By Donella Medaows
December 13, 1990
The trouble with being politically Green is that you don’t fit on the left-right spectrum. You intersect that spectrum from an angle, agreeing with parts of both the conservative and the liberal agendas and objecting to other parts. “Not left, not right, but in front,” say the Greens. Since the traditional left and right have a hard time thinking in any other direction, each sees the Greens as the other. Conservatives call them liberal, leftists call them conservative. They get shot at from both sides.
In an effort to define their new spectrum rather than be misinterpreted along the old one, the Greens have drafted what they call their Ten Key Values. The list is refreshing to read. It is a sincere attempt to articulate the values by which a political movement tries to live, as opposed to the rhetorical values by which it manipulates. Each value on the list is followed by questions about how to achieve it. Imagine, a political party honest enough to ask questions rather than assert half-baked answers!
Here are the Greens’ Ten Key Values. The one-word labels are in most cases mine. The questions are theirs.
- Nature. How can we operate society with the understanding that we are part of nature? How can we live within the limits of the planet, applying our technology to create a less wasteful economy?
- Democracy. How can we control the decisions that affect our lives? How can we be sure representatives are fully accountable to the people who elect them?
- Responsibility. How can we encourage people and corporations to promote their own health and the health of all? How can we solve our problems without lawyers, judges, regulators, police, or other authorities? (This is a conservative value, a yearning for a society sufficiently good that government, especially in its regulatory function, is much less needed.)
- Nonviolence. How can we develop alternatives to our patterns of violence at all levels, from the family and the street to the nation? How can we reduce the atmosphere of polarization and selfishness that is a source of violence?
- Community. How can we have a decentralized society with decisions made as close as possible to home? How can we restore power to neighborhoods, communities and regions? How can we draw the boundaries of decision-making to assure community self-determination while still maintaining central authority where it is necessary?
- Economy. How can we establish economic security for all, ensure jobs with dignity, keep technology humane, distribute income fairly? How can we restrict the size and power of corporations without discouraging efficiency or technical innovation. (This may be the most radical of the Green values, a strong questioning of business as usual and a willingness to rethink the first principles of economics — so that the economy serves people rather than vice versa.)
- Humanity. How can we encourage a culture that respects feelings as well as logic? How can we be concerned about means as well as ends? How can we learn to respect the contemplative, inner part of life as well as outer achievements?
- Diversity. How can we tolerate, honor, and celebrate cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual, and religious differences?
- Peace. How can we be responsible partners to struggling people in all parts of the world? How can we maintain world order without creating a world government? How can we cut our defense budget while maintaining an adequate defense? (Critics of the Greens often accuse them of favoring world government. To the contrary, they are instinctive decentralizers, with a realization, however, that we are all part of an interconnected world and have a responsibility to make that world work.)
- Sustainability. How can we learn to think toward the long-term future and not just short-range gratification? How can we encourage people to develop visions of the future and to move toward them? How can we make quality, not just quantity, the focus of future thinking?
As a sympathizer with but not a member of the Greens, I see no hope or danger that they will bring these values to political power any time soon. In both Europe and the U.S. the Greens are a lovable, disorganized bunch, whose values are not even consistent with the seizing and wielding of power in traditional ways. The Greens don’t define success in terms of overcoming opponents. In their own words, their purpose “is to promote these values, rather than to gain political power using issues that are currently in fashion.”
Yes, hopelessly idealistic. Idealistic, anyway. I guess I’m not willing to label as hopeless the idea that politics ought to be based on values. And I’d like to see those values reflect the dawning worldwide awareness that we’re all on this planet together, and that we have to treat it, and each other, well.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1990