Jonathan Porritt's book on capitalism and sustainability is stimulating a debate in the Green Party discussion lists. Here is today's snippet:
RL: "Greens find our political reference point in ecology, that is, in the relationship of the human species and its living environment. This is a wider reference point which allows us to resolve the individual/social antithesis"
BO: I don't agree. Ecology is paramount in establishing the sustainability imperative. But within the recognition of that imperative there is virtually an infinite scope for playing all the possible variations of the individual/social balance -feudalism, tribalism, socialism, despotism.
RL: Let us just address our present predicament, as that is enough of a problem to keep us in the UK occupied. Feudalism and tribalism belong to history, as, to a great extent, does socialism. Certainly the Communist brand of socialism did not show any regard for ecological sustainability. I challenge the notion that despotism could be ecologically sustainable. Is there any example that can be given? Despotism drives the despot mad as his amygdala becomes hypertrophied. He becomes megalomanic and builds palaces for himself and his friends, and diverts his resources into "security", he starts wars with his neighbours, and he oppresses the poor until they rise up against him. Despotism is not sustainable.
BO: And we are only partially a social species. One has to "descend" to the level of the most advanced social insects to find truly social species.
RL: If you are arguing that the hive is the model for the socialist, I am proud to disown the label of socialist.
BO: In humans - as with all other social animals in the higher orders - there is an inherent conflict in playing the individual versus the societal card in terms of maximising the individual's survival prospects.
RL: Exactly; and the Individualist-Socialist dialectic plays out that conflict without hope of resolution, but we Greens can resolve it by synthesising it in our realisation that we humans are a part of a wider ecological system. We place both individual and society in relation to the environment which sustains both.
BO: Thatcherism's error was and remains in increasing the pay-off for those "succumbing" to their own selfish motivations. This is detrimental to society in the long run. "Nature" worked this out long ago - which is why
most of us have a built-in healthy propensity for putting the interests of the society of which we are a part so high up our personal agendae.
I think the bottom line is that we need to define what we mean by terms like socialism and capitalism. Both have acquired a potent emotional charge from decades of controversy, so that their meaning is lost, and the debate becomes unclear.