Lecture held at a Partnership Meeting of Green Forum at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), Wales

Grön omstartPosted by info Sat, May 27, 2017 10:15:34

Michael Moon:

Just before I was to give this talk, the Swedish MP and former Party Speaker Åsa Romson had spoken about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals subcribed to by the United Nations. (See their website: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment) After having listened to Åsa’s address I realised that none of her goals said anything about what I wanted to talk about. So it was there and then, on the spur of the moment, that I changed the title of my piece to The Eighteenth Goal: The Need to Re-think the Conventional Mind-Set. Up to that point I had intended that the title of my talk should be “Changing Ideas about Ideology”. The actual content of the lecture is essentially the same. What follows is an edited and slightly extended version of the talk, along with some of the questions and answers that arose during the lecture. These are incorporated into the text.

The Eighteenth Goal: The Need to Re-Think the Conventional Mind-Set

What has happened to the ways we think, to our mind-set in the green movement, over the 16 years since the Canberra Congress in 2001? How much wiser are we today than we were in the beginning of the century? WhaT have the intervening years taught us? This was what I was asked by the organisers to consider in this talk.

So let’s start by taking a close-up look at the portal sentence from the original Charter document from 2001: The core of the document sets out the principles that bind together Greens from around the world: ecological wisdom, social justice, participatory democracy, nonviolence, sustainability and respect for diversity. A spontaneous reaction to this sentence is that it makes no mention of the word “ideology” yet this to my mind was what it is all about. Zooming in further, we notice that the quote seems to make two implicit demands as to what it means to have an ideology; the two requirements being generality and cohesiveness.

Firstly, there should exist a generality, or “universal reach”, valid for Greens from all over the world. Regarding this criterion, there are bound to be regional differences amongst greens due to our different cultural and historical backgrounds, but how important these might be as hindrances to attaining a green consensus is something I haven’t given enough thought to and shall not go into further here. As to the second criterion; what does this cohesiveness “or binding together” mean, when it comes to ideas? Its function is to integrate a number of principles that thereby come to form a unity. How this works is not entirely clear. It is obviously not like writing a shopping list of desirable attributes and going to a supermarket to pick and choose from an array of “good ideas”. There has to be some internal connections between the ideas so that they support each other, something like those described by Åsa Romson for the 17 sustainable goals. There must, however, be more to cohesiveness than this. An ideology typically consists of a cognitive or descriptive and a normative or prescriptive component. If any ideology is to function to the full, it must somehow integrate these and by doing so bring about some kind of unity. An example of a descriptive component, is that greens see human beings as a biological species with material needs, just like all other organisms. And a typical green norm is that humans ought not willfully and unnecessarily damage their natural surroundings.This distinction between cognitive and the normative can need to be made for purposes of analysis, but it is vital that the unity of an ideology be maintained intact.

Turning again to the “core principles” listed in the above quote, it will be seen that these are in varying proportions a mix of, on the one hand, cognitive descriptions of the world we find oursleves in and, on the other, norms of the way we think things should be. Trying to combine these two is seen by some to inadmissible. One reaction to this critique of ideology has been to view it as exclusively constituting a bunch of values completely devoid of any factual content. But such a thoroughly normative kind of ideology would be unable to offer any factual arguments in support of its value judgements. A more common reaction is to pragmatically ignore the problem and tacitly assume that the gap can be bridged by good intentions and common sense – a “solution” that weakens an ideology in the face of adversity. Some people, especially those (philosophical) positivists who believe in the blessings of science, nevertheless think that these two aspects should be kept separate – as a matter of logical principle and are for this reason suspicious of the whole idea of ideology. But I, along with a number of radical eco-feminists, consider this “hyper-separation” of the descriptive and the normative – or in other words thought and feelings – to be both philosophically and psychologically untenable. I therefore show in Figure 1 a graphic summary of this “dualistic” viewpoint and give some reasons for rejecting it.

If, as in this case, one views the theoretical and the practical to be separated by an unbridgeable void, this reflects the fact that the two spheres lack any attributes in common, This in turn amounts to hyper-separation of the two opposites and any attempt to integrate them will falter. In the reddish normative field of the diagram we see all manner of motivations: Urges, desires, evaluations, loves and aversions. All of these contain an element of subjectivity. In this sphere, we also find emotions that some scientists see to be “messy” and as getting in the way of knowledge. In the bluish field of cognition we find the alleged impartiality of value-free science where attaining objective knowledge is seen to be the primary aim. When I started talking about ”dualism” in my talk I was asked to give other examples of dualistic or polar oppositions. In response I mentioned the dualism that has often been used to describe the relation between the world of material things and that of ideas. This dualism has given rise to age-long philosophical divide between Materialism and Idealism which was why I mentioned it. But from a political point of view, a better example would have been that between ”the collective” or “group” contra ”the individual”. Even though a moment’s reflection shows these opposites to be obviously interdependent, we are to this day plagued by this false dichotomy: the socialist view the duality gives priority to the collective (or group) and liberalism that posits the individual as being of foremost importance. Here as in many other cases, the supposed dualism of what are in fact interrelated opposites leads to interminable and futile conflict. In the next section I shall try to resolve the dualism between the normative and the cogitive as aspects of ideology using the concept of praxis.

Ideology as Integrating Overlapping Opposites (Praxis)

It was when looking for an alternative to the dualisms of Western thought that I came across the concept of praxis. The concept seems to have been introduced by the early 20th-Century thinker Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937). Gramsci argued, although not always consistently, that these two aspects, the descriptive and the normative, different as they are, constitute a unity-through-interaction. He called this uniting of the teoretical and the practical, “praxis”. Since Gramsci was a socialist he was also a convinced materialist, but his materialism did have a dialectical twist. In other words he accepted that humans with their ability to think, make plans etc. could affect material things, but that “in the last resort” it was the material conditions that he saw as being of crucial importance. However, as many persons have pointed out, Marxism tries to combine two philosophical positions that do not fit comfortably with each other. I adopt Gramsci’s term but with a significant reservation. As I see things, the only way to avoid Marxism’s “uncomfortable fit” is to forego its (dualistic) materialism, i.e. the idea that the material “in the final instance” is the determining factor. The version of praxis that I propose here is therefore no longer paired with those materialist connections it had for Gramsci and to indicate this difference I qualify it as “green or complementary praxis”. What this entails I’ll explain using the following diagram (Figure 2).

We see here, as we did in the previous picture that the normative categories are gathered in the red field. But in this alternative view of ideology the fields of normativity and cognition are no longer strictly separate, but share an overlapping common ground containing categories such as needs, concern and empathy, along with those evaluations which we use to discriminate and attach significance to the myriad of “data” that constantly impinge upon our senses. Some philosophers have called these “epistemic values”. It is in this field of mediation that values and knowledge co-exist and to which I apply the term praxis. The categories appearing here in this intersecting field straddle, so to speak, the spheres of the normative and the cognitive. These elements of praxis are conducive to, and in many instances necessary for, the attainment of knowledge. What are the implications of green praxis for our attitudes towards science? By asserting the importance of praxis, this inevitably calls into question the overarching importance of objectivity. But note: This does not amount to a repudiation of science as a whole! The misgivings expressed here are not intended to be dismissive of the findings of science. In fact scientific findings are often the most reliable grounds we have to base our policies on. This applies not least to the Greens’ science-based view of economic growth and to the issue of climate change! But we would do well to bear in mind that science policies reflect the budgetary priorities of conventional decision-making and that science is a human practique carried out by ordinary persons of flesh and blood and not by robots in some emotional vacuum. Scientists may well be, and often are, experts in their respective fields of specialisation but they also lead normal lives, both as citizens and as professionals, and are in constant interaction with the cultural and intellectual context of which they themselves are a part. The subjectivity involved in these interactions will inevitably influence the outlook of the scientist, but this selfsame subjectiveness is also an essential part of their motivations that lead to the research being performed. In other words objectivity, even if only seen to be an unattainable ideal, is a modern myth whose implications ought to be called into question. The way will then be open to formulating a consistent approach to ideology, of which green ideology would be an archetypical exemplar. In this context there is a distinction that must be made between reliable knowledge and certain knowledge, especially when it comes to understanding the actions of human beings. The quest for absolute certainty, as opposed to mere reliability, cannot but lead us back to the all-embracing scepticism of Descartes, Hume and others, a scepticism that over time has come to serve as the paralysing intellectual backdrop to the rule of World Capitalism. The findings of natural scientific research, whether one chooses to see them as objective or not, are quite explicit when it comes to the future of the planet we live on. In order for society as we know it to be sustainable in any long-term perspective, it will have to undergo radical change far greater than anything seen over the last two hundred years. To state this has become an almost common-place platitude, but barely a hand-full of politicians seem to take this seriously. And as a consequence, there is no political force today that is prepared to act in accordance with these insights. According to my “diagnosis” this hyper-separation of theory and practice is an important cause of the problems that are currently besetting society as a whole including the Green Movement and its parliamentary representatives. This applies not only to the Greens in my own adopted country but to those in a number of other countries in the Westernised world. One of the lessons we learnt during the present century is that well-intentioned and nicely composed international accords seldom lead to the concrete changes that the real world so badly needs. If the 17 UN Goals are ever to get implemented therer will have to be a collective transformation of our thinking along the lines of the 18th Goal outlined in this lecture. Some politician somewhere, will have to be the first to pick up this gauntlet, this challenge that history has cast before the green movement. This doesn’t seem likely to happen in my country just now, but perhaps the chances are better in yours?

/Michael Moon

Författaren Michael Moon var med och bildade Miljöpartiet. Under en period, då han när han inte jobbade som folkhögskolelärare, var han utbildningsansvarig för partiet. Senare läste han humanekologi i Lund och med avlade en doktorsexamen om grön ideologi. Några år senare (2014) kom boken Grön filosofi. Tankar kring en ny ideologi (Förlaget Arkiv, Lund,) som byggde på avhandlingen.