Jun 23, 2016

Care about asylum seekers or climate change? Don’t vote Greens

Razer responds to her critics.

Helen Razer — Writer and broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and broadcaster

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. 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.  

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48 thoughts on “Care about asylum seekers or climate change? Don’t vote Greens

  1. Simon Wells

    Mmmm, I think the previous commenters have said it all. Not one comment in support.
    Luckily Greens voters will not be persuaded by what you said.It would be hard for anyone to be persuaded, ploughing their way through such tortured prose. Proto-marxist drivel.
    You can do better, Helen. And as for Chris Bowen as a poster-boy !! Words fail me

    1. Simon Wells

      Sorry, helen. Drivel was unfair. You were obviously having a hard day.

  2. EdoaurdE

    This is a bit of a one-note samba, Helen, on a repetitive chord. Please make up your mind as to whether you’re writing satire or serious commentary . Until you do, it’s not engaging with your strange fantasies about Greens voters.

  3. Matt Davis

    Does Helen water-board her ideas, or is it a car battery and set of electrodes that she employs in their torture?
    Be honest Razer. “I don’t like the Greens because, politics.”, is all you needed to say here.

  4. CML

    Well…the Greens apologists are out in force today…surprise, surprise!
    You are all living in cloud cuckoo land. The Greens can have all the ‘nice’ policies on the planet, but they will never be in government with the power to implement them, so what is the point?
    And even if they do make it in 2050 or so, it will all be too late. Better to stick with the better of the two majors…Helen is right about that!!

  5. Robert Beverley

    For those of us with a worldview outside the political mainstream the important question is how we can best move the Overton window toward where we want society to be.

    Labor over the last few decades has steadily moved to the right. Strategically positioning themselves slightly to the left of the Liberals was smart politics, gaining votes in the centre while keeping their base on the left.

    By placing our vote with the Greens we disrupt this model forcing attention back to the left. This encourages progressive economic and social policy from Labor.

    Not perfect, but perhaps the best we can do.

  6. wakeup

    I’m getting a bit sick of these long meandering diatribes against the greens that appear to be the norm from Razer in her crikey interation (being someone who always enjoyed her TBI articles). They aren’t fun, they serve to deepen divisions between the Australian left for no reason, and they don’t really offer any solutions. If the Labor party offered the sort of policies that the attract parts of the left to the Greens, then they wouldn’t have to worry about their left flank. They’ve made the strategic decision to move to the center, and that’s their choice. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t leave a whole cohort of voters in the lurch and then hang shit on another party for attempting to fill the vacuum.

  7. Teddy

    Whenever anyone points out the bleeding obvious – that’s Greens voters tend to be rich or come from affluent areas, Crikey readers and party true believers go ballistic – furiously in attack mode.

    I’m curious as to why this is seen as a problem? Why? Is it guilt? A case of serious self-delusion? So a section of educated and socially aware who’ve had all the benefits (earned or inherited) capitalism so bountifully provides (for some of us) vote for the Greens. What’s the problem? Being called well-off isn’t an insult, is it?

    Greens party strategists have certainly taken those facts on board, and are targeting this demographic. Most affected seats are held by Labor, but not all (e.g. Higgins, Page)

    My electorate of Grayndler, seen as a possible Greens win, is one of the wealthiest area in Sydney. Our local newspaper has just been proudly trumpeting all the suburbs within it whose median property values are over $2m.

    And while it may be “ironic” that an area with so many property millionaires vote Greens, it is a fact (inner ring Melbourne too). It’s something worth discussing seriously, and maybe if Helen’s piece had stayed on that topic, it would have been a better read. But just taking offence hurling abuse around – as so many of the contributors to this thread have – is pointless and pathetic.

  8. Matthew Harley Coc

    Thanks Helen for telling it like it is.
    Fair trade is obviously wrong, wrong wrong. More prepubescents should be working for their upkeep.
    Now Helen, tell me what social class I belong to. I work for wages and I have superannuation so my retirement income will largely come from investments in capitalism. At $45000 per year I’m not wealthy by Australian standards but I’m in the top few percent on a global scale. Class more complicated than it gets represented in your piece of comedy gold.
    I’m so bloody rich why the hell is the ALP even contesting my electorate?

  9. Nicholas

    There is no coherent case in this piece for favouring Labor ahead of the Greens. If you think Australia is too neoliberal and insufficiently Marxist, why on earth would you support the party that introduced neoliberal economics to this country, and that continues to support this failed economic framework? The Greens advance policies that make more vigorous use of the fiscal powers of the federal government to promote public welfare. The Greens’ policies would result in less inequality of wealth and income than the polices favoured by Labor. Helen Razer’s rant is just a seething welter of prejudices and absurd caricatures of Greens voters.

  10. dogspear

    Trololol. Are you there Bilge Shchrutnel? Here’s your campaign strategy. Five stars.

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