One thing I keep hearing, repeatedly, about a centre-Green party is that it doesn’t make sense because it involves hating people. I hear the same thing about anything people don’t agree with, repeatedly. Emails, phone calls, on twitter – for some reason people want to tell me how much other people hate people, and so they hate people or me or something. I don’t know, whenever I hear blind hate it never makes much sense to me – but certain comments have pushed me into a rant. It is a blog, these things happen sometimes, sorry.
The short version of my post is that the people saying this are disrespectful individuals who have no respect for other people and the difficulty of issues of social justice. But if you want the full rant click below (and it is a furious rant with more colourful language). For those who dislike rants (as do I), you could read this old post where I lay out a neat discussion of why social justice issues are core to all parts of the political spectrum, the focuses on “types” of injustice is what differs.
The type of attitude I’m complaining about is embodied in this tweet [Note: I’m not linking to the tweet – only putting in the text, as I don’t want it to be targeted at an individual at all]:
‘Blue Greens’ are really just people who care about the environment but don’t give a toss about the people living in it.
Now this is far from the only tweet of this type I’ve seen, I just saw this as an extreme example. I also don’t want to pick on the author specifically here (in case someone recognises the tweet) – they appear to discuss things later on in the chain, and appear to be an intelligent and good person. I have seen similar comments from a LARGE number of the people on twitter and have no doubt that there are many people making these comments as it represents how they feel.
Furthermore, I’m all for people disagreeing with what is “right” policy . Debate, protest, discussion – important stuff. Those people saying that they wouldn’t want a centre-Green party, that it doesn’t fit their belief system, that they don’t think there are votes in it are mentioning important points – points I definitely relate to.
Finally, I really want to reach out and have a discussion with the people making these types of comments – rather than alienating them in a passionate rant.
But … to be honest this specific comment and its ilk is this sort of rubbish that convinces many New Zealanders that the left are arrogant self-righteous “social justice warriors”*. And legitimately, as long as a lot of people on the left are making these types of comments about other New Zealanders, then a lot of the vocal NZ left are arrogant self-righteous social justice warriors.
Saying that people who disagree that a given set of policies are what is “fair and just” don’t care about people makes me furious – it is a form of argument that I find insulting, and a type of argument the exudes an elitist arrogance which makes me show physical signs of anger. How dare you accuse other people of not caring about our society just because their views differ to yours, what gives anyone the right to claim something like this – it makes me so furious that my anger is palpable!
I grew up with, and still spend time with, these types of Social Justice Warriors/Chardonnay Socialists/Craft Beer Communists. I appreciate hearing their thoughts on social issues and their wrestling with injustice. But I refuse to control my seething distaste for the comments I often here from this group when someone disagrees with them – it is NOT OK to say others do not care about people.
If you make this kind of comment we have issues – I have all the time in the world for discussions about different value judgments, but as soon as you try to paint “others” as not caring about people while you do, you’ve crossed a very clear line with me. And it is not just the word – but the very intention of it, if this is something you fundamentally believe we have … a problem.
Calm down it’s ok – we can tell you’re annoyed
Let me try to clarify this by getting back to point. Now I’ve discussed the logic behind a left-Green and centre-Green in terms of ideas of sustainability here – if the current social system is perceived as “sustainable” (which embodies some view on fairness captured in the way we consider social outcomes) then these types of sustainability issues will not deserve as much weight as issues of natural sustainability (eg the environment). In many ways a lot of New Zealander’s may well see society as fair, may believe that society is as fair as government policy could allow (given it can’t solve every injustice without creating greater injustices), or may at least believe that the policies being pushed by the parties on the left are not consistent with their idea of fairness.
Too have a left we need to admit left is relative, this is relative to the NZ consensus, who I also see as the boss. In this context a “centre-Green” party merely accepts the current consensus policy on economic issues, while focusing on change relative to environmental issues. It is genuinely that simple. Saying that it involves “immoral” choices on current economic/financial policy is akin to saying that only the left has a moral mandate – holy cr*p if that is your view then arrogant was totally the right term!
Now how do I view “left” if we were to shift from centre. The left-right spectrum all has room for evidence around trade-offs that exist, but differs in terms of the trade-offs they are willing to make – where the trade-offs are often policy specific, but boil down to a series of discussions about redistribution. A clear example is a guaranteed minimum income – in that case someone who is economically left would support a higher minimum payment, and higher tax rates, than someone who is economically right.
But that was too simple, what about other policy questions! Well in terms of “economic left and right” other questions get really hard to put on such a simple spectrum – to do this I often need to consider where we set boundaries on equality of opportunity, someone to the left will tend to set the “opportunity” bar very differently to someone much further to the right. Here the lines get fuzzy with other dimensions policy can differ on namely social and environmental, and everything within them, but the key point with all of them is that the vast majority of people forming a view over this policy space are doing so given their perspective, and an interest of the people living in society with them.
One of the key things people may not realise reading this rant is that I self-identify as economically left (not centre left, left). Not in terms of the Nolan chart definition of unweighted questions, but in terms of the scale of redistribution and the type of redistribution (through social provision of types of services). I try to leave it out of the blog, but it is relevant for this rant.
I do not see many of the policies of the left as particularly left-wing when viewed analytically – the language I use is that they are “rhetorically” left wing rather than “functionally” (in terms of redistributive outcomes) left wing.
For example, given the current tax-benefit system the minimum wage hikes that are being discussed threaten to exclude the vulnerable in society from the labour market, while providing little income for the “households with children” that are supposedly being targeted. If the left genuinely cared about individuals, the actual outcomes of their policies would matter rather than how well they think their policy rhetoric sells their appeal to other social justice warriors – and in that situation I wouldn’t find myself suggesting, as I did pre-election, that National was (in terms of focusing on genuine outcomes and opportunities – rather than just rhetoric) in some ways left of Labour.
I would support the policies of a left-Green party (if they represented what I see as left) above a centre-Green party. But I would more likely vote for the centre-Green party due to their ability to work with either side – and thereby get traction on environmental issues. This is just me, and the rest of the universe thinks about things differently – but their is no need for us to throw around names about people who think differently than us!
Do you have a general point, you’ve just been talking about this boring Green stuff again …
How many people who accuse the “other side” of not caring about people have actually tried to understand the other sides argument? How many have actually gone through detailed empirical policy work trying to understand what trade-offs exist, and trying to figure out what we can know about social issues? I tell you what it is a lot of work to do and no-one has the hours in the day – but I find it amazing anyone can have such a negative view of others intentions after doing all this work, let alone before doing it.
If you think the other side is “evil” please, try to figure out what their argument is first and discuss with them – if they won’t, that is their flaw, but often they will! At the end you may agree to disagree (value judgments may differ) but it will allow you both to work out whether your definitions are the same and to share evidence.
If instead you think “right” policy is “self-evident” you are a moron – true story.
(the prior quote) reinforces, in my mind, why I am fatigued from seeing people claim the ‘labels’ of freedom, social capital, and egalitarianism. Instead we should be honestly discussing our views on what is morally important and what trade-offs exist.
For many people out there writing on blogs and tweeting they are certain that their argument is what is essentially morally right – but I argue that you have a moral obligation to try and view your opponents argument in the best possible light, and to figure out why you differ. Virtually no-one out there is supporting things which they believe are “unfair”, and by forcing yourself to understand their argument you learn more about your own views.
We all want and desire to help make the world a better place. But we only do this by reaching some form of moral consensus between us, and a relative willingness to admit and deal with trade-offs – not by labeling people who disagree with our judgments as something relatively meaningless (neo-liberal, communist, Nazi) and ignoring their views. Instead of labeling ourselves as focused solely on the basis of one factor we likely can’t explain (such as inequality, levels of social capital, or productivity – note that even highly trained economists can only give conditional statement, covered in caveats, about these issues) why not admit where your current focus on equality lies so we can have a data and theory based conversation of the costs and benefits that are part of that! Who knows, such an experience may change your mind, or may change the views of those you are discussing the issue with.
An over-willingness to “fight the fight” instead of critically analysing our views merely makes us tools to the madness of popular ideology. And remember, the intention of our ideas is not what is important, the likely outcome on people is what matters.
* I use the term social justice warrior on purpose – generally something is an XXX warrior when they do things in order to tell other people they’ve done them and earn respect from others, without really considering the action or its impact on others. For example, I like to go for runs – but I despise the weekend warrior runners who cut corners and run at people so they can cut a second off their personal best time on Strava.