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Local to Global, or Global to Local?

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

Local to Global, or Global to Local?

The vast, inchoate vacuum into which we’ve all been thrown doesn’t even have a name. Calling it ‘global’ is like 19th century physicists talking about light propagation in the ‘ether.’ It refers to something everyone takes as a given, but for which no one can demonstrate tangible validity.

The philosophical and psychological collapse of the nation-state has made all thinking people into citizens without countries. Sure, the frameworks and functions of the State still exist, and most of us have passports that say ‘citizen of the USA,’ or ‘citizen of New Zealand,’ or ‘citizen of Saudi Arabia.’ But a passport does not a patriot make.

Not that being a patriot, which is defined as “somebody who proudly supports or defends his or her country and its way of life,” is a virtue. Perhaps it had limited value when coherent countries with clear boundaries existed. But in a world where nations survive in name only, pigheadedly hanging onto identification with ‘my country’ is clearly a vice.

Of course nationalism has always been at the root of what ails humankind--the primitive division between ‘us’ and ‘them’ that has produced thousands of wars since the beginning of civilization, and even before. But there is a huge difference between a cohesive people fighting against subjugation and for self-determination, and atomistic dividuals in the Empire anachronistically united in waving flags, building walls, and sending mercenary armies abroad.

Is reactionary nationalism on its last legs in the global society, even in militaristic America, or is it gaining momentum all over hell?

The erosion of the State and the growing threats of nationalism are precisely what make ours a time of real and present danger. Witness the Bush Administration. As the decisive Democratic and Republican races come down to the last few weeks before the January primaries, which will most likely pick the candidates and set the mold, the Democrats are largely avoiding the issue of ‘national security,’ while the Republicans are trumpeting their cave-man credentials. It’s crunch time.

We live in an age when promoting national security inevitably means increasing human insecurity. That principle applies to everyone. For example, Pakistan, which has at least a few dozen nuclear weapons, bleeds into Afghanistan, which bleeds into Iraq, which bleeds into Iran. When one of these or any of the other intertwined political or economic knots break, there will be a cascading effect on all of us that will be felt immediately. And not just in the price of gas at the pump, or a recession in the global economy.

Once the collapse occurs it will be too late to put an alternative to rapacious capitalism and the outmoded international order in place. What is to be done now?

There is the prevalent excuse that ‘I can’t get my head around things at the global level.’ That’s one of the reasons political globalization lags so far behind economic globalization.

Also, for many, the fear of top-down control or direction infuses their philosophy and limits their action, resulting in an inadequate response. Reactively attempting to reassert local management over global reality merely surrenders the field to voracious economic globalizers, who are only too willing to exploit every labor differential to increase their profit margins.

While local and regional initiatives are seedbeds of ideas and initiatives, they need to be placed in a genuinely global perspective from the outset. An adequate response to global warming, species extinction, and economic injustice (exemplified by the new, worldwide ‘food for oil’ program, in which corn feeds SUV’s rather than people) cannot be achieved by a local-to-global approach.

It isn’t just that local, regional and global initiatives are inseparable, but that the local/national reality has been completely superseded by the global nature of the environmental and societal emergency. The vain hope that local initiatives will someday, somehow miraculously replicate and crystallize into a coherent whole is woefully, even willfully naïve.

I recently spoke with an influential person in Ottawa, one of best and most important cities in the world, about the local vs. global approach. She is involved in putting in place such provincial ‘solutions’ as a barter system, and replacing currency with script. Having experienced such answers in a developing country, I can attest that people are no less likely to get screwed by their neighbors than they are by transnational corporations.

People are essentially the same everywhere; the difference is only a matter of scale. Good people can't pretend that we can ignore and reverse existing economies and policies of scale, but have to meet them with our own.

One cannot act globally if one doesn’t think globally. Solutions to egregious inequity and environmental catastrophe will not come from hunkering down in our localities, but from awakening ourselves and taking the whole and long view. We can then step into (or out of) the global vacuum, acting intelligently and responding adequately with like-minded people around the world.


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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