Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: Why Vote Green

Shahrar Ali's Why Vote Green is a well written and interesting book that's worth picking up if you get the chance. I certainly found it a readable and thoughtful read and am happy to recommend it to anyone.

Of course, there are flaws that are worth exploring. I thought it was far more of a book about Shahrar's reasons for being a Green than a clear account of why people should vote Green. That's only a minor problem, and probably one of the reasons I enjoyed it. Personally I'm not in need of rereading Green Party policy again so if I'm the intended audience then excellent.

The second problem I suppose is the academic style. This is something I'm less of a fan of because whilst it's lovely to see Marx and Ghandi and the like in print I've never been a fan of this kind of selective quoting to create weight by association.

Having said that the Marx quote that "the more we find value in external things the less we find value in ourselves" was new to me and, I think, grappling towards the profound.

Shahrar does have a habit though of using six syllable words when clearer language would be more precise, but that aside I would not want to give the impression this was a difficult book to read, far from, it flowed very well.

There were also a number of points that are worth highlighting. I thought his emphasis on the environmental and, specifically, climate change refreshing. It's the most important issue of the our times and there has been precious little discussion of the topic in this election - even from the Greens. This helps redress some of that imbalance, if in a modest way.

Where I disagreed was on his idea of what Green Party politicians are. Whilst I do think the Greens are striving for a more ethical form of politics I totally reject the idea that we're some sort of special, incorruptible breed apart. I think this is unrealistic and untrue.

For example on page eight Ali says that "It is in this spirit of the Green Party to be selfless in one's politics, to put oneself to the service of others, to treat all equally" or on page nine "attainment of our goals for the sake of humanity is our reward in itself, not the false identification of our ego with that potential success..."

Now perhaps Shahrar is a member of a different Green Party from the one I'm a member of (although he attends the same conferences as me) but I don't believe lack of ego or selfless sacrifice are so much more in evidence than in other parties. People work hard for little reward or praise in all parties and the best of us do it because we want to promote our politics not promote ourselves - but to paint any political activist as a paragon of virtue is to set the bar unnecessarily high.

The fact that we are activists not saints is no shame on us. If someone goes home early from leafleting or feels the sting of pride when they win an election - well, that's fine by me. I think this kind of moralism is a little counter-productive to be honest and it doesn't really reflect the majority opinion of members about themselves anyway.

All of this aside I found the book interesting because of its flaws as well as its virtues and am really pleased Shahrar had the time to write it. We need more books like this, from a variety of authors, but without the 'why you should vote' handle which became more of a hindrance than a help by the end.


Matt Sellwood said...

Not enough of the monastic about you, Mr Jepps! It has been noted....

Laborare est orare...


Matt the sloth

Shahrar Ali said...

Really glad you enjoyed the book, Jim, and hearty thanks for spreading the word!

On the potential for holier than thou conceit, you may have missed the following just before the bits you quote: "However, it would be a mistake to suppose that an elected politician, including a Green could be automatically immune to the false seductions or traps of power. To make out otherwise would be to pretend that Greens were somehow superior human beings, but that is not a credible claim. What is credible, is to promote ways of relating within a party [] that have a tendency to engender and reinforce good behaviour in all. (WVG, 7)"

And not a six-syllable word in sight :)


PS. Matt, you can be really witty sometimes. :)

Jim Jepps said...

How many syllables does automatically have?

Anyway I think the caveat you point to is useful but it doesn't offset what you say on later pages, simply contradicts it, to my mind.