When this election was called back in what now feels like 1986, I wrote a short piece for Crikey detailing some reservations I had about the political usefulness of the Greens. In the decades that followed, many persons contacted me both privately and publicly to call me, inter alia, an idiot.
Don’t worry; my feelings aren’t hurt and I learned long ago to translate the strong language of the internet back to its milder intent. I know that “idiot” and “bitter ranting old husk who can’t find a man” are terms of spirited affection, so I shan’t be using this opportunity to talk about how I have been oppressed as-a-woman.
What I shall do, however, is strive to address, internet-vitriol-translator in hand, the two primary criticisms I have received.
The first address concerns my claims about the Greens and social class. Some critics, whom I know will appreciate that it is with fondness they are here referred to as “deluded post-materialists who can’t get their high-income wangs squeezed”, said that I was too free in my association of Greens voters with stylish upcycled furniture and sensitive works of literature.
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While I’ll allow that it is both easy and mean to make fun of Australian people who dress their children in colourful fair trade clothing sewn by machines micro-financed by the World Bank, I will not agree that it is not also accurate. That The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and other wounds of neoliberalism regularly haemorrhage the fact that the Greens do best in some of our most covertly affluent electorates does not make it any less true.
I should point out here that this does not mean that Greens voters are “chardonnay socialists”. First, this category of person lives largely in the imagination of the Murdoch press, where they never keep up with varietal trend. Second, according to my own informal research, Greens voters are much more likely to spend their substantial incomes on beard oil and live juice than any other liquid. Third, there is not much that is reliably socialist about Greens policy or Greens voters. We’ll return to that in a bit.
But not before we take a brief stop at Essential whose survey on social class identification upturns the first of an interesting statistical pair. A Greens voter is more than twice as likely as a major party voter is to identify themselves as having no social class. Then, the May research finds Greens voters significantly more likely than a major party voter to believe that social class still exists in Australia.
So, Greens voters, at 20%, are much more likely than major party voters to consider themselves exempt from a social class hierarchy but quite a bit less likely than major party voters to exempt others from it. In a predominant Greens voter view, others are more likely to be bound by social structure than they are. The Greens voter is more likely one who wishes to represent those-less-fortunate. The Greens voter is less likely to be one of those-less-fortunate.
Of course, those-less-fortunate tend often to also be those less likely to find time for the compassion, itself mutated into a top-down sentiment, so central to Greens voters and so persistent in the language of the party. They are also less likely to find time for deliberation — a disadvantage that, in part, explains why some of those-less-fortunate are likely to cast unfortunate and self-destructive votes, such as “Yes” to Brexit or “Yes” to Trump. Or, just as bad, “Yes” to the Coalition, whose nativism has only been quietened a little by that high-end muffler, Malcolm Turnbull.
Which brings us to the second criticism of the earlier piece: Helen, you’re a racist who doesn’t care about asylum seekers.
I am not going to say “I am not a racist”, because, as we know, the kind of thing one is called on the internet generally bears very little relationship to the kind of thing one is. Also, my moral character is hardly the point in any discussion at any time, but particularly in the days before an election. The question we should be asking is not if I am the sort of husk who doesn’t give a toss for those-less-fortunate. But rather, does Greens policy meaningfully address racism?
I would say no. I would say that they mean very well and are clearly decent people, no matter how cruelly they dress their children. But I would say this third-person hypothesis so prevalent among Greens voters when it comes to social class gives us both clue and analogy about the foundation of their policies on racism.
A party with a diminished belief in the existence of social class and the importance of the material, and a greater one in cultural good is not a party, in my view, that meaningfully combats racism. Or any broad dislike for those-less-fortunate. Like many voters, I offer my support to the closure of offshore privatised detention centres and, more generally, an end to the crazy nativist rhetoric that has paralysed so many Australians into fallacious thinking. But to urge, as the Greens consistently do, to simply honour those-less-fortunate is not to address the conditions that makes such fallacious thinking broadly possible.
The largely unemployed class who throws its support behind Brexit or Trump do so not simply because they never learned to buy fair trade clothing and honour those-less-fortunate. They do so because they are an unemployed class whose thin political engagement comes conveniently served in the minutes between financial despair. In the Europe of 1933, or in much of the Europe of the present, xenophobia takes hold when social equity withers.
The Greens — the hard-left origins some of its representatives have notwithstanding — have become an ideas-all-the-way-down party. Power is constituted not by the material or by social class but by bad ideas. It’s not enough to say “those ideas are wrong”. Not by half. If one fails to address the conditions that allow these ideas to flourish and relies only on a neo-Christian love for those-less-fortunate to hoist the disenfranchised from their pit of racism, etc, one fails to address the idea.
Which brings me to the final criticism: Helen, you’re an idiot who hasn’t read the Greens New Keynesian economic policy. FFS, Helen. It’s just like Wayne Swan, but with more solar panels and colourful microloan children’s clothes.
Well, I will own that I never got through The General Theory, whose average sentence is more tortured and longer than the saddest of mine. But I did read, and I do read, Greens economic presentations and what I see there is a kind of reverse watermelon. Which is to say that I doubt the pink flesh that the Greens offer us with their entirely commendable “spend in a bust, save in a boom” statements is much more than a glimpse into anything, save for the emerging consciousness of some of its supporters.
In this post-Bernie era, we see many commentators across the Western world shifting their focus to an F.D. Roosevelt style of thinking, and even guys like Paul Krugman have changed their stripes. Yes, demand-side economics is the only way to make life under capitalism manageable for the many. No, a party that believes so firmly in power structures that are constituted chiefly, or largely, by ideas cannot be relied upon to destabilise those structures.
Which brings me to the final criticism: are you some kind of ALP chattel? What is your intimate involvement with this bunch of disappointing dullards?
The answers here are “no” and “nothing”. I do vote ALP but while wincing, and with only one memory of physical intimacy with a minor party functionary, which was back after the electoral defeat in 1996, and I only did this because I felt sorry for him.
There are some older people in the party who have permitted the PJK economic dream to mutate into neoliberalism not too distinct from that of the Coalition. There are some younger people in the party who have permitted the PJK cultural dream into post-material compassion not too distinct from that of the Greens.
But what has begun to re-emerge, particularly in the policies of Chris Bowen, is the view that power is most effectively returned to citizens in the form of material. A decent life and fairer labour conditions produces a fairer and more decent citizen. A compassionate urge for those-less-fortunate is, ultimately, a socially useless gift to those comfortable enough to believe they have no social class.
Ideas may not form power all the way down. But this idea that it is the moral goodness of individuals that will lead to the material comfort of all has a great power over Greens voters. It’s the other way round.
Now, back to calling me a husk.