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.
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.