25 Apr
2016

Step Away From The Light

This is by way of some background into why I have cancelled my standing order to pay national Green Party subs and am allowing my membership to lapse (a soft resign)

I have been a member of the Green Party (GP) for something over 10 years now. During that time I have been actively involved at local, regional and national level both standing for public elections and also in behind the scenes roles at every level.

I have met many impressive, dedicated, thoughtful, honest, true, full hearted and likeable people some of whom I have been proud to count as friends and colleagues.

I originally joined having come to a point in life to make a conscious decision to get involved in real world action in support of long standing (since at least 1970) ecological concerns.

Fundamental to this was an awareness that living a lifestyle that requires the resources of three or more planets to support it is quite simply not a sustainable option. Furthermore it is no longer going to be some future generation’s problem to deal with the consequences – the impact will be during my lifetime, and likely result in a premature termination.

One-planet is all we have, our way of living must match that.

I looked at various options and after reading the Philosophical Basis (PB) of the GP online (since subject to a seemingly minor change) I decided to join the party and immediately felt at home.

Interestingly it is now quite difficult to find the PB on the GP website – it is buried many clicks deep and with no obvious path to it – almost as if it is something we are trying to hide. Someone like I was 10 years ago wanting to find out what we stand for today would find it quite difficult. This is perhaps a symptom of a deeper shift in the party that has increasingly worried me and leads to my current situation.

Many factors have contributed to this shift – most obviously the change from No-Leaders to an elected leader – a change which I supported at the time, but which now I feel managed to loose something important in the transition. Likewise the increasing desire to present a professional image as a serious political party, whilst being quite understandable has also tended to shift our presentation so that it is more accepting of the status quo and working within existing power structures. A form of self censorship develops whereby one doesn’t say what one thinks for fear of it being seen as too far out – this is deeply dishonest and also does a dis-service to those we seek to bring on board with the Green agenda.

There is a strong technocratic-utopian thread to much current light-green thinking which is in the ascendant in the party. A failure to confront the cognitive dissonance implicit in believing that single-vision science and technological solutions will somehow pave the way to a green future where we will all drive renewable electric vehicles to fulfilling full-time jobs with fair-trade mobile communicators in our pockets and eating mass-produced organic food in our passiv-houses.

Essentially the GP has become irredemably reformist, even as the viability of a reformist approach to radical change is becoming ever less plausible.

For me the primary role of the GP is to use political levers to drive firmly in the direction of one-planet living. Anything else must be secondary and supportive of this primary objective.

Two issues arise – firstly whether it is even possible in our current  social, cultural and democratic situation to overcome the neo-liberal capitalist corporate pressure to consume ever more (growthism) using purely political means. Secondly, if that is possible then can a result (a one-planet lifestyle for the UK as a whole) be delivered in a timescale that meets the requirements of natural ecosystem changes now in train.

Back in 1976 the answers to both questions were probably yes. By 2006 when I finally got around to deciding to try and help practically I was able to convince myself that it might still be possible; no longer easy, but worth a try.

Today the answer to the second question looks like a definite No. Could a green government be swept to power in 2020? 2025? 2030? Of course it could … but would you bet your life on it? I would not, but that is what I am being asked to do by pursing green political change. Peak oil has passed, peak everything else is on the horizon, it looks like 1.5deg warming is now baked into the mix and 2deg+ will be inevitable very soon, what looks like a mass-extinction event is well underway…

Is it possible within our corporate capital controlled economic and social system to persuade those in charge to reverse the direction and pursue a course of de-growth from a 3+ planet collective consumption to single planet living? Maybe a collective seeing of the light might happen, a collective road to Damascus moment amongst the 1%. But even then can we be sure that anyone actually has that level of control? Isn’t it more likely that even the plutocracy, the 1%, are trapped in a system that they do not actually control. They do what they do because that is what they do and it is no easier for them to change the system from within than it is for political pressure to bring about a change.

Thus the answer to the first question also seems to be a No.

We are trapped in a prison of our own devis[ing]. (Jim Morrison). In every face the mind forg’d manacles I see. (William Blake). How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads? (Plato)

The nature of our democracy is such the although the electorate imagine that they are giving their representatives powers, in practice this is an illusion.

Parish and town councils have very little real power over what happens in their area. Their opinions as statutory consultees on planning matters are routinely ignored. The parameters they can use in defining neighbourhood plans are grossly constrained to fit the growthist agenda. Of course if they happen to own their hall, or car park, or parks and recreation grounds they can manage them – but that’s about it.

District and County councillors find that even if they are in the majority group “running” the council, it is the cabinet who actually make the decisions – and cabinet members almost always follow officers’ and legal advice. Officers’ advice is constrained by their perception of what is possible in dealing with the forces of developers and business interests. Councillors are abstracted from power.

MPs have little real power – they have notional ability to scrutinise through select committees and raise issues on the floor of the house through private members’ bills, EDMs, opposition day debates and so on. The real power may seem to lie in the cabinet and with senior civil servants, but in practice it is even further removed from the electorate than that. Power is distributed amongst the plutocracy of large corporate interests, the extremely wealthy and the traditional establishment. Individuals may come and go within these circles and over time the direction may change slowly but essentially power supports the status quo.

Political change, and especially radical political change implicit in the green agenda for one planet living, takes a long time to work its way through these systems. It requires generational change in the individuals who comprise the power structures. For example it was only when the generation of the children or even grandchildren of those who were present at the birth of the labour movement where in positions of power (by that I do not mean literally the children of early socialists, many of the enablers of these changes would have been the children of the right wing but who had grown up in a culture where left wing ideas were starting to be expressed and so became open to change) that dramatic changes like the creation of the NHS and the whole post WW2 Labour programme became possible.

In the same way we can imagine that only when our children and grandchildren’s generations start to inherit access to the real levers of power will radical green ideas be actualised.

During the last ten years we have achieved nothing positive on the ground; we may have sprinkled some sand in the path of the industrial-capitalist juggernaut, but this has barely perceptibly altered the acceleration along a path that ends in the immoveable brick wall of limits to growth.

Worse than that, we have almost completely withdrawn from considering radical solutions, except in big abstract arenas where there is little hope of having to enact them, in favour of pursuing an incremental reformist agenda that is completely out of kilter with the time-scales now being imposed by the natural world’s response to human activity.

The strong thread of eco-anarchist deep green principles that was still visible in the GP 10 years ago has been increasingly marginalised and eroded as the party has focused on delivering a anthropocentric vision of an eco-technic future that will not frighten the voters. This is coupled with a shift in priorities so that human rights have come to be seen as an end in themselves rather than a component of a dynamic relationship with the natural world and its ecosystems on which we depend. Who dares talk today about issues of over-population or even over-consumption, let alone impacts of migration and consequential cultural shifts.

In plain terms the head has come to dominate the heart or soul of deep green feeling and the practical hands-on approach of living lightly on the world.

In the world the warnings of the watchers, the scientists with the deepest understanding of how the natural world works, are becoming increasingly strident. Even when toned down for pragmatic reasons like getting research funding or being politically acceptable the alarm bells are sounding clearly.

What I saw in Paris in December, and what I have read and experienced since, simply does not allow me to believe that we can wait until 2030 to start to make progress. Everyone in the green movement and in the relevant scientific circles knows this, but we seldom admit it even to each other. We must become more honest and open about the difficulties we face and their consequences. Pursuing a conventional green political agenda within our existing structures is no longer a viable option (even if it was in 2006). In fact it is counter-productive because it inhibits starting an honest discussion about the state of things.

If history teaches us anything it is that things move in cycles, they rise and fall just as life involves birth, growth, death and decay. We have lived through the peak of the cycle of a (nearly) global industrial civilization. The first such that we know of on this planet (although we know nothing of civilizations that may have preceded the dinosaurs). Like all civilizations this one will decline and fall, and ever since we became aware of the limits to growth (lets say in 1972) we have known that the tide will turn and the timescale on which the great turning will play out.

Now is no longer the time for Politics, now is the time to prepare for the end of politics and the resumption of history.

Like a moth dancing around a flame, the GP appears obsessed with becoming a part of the very power structures which will destroy it. Our Icarus moment surely approaches and it is time to step away from the light before it is too late and it consumes us all.

RogerCO, April 2016

One thought on “Step Away From The Light

  1. Thank you for posting this very thoughtful piece, Roger. As someone who concluded in the early seventies that engaging with mainstream politics was already a lost cause – and subsequently spent half a lifetime working in green organisations maintaining that it was not quite – I found it quietly provocative.

    The boundaries between the personal and the political spheres of our lives as human beings has long interested me, partly because they barely exist, as such : they are so permeable, complex and porous, more continua than edges. Yet I think you have decided to pass through one – or from one form of politics to another, the mainstream to the personal. I especially like your phrasing about the ‘ end of politics’ and the ‘resumption of history’, because it captures the significance of the change you are making so well, yet it is an illusion. History cannot be resumed, it has and does continue; and our politics will not end, until humanity itself expires………it is like you are shifting the focus of what you do in your own life away from the shifting winds of ‘politics’ and into the somewhat steadier jetstream currents of ‘history’.

    Perhaps I find this piece provocative because it has made me realise that I have spent quite a while on this same borderline, partly in the wind and partly in the jetstream, and it is time for me also to navigate more determinedly into one or the other.

    I am glad you are staying in touch.

    Richard

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