One thought on “Localization: for People and the Earth

  1. Reblogged this on dan allosso's blog and commented:
    This was a good video. It raised a lot of interesting issues and asked some important questions. I agree with most of it and I think I share the producers’ concerns and goals. But I also have some suggestions.

    I agree that the world has been culturally “colonized” by a western consumerist ideal that benefits the big corporations paying for the ubiquitous ads and billboards and TV commercials shown in the video. But I also thing there are some benefits of global trade that need to be acknowledged and discussed. For example, I really like being able to get fresh citrus fruit during the northern hemisphere winter. I buy a bag of clementines and a bag of grapefruit just about every time I shop. If I was forced to buy only what was in season in my local farm market, my family would basically eat no fresh fruit or vegetables for about half the year.

    A serious dialog about localization needs to address issues like this. Of course, in a “zombie apocalypse” scenario where peak oil or war made long-distance trade impossible, we’d all learn to preserve food like our grandparents did. Farmers would also lose a big part of their markets, if they could only sell to locals. This might be good for small farmers, but it would change not only the food system but population concentration, health, life expectancies in different regions, etc. Up until that point, is there a way to scale back the “free trade globalism” that benefits the big corporations, to something that benefits consumers and producers, without enriching agribusiness?

    At about 5:50 in the video, someone says we need to be able to see ourselves as part of a giant, worldwide “No” to agribusiness corporations like Monsanto. I agree, but this is just the first step. We also need to begin to see ourselves as part of a big, global “Yes” to something meaningful. A lot of the “Yes” stuff in this video shows people dancing and hugging. Okay, great. They’re regaining a sense of community, feeling empowered. I get that. But I think it’s going to be important, if you want to attract people who are not already sold on the idea of localization, to also show some results. Contrasting the cold, calculating corporate machine with happy indigenous people is only a first step. You’ve also got to show that a localization movement can create results that are viable alternatives to agribusiness and corporate colonization.

    One of the claims the plutocrats seem to make a lot (if you believe people like Chrystia Freeland) is that although globalization has hollowed out the middle class in America, it has raised hundreds of millions out of poverty in the developing world. A truly global perspective might welcome the impoverishment of working people in America in the name of global equity. Personally, I think this perspective is also the enemy of localization. I think the cost of living is higher in the middle of North America than it is in the middle of China or India. So reducing American wages and raising Asian wages to some global mean does not make everybody equally well off. Localization would mean that local prices reflect local economies rather than the global economy. Potatoes should cost more in Minnesota than in Cochabamba. While it’s cool to show images of cultural diversity in videos like this one, I think we need to acknowledge that localization means a slower ramp toward global equality. If only to prevent panic in the American Midwest, which could be a big source of support for the movement.

    Finally, and this might be the hardest to hear, I think you need to downplay the re-spiritualization pitch. You seem to assume, to be perfectly honest, that atheism makes a person a corporate globalist. And that localization will give everybody a spiritual connection with the great mother. I think you’re wrong on two fronts. First, I think it’s entirely possible to be a complete materialist and to support localization and even a simpler, back-to-the-land lifestyle. Second, I think you’re alienating as many people as you’re attracting when you build one of the central pillars of your pitch around the idea that localization is a spiritual movement. Your conclusion talks about reclaiming our diversity, which I agree is important. But then it implies that it’s this diversity (and by implication, traditional wisdom including a semi-mystical connectedness) that’s going to provide the answers. I think this is true, but only to an extent. When historian James C. Scott criticized “high modernism” and proposed “Metis” wisdom as an alternative, it worked for me. When you name your Facebook page “theeconomicsof happiness,” I start to worry that you’re going to abandon economic arguments for a type of discourse that in my opinion is only effective with people who are already onboard.

    I’m not saying there’s no place for beauty and cultural diversity in your message. I’m just suggesting it shouldn’t be about one or the other. We need to make an economic case about sustainability. Even about efficient allocation. Local markets filled with myriad small suppliers might better reflect actual supply and demand than big corporations making top-down decisions — in this sense, corporations are the new states and Scott’s critique applies equally to them. Imagine how believers in a free market (many of whom are already suspicious of big corporations as well as government) would react to this line of reasoning. All I’m saying is, don’t paint yourself into a corner.

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