Localism

I came across this picture/quote at the Archive Fire blog in a post entitled “nationalism is fascism“.

Until quite recently I would have unquestionably agreed with the title and sentiment of the post– nationalism is so close as to be identical to fascism in most cases, and it is quite often the case here in Australia. I’ve argued with people that there is no logical basis for patriotism, as all it consists of is an a priori assumption that your nation is better than another.

Blog author Michael suggests in the comment thread an alternative to nationalism that also resists the hegemonic term ‘globalism’ and it’s capitalist overtones, suggesting that,

…rich, diverse planetary ways of being and knowing open up possibilities that could compel us to be better with and for each other.

Which is all well and true, but as John Ralston Saul pointed out in his talk at the Sydney Writers festival recently, apart from a few global elites who spend their lives jetting around the world Ryan Bingham style, most of us are and will spend out lives as citizens largely of one place. For the majority of the earth’s population, we exist in a more or less single location.

Perhaps more to the point, what makes any one place in the world any more or less a part of the global thinking than any other? Why privilege the unknown/other place in your planetary/global thinking?

There seems in fact no other level to engage with “planetary ways of being and knowing” except the very local and immediate vicinity. It’s a cliché, but I think there’s truth to the oft denigrated slogan “think global, act local” and while it does ring with a sense of falseness and defeatism, I think that’s a result of a lack of momentum or the ‘critical mass’ necessary to make it work. If enough of us actually did think globally – or if capitalism were to be suddenly replaced with a system that included thinking globally – it would only make sense to act locally. Where else do we act other than where our own bodies and lives touch the earth?

Yes, let’s promote thinking and knowing on a planetary scale, as Jeremy Rifkin has suggested will be necessary if we are to stave off complete planetary entropic disaster. But we also aught not practice the mental writing-off of everywhere outside our own patches of turf until that critical mass is achieved, for that smacks of selfish short-sighted libertarianism.

In light of all this, I’m thinking again about nationalism and a piece I’m writing at the moment for the Killscreen Magazine. I’m writing about the issue of Australian nationalism and identity and while I won’t go into too many details, I would like to float the idea of a not entirely repulsive Australian nationalism based around an appreciation of the unique landscape that is outside our own back door.

Here’s an extract that I think speaks to the issue,

…the 1930s and 40s saw a resurgent interest in an Australian nationalism in connection with the land, and according to Bill Ashcroft and John Salter, saw the ‘establishment of a legitimate link between the people and the Australian landscape.’ In a three-part essay from 1935 on ‘The Foundations of Culture in Australia’ PR Stevenson, considering the case for an Australian identity, advocates for one informed by the environment itself. He suggests that ‘as the culture of every nation is an intellectual and emotional expression of the genius loci, our Australian culture will diverge from the purely local colour of the British Islands to the precise extent that our environment differs from that of Britain. A hemisphere separates us from “home”—we are Antipodeans; a gumtree is not a branch of an oak; our Australian culture will evolve distinctively.’

It probably helps that PR Stevenson was a beautiful raging communist in the years before he came home to Australia, turned into a nationalist, and began writing about how our twigs and grasses and venomous animals add to the national character. At least his brand of nationalism is an inward looking one, and not one facing an ominous, encroaching outsider.

So I’m going to say that the kind of ‘localism’ that involves a strong sense of connection to place, along with a nationalism approaching a communal acceptance of such, goes a long way towards planetary level empathy. I’m going to resist naively saying that it’s the solution, but perhaps it’s at least one solution.