16 May 2006

Great Apes interview

This is from an interview in Green World the magazine of the Green Party of England and Wales, I first met Richard Scarse when he was ward secretary of Walcot ward Labour Party Bath, and I canvassed him for the Greens, he later joined! Same election I remember canvassing Neil Carter who went on to teach at University of York and has written an excellent 'Politics of the Environment' textbook.

So two political morals

1) Canvassing is important for spreading ideas.

2) The Green Party England and Wales is a pretty open non dogmatic party, not perfect, even Chavez isn't perfect, but at least pretty baseline good to work with.



Morning Derek,

I've been browsing your book as I ate my breakfast, and some questions started to emerge.....
Richard Scrase interviews green economist, Derek Wall, about his latest book.
What were you trying to achieve by writing Babylon and Beyond'

Scientists say that the great apes will be extinct by 2051, I''m a great ape, so pretty much everything I do, from joining the Party 25 years ago to my religious stuff to my interest in Marx to writing, is motivated by the struggle to get to another green world where our survival is no't under threat. Well I suppose the cliché is to show that another world is possible! So many of the books I read on anti-capitalism seemed a bit tame, we really have to realise that even without Bush and Blair we have a whole civilisation where money runs everything. And as Bob Dylan used to say 'money doesn''t talk, it swears'. We worship the economy, if something makes cash it is seen to be good, if not forget it. So I really wanted to talk about a different way of doing things.
It also has a more straightforward purpose as a kind of 'everything you wanted to know about anti-capitalism but were afraid to ask. Since the Seattle World Trade talks thousands have taken to the streets to protest but what do anti-capitalists believe. I have tried to outline as clearly as possible the different forms of anti-capitalism on offer. I move through the anti-capitalist capitalists George Soros and Joseph Stiglitz through to autonomist 'anarchists', social creditors/monetary reformers, ecosocialists and Caroline Lucas with her green alternatives to globalisation has virtually a whole chapter. Incidentally the book has a very nice photo of Caroline being carried off by the police, thanks Caroline!

Your book presents and explains a wide variety of anti-capitalist thought, but says less about the possibility of taming capital by regulation, the social-democratic road to sustainability. Why is that'

Well, I think the essence for me of green politics is to say we live in a system that cannot do without continual economic growth, unfortunately from peak oil to climate change to the rain-forests and maybe a dozen other ecological issues such growth is incompatible with the basic physical realities of our planet. So for good or for ill Green politics is rather more revolutionary than social democracy. The key is to come up with transitional policies that start to shift the world in the direction of a new ecological dynamic, not just to manage the chaos. I think that this is something that we do in the Manifesto for a Sustainable Society and I have talked about in some depth in earlier books like Getting There - steps to a Green Society.
Regulating supermarkets to take a one example is good, having worker/consumer localised food markets is a better step, expanding the 'for free permaculture' that has existed on this planet for thousands of years better still.
I met a man recently who has just started a car-pool in Yeovil and he was relieved to share the responsibility and hassle of ownership. I enjoyed your account of various times and instances when people have voluntarily come together into collectives, but could you not have found more examples existing today of people sharing things in common'
I think this is a definite weakness of the book, the open source principle which is a very big deal was something that I only learnt about about three weeks from finishing. Car pooling is another example. However the principle of prosperity without GNP growth means that through social sharing we can have access to some very nice things without having to work so hard, worry over possessions or waste resources, may be even cars.
My next book, (and I am looking for a publisher who can do large picture books and isn''t afraid of a creative commons license (so people can photocopy the whole thing!) is going to be 'Shopping without Money: A reader in very alternative economics' which will be an encyclopaedia of open source, perm culture, commons regimes, and so on.

One of the problems I personally have with alternatives to capitalism is I see little evidence that these alternatives can deliver the goods. I'm writing this message on a computer produced by one corporation, my broadband connection is provided by another corporation (although it has to be said that it relies on a BT infrastructure that was originally in public ownership). The food in my kitchen was transported into London in the vehicles made by yet another company and so on. How can these leviathans be brought under control' Public ownership in the old state-corporatist model'

Open source shows that we don''t have to have big government pushing us around or the unlimited free market. We have to tame the market and as Karl Polanyi argues, to embed it in local communities, and we need to start expanding the parts of the economy which are beyond the government and market. I know people who build pcs from bits, I get most of my vegetables from the farmers market, open source free software such as the Mozilla browser or open office is much better than microsoft.
And Libraries are great, don''t buy my book, order it from the library, these are a state institution that needs strongly defending and expanding, why not libraries for virtually everything'
Practically a crusade against Tescos and the other big supermarkets is something the Green Party should be doing but both Waitrose and the Co-op are utopian institutions owned respectively by the workers and the consumers! There is so much moving in South America, Naomi Klein's film The Take is about workers taking over bankrupt factories including Argentina's largest ceramics firm Zenon. One day they might make your pc.

Your explanation of how banks create money was a delight. The Green Party always seems to struggle to pay for those bits of the economy we cannot do without. I wonder, and I'm being serious here, do you think our party should set up an 'open-source' bank/building society/credit co-op, to make homes and jobs for people without making a profit, and also help people out of debt-slavery'

Well tricky slippery stuff money - it is essentially created out of nothing, so there is some scope for the community to create it rather than the banks. According to the Economist there is already an open source banking service that brings borrowers and lenders together called ZOPA and Smile has its virtues along with Tridos. But you can''t print too much or you have inflation, equally none of the stuff is clean, we need to do more without cash.

At times your argument wanders from the world of scientific materialism into the italism of Rastafarianism and Zen. There is a long tradition of anti-materialism in Christianity but you seem to prefer italism, why is that' And do you think society requires a spiritual or religious component to transform itself'

I am devoted to Zen and sit every week in South London. However this is a very materialistic pursuit not in the greed sense but in the sense of being rooted in the material world. The poet William Blake who saw angels in Peckham, said that 'everything that lives is holy' but most of us are trying to escape our beautiful world. The idea of spirit versus matter is an evil to me, religion that preaches that we should escape from a world of original sin is wrong. Likewise the insane pursuit of ego whether a new car or even wanting to be Britain's first Green MP can become a prison. So I am not interested in whether god exists or not and I am a materialist but practical forms of paganism are essential to me. Italism is great, there are some amazing green strains in Rastafarianism and other African/Carribbean religions but the black contribution is almost always written out of history.

And lastly, the what next question. Another book' teaching people using this one'

Well 'Shopping without money' would be fun and I always enjoy teaching, I would like to do more in the Green Party. I am always afraid that we lose the big picture and get absorbed in internal argument and wheely bins. However as the German novelist Heinrich Boll said, 'the Greens are our only hope.' The Green Party is vital because it makes people rethink capitalism in a way no other party does, fighting elections and canvassing gets ideas across. We can''t wait until 2046 to get into government, which only gives us five years to save the apes, we have to change things now and I want to be part of this change.


and on a personal note, thanks again for knocking on my door all those years ago, and for knocking on it again with this book,

Cheers,

Richard

Richard Scrase
Editor: Green World

www.greenworld.org.uk

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