Riding the greenwave

An earthquake appears to be afflicting the politics of the UK at the moment, somewhat like the radical changes occurring in Greece and elsewhere. As we run up to a General Election in May, parties that were formerly marginalised by the First Past the Post electoral system – UKIP and the Greens – are now polling about 10% each and threatening the main parties from both the left and the right. Yesterday the Green Party’s membership passed 50,000 – one of which is me from when I joined a few days ago. It’s a good time to reassess one’s view of politics, and indeed of the place politics plays in one’s personal life. Old certainties are slipping, and the biggest personal dogma held by many up until now – that what we do will make no difference to an entrenched system – is the biggest one to slip. I think it is primarily the personal recognition of this responsibility that has made me act at last to join a party, for the first time since my brief previous involvement with the Green Party in 1985 or so.Sunflower_(Green_symbol)

I continue to think that the Middle Way itself implies no one particular political ideology or party – not because it is neutral, but because it begins with individual judgement, and the conditions affecting each judgement in each situation are varied. There are, I am convinced, better and worse ways to go politically from wherever you start now, not just equally indifferent options. I can tell you about my experience and the conditions that impel me in one direction, but I cannot prescribe that direction for you. The better direction will be the one that addresses conditions better, from wherever you start, and that avoids dogmatic ideological assumptions and thus reduces impediments to awareness. That will be so whether the ideologies that most tempt you involve socialist caring and equality, conservative rootedness and scepticism, liberal love of freedom or Green concern for the wider environment. You are unlikely to be able to find that direction without dogma unless you really try to understand the alternatives.

For me, however that direction has recently become a lot clearer, and apparently that has also become the case for many others too. I do not agree with every detail of Green Party policy, but my recent process of thought about the acute limitations of growth economics (see previous blog) and reading Tim Jackson’s book ‘Prosperity without Growth’ made the importance of the general direction the Greens are going in doubly important. It is not an easy direction. There is much that is not seriously worked out yet about how a society without growth can work, and how we can navigate the transition to it, but the important point is that this is the only direction that addresses key basic conditions of human society which no other political movements seem to be addressing. If you think creating a sustainable society is difficult, try continuing to live in an unsustainable society for another hundred years or so.

This central requirement is far more important to me than the various reservations I have about the occasional appearance of Green metaphysics. No, I don’t believe in ‘nature’, or holism, or any of these other big dogmatic Green ideas that involve appeals to ultimates. I expect that I will occasionally encounter thinking based on such absolutised abstractions in Green circles as elsewhere, and disagree with it. However, that need not stop me working with those who are largely going in the same direction, and seem to be largely motivated, not by dogmas, but by pressing conditions.

Of course, the Green party also wants other things, such as a citizen’s income, loosening and eventually opening of migration, and abolition of nuclear weapons and big cuts in defence spending. All of these seem to me like obvious ways to address conditions. Above all, if one wants integration in society and the world just as in the individual, one does not achieve this by building walls: whether these are the social walls that exclude benefit claimants from decent compassionate treatment, the walls of fortress Europe that are vainly trying to keep out the African poor, or the walls of nuclear ‘deterrence’. These are walls of repression, not only in the world but in the psyches of those who build them.

More of the same – more tactical voting for parties that will maintain the unsustainable mainstream consensus – is no longer an option for me. That’s not because there’s no case for tactical voting, but just because the reasons for doing so are no longer so important compared to wider conditions. Whatever your political habits at present, I urge you just to think critically about those habits, not just in terms of one or two issues but in terms of the widest possible context of conditions. Whoever you vote for, vote for the Big Picture.

About Robert M Ellis

Robert M Ellis is the founder and chair of the Middle Way Society, and author of a number of books on Middle Way Philosophy, including the introductory 'Migglism' and the more in-depth 'Middle Way Philosophy' series. He has a Christian background, and about 20 years' past experience of practising Buddhism, but it was his Ph.D. studies in Philosophy that set him on the track of developing a systematic account of the Middle Way beyond any specific tradition. He has earned his living mainly by teaching, and more recently by online tutoring.

2 thoughts on “Riding the greenwave

  1. I joined the Green Party around 6 months ago for similar reasons to you, although what actually convinced me was visiting the Vote for Policies website and doing their questionnaire where you choose what you think are the best policies for various areas such as health, foreign policy, the economy, immigration etc. of the six main parties without being told whose policy is which. I found this a really good tool to help me align my values with the party most suited to them. I came out 100% Green! This rather surprised me. I felt the policies I chose were the most pragmatic and sensible and although I had a soft spot for the Greens and voted for them in the past in council and European elections I hadn’t voted for them previously in general elections partly because I had this idea they were a bit wacky and lacked a certain pragmatism. So this was a real eye opener for me and made me decide to join.

    For me, they certainly don’t have all the answers but I think they are asking a lot better questions at the moment than the other parties. I also find them less partisan. For example, when Natalie Bennett was asked recently how she would feel if the other parties started stealing their polices, she said she would be very happy with that. II found this attitude very refreshing. I think essentially the other parties are all fighting over the same bone of materialism (as the way forward) in one way or another and not really addressing the issues of growth, the flawed logic of consumerism and the very notion of what prosperity means. To varying degrees, it’s all pretty much business as usual.

    I feel the Green Party are suggesting another type of world view. One that embraces the complexity and interdependency of our situation and focuses on the idea of human flourishing in a much broader sense than what consumerism offers. This is why I’ve decided to stand up and be counted and I’ve signed up to go out canvassing for them. Gulp!

  2. Hi,

    A bit of a late reply here, but worth mentioning, I think.

    My wife and I have also recently joined the Green Party, partly in response to my results on the Votes for Policies website – which Barry introduced me too – I scored 85% Green/ 15% Labour, which was a surprise to me (I thought that I would fall much more heavily on the side of Labour – who I have always voted for).

    I was also becoming increasingly interested in the Green Party for several other reasons, some of which I feel are worth briefly outlining here.

    I, like many others, have become increasingly disillusioned with the political system and the main political parties. Ideologically, I am quite far from the Conservatives on most issues – if I hear Mr Cameron (or any of his crew) tell me that they will help people that want to Work Hard, Get On, and Do the Right Thing, I am likely to throw something at the Telly – life is not that black and white. I care less about so called benefit ‘scroungers’ than I do about the highly privileged taking advantage of their positions to increase their already massive wealth, at the expense of us all. I am closer to the Liberal Democrats but not sufficiently so to make me switch from voting Labour. Which brings me to the party that I have always supported in the past: whenever I hear Labour members and backbenchers I find my self often in agreement, but the main party, as it stands seems to have no direction – they seem scared to speak out or commit themselves to any issue in a meaningful way and they often criticise the other parties without offering much in the way of solutions. These are brief points and I could go on, but the main point is that I do not have faith in the old two party system any more.

    I am not alone in this and there have been two notable symptoms of the public’s general disenchantment: UKIP and Russell Brand. What I do not want to see at the general election is large numbers of people to thinking that these are the only viable options( if they are not seduced by the main parties). Many will vote UKIP because they speak loudly on issues that concern them. Fine – I am not here to tell anyone how to vote, but what if you do not agree with UKIP? Russell Brand suggests that we should not vote, but engage in direct political action instead. Why can’t we do both? If everybody who holds political views broadly similar to Brand does not vote, then what happens? Might I suggest a Conservative/ UKIP coalition? This worries me. If on the other hand more people vote Green – instead of not voting, then we might see the Greens in some sort of coalition with Labour. This worries me much less. Even without the Greens forming a coalition, just having more Green MP’s in parliament will have a beneficial effect on the political process.

    I, like Robert, do not agree with all of the Greens policies and I have often found the Green movement to be dogmatic on issues such as Nuclear Power – which I generally support in favour of the much more harmful fossil fuels. Happily, since joining I have found that there is a wide, mature and non-dogmatic (in most cases) debate ongoing within the party, on this very issue – they are not as dogmatic as I had assumed.

    The political class probably do need shaking up; UKIP and Brand will rightly form part of this process – but there must be some balance in parliament and I think that the Greens offer the best chance of this – perhaps they also will convince Labour to get their act together in the process.

    Rich

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