesar, were powerless to defend him.

Because, whatever else the Greens may be – they are not democrats.

* You ungrateful Greens!

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 28 July 2022.


David George said...

Thank you, Chris, for the insight into the Greens. It seems to me that there is, at root, a fundamental ideological contradiction that roils the Greens, that perhaps explains the ructions.

They have, on the one hand, a belief in the supremacy of the individual, their feelings above reality itself - witness their obsession with the trans insanity. You are what you think you are - biological reality be damned. Perversely they have elevated group identity and collective action to the highest value while devaluing the role of the individual within the collective.
They seem unable or unwilling to reconcile those contradictions. I suspect there is an ideologically possessed totalitarian element within the party that is overrunning the hippy/eco/libertarian faction - as tends to happen. Hopefully, the whole thing falls apart.

Archduke Piccolo said...

I haven't much thought about it before, but I think this article pretty much reminds me why I have never in my life joined a political party, or become a member of any formal 'movement'. Sure, I vote, and in what I consider to be a good cause, I'll even walk the street with a large crowd (so long as I can stay on the edge), possibly even holding a sign.

The problem with such things is that the more liberal (small 'l') the party, organisation, or movement, the easier it is for to hijack. The whole of the 20th Century is (inter alia) a history of the hijacking of the Left by self-seekers, zealots, fanatics and tyrants.

I recall during a meeting of the 'Occupy' movement in Christchurch (this was 10 years back), murmuring that what I was hearing from the panel up front, and from some of the more vocal in the body of meeting, sounded a whole lot like a hijack (don't ask me now what was being proposed). It was heard, and pulled the everyone up short. The tone of the meeting immediately changed into something more inclusive and embracing. So maybe the leadership of Left could use the occasional reminder.

Mark Twain was given to fulminating upon what we now call 'the tyranny of the majority'. He may well even have coined the expression. Fritz Hayek described modern democracies as no more than 'a dictatorship of a temporary majority' - rather optimistically in respect of 'majority', methinks. But a tyranny of a minority is no substitute for either - whether
from the Right or from the Left.

Ion A. Dowman

Anonymous said...

I think David George is onto it. I think there is a deep, and probably now unbridgeable, ideological and generational rift between the hidebound defenders of the One True Faith of Saint Jeanette on the one hand, and those retaining at least some connection to reality on the other (including, but hopefully not limited to, James Shaw).

Just how much one central dogma of the One True Faith of Saint Jeanette has fallen on hard times is shown by some of the coverage in OrganicNZ magazine. They (unsurprisingly) want to reactivate the GE free movement. They feel a response is needed to increasing calls, from different quarters, to review the GE laws. They want to continue to keep GE out of food. As part of this, they have published a review of past GE activism. Funnily enough, their review does NOT include GE-Free NZ going full anti-vaxx, and joining in the delusional anti-vaxx circus outside parliament.

Indeed, in contrast, OrganicNZ have covered the organic growers who chose to accept the Pfizer vaccine, in spite of considering it GE (which it isn't, IMHO). However reluctantly, and however much resenting the mandates, some chose to nevertheless protect themselves, their families, their businesses and their communities by being vaccinated. I think they did the right thing, and should be applauded and thanked for it, especially when their beliefs made it hard for them.

However, OrganicNZ are now too late to keep GE out of food in New Zealand. That ship has arrived, been unloaded, and the food has been distributed. The Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods is here, at some burger places, or to take home from Countdown supermarkets. No protest marches, no pickets, no court cases. Just read the label, and decide for yourself. (And yes, it really does taste just like beef, in spite of being 100% plant based).

What James Shaw has that has gotten him into such trouble is the intellectual honesty to accept he can't both ask people to follow the science on climate change, and to then ignore the science on genetic technologies, especially when it comes to vaccines. Consistent and rigorous thinking like that seems like unforgivable heresy to the ardent followers of the One True Faith of Saint Jeanette. I applaud James Shaw for this, and wish him well. Which is probably about as welcome and helpful to him at the moment as praise from Christopher Luxon and Jacinda Adern.

The Barron said...

While Green Caesar sounds like a salad, it seems anything but salad days.

The Greens have never quite worked out whether they are a political party (governmental or oppositional), a political movement(s), a social movement(s), a lobby group, collectivist, individual, minority report, majority report, conspiracists, realists, or just plain old
archaic progressives.

There are few Green Party members and supporters I dislike individually. The problem is when you let them communicate with each other you get all the swirl of identities above. Then they take turns stabbing Caesar 23 times with lettuce leaves.

Alan said...

Very interesting..

Way back in the earliest days of the Alliance, of which the newly minted Greens were a part, we found they welcomed the throw-weight that being part of the Alliance offered, but wanted their own identity for then then local body elections. The internal ructions from that were very damaging here in the time left when the Greens were in the Alliance.

I remember from that time the comment from one frustrated comrade: "If it lays eggs, spins webs, or blows bubbles, the Greens will be all over it. If it has two legs and is dying of disease or hunger it won't get a look in." There was more than a kernel of truth in that here.

That dichotomy may not have been as strong elsewhere within the Greens as it was here, but it was a weakness that seemingly failed to recognise the utterly central importance of human economic and political activity in the rapidly developing environmental disasters which are now on the cusp of engulfing us.

Perhaps the sad thing about those earlier times in the 90s was that the New Labour Party, which had sprung from the Rogernomics betrayals, had a developed Environmental policy, the first of any political party in this country as I recall it. That New Labour position did understand the pivotal role human institutions and reforms would have to play in protecting the environment, not only for whales, but for ourselves too.

Alan Rhodes

greywarbler said...

The Barron What a great comment, so true from what I have experienced. I do enjoy and learn from reading yours, and most of the others who comment here. Thanks for the odd witticism, too.

greywarbler said...

Anonymous at 15.04 Too much superior sneering. Saint Jeanette indeed - a cheap shot from someone whose interest is obviously primarily in money, a symbolic entity, man-made taking over a physical reality, nature-made that offers bounty to all but doesn't guarantee it in the quantities desired.

The Greens are otherwise but unfortunately end up with practicality and proper human concern spread thinner than optimal vegemite which requires care in spreading to get the effect right.

You appear to be soaked in the science which can be used to maximum profit level, by people whose addiction to this thinking, which gradually turns into addiction and often ends in mania, long before alzheimers steps in.

Anonymous said...

To Greywarbler from Anonymous 15:04: Thank you for the science soaked comment. I hope I am, and I take it as a compliment. I like it so much I might even adopt "Science Soaked" as a pen name. May I point out that being science soaked should include being prepared to give the evidence that supports your views, and being prepared to change those views in the light of new evidence. I hope I am so science soaked that I can do that. If, or how well, I can is for others to judge.

Thank you also for your expression of support for "nature-made that offers bounty to all". That's as neat an expression of the naturalistic fallacy as I've seen anywhere.

The trouble is, if humanity relied solely on "natures bounty", we would still be hunter gatherers, and there would be far, far fewer of us spending far, far more of our time just finding food.

All agriculture is unnatural, as well as also being the indispensable base for all other culture.

I'm a science soaked supporter of the original Green Revolution, the science soaked one of the '60s and '70s. That involved improved crop varieties (all by traditional breeding, no GMO's back then), and synthetic fertilizers. It headed off the predicted famines that were expected to occurr without it. Was it perfect? No, but nothing ever is. Yes, too generous government subsidies often meant overuse of fertilizers, and of water for irrigation. But the government of India, among many others, judged that dealing with these problems was very much preferable to dealing with famine.

Unfortunately, the government of Sri Lanka decided in 2021 to go with relying on nature's bounty, instead of continuing with the Green Revolution. They banned all imports of synthetic fertilizer and agrochemicals. They planned to go 100% organic overnight. They ignored the science soaked advice predicting the catastrophic failure of agricultural production that followed. We have seen the dreadful consequences that have unfolded since.

My disrespect for Saint Jeanette is mainly because of her use of science-denial, exaggeration, distortion, outright lies and fearmongering in the anti-genetic engineering campaign that was a key part of her "brand". Why be honest when dishonesty keeps the support, donations, and votes flowing? It's always easier and more immediately politically productive to scare people than to educate them. The GE free campaign was a forerunner of, and a lead into, the science-denying anti-vaxx movement, a movement that GE-Free NZ in turn has now fully embraced. I suspect Saint Jeanette would have been consistent, and also run away to join the anti-vaxx circus, and that's also what those standing with her legacy within the Greens now actually want to do.

Anonymous said...

The Borg

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris, "Science soaked" Anonymous here again. If you will be kind enough to indulge me, I'll expand a little on why I think the anti-GE movement was (and the remnants still are) science deniers.

I've read Gareth Hughes' biography of Jeanette Fitzsimons, with great interest. It is, as you would expect, a very sympathetic treatment. I think Gareth sees as a strength, not a weakness, a steely determination to never sacrifice principles. Better to remain outside Cabinet, even to risk losing parliamentary representation altogether, rather than any compromise of any principles. Whether that is in fact a strength, or rather a weakness, is is the question at the heart of the problems currently facing the Greens.

Gareth's bio also reminded me of the centrality of the anti-genetic engineering movement in building
the Green brand, and helping them retain parliamentary seats. There must be a very great reluctance to Jeanettically modify that, at least among the older Greens.

The problem for the old guard is that science, and the world, move on.

The International Potato Centre (CIP, from it's initials in Spanish) in Lima, Peru, is a centre of research and development for potatoes and sweet potato. It's centered near the wild origins of those crops to work with wild relatives, and also works with indigenous peoples cultivating traditional crops.

In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in 2015 a team from CIP published results showing all cultivated sweet potato varieties, including kumara, are transgenic. Sometime before domestication, an aggressive soil bacteria inserted functioning bacterial genes into the sweet potato genome. Nature foreshadowed scientists by some 8,000 years or so in modifying plants this way. The CIP paper described this as a "natural GMO", and expressed the hope the finding would help ressure the public of the safety of GMO foods.

So a peer reviewed paper, in a high impact journal, from an international centre of research excellence that develops improved varieties of crops for the "global South", seeks to reassure people by pointing out that a major food source, including kumara, are "natural GMOs". Used for some 5,000 years or so, generally recognized as safe, no worries here.

Political impact on the Greens position? Zero, of course, because even aknowledgement the results exist, let alone embracing them, would be corrosive to their brand. (And kumara crisps are still labelled "GMO Free", even though I have helpfully tried to point out the error to the manufacturer).

And what of the AstraZeneca viral vector covid-19 vaccine? According to the Oxford scientists who developed it, and the UK regulators who approved it, it's a GMO. According to Medsafe, who approved it here, it's NOT a GMO under New Zealand law. What do the Green "old guard" make of this? Does the New Zealand law need changing to make the vaccine a GMO that needs EPA approval? What effect would that have on vaccine uptake? Has New Zealand lost its "GE Free" status because the vaccine has been used here? If not, what of viral vector animal vaccines? Does use of them mean "GE Free" has gone?

Interestingly enough, Gareth's bio has no listing in the index for "vaccines", so I'm relying on memory. But I think I remember Jeanette Fitzsimons opposing animal viral vector vaccines as unacceptable because they are genetically modified. I would really like to hear what her supporters and defenders think of that. I am open to correction if I have misrepresented Jeanette's actual position, and would welcome clarification. Gareth is on record, while he was Green spokesperson on GE, as saying the Greens welcome a "fact based" discussion on the subject. Fine, I say, let's have exactly that. I suggest we start with a Green response to the CIP results.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris, science soaked anon. again. If you will further indulge me, I'll add a few more facts towards a fact based discussion on GE. I think we're going to have this back on the agenda, either before or after the next general election.

That's because the latest poll results show a Nats plus ACT arrangement could be in power after that. Both are on record as favouring a review of the legislation. I'm picking they probably won't campaign on it, but then realise they've got the numbers to reform the law if they want to, if they do win.

And, if they wish, they can play "now let's be reasonable" on this. They can point out the law is being deemed by the courts to cover technologies not even invented when it was written. At the very least, that deserves a review, surely. They can also reasonably ask the Greens: "You've won us over on the science on climate change, why can't we win you over on the science of modern genetic techniques? Including vaccines? You're for science and vaccines..... aren't you? Your friends in GE-Free NZ are anti-vaxxers, aren't they? Are you still with them, or are you with the science instead?"

The Monsanto bogeyman is running out of puff, too. The demonization of Monsanto as all powerfully evil has been, if not broken, at least badly bent.

Monsanto's dreadful behaviour with dicamba herbicide ready crops is now being deservedly punished in the US. They claimed to have solved the problem of dicamba spray drifting onto neighbouring farms. They hadn't. Their initial reaction to damage on neighbouring farms was "well, you should buy our dicamba ready crops too, then". The courts took a dim view of Monsanto's claims it wasn't responsible for the damage to neighbouring crops. Courts decided the damage would not have happened without Monsanto's actions, and awarded the neighbours compensation at Monsanto's expense.
(Or rather Bayer CropScience, which took over Monsanto's liabilities as well as its assets in an acquisition. Bayer retired the Monsanto brand, too. March against Bayer CropScience doesn't have quite the ring of the March against Monsanto, somehow).

US regulators have taken a dim view of Monsanto's dicamba debacle as well. Dicamba will loose US registration after 2025, so the investment in dicamba ready crops will become totally worthless. In the meantime, spraying will be more tightly restricted. Myself, I think the regulators were too lenient. They should have moved faster, but they are still inflicting fully deserved reputational, as well as financial, damage on Monsanto's new owners.

And, on another demonization of Monsanto, we can now be sure of the number of farmers who ever bought so called "terminator" seeds off Monsanto. The ones that grow into plants that only bear sterile seeds, so farmers have to buy new seeds off Monsanto each season. The total number of such farmers is zero.

Monsanto acquired a patent for what, technically, are Genetic Use Restriction Technologies, or GURTs, in the takeover of another company. As part of the acquisition being allowed, Monsanto agreed it would not commercialize that technology. They never did, and the patent expired in 2015. Being Monsanto, they had teams of lawyers aggressively pursuing any infringement of their patents or use agreements, but such infringements remained possible because farmers could save their seeds. (The lawyers were probably quietly grateful their employer didn't use the technology to do away with their jobs. The management must have considered saving money on lawyers by using the technology a very tempting prospect. But they never did.)

And there may be beneficial uses of GURTs. If exotic pine plantations in New Zealand had only sterile seeds, the wilding pine problem wouldn't exist. That's the sort of possibility now putting GE back on the agenda, I think.