The charm of the local

Think of the small, traditional community. They have their own traditions of food and music and of the market and of governance.

The earth is full of little communities like this. Such a diversity is beautiful and inspires a sort of loyalty and longing in the onlooker.

This experience can inspire people either to a kind of leftist politics or to a kind of conservatism, in the face of modern capitalism. I feel the pull of both varieties, in different ways. They are allied in their resistance to a form of the market that erases local differences and which, in large part, destroys local markets to replace them with national and international markets.

The experience does not come prepackaged with a programme of political action, but it is very often a large part of the motivation behind such programmes.

I don’t know the best way to nurture the local community with its local traditions, without giving up too many of the best benefits of capitalism, benefits which we can hardly do without entirely in the modern world, even if individuals or small groups may try to opt out of them. The search for the best way, or even for the best ways to talk about searching for a best way, has been a major motivation behind my own studies in recent years.

I don’t think the answer is to try to bring change from the bottom up, starting with voluntary communities that choose to live against the logic of the homogeneous society. There’s a place for that, an important place, and those individuals or communities that strain for it are praiseworthy in my view.

But I see it as a partial resistance, a last stand, doomed to failure. Asking people to fight the gravitational pull of the systems into which they are born and which structure our entire world may be successful in the case of a very few, or may even sometimes be temporarily victorious for a large movement of people.

But it’s a weak solution, out of proportion to the problem it seeks to answer. For anyone who really cares about the problem, it is necessary to desire and hope for and, for some at least, to work toward, change on a higher level, at the level of political efforts and the structuring of the economy.

I don’t know if changes of that sort will ever be thinkable. I do know that without them, the charm of the local will be increasingly lost, forgotten, replaced with uniformity and ever-shifting culture wars and an endless procession of new fashions.

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