Monthly Archives: March 2012

on green capitalism

This is part of a (planned, i.e. possibly nonexistent) series of blog posts where I post choice ideas from stuff I’m reading.

Today’s selection comes from Lisa Sun-Hee Park and David Naguib Pellow’s The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants vs. the Environment in America’s Eden (NYU Press, 2011). Most times I don’t bother to critique capitalism, but sometimes it just needs to be said. I love the extremely clear, no bullshit approach of this passage:

Nativist environmentalism and environmental privilege are further linked and reinforced by a common view of environmental politics and social change we call “the Aspen Logic.” The Aspen Logic is a worldview that people across the mainstream political spectrum embrace, but one that is particularly prominent in liberal and Democratic political circles. The idea is that environmentalism and capitalism are entirely compatible and not in fundamental opposition. … The Aspen Logic is hard at work in the en vogue fixation with the so-called green economy. The fundamental problem with an idea like green capitalism is that it presumes that capitalism is, at root, a just system that only needs regulation and reform. We reject this premise for what should be obvious reasons: because capitalism is a hierarchical, violent system of production, consumption, commerce, and governance that inherently views people and ecosystems as variables to be manipulated for the benefit of a minority. … Therefore green capitalism does not result in a transformed society marked by ecological sustainability and social justice because (1) it is not possible and (2) because that is not the goal. (pg 14-15)

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consensus vs. unanimity

Now that I’m back in my first world homeland, I’ve started participating in some local Occupy events. Occupy is of course more or less a massification of the organizing principles many anarchists (and others) have long valued. General Assemblies, consensus, and non-hierarchical “leadership” are nothing new, though of course the whole idea is that they will necessarily work a little differently in each particular context because each group should be autonomous in meeting its own needs.

So I tried to withhold judgment when I first started seeing the term “voting” applied to supposedly collective decision-making processes around the country.  Especially when it seemed that in many groups “consensus” had turned in to something more like “90% approval.” Contrary to what you might expect, I don’t think the biggest problem here is the lack of unanimity (though I am skeptical—a post for another day). The biggest problem I see is the elision between voting and decision-making. These are not the same thing! And that should be the whole point.

Voting is individual. Each individual weighs the information available to them, and then makes an individual judgment and casts a vote. This can be done with consideration to the way the outcome might affect others, or to the way that others are voting, but it is still a fundamentally individual act. Voting is also a moment. It doesn’t include the entire process of deciding the options or what people are voting on.

Consensus, by contrast, is a collective process. Consensus isn’t something that just happens at the end of a discussion, the way a unanimous vote might, but is an entire process of decision-making. It may start with an initial proposal, but proposals are brought to the group for consideration and improvement, not for approval/disapproval.  Consensus is something that is built, through careful consideration and adaption of the ideas of everyone present. The idea is that through consensus you get a better outcome or decision than might have happened otherwise, because consensus doesn’t just consider everyone’s vote or opinion equally. Instead it actually becomes something greater than the sum of these opinions. It isn’t just that there are no sore losers (though that can be one advantage), but is a true product of the collective.

The very idea that you could “bring something up for a vote” in a consensus process is antithetical to the process. If there is actually consensus in the group, the group should arrive at consensus. This isn’t some mystical moment, but it is something that can at least partially be felt. If it’s obvious that anyone in the group still has concerns, then there isn’t consensus. If it isn’t obvious, then the focus of the process should shift to feeling out any remaining concerns, addendums, or alterations.

This is a fairly important distinction that is at risk of being lost in what seems to be a fairly large sector of Occupy Everything. Absent of the clarification between the two, participants seem to gravitate toward what is most familiar. In the case of the US, that is individualized voting. And it seems to me that we already know what voting directly rather than for representatives doesn’t look too different from the referendum system already in place in most states. You know, the one that’s completely vulnerable to right-wing manipulation by moneyed interests to do things like pass anti-immigrant laws.

Without consensus processes that actually reflect the spirit and power of collective decision-making, Occupy risks becoming little more than a critique of representative democracy rather than a radical space for building community.

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