Localism is too superficial

Some of my friends are localists. By that term I mean that they believe most or all of our problems would be solved if we just lived in local communities instead of nations. Know your bioregion, your local ecosystem, your watershed. Form a bond with it, an affection for it, a deep knowledge of it. Then you’ll be a much better farmer, and a much better member of your community. These people refer to Wendell Berry’s notion of “a sense of place,” and Derrick Jensen’s belief that living in a large population society cannot be sustainable.

I disagree almost completely. It’s true that localism would address some superficial problems, and it would reduce the energy spent on transportation, but that’s about it. Our worst problems — global warming and war — cannot be addressed locally. The excess carbon in the atmosphere doesn’t stop at the edge of the watershed. (In the event of a nuclear war, the drifting clouds of radioactive fallout don’t stop at the edge of the watershed, nor at national boundaries; they don’t even spare peaceful nations.) And company towns and Jim Crow laws are two examples of horrible local government.

We have a global culture. Certainly there are local variants in it, but the most fundamental parts of our way of life are universal. We all make babies the same way. The people of different continents may see themselves as very different, but — aside from a few isolated tribes in the forests and deserts — we all live in houses or apartments, drive cars on roads, and talk to each other on telephones. More importantly,

we all sell our labor to buy material  
possessions which we own separately.

Those similarities shape our lives and our thinking, so that what we have in common is far greater than the little ways we differ. And the world’s main problems are caused by some of those things we have in common. We accept our way of life as “normal,” without question, and its toxic side effects are as invisible and unnoticed as the air we breathe.

Ecocide is inherent in our present way of life. It will kill us all, unless we turn to a different way of life soon. There are other ways of life, you know. We need a worldwide change in culture.


2019 July 22, version 1.03.

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