Localism Under Fire- Globally?

By Joe Hyer

The premiere issue of Living Local, back in 2015, had the Wikipedia definition of ‘Localism’ as the front page story.  Three years later, I went back and looked again.  Here’s what it was:

Localism describes a range of political philosophies which prioritize the local. Generally, localism supports local production and consumption of goods, local control of government, and promotion of local history, local culture and local identity. Localism can be contrasted with regionalism and centralized government, with its opposite being found in the unitary state.

That definition is still there, but now listed as ‘Localism (politics)’.  Under just ‘Localism’ Wikipedia is in the midst of disambiguation, and no, I did not just make up that word, even the spellcheck recognizes it.  There’s some evolution going on:

In general usage, localism (local+ism) refers to a tendency of local groups (cultures, nations, communities) to be narrow in their worldview, and dismissive of concepts which emphasize broader concepts of community, such as globalism and universalism. In this context, localism may refer to exclusive or self-oriented concepts (ethnocentrism, nationalism, and classism), and is often a suitable substitute for terms which may be considered more pejorative in particular contexts.

Narrow?  Dismissive? Exclusive?  Self-Oriented?  Classism? Nationalism?  I don’t think that’s what we meant at all.  That’s ‘provincialism’.  This is what’s caused the disambiguation- competing definitions that are mutually exclusive.  They also suggest a connection to Localism and ‘Locals Only’ begun by the surf culture on California beaches, which attempts to exclude visitors from the best waves.

These definitions seem to want Globalism and Localism to be two ends to a spectrum, opposites in many ways, when we intended the terms to be identical, just a different scale.  Polarization on many fronts seems to be the message of the day out there in the world, and now this outdated, two-dimensional thinking is trying to polarize a movement meant to be both GLOBAL and LOCAL, at the same time.

Just as we learned in high school geometry with the Z-axis, the universe has MORE than 2 dimensions.  Spectrums can be nuanced, and not just bipolar.  It’s not either/or, but rather a combination or culmination of both.  Of note – the Wikipedia tries to direct you to ‘Globalization’ when you type in Globalism.

And they trace the origins of Globalism back to Roman times and even before, placing it as the Dominant theory.  Interesting- another cultural reflection in the two terms – one dominant, one more recessive.  And globalization is defined much more as a process – but also as logical pathway for society.  The very definition seems to assume that Globalization is and will occur in human civilization.

            What comes to mind is that whether it lands on heads or tails, it’s still a nickel.  Two sides of the same thing.  We approach Localism through filters – our own personal and our community values.  Applying our values to our actions creates Localism.

Applying those same base values around the world – community, equality, kindness, and that the whole is equally (not more or less) important as the individual, and we discover that Globalism CAN be a community too.  Individuals acting according to their values creates a community.  Communities acting according to their values make up Nations – and that creates the Global Community, reflective of Local values.

I was disconcerted to see the Wikipedia has no term ‘Global Community.’  My first thought was to remember there is life beyond Wikipedia.  My second was to look below and see they were re-directing to the term ‘World Community.’

It seems the term Localism has evolved, and many are trying to morph it into a more negative or pejorative term.  The same though, seems to have happened with Globalism as 15 years ago it had a very positive connotation (world peace, takes a village, free trade), and today, it is often equated with exploitation, environmental degradation and other not so good things.

The old phrase Think Globally, Act Locally comes to mind- but it’s all wrong in this context.  Thinking Globally only works if you are thinking about the Global Community, and not globally owning all the mining and mineral resources.  And acting locally is only helpful if it’s in the best interest of the Community.

Perhaps it’s time to update our own definition of Localism.

Localism is a process, a continual application of our shared values in community-building, whatever the size and scope of the community.

Better ideas?