So on Thursday I’ll go and cast a vote in a fairly pointless, in the ecological scheme of things, decision about whether the UK should remain part of a regional capitalist market organisation dedicated to promoting never ending economic growth, or whether it should leave, not to turn its back on capitalism but to forge its own brand of participation in the global capitalistic project “free” from the constraints imposed by levelling across the European field. Or that’s how the two official in and out campaigns appear to see it once you strip away the corrosive fear mongering that has characterised the entire campaign.
Bizarrely most political Greenies and many of those on the non-radical left appear to have been taken in by the fear and ad hominem arguments and have hitched their wagon to the train of regional economic growth ignoring the inevitable degradation of the environment, increase in inequality, and subjugation of the many by the few that is baked in to the European Union in its very DNA.
They appear to think that by staying in they can influence the direction of travel towards “reform” and point to such “successes” as the Paris Climate Talks (an abject failure in ecological terms), environmental and social protection regulations (many of which are watered down versions of what the UK had independently) and so on.
To reform an organisation that is fundamentally a capitalist growth engine, so that it respects ecological limits and exists in harmony with the complex dynamics of the whole biosphere and earth system is to actually seek to destroy the organisation from within. A noble aim, but hardly one which the organisation is going to allow to happen without a massive struggle (and a struggle which will be heavily weighted in favour of the status quo), or which is realistically achievable on less than a multi-generation timescale.
From an ecological perspective in the situation of not only climate emergency but also ecological emergency in which we are currently embedded, a vote to stay in the EU is a vote for continuation of capitalist business as usual and fiddling whilst most life on the planet (including our own) burns.
I surely do not need to set out the detail of the multiple, multiplying crises which are engulfing humanity’s habitat within the biosphere – if you don’t accept these as defining characteristics of the current situation then you need to go and do some reading before you take any action – including voting.
The only thing that a “green” vote to stay in Europe can achieve is to continue to pour massive amounts of good concerned citizens time and energy into a tinkering with the edge symptoms of our predicament and prevent effective action on the core problems – one of which is the incompatibility of industrial capitalism with a finite biosphere and the need to live within it, not on it.
So if not in, then what?
Rupert Read made a cogent case for rejection of the whole fake question by “improving” the ballot paper so as to register one’s dissatisfaction both with the false dichotomy offered by the campaigns and the irrelevance of the question. Although I had some sympathy with this, and am normally very happy to vote RON, or to actively abstain in an election if I think there is no suitable candidate standing, in a referendum I am not sure that standing aside makes any sense.
It may be the wrong question, and the arguments for both sides may be based on wrong premises, but it is the only question on offer and there should be a morally satisfying answer that doesn’t depend on endorsing either of the “sides” seeking to persuade on the basis of good old FUD.
Rupert has lately shifted his position back to endorsing the stay camp. Not because he thinks that the remain arguments are any good – “I’ve been deeply unimpressed with most of the Remain campaign” – but because he doesn’t like the people leading the Out campaign and feels that to abstain (or presumably to vote out) in these circumstances is to “reward their rhetoric”. So from a position of condemning the whole referendum as being based on purely internal Tory party divisions, he has moved to a position of endorsing one faction of Tories against the other.
The whole point here is that the question of whether or not Britain should remain in the EU has perfectly good answers that are not based on Tory ideology of any flavour. To make your answer to the question solely on the basis of the Tory picture is to accept their premises – the premise that industrial capitalism is the way forward for the world, the premise that continuing growth for ever is a good idea, the premise that in essence nature is something apart from humankind that we have a right to exploit and control for our own benefit, or for the benefit of some of us at the expense of others.
In essence Rupert is endorsing tactical negative voting – voting to keep the bad guy or idea out, rather than voting for what you actually believe in.
Of course it is difficult in this case because there is only a binary choice, and no way to discriminate between an anti-immigration leave vote or an anti-capitalist leave vote. No way to discriminate between a pro-de-growth stay vote or a pro-growth stay vote.
As I outlined above remaining part of the EU and reforming it from within so that it is transformed from an essentially pro-business institution into one which puts defending the biosphere and re-integrating humanity into its place within the whole ecosystem at the centre of its agendas is not something that seems at all likely.
Even if it was possible to achieve that outcome would it be effective? Is ecological morality something that can be imposed on a reluctant population? Doesn’t it actually have to come from the bottom up, to be embedded in the cultural narrative, to be part of our shared mythology, respected and revered freely by all people? That is not an easy or short term project. It can be achieved because we’ve been there before. It is only relatively recently that law has supplanted morality as our guiding narrative.
But today we face an emergency, a critical situation, and it is essential to stop our industrial behemoth before it destroys our habitat. We probably have less than 20 years to do this, and possibly less than 10. Can the EU be turned around by reform from within in less than 20 years?
If we vote to leave then it seems likely that at least two things ensue. Firstly a shock is applied to the capitalist market system – the effects of this shock are unknown, it may cause the whole thing to blow up, or more likely it’ll be a small judder which might dislodge a stone somewhere that could start an avalanche but may have no lasting effect. Secondly there may be a short term rise in social disorder and unpleasantness as the initial political ramifications work through the system. However this disruption represents an opportunity – an opportunity that may be seized by forces of reaction, but an opportunity that is also open to others…
In the current ecological emergency I cannot see any eco-green case for voting to stay in the EU, but I can see an eco-green case for voting out. Given the unpleasant nature of some of the leave arguments doesn’t it become even more important for genuine eco-greens to put their money where their mouth is and vote to leave so that there are alternative voices to be heard in the new post leave situation.