The Politics of Change

This is my favourite Green Party slogan: Neither Left nor Right but out in Front.


In this post I discuss what it means to be “out in front”. I argue that:

  • There is a new dimension to the political spectrum, which defines the Green Party’s point of difference from both National and Labour;
  • Going into the 2011 general election, it is the Green Party’s willingness and ability to effectively lead change that should define our political positioning, and
  • In order to lead change effectively, the Green Party must first change itself.

While Jared Diamond was preparing to write “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” he discussed some of his ideas on the website, under the title “Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous Decisions (while others succeed)?”

Diamond identifies four factors in group decision making that lead a society to fail:

1. First of all, a group may fail to anticipate a problem before the problem actually arrives.

2. Secondly, when the problem arrives, the group may fail to perceive the problem.

3. Then, after they perceive the problem, they may fail even to try to solve the problem.

4. Finally, they may try to solve it but may fail in their attempts to do so.

Over the course of human history, these have been failures to meet the challenges of depleting resources such as fertile soils, fresh water, and energy.

Last year I was doing some work for Manukau City Council, on futures thinking. I applied Jared Diamond’s four factors to the “four-room apartment” model of change. The four “rooms” represent four psychological states involved in the typical human response to change: contentment, denial, confusion, and inspiration. Success (or failure) in adapting to change is a matter of dealing with the condition of being in each of the four “rooms”, and successfully moving between them.

Taking a lead from Jared Diamond, I wanted to focus on the factors that bring about successful change. So I worked through the model, changing the language and concepts as appropriate, and came up with the one that appears in the picture below.

Positive Cycle of Change

This is how it works:

  • We start at the top left corner, in a state of contentment, but without complacency or ignorance. When a potential problem becomes evident, we can anticipate the problem before it arrives.
  • Being aware of the problem, we accept responsibility and resolve to deal with it. Taking responsibility is the precise opposite of being in a state of denial, and its attendant anger, blaming, and self-excusing.
  • Because we have accepted responsibility, we are willing to discover solutions. In the original four-room apartment model, this room is labelled confusion, chaos or conflict, but seen in a positive sense can equally be a state of creativity, innovation and “flow”. The key to success here is obtaining really good information and then making good decisions.
  • Having identified successful solutions, we implement them with determination, commitment and discipline.

This model provides a useful way of re-drawing the political spectrum, in terms of the process of change that the world is currently undergoing (or failing to undergo). The four-room apartment model can be “unfolded” in a way that re-defines where New Zealand’s major political parties stand, in terms of their willingness and ability to deal with the looming ecological, economic and social crises of the 21st century.

And it looks something like this:

This political spectrum shows what it means to be “out in front”. The Greens are not only more advanced through the cycle of change than other parties, but we promote a positive model of change that could ultimately succeed.  The other parties are less far advanced, and are practicing a model of change that will ultimately fail:

  • The ACT party is clearly stuck in ignorance and denial.
  • The National Party is quite aware of the looming problems, but accepts minimal responsibility for them. It is less ignorant than ACT, but still solidly in denial, and unable to develop effective and creative solutions.
  • The Labour Party is slightly better: it accepts the problems but it cannot deal with them effectively, because it is confused about the solutions (e.g. adopting an ETS instead of a Carbon Tax).
  • The Maori Party is on a positive path for change: the concept of kaitiakitanga is embedded in its kaupapa, so it accepts responsibility. But doesn’t yet have workable policy solutions.

Now to return to the slogan “neither left nor right but out in front”. Being “in front” actually does mean being “left” in two senses:

First, our acceptance that we live in a world constrained by limited resources is followed by a commitment that the those resources will be justly shared in three ways:

  1. within our own society,
  2. between developed and developing nations, and
  3. between current and future generations.

Second, being “left” also describes the Green approach to managing change. The Green Party’s mission is to bring about a transformational change in New Zealand: rejecting unsustainable growth and inequality, and implementing our vision of a sustainable and just society. But creating an ecologically sustainable economy will require change and dislocation on a massive scale. The transformation that we are seeking will make the major economic upheavals of my generation – the era of Thatcherism, Reaganomics and Rogernomics – pale by comparison. Our commitment to social justice means people will be treated fairly and well throughout the transition period, which they were not during those right-wing transformations.

We have to acknowledge that the transformational change can be profoundly unsettling and uncomfortable. When major changes are wrought in our social or economic framework, they will inevitably cause dislocation and conflict. The majority of people will benefit from the change we intend, but many others will lose out – and typically many of the latter will be those who benefit from the economic status quo.

If the Green Party genuinely intends to succeed in our mission, we to think carefully about how change occurs; what brings about change, how people respond to it, and how we will go about it when we are in government. But first, we must take responsibility for ourselves, and ask how we might change, in order to effectively lead change.

David Hay – Candidate for Epsom 2011
Originally published in Te Awa, the quarterly members’ magazine of the Green Party, November 2010

4 thoughts on “The Politics of Change

  1. Pingback: Proudly left behind rather than out in front «

  2. Pingback: Political Spectrum Tests « Aug in Hamilton's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s