What is The Green Party?
That's not an easy question to answer, but here I am, attempting to do so. For the purposes of this blog, I'm going to have keep my answer fairly basic; I'm going to ignore most of the history which precedes the present. This is a dangerous, I know. I'm always one to advocate for the fullest understanding possible, but again, in the interests of brevity (something which I also have a problem with), I'm going to try.
The Green Party arose out of the environmental movement of the 60s and 70s. The environmental movement itself has a pretty interesting history, one which, for the purposes of this discussion, should not be completely ignored. While we like to hold on to the popular view of 60s-style hippy-earth-mother environmentalism, the fact is that the scientific basis for the movement was formulated by academics who didn't really fit this mold. Indeed, we must understand that the environmental movement, in part, evolved out of a desire to keep the world at a sustainable level. Yes, here in North America, environmentalism was also informed by conservationism, but we can not deny that behind the movement there were also those who were primarily concerned about the dreaded spectre of runaway Malthusian population growth, and all of the inherent dangers over-population would bring to our planet.
Even today, I'm sure that many in the Green Party are concerned about the planet's ability to sustain our current population, much less the anticipated population. Population has always been a bit of an elephant in the room of the environmental movement. Ever wonder why? In part, I'm sure it has to do with the fact that the people who have historically been the most interested in population control have also been involved with the eugenics movement, social darwinism, and even fascism. Not exactly the sorts of credentialed ancestors we like to acknowledge. Much better to play up those who were involved with saving wild lands from mining and development.
Yet, a lot of us are here because we really want to save the Earth. We see the current systems we have in place locally, provincially, nationally and internationally, as not doing the best of jobs at achieving this outcome. We are worried about the climate crisis, and our mindset is informed by the over-riding concern that we have not been placing enough value on the environment. Therefore, we are concerned about systems which continue to relegate the environment to being an “afterthought” or a “nice to have”, but certainly not the star of the show.
Our governmental and economic systems in particular have become targets for some greens, and hence we have ended up with Green Parties throughout the world. Other greens wish to continue to focus on local changes, believing that if we continue to think globally and act locally, we can change the world for the better. I think many of us in the Green Party now view that concept as, to put it mildly, rather quaint. Not to undersell acting locally (because I am a major adherent to doing so), but the truth is, without co-operation at higher levels, we absolutely risk venturing into territory where the concept of runaway climate change isn't theoretical, but a reality. The only way to avoid catastrophe is to start reducing our carbon inputs into the atmosphere. Now. Well, yesterday. Local action is good, but really, it can only do so much.
Our Party likes to say that we're not a party of the left or right, but that we're out in front. I subscribe to this point of view, and have fiercely debated it with friends and others. However, the notion that a political party is neither left nor right is a fundamentally problematic one for most Canadians to wrap their heads around. Given our history, our political science classes, our mass media, and just the way in which we've been brought up to think, the notion of left and right is all pervasive. Whether we want to fit into that mold or not, people are going to try to pin us down. All we can do, really, is wriggle.
The reason that we're out in front is because our starting point in any conversation is to boldly challenge the existing systems themselves as being part of the problem. Rather than look for solutions within the existing infrastructure, most Greens would rather dismantle the infrastructure and build something new, recycling what we can of course. Look, I'm not necessarily talking about getting rid of capitalism here and replacing it with something else, but when you look at our policy on income tax reduction and carbon taxation, that to me is a pretty bold, systemic change to the status quo. To some people, when its put that way, our ideas begin to sound revolutionary and more than a little unsettling. Maybe that's why we have a little difficulty in attracting votes.
However, increasingly, people are coming around to our way of thinking about systems, if not about how we think it might be best to change them. Of course people are concerned when they hear about economic collapse, and they see their own incomes being stretched further and further. Maybe they've had to walk away from their homes, or put off seeking higher education. Maybe they've had to start eating less, or buy their clothes secondhand. Or maybe they can't swim at their local beaches any more because of whatever it is that's in the water. Or they can't ride the bus because it's just too darn expensive. Whatever it is, many people are beginning to feel that it's not just one or two things which they are having to adapt to, but something more fundamental. Something like a lifestyle change. And not one which is for the better, from their perspective.
We Greens know that lifestyle changes are going to happen to us all, whether we want them to or not. The only question is, whose terms will these changes be made on, ours or nature's? We want to be able to influence the changes we must make, in order to achieve the best outcomes possible. Unfortunately, change is difficult to sell, except incrementally, and even then there is often friction. But change is going to come whether we want it to or not.
Greens differentiate ourselves from the other political parties in Canada by the fact that we are looking at change as both necessary and an opportunity. Fundamentally, we are in opposition to the status quo. And since the status quo begins and ends with our economy, and specifically with money, that too is our starting point, despite whatever the media or other parties might say by scornfully referring to us as a “one issue” party.
While the Liberals, Conservatives and the NDP continue to mire themselves in trying to make the old systems work, through incremental tweaks which are then often thrown out when the next government comes in, Greens know that we must take bolder action. And quickly, because frankly, we're running out of time. Some may be surprised at my inclusion of the NDP here, but I have to tell you that it was not a mistake. The NDP, which likes to fight for families and the disenfranchised, is really just another monied party. Yes, a lot of what they stand for can be considered “progressive” and even necessary, but when it comes to implementation, we can expect to see, and have seen, NDP governments falter. Although not a corporatist party in the same way that the Liberal and Conservatives are, the NDP looks at the world through a lens which accentuates decent jobs and wages. And while I'm not against good jobs and pay, and while I believe that Canadians should be able to live their lives with dignity, I have to say that the NDP remains a party of the status quo because they will not fight for the complete range of changes we need to make to our governmental, social, and economic systems. They remain content to try to work within these current systems. Yes, there are greens in the NDP, and some of them may even be trying to change that Party's mindset. But as long as the business interests of that party remain the powerbrokers, and here of course I am referring to monied unions, we can't expect the NDP to come out in favour of making the changes to our economic system which must be made if we are going to save the country and the planet.
Anyway, that's how I see it, and I think I know a little bit about what I'm talking about. I know others both within and outside of our Party are going to disagree about some or much of what I've said, and that's ok, I suppose. This blog is just about offering my opinion. But I'd like you to seriously think about what I've just written, about what differentiates the Green Party from the other parties, and about what it means to be Green. I'd like you to think about that because I'm going to take this dialogue now in a completely new direction.
I've looked at what I think the Green Party is all about, and I've discussed superficially where we've come from to arrive where we're at today. To recap: Greens are informed by the knowledge that we need to fundamentally change the systems within which our society functions. Our current governmental, economic and social systems are not addressing the biggest crisis facing humanity, that being climate change. These changes can not be made at local levels only. They require political will and international effort. We can begin the process of change at national and sub-national levels, but ultimately we acknowledge that tackling this issue is going to take a global effort. To achieve a global outcome before it's too late, real work at the political level must begin now. Our current political parties are not offering to make any substantive changes to the systems which we know we must make. Therefore, Greens urge that these establishment parties of the brown economy be discarded by voters at the polls on election day.
In a few earlier blogs, I talked about the rise of right-wing populism, and identified it as another point of view which is offering something akin to system change to voters, however with a significant emphasis on opening up economic systems from government regulation. These types of changes proffered by the ultra-right are not, in fact, changing the system itself, even if they are presented that way. Instead, these changes would lead only to unbridled laissez-faire capitalism, which might be good for some, but not for most.
And that is why the ultra-right populists movements have been partially rejected by a group of people I also blogged about whom I've referred to as being “third siders” and “anti-government”. Neither of these terms do these people justice. However, I'm also reluctant to refer to them as “libertarians”, as this concept is also tainted with laissez-faire approaches to the economy, and the notion that regulations somehow infringe on human rights in just about all cases.
I don't know what the best term is for this group of people whom I'm writing about. I'm sure that someone has coined something which makes sense. From here on in, though, I'm going to refer to them as “Zeitgeisters”, a reference to the internet movie made by Alex Jones, which attempts to explain how many of this groups beliefs are interwoven and connected with one another. I will now try to explain, as best as I can, albeit in a superficial way, what a zeitgeister might think.
A zeitgeister also craves changes to our systems, although the reasons behind the desire are many, and have nothing to do with the coming climate crisis. A zeitgeister has a different view of history than what was on offer in high-school history texts. This movement has really taken off as a result in the communications revolution brought about the internet (and as a result, they are very interested and concerned about net neutrality).
Zeitgeisters are very well informed about current events. These people are paying attention. They like to tell others to “wake up”, and they use the term “sheeple” as a perjorative. They may believe in “conspiracy theories”, and they certainly feel disenfranchised that mainstream points of view are dismissive of them.
Zeitgeisters believe that history is pointing in a single direction, which is all about power and control. In the United States, zeitgeisters perceive the Revolutionary War as a significant success in the battle against tyranny, and as a result, they admire in a very strong way the tenets of their Constitution, which talks about equality and especially freedom. They are concerned that we are headed towards a new age of bondage (and maybe we are already there). They fear a corporate-militarist agenda informs our government's decision making processes, as our governments themselves have been bought and sold and are now only proxies acting on behalf of the corporatists. They believe that a distracted and disinterested public is ultimately giving the world away to the monied elites. They fear the future, and beneath the surface, they probably desire a little revolution too.
However, zeitgeisters are ardent anti-globalists, as they perceive the threat coming from the elites is being handed down by international organizations like the World Trade Organization, and the shadowy Bilderberg Group. Not to mention the United Nations. As a result, and this is crucial for greens and especially Greens, many zeitgeisters also perceive the climate change crisis to be a hoax perpetrated by international organizations and the world's wealthy elite, with the goal of financial gain for the elite, and the loss of sovereignty for nations, and independence and freedom for the masses.
Now, some Greens might scoff at this notion. How would a climate crisis line the wallets of the wealthy? How could global destablization increase one's wealth? Well, it's happened before, and continues to happen today. There are a lot of ways to make money. Some people have always profited when war is declared. When our governments declare war on climate change, guaranteed that there will be some who stand to make a lot of money.
Now, I'm not suggesting that all zeitgeisters are fanatical climate change deniers, but many do doubt that climate change is happening. This may come as a surprise to some of my readers who may have found themselves identifying with the zeitgeist group up until now. I think that zeitgeisters have a couple of problems with the idea of climate change.
First of all, a lot of the information coming out about climate change is happening through international organizations of which zeitgeisters already distrust. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the Nobel Prize-winning IPCC) are considered to be a particularly heinous group, out to dupe the world. In this case, I think that zeitgeisters are a little too quick to shoot the messenger, as I believe that that their real issues regarding global wealth consolidation and losing freedom have more to do with the international response to climate change than with the crisis itself.
Zeitgeisters, who tend to be a little right wing in general, are not keen when leftist tactics are used to silence their voices. A couple of popular leftist tactics used to silence zeitgeisters have to do with declaring them to be (or some of their prominent members to be) either racist or sexist or anti-semitic. Others have to do with insisting that any particular debate is over, and that we need to move on. What the environmental movement has done with the global warming debate is a classic example. We declared the debate to be over, and we moved on. But not everyone did.
Of course, the right also smears zeitgeisters in their own way, by not giving them the time of day, declaring them to be kooks and crackpots, or unpatriotic. To me, this is ironic, as you now see such right-wing demagogues such as Glenn Beck beginning to espouse some of the zeitgeisters thinking now that a Democrat is in the White House. Which leaves many a zeitgeister to wonder just where the hell Glenn Beck and his ilk were when Bush occupied the throne of power. Oh ya: Beck and his buddies were telling them that they weren't really Americans if they questioned the motives of the government. Pishaw.
Combating the Climate Crisis
When crisis rears its head, there are many ways to respond to it. We Greens have been talking about the climate crisis until we've become blue in the face, and we are far from being happy with anything which resembles a response. No doubt, though, one day there will be a “War on Climate”, just as we've had wars on terror, wars on drugs and wars on the ideology of other nations. Most national governments now agree that anthropogenic global warming is happening. Pretty soon they might even all agree that we need to take action on doing something about it. Will we Greens be satisfied then?
Likely we won't be. And that's because the preferred international response already seems to be taking shape. Sure, I guess any response to the crisis is better than what we've had...if it actually achieves its goal of reducing greenhouse gases entering our atmosphere. What's far from clear is whether or not the vehicle to pursue this goal will actually get us to it. Here, of course I am referring to an international cap and trade system.
The European cap and trade system has been in place now for a number of years, and recent studies show that it has not been successful in reducing carbon. What these sorts of systems have been successful at, however, is generating wealth for corporations, and adding to the price of goods purchased by everybody else. Yes, I'm simplifying here, but let's face it: cap and trade isn't going to get us to where we need to be.
But it's only part of the solution, you might say. Yes, of course. But there are other ways of actually reducing carbon in our atmosphere in a meaningful way which don't set up a cumbersome international credits trading scheme which will ultimately line the pockets of the wealthy and potentially make the rest of us poor. A straight tax on carbon would be a much better idea, if other taxes are reduced significantly. In that situation, a purchaser can make a choice based on the true cost of products.
Zeitgeisters have a problem with the international cap and trade system which almost assuredly will be coming our way some day. On this matter I believe that zeitgeisters and Greens can actually find some common ground, even if we come together from two different perspectives. For Zeitgeisters, the issues with cap and trade are obvious: a scheme which enriches the corporate elite at the expense of everybody else is very problematic. For Greens, we should be appalled that time and resources will be devoted to a carbon reduction scheme which really isn't likely to work all that well, and which will succeed in raising prices without any offsets passed on to consumers.
Of course, zeitgeisters likely wouldn't like a carbon tax either, especially if they live in rural areas, where their product choices are limited, particularly for transportation. However, since zeitgeisters tend to understand economics and buy into concepts like peak oil, they are probably more likely to acknowledge that we've got to do something, even if they don't like it.
Zeitgeist and the Tea Party
It might make sense to some that zeitgeisters would be attracted to the anti-government movement south of the border known as the Tea Party. But they're not. That's because the Tea Party really isn't an anti-government movement. From a zeitgeisters perspective, the Tea Party is just another organization acting in the interests of the corporate elite. Since the Tea Party has largely limited itself to addressing issues of taxation (which do resonate with zeitgeisters), and lately with right-wing social policy issues (which often do not resonate with zeitgeisters), the appeal of the Tea Party to zeitgeisters is effectively limited. For example, rather than calling for the system changes which zeitgeisters wish to see occur in order to protect their freedoms, the Tea Party has largely been co-opted by the Republican Party, and it can therefore be assured that repealing Home Land Security legislation which tramples on the tenets of the American Constitution, is not going to happen. Further, zeitgeisters are not fanatics about waging foreign wars either, which many in the Tea Party believe remains necessary in the name of domestic security.
So, the Tea Party in the States equates well with populist movements here in Canada, such as Wild Rose, and which meshes ideologically with the Reform Party minded supporters of the current Conservative government, where does that leave a zeitgeister on the political spectrum? The answer is, not much of anywhere.
Zeitgeisters and the Green Party
Our Party probably has the highest percentage of people who associate themselves with the zeitgeist movement of any party in Canada, even though many in that movement would never support our Party because we believe in climate change and are looking for a global response to it. That's anathema to the core of the zeitgeister cause. However, many in the Green Party obviously share the concerns of zeitgeisters about corporatization, out of control capitalism, globalism, and the increasing gap between the rich and poor. Clearly, there is common ground.
To me, it's a shame that climate change denial has found a home in the zeitgeist movement, not least because now the global warming argument is under attack from the do-nothing globalists and the zeitgeist anti-globalists. Both are now standing in our way of getting at the work we must do at all levels. If zeitgeisters could at least buy into the science behind global warming, and focus their efforts instead on the implementation of the coming war on climate change, we might find ourselves on the same page. It surprises me that zeitgeisters, who like to be well informed, have bought into the rickety arguments of the denial industry. However, given the track record of many of the international organizations which are espousing action on climate change, and their past track records, I shouldn't be so surprised. Remember that the environmental movement in part evolved out of projects to control population, and that even today we have in our midst those who believe there need to be limits set on population growth, sometimes forcible ones.
And this despite the actual demographics which actually show an overall expected decline in population before the end of this century, just after we pass through the baby-boom bulge. As people globally are having fewer and fewer children, the current issues we are experiencing with population might yet sort themselves out. Of course, we'll have a whole new set of issues to deal with in a world of the aged. And of course this all presumes that some other cataclysm doesn't interject itself into the demographic equation, leading to a sudden, sharp crash which many of us are perhaps a little concerned about.
Should the Green Party care about what this “fringe” element, which I've labelled “zeitgeisters” thinks? I believe that we should (just as we should carefully consider most who are out there on the fringes, trying to get heard), but at the same time we need to stay focused on the solutions which we have offered, recognizing that those solutions require global action. While we can't shy away from global solutions, we do need to be concerned about the form which those solutions take. Are they truly going to accomplish the goals that we've set out? Are they really going to benefit the majority of humanity? We need to make sure that our solutions don't simply line the pockets of the rich and force the rest of us to give up our freedoms, whether in the name of security or combating climate change.
This concludes my 3 part series on "third sider" a.k.a "zeitgeisters" and the Green Party. While there is a lot more which can be said regarding common elements and relationships, I think its time for me to move in other directions. I would, however, look forward to hearing the thoughts of others regarding the connections I've written about, whether that's through my blog's comments section or through your own blogs.
Thanks for reading!