Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Political Evolution--The NZ Green Party

Saturday was Election Day in New Zealand. New Zealand has two major political parties, Labour and National, and a variety of minor parties that usually manage to pull one or two or sometimes a few members into parliament under our MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) electoral system.

A strong supporter of the Greens, I crossed party lines this time to vote for a return of the incumbent National Party (with my party vote) for a very strategic reason. At a time and in a world where central governments seem to be failing and falling left, right, and centre, either in violence (think Libya, Syria, Egypt) or in economic disarray (think Greece, Italy), I believe it is important for New Zealand to be perceived on the world stage as a country that is politically and economically stable, with a Prime Minister who comes across well both domestically and abroad. And although I don’t agree with some of National’s philosophies and policies, I do believe that Prime Minister John Key and his crew have the best interests of this country at heart. Forty-eight percent of New Zealand voters agreed with me, and National has held on to their leadership role with very little fanfare or political manoeuvring required.

(I will also add, as an aside, that I voted for Green MP Holly Walker as my local electoral candidate of choice. Holly, a 29-year-old Rhodes scholar, was once one of my students at Hutt Valley High School when I taught there, and I remember her with much fondness. Even then, she was bright, able, dedicated, reliable, astute, and delightful, with a level of maturity well beyond her years—rare traits in a high school student. There was no hope of her getting into parliament via the Hutt South electoral vote, up against veteran Trevor Mallard (Labour), but I am delighted that Holly is high enough on the Green party list to be included in the newly-elected parliament anyway. Go well, Holly.)

But talking about my personal voting choices isn’t the reason I’m inspired to write this blog entry.  I find the rise of the Green Party very interesting from a social evolution standpoint. In the last election, the Greens polled about 5%; this time they crossed the 10% threshold, in spite of a dearth of pre-election coverage. I think there was more press about Peter Dunne’s hair and John Banks’s cup of tea with the Prime Minister than there was about the whole Green Party. Dunne and Banks are one-man-bands now—solo reps of their respective parties—and sure, the tea party ultimately had big repercussions (thanks, media...NOT!) but the Greens just silently went about their business virtually unnoticed.

The day after the election, on TV1’s Sunday program, they ran some good material on the Greens, obviously filmed prior to the election, including a nice shot of co-leader Russell Norman kayaking to play up the Green “we need to clean up our rivers” party message. And the commentator on the tv made the observation that it was a decidedly more “active” and “positive” photo op than the two Johns having tea and the ensuing media scramble, which left me wondering why was it was played on tv AFTER the election. TV3 also virtually ignored the Greens throughout the campaign, in spite of pre-election poll results that suggested they could be coming in as high as 12-13%.

Green supporters with a conspiracy-theory bent could be forgiven for wondering if there was a deliberate media move to ignore the Greens, but I suspect it is something else entirely. I suspect the media simply don’t understand the Green movement. And this makes me think about human and social evolution and spiral dynamics.

In the 1970’s, US psychology professor Clare Graves developed a theory of human evolution and social development based on values systems, a model which he described as a holistic spiral, each tier of development encompassing and expanding upon the previous tier. Later adapted by Chris Cowan and Don Beck, and nicely colour coded, it has become a useful model for understanding human nature. I’d like to share my thoughts on the roles of New Zealand’s three main political parties—Labour, National, and Green—within the spiral dynamic framework, and what I think that means for the evolution of politics in this country.

Whole books have been written about the spiral dynamic tiers, but I’ll try to summarize them very briefly here:
    1st tier: beige. Think baby. Think survival, biological needs, food, natural reflexes.
    2nd tier: purple. Think child. Think family. Think tribe. Think safety and security. Think learned traditions.
    3rd tier: red. Think teenager. Think assertive self. “I want to control my world.” Egocentric. “My way is the right way.” “This is my patch.”
    4th tier: blue. Think parent. Think safety, stability and order. Follow the rules. Conformity. Care for your brother and sister, your children. “Everyone deserves two kids and a dog, a reliable car, and a house in the suburbs.” Work hard and get a just reward for your labour—a holiday in Fiji would be nice—but don’t be a tall poppy. Avoid risk.
   5th tier: orange. Science and business are important. Assumes the world is rational and objective. Competition creates excellence. Rugged individualism. Don’t just follow the rules, use them to your advantage. Tall poppies are to be admired (and you can’t have tall poppies if you don’t have short ones to compare with). It’s all about opportunity and success and taking strategic risks. Ultimately, it’s up to you to achieve good results and get ahead. You get what you deserve.
   6th tier: green. Joining together for mutual growth. We are all part of an ecosystem. Think the internet, Facebook, social media. Think harmony, acceptance, and community. Think cooperation. Think sustainability. Think environmental awareness and preservation. Decisions should be reached through consensus and reconciliation. Dislikes hierarchy. Life is situational, values are relativistic.
   7th tier: turquoise. Earth consciousness. Holistic. Transpersonal. A global/universal community in harmony. Experiential. (Kind of beyond politics as we know it.)
   8th and 9th tiers: (Just evolving, and largely irrelevant from a modern political perspective.)

Ken Wilber suggests that internationally, approximately 20% of the adult population is 3rd tier red, 40% of the population is 4th tier blue, 30% of the population is 5th tier orange (but they hold 50% of the power), and 10% of the population is 6th tier green (the latter rising to around 20% in the Western world)[i].

New Zealand has traditionally had just two major parties, National and Labour, so I’d like to talk about them first. Labour, in spite of their red banner, is a “blue” 4th tier party. Strong on justice and social and family values, Labour—which historically originated as a “blue collar” labour party, hence the name—campaigned this year on tax breaks for struggling families, instituting a capital gains tax (cut down those fat poppies who own multiple properties), creating a GST exclusion for fresh produce, and keeping national assets. They polled just 27% in this election.

National, in spite of their blue banner, is an “orange” 5th tier party, keen to balance the country’s books with partial asset sales as need be because it makes good economic sense. So does mining and drilling for oil, ensuring farmers get adequate cheap water to enhance croppage, simple tax laws like GST on everything (thus less bureaucracy), and a clamp-down on anyone expecting to get something for nothing (e.g., dole “bludgers”) because they’re not doing their fair share. At a time when most countries are experiencing pretty significant economic strife, National’s number one priority is to get New Zealand’s financial books in order and the country out of debt and into surplus, even if it means some people will be hurting. They polled an unprecedented 48% of the vote in this election.

The Greens, the new kids on the block, have now moved into significant third-party status with over 10.6% of the national vote. They are 6th tier “green”, advocating environmental clean-up and sustainability, social policies to ensure Kiwi kids don’t grow up in deprivation, warm houses, and the creation of “green” (presumably that means environmentally responsible) jobs. In keeping with 6th tier dynamics, they have not one leader but two, male and female, who work together and cooperatively towards these goals. They are more interested in creating a sustainable future than in a right-now fix, and are holistic in their assessment of the pros and cons of various policies. Willing to work with other parties on issues of mutual interest, they have declined to align themselves wholeheartedly with either of the two bigger parties.

A couple of things are interesting about this. Firstly, there seems to be a general assumption that the Green party pull the majority of their votes from the Labour Party. After all, both parties tend to lean left in a social welfare sense. Yet the spiral dynamics evolutionary model would suggest that the Greens would pull from National, the previous tier. Indeed, the model suggests that individuals and cultural groups rarely if ever skip over an evolutionary level. Furthermore, because this is “evolutionary”, the general trend will be for 4th tier Labour to diminish, as Labour supporters move to National, and for 6th tier Greens to grow over time.

The thing is, for people/groups operating primarily at lower-tier levels, the upper tier mentality is a mystery. They don’t get it, and they don’t necessarily even recognise that they don’t get it. Individuals and groups who operate on upper tier levels, however, generally have an understanding of earlier tiers, even if they now reject that perspective of the world. Blues cannot understand Greens, but Greens can understand blues, if that makes sense. With this thought in mind, if the Greens polled over 10%, and Wilber suggests maybe 20% of the population is 6th tier green (but maybe didn’t vote—almost a quarter of Kiwis chose not to vote in 2011—or, as in my case, opted for National for strategic reasons), that means perhaps 80% of the population just don’t “get” the Green Party. And that undoubtedly includes some of the media. (On the other hand, from a media perspective, maybe the NZ Green Party just isn’t interesting enough to cover, compared to the shenanigans of the other parties!)

I predict that the Green Party will continue to grow, maybe polling 15% or more in the next election. And Labour is likely to continue to diminish, unless they reinvent themselves. Which is, of course, possible. After all, “Labour” and “National” are just names, titles, and the people within them can choose what they want to be, what they believe their constituents want them to be.

As a final thought—this is already getting long and beginning to drivel—I can say at least that I’m glad that I live in a country with the political opportunity for many voices. In the U.S., where I come from, there are two main political parties and that’s it. I believe that President Obama is actually “green” (6th tier), and that has been part of his problem...the majority of the U.S. doesn’t understand 6th tier thinking. But as the world’s democracies evolve, I believe there will be more 6th tier thinking, and it will change the way we all relate with each other and with this planet. And from my rather “green” perspective, politically, I think that’s a very good thing.

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