Maybe the greens are doomed after all

datePosted on 13:54, October 1st, 2009 by Lew

That’s greens with a small g, not the party itself, though with reference to this.

Anonymous Coward at The Standard sez:

To put it simply, you cannot be a socialist, a greenie or any kind of progressive and eat meat.

Way to isolate those political movements to the lunatic fringe.

I have myself used a similar rhetorical device before, notably in critique of Chris Trotter’s class-and-only-class dogma. But I didn’t go so far as to insist that people can’t rightly call themselves progressives unless they return their raupatu land to the tangata whenua from whom it was taken (as my family did) — only that they support, rather than hinder the overall agenda of Māori self-determination.

I’m thrilled for people to advocate lifestyle changes on the basis of their political, economic and environmental consequences, and I was right with the AC in their struggle for acceptance of their chosen lifestyle option — until it became clear that if I wasn’t with them, I was against them. It’s important to draw strong distinctions of principle and practice in your political movement, but I surely don’t need to point out the manifest idiocy of setting the bar so high as to consciously exclude four fifths or nine tenths of the population. Including toad!

In short: if them’s the club rules, then count me out, and count ‘most everyone else out as well — it’s your loss, not mine. Perhaps socialism is already marginalised in this way; but environmentalism and progressivism have a future without this sort of damfoolish absolutism. The future of those two political movements lies more with liberalism, as the preeminent philosophical force in modern Western democratic politics, than with the sort of proscriptive authoritarianism evident in that post. If they are to succeed it is with the carrot of willing change, not the stick of forced exclusion.

L

12 Responses to “Maybe the greens are doomed after all”

  1. Eddie Clark on October 1st, 2009 at 14:04

    If they are to succeed it is with the carrot of willing change, not the stick of forced excusion.

    Well of course they’ll use carrots. They’re not exactly going to use steak are they.

    Sorry :P.

    I also agree – it wasn’t “reducing meat consumption can help reduce the environmental impact of farming.” It wasn’t “meat requires inefficient use of land, meaning that not as much food is produced from the same area of land.” Both of these things are true, and it may well be a good idea to think about reducing our meat consumption (for those of us, like me, that eat it).

    It was “you’re a traitor if you eat meat.” Jeez. That’s an ideological purity test worthy of the Republicans.

  2. Lew on October 1st, 2009 at 14:11

    Heh, yeah, I couldn’t resist a pun about bunny food.

    Eddie, that’s the stupidest thing about it all: there are good rational reasons to reduce meat consumption, but these aren’t them. The only thing which most folks will take from it is ‘well, look at that, greenies are totalitarians after all’.

    Epic fail.

    L

  3. Scott Yorke on October 1st, 2009 at 14:24

    Well written. As I posted on that Standard thread, almost everything we do, eat and consume is harmful to the environment in some way. We make compromises to get by.

    If we’re going to be really progressive and green then we’d better all hold our breaths, because all that CO2 we’re exhaling destroys the environment and contributes to global warming.

    (I’m sure there are any number of other reductio ad absurdum arguments I could use to demolish the proposition… But I’ll desist)

  4. Psycho Milt on October 1st, 2009 at 14:57

    This stuff about meat production being an inefficient use of land is written by Americans looking at grain-fed cattle. In this country, meat animals eat grass. If we were better at eating grass than a sheep, or if we had magic crops that would grow everywhere grass will, or if we didn’t mind eating all the waste products of crop production that animals will eat, maybe meat would be a problem. As it stands though, meat looks fine.

  5. Leopold on October 1st, 2009 at 15:18

    Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West was pointing this attitude out in the 1920s: the declime of socialism (and other movements) – that once they had not achieved their goals immediately they began worrying about their diets (and sex activity) – something they could control – I remember him quoting the case of George Bernard Shaw and other Fabians.
    Same with Christianity – whereas Jesus said that it is not which goes into a man which defiles him, but which comes out, the Church soon turned to fasts etc

  6. Draco T Bastard on October 1st, 2009 at 16:45

    In this country, meat animals eat grass.

    Supplemented by hay and other vegetable matter grown elsewhere.

  7. Keir on October 1st, 2009 at 16:48

    Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West was pointing this attitude out in the 1920s: the declime of socialism (and other movements) – that once they had not achieved their goals immediately they began worrying about their diets (and sex activity) – something they could control – I remember him quoting the case of George Bernard Shaw and other Fabians.
    Same with Christianity – whereas Jesus said that it is not which goes into a man which defiles him, but which comes out, the Church soon turned to fasts etc

    Except that was complete bollocks, wasn’t it? I mean, the Fabians got lots of what they wanted reasonably quickly after the 1920’s & hardly `declined’; if the Greens are like the Fabians, then in 30 years time we’re all going to be eating organic food and riding bicycles.

    (And it isn’t like diet & sex crackpottery was particularly fabian: see just about every victorian/edwardian briton.)

  8. Phil Sage on October 1st, 2009 at 17:37

    Supplemented by hay …

    I guess the grass isn’t greener when it is on the other side of the fence in the barn. So hay wouldn’t be grass then.

  9. Psycho.Milt on October 1st, 2009 at 17:47

    …vegetable matter grown elsewhere.

    Yeah, I hear the proportion this supplementary feed makes up can hit a whopping several percent. And of this vegetable matter grown elsewhere, how much of it consists of the already-mentioned “waste products of crop production?”

  10. What would Hayek say on October 2nd, 2009 at 08:20

    Lew – I’m really interested in your comment:

    “Perhaps socialism is already marginalised in this way; but environmentalism and progressivism have a future without this sort of damfoolish absolutism. The future of those two political movements lies more with liberalism, as the preeminent philosophical force in modern Western democratic politics, than with the sort of proscriptive authoritarianism evident in that post.”

    Are you able to do a post providing your description/definition of what progressivism is within the western liberal philosophical tradition?

    I see socialism as a dead-end political path and environmentalism as a short term malthusian issue that is the current zeitgist like millenialism has been in the past.

    But I am genuinely interested in what your progressive political philosophy would look like. Are we talking a keynesian approach to the role of govt in the economy, maybe a bit of behavioral economics (Nudge) with a wider view that providing the greatest amount of personal freedom (marriage, sex, political belief, association etc) or something else?

  11. Lew on October 5th, 2009 at 13:48

    WWHS, I think I will write a post on it. I have done a lot of thinking about it, but don’t have time at present to do it justice. At the moment, without definition it runs the risk of becoming a propaganda term (such as when Chris Trotter and I bickered over its use recently).

    I will say that I think you misunderestimate environmentalism, though. From my read the Malthusian crisis isn’t something you solve once and it goes away — you have to keep re-solving it and re-solving it, otherwise it solves itself, and I think everyone agrees that would be suboptimal.

    Thanks for the, erm, nudge, anyway. I’ll pull my thoughts together when I can.

    L

  12. What would Hayek say on October 6th, 2009 at 08:37

    Lew – I look forward to it – seriously. I hope you will find the time to do it justice (remember as a new dad there are far more important priorities).

    I am interested in the discussion, liberalism is a core tenant of my political/philosophical make up (generally could be defined as a social and economic liberal). The debate of how we support and improve a liberal democratic society is important.

    I tend to dismiss the malthusian greens, because they are yet to learn the lessons of ‘increasing returns’ through scale and technology (i.e. division of labour (or capital equipment/investment makes it easier/faster to produce x widgets per hour and technology (education, innovation) works to find substitutes for scarce goods/services). Malthusians just see population increase and assume a given supply of goods/services. The reality is improving technology/education allows us to expand the supply of goods/services at rates higher the population increase.

    If you have time I recommend you look at the work of Paul Romer, this link provides a good intro and then links to his major work on economic growth (http://alaskakid.wordpress.com/2009/05/08/paul-m-romer-05-08-09-economist-of-the-day-stanford-university/) in particular you might want to read the paper Endogenous Technological Change. Alternatively you may want to read ‘knowledge and the wealth of nations” by David Warsh – the follwing link is to a review of the book by Paul Krugman http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/07/books/review/07krugman.html which provides good overview/summary of the book. Although Krugman has some minor quibbles because his personal interests values other area of economics higher (trade theory), otherwise a very good write up.

    Good luck

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