A delusion is an idea that is willfully maintained in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. By that definition, the current ideology of localism, which has become almost theological on the left, has become a delusion.
In a piece that positively drips with wishful thinking and argument from false premises, Richard Heinberg, in “Two Arguments For Localism,” unequivocally states, “‘Nature’ is an abstraction, but the urge to protect one’s home is powerful.”
There are so many wrongheaded assumptions like that in the putative philosophy of localism that it’s hard to know where to begin. Localism is to the left what nationalism is to right—an idea that people cling to because they feel incapable of facing and responding to the scale of the unprecedented crisis that humankind faces.
“A reversion to a more localized form of social organization is an entirely predictable consequence of past and current trends,” Heinberg pronounces.
The underlying illusion of localism is that we can return to a romanticized past, and that the unprecedented challenges to the Earth’s viability and to the human prospect are not unprecedented, but have precedents that we can look to and take comfort in.
That is false on the face of it. If long-distance transport, communications and capital collapse without a true global civilization emerging, then the present globalizing hellscape will be replaced by a fragmented, Mad Max hellscape, not some “let a thousand flowers bloom” ideal of localized harmony.
Localists rightly equate our profoundly unbalanced, unjust and dystopian international order with “widespread assumptions about progress and economic growth leading to a better future.” There is no global order however, just a crumbling, post-World War II international order with globalized aspects.
The delusion that humankind can return to the halcyon times of geographical and indigenous locality is simply the flipside Trumpist ideology, which asserts that America can triumphantly return to 19th century imperial and colonialist competition and power struggles.
Heinberg proclaims: “There are good reasons to think that our current bout of globalization is actually a brief, fragile, and highly problematic phase of human history…I would argue that there are signs that the recent cycle of global integration has already run its course.”
The desire for a collapse of the rotten world order, when not coupled with a genuine concern for the earth and humanity (both of which localists absurdly consider abstractions), is a sophisticated form of misanthropy.
In lieu of evidence and logic, Heinberg resorts to unexamined assumptions that have the whiff of both screed and creed. “Societies seem to pass through a ‘secular cycle’ in which they grow in size and interconnectedness, but then experience instability and decline, becoming more decentralized and isolated once again…this secular cycle mirrors the adaptive cycle discussed in ecological literature.”
That’s pure poppycock, falling under the erroneous subtitle, “Localism Is Inevitable.” It isn’t, unless the fragmentation localists are unwittingly promoting help make it so.
Then comes an equally suspect second argument arising from Heinberg’s unexamined premises. “The past few decades have seen many social movements advocating localization, driven mostly by concerns for equity, human rights, and environmental protection…Localism is largely a corrective to the depredations and excesses of corporate globalization.” The first part is tragically true; the second is blatant wishful thinking.
Heinberg cites the retrograde ideas of Sebastian Junger, who “argues in his influential book Tribe, [that] humans evolved living in small groups and function best in contexts where they know one another face-to-face.”
Taking an obvious fact (that humans evolved in small groups), Junger and Heinberg spin it up into an apologia for tribalism, and a call for people to revert to it. Is it really necessary to point out that nationalism, and its current atavistic iteration in America, white nationalism, are forms of tribalism?
At the core of localist ideology is a poor theory of human nature, a half-baked political philosophy, and a pollyannaish prescription for limiting power all rolled into one:
“When political and social entities grow in size, the likelihood of power concentration increases. And people tend to handle lots of power poorly. The only sure way to keep power inequality from causing extreme injustice and social instability is to keep the scale of social organization small.”
Localists are actually bedfellows of nationalists like President Bolsonaro of Brazil, who, as the Amazon burns, tweets Trump that he wants to work “for an environmental policy that respects the sovereignty of countries.”
The word ‘sovereignty’ means ‘supreme principle,’ and in this undeniably global society, the only true sovereignty is the sovereignty of humanity. The sovereignty of nation-states is dead, and belongs in the dustbin of history.
The global has become local, and the local has become global. Denial of this truth only adds to the fragmentation and destruction of the earth and humanity.