On red and green politics and the need to think critically

Last Sunday I attended an online symposium, organised by the Philosophy in Pubs national group, that discussed some aspects of the thinking of the left wing polymath Raymond Williams. Being a member of the Green Party, and having been twice a member of the Labour Party, of particular interest to me was the first session, ‘Red and Green, Ecology and Politics’, focussing on a paper Williams wrote in 1984 entitled ‘Ecology and The Labour Movement’. My own take on the relationship between these two political movements has been heavily influenced by a book written by the French philosopher Michel Serres.

In The Natural Contract Serres argues that to date human history has been dominated by some form of a social contract, by our concern with finding the right or correct form of social relations (including economic and political relations), and in so doing we have ignored the damage we have done to the planet, to our environment, our home. He argues that to remedy this we need a natural contract to sit alongside our social one. The Labour movement, in all its variations, along with all the other political movements, have been likewise blind to the essential relationships that exits between human society and its natural environment. They have argued about what they consider to be the correct relationship between humans, but have only seen the planet as a resource to be plundered and polluted. However, for me, when you start to understand our place within nature you are led, quite naturally, to a socialist perspective.

In last Monday’s Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash argued that we need to start fighting back in the war of fake news versus the facts. “To prosper,” he said, “democracy needs a certain kind of public sphere, one in which citizens and their representatives engage in vigorous argument on the basis of shared facts. Restoring that kind of public sphere is now a central task for the renewal of liberal democracy”. I agree, but think that in order to do this we need to start learning how to think critically. Facts don’t just exist waiting to be discovered. They need producing. They need interpreting. And most importantly, they need challenging. And all this requires the ability to think critically. But in all honesty, how many people do you know capable of doing this? How many of us test the robustness of what we are told before accepting it? Most people appear to be able to produce an opinion about everything without actually thinking at all. So one of the best reforms we could make to the education system would be to make critical thinking part of the national curriculum. We also need to find a way of introducing critical thinking into the national conversation. Ideas on how we could do this anyone?

One of the areas in particular need of critical thinking skills is the anti-vax movement. I read a report this morning of a video that has since been banned from most social media sites that has been putting people from vulnerable groups off having the Covid vaccine. The video, entitled Ask the Experts, claimed to show a number of medical professionals explaining the dangers of the vaccine and why we should refuse it. This raises a number of questions. Should be simply ban ideas from being publicly expressed because we regard them as dangerous? Who decides? Should we not have the right to decide for ourselves who is telling ‘the truth’? And, most importantly, have we all got the critical thinking skills to come to our own decisions? I do not find questions such as these easy to answer but would really like to start a public debate – but how?

By way of a final comment for this week, I have nothing but praise for the volunteers and staff at Bridport Medical Centre for their delivery of the Covid vaccine. I received my first jab last week, and despite the huge numbers of people ‘being processed’ is was done incredibly efficiently and in a very welcoming and friendly atmosphere. I for one have no reservations about receiving the vaccine. Nothing we do or take into us is without risk. For me, though, the risks associated with not receiving it far outweigh the risks of receiving it.

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