The rural Australians who feel so alienated by modern politics (the dust belt) have a great deal in common with the independent working class of the American right (the rust belt). They dislike government at the best of time and have become the victim of poorly thought out and implemented government policy.
Where as US industry lies idle as global manufacturing shifts to Asia, in Australia it is the rural backbone that has been pushed out of the way as the global shortages of energy and water, preoccupy government attention.
The diversion of water from farming to mines is outrageous enough but the enforced delivery of water to something is abstract and nebulous as “the environment” is worse than infuriating, it is downright criminal.
In that context then, the four underpinning principles of the Greens get short shrift
The best greens
Farmers delight in pointing out that they are true custodians of the land. While they need some serious incentives to change traditional farming practice they will consistently and readily adopt techniques that leave the land in better shape than it was given to them. Many farmers remain on unprofitable land for the love of it, and are heartbroken that their sons and daughters have little desire to follow their example. They are hard wired to take the long term view.
What they do not readily accept is that wilderness may be superior to the tended landscape. This difference has to be carefully packaged and put aside to engender agreement on the many issues that farmers and the Greens have in common. At a minimum The Greens have to accept the overwhelming consensus of scientists that managed solutions are better than locking the landscape up.
The holey dollar
Conservatives are, by nature, resistant to change. They prefer to conserve the best elements of existing practice rather than launch into the unknown and possibly cause more damage than good.
Any cry for an end to economic growth, then, challenges this naturally conservative approach of many who are fundamentally uncomfortable with the Greens.
On the other hand, the angry voters who have deserted mainstream politics in droves are not necessarily wedded to the global economy: Farmers have plenty of negative experience with the banks; older people have directly suffered under voracious insurance practices; many families, across economic strata, have suffered from the globalisation of the economy; rural people in general have learned the discipline and value of frugality and marshalling of resources.
The message of putting the brakes on the ruthless juggernaut that is the global economy is a fundamentally conservative one but has not been presented as such.
Gifting and mending
The traditional values of hospitality and providing resources based on needs are common across human culture. The experience travellers have in finding heart warming examples of the highest principles among the most primitive of people (whether travelling remotely or in their own community) is a constant reaffirmation that if we continually take, then banditry results. Giving is the glue that binds community together.
While the media delights in presenting the Greens social justice agenda as a radical implementation of left wing principles, it is just as easily described as the fundamental human values that underpin most cultures and many aspects of religious observance.
Responsibility not representation
In the same way that many rural people resent The Greens claim to be the guardians of the landscape, they represent the use of the word community. Greens policy, from health and education, to the localisation of the economy are based on the notion of community: Money that changes hands in locally owned businesses remains in the community to nurture it; the closing of supply chains in communities means that waste is processed by the people who created it, encouraging sustainable approaches to resource management, and so on.
Many rural voters do not see this as a convergence of views from different points in the political landscape, they see it as the cooption or theft of their basic principles by the party at the extreme opposite end of the political spectrum.
The local swimming pools that were built by cakes stalls held over years stand as a monument to the rugged independence of these communities and at apparent odds with what they see as the nanny state politics of an environmental movement that wants to regulate access to resources.
They see the word community as being abused by centralised government programs that care for the aged or disabled through the bureaucracy rather than the extended family.
At heart this comes down to an argument over responsibility. Either we are responsible for ourselves and capable of shouldering that responsibility or we pass that responsibility onto the state, church or other institution. Many Greens mouth an allegiance to individual responsibility, but do not recognise the full implications of this.
Opposition to guns, the industrial slaughter of animals and violence as an active expression of political and personal will are all topics that put Greens and Reds on the opposite side of the table.
Given that individual responsibility for our ecological footprint is an essential plank of Greening the world, this misunderstanding is not just a political mistake it is a fundamental failing of the political wing of the Green movement.
Part of the resolution of this dichotomy will come from the networked politics of the future. This politics is already emerging in the online campaigns that have fuelled grass roots movements and the crowd sourcing applications that have built on them. The Greens have a well established tradition of accepting that there are too many causes for the movement to take on collectively and each person must simply pick one cause and take responsibility for that rare bird, or that innovative technology.
This one cause each approach is not too dissimilar from the get on and do it ethic of the pioneers who founded the rural landscape that nurtures the red dust culture supposedly so antithetical to The Greens.
Bridging the gap
In both the 2007 and 2010 election campaigns, I did a lot of work with members of the Nationals Party in an attempt to open the dialogue across this divide. I addressed a number of party conferences and sat below the picture of Earl Page in his grandson’s electoral office discussing the obstacles to some sort of joint action.
I am not so naïve I can’t see the danger in attempting to resolve these apparently conflicting points of view. I understand that for many Greens, even the discussion of the four pillars of Green politics in this context is seen as a step to the right, the desertion of basic principles in search of the elusive middle ground vote.
I come from a completely different point of view. Just as the group PoliticalCompass.org divides the political access into authoritarianism v libertarianism in one direction and management of the distribution of the wealth v market forces in the other, I consider the primacy of the economy v the ecology as the fundamental dividing line between the current outdated parties and the future.
Once you take that point of view as every Green has, then the other two political axis become somewhat foreshortened.
Rednecks become socially conservative ecologists and Greens socially progressive ecologists. Both authoritarians and libertarians can agree that the pure application of economic rationalism will lead to the long term destruction of the landscape that supports us.
This appeal to well-established agrarian socialist roots exposes the person advocating it to the charge of being a watermelon, ie green on the outside and red on the inside. The critical component in avoiding this is to establish the credentials of a closed, stable and networked economy before engaging in a discussion about the distribution of wealth.
It is in the interests of those who drive economic growth to reap the rewards of other people’s debt to raise the spectre of state managed economies as the logical opposite to a free market. This dichotomy has been institutionalised by the left but is a dead end.
The little work that has been done on the development of a resources constrained economy is so nascent it is of little use for the practical politician. Rather than trying to develop economic plans based on principle, it may be necessary to engage in economic practice informed by principle and extract the underlying philosophy based on experience. This is the way that practical science works – the hypothesis often follows the development of working prototypes that defy existing theory.