I frequently wonder what people mean when they say something. For example, "I love you" is a common phrase, but its meaning runs the gamut from: a) I think you would make a jazzy Saturday night, to; z) I will pay your rent, care for your children, and I will always be faithful to you.
Which does "I love you" mean? Both? Neither? Something in between? Or, "a" through "z", and everything in between?
I have the same confusion about the phrase "Think Globally, Act Locally." I understand the "act local" part, but what does "think globally" mean?
Does it mean that green house gases originating in China is a problem for Green Forest, Arkansas--and that the people of Green Forest and the Chinese should work together to solve it?
Or, does it mean that an American (or a British, French, Russian) corporation should enter every market, secure every customer, and make every possible profit through a vigorous global strategy? It is a fact that a lot of businesses hold that aspiration; at least one of them is headquartered in Arkansas.
Daniel Quinn, the writer of a very odd collection of books about modern civilization and Nature (big "N" intended), believes that civilized man is simply and purely a constant global warrior. In his novels, civilized man "conquers" disease, space, deserts, economies, aboriginal cultures, geographies, superstitions, markets, and so on: he argues, simply--in books like Ishmael and The Story of B--that "thinking globally" is a linguistic nicety to describe man's unceasing warfare against just about everything that constitutes our history and experience over the past 10,000 years.
I don't recommend these books. Quinn has a half dozen ideas or so that are interesting to think about, but he embeds them in hundreds of pages of flab that are excruciatingly banal. I wish that he had summarized them in a couple of articles, or Letters to Editors. One of his valuable ideas is that Government and Big Business are very much alike; they are both built on the truth that everything is easy and simple if you eliminate liberty, and willingly exchange responsibility for comfort.
"Acting locally" often requires an exchange of comfort for personal responsibility. A good "local" example is the immense heat we invested in the last Presidential election, while virtually ignoring political races for Carroll County's Quorum Court. These birds are responsible for how land is used in Carroll County, for the quality of our water, for economic development, and for myriad decisions that directly affect both our standard of living and the quality of our lives. Right here, right now, in this "local" place.
Yet, being involved in local politics means showing up at Quorum Court meetings, knowing the positions of elected officials, and educating them when they are wrong or, as is often the case, just bone ignorant and idle. It means shutting off C-Span, and going out to candidate forums, investing time and money, and organizing for or against certain positions. These are not comfortable activities, but they are the responsible thing to do.
We are more familiar with imprecations to "buy local," a notion I fully support. But what does that mean? I'd like to buy a pair of socks that doesn't come from Wal-Mart, but where can I do that, locally? The truth of the matter is that we have allowed rural economies to become so stratified and fragile that we often have little or no choice in the matter of where we spend our money. What are our local officials doing to make our local economy less fragile?
It's also great to buy food locally, and we can all feel good about shopping at farmers' markets and locally supplied grocery stores. But what are farmers doing to assure that we have adequate supplies of affordable, safe, local food? One big problem is that local production is insufficient to meet the potential of the market. Yet, farmers argue that consumers are so used to eating cheap, processed crap that they won't step up to the plate and buy food that costs a little more and requires preparation.
The solution is entirely local. Small local farmers will produce more fresh local food for local consumers when local consumers step up to the plate in sufficient numbers to allow small local farmers to lower prices. After you, Alphonse.
So here it is: I am sure that we are all delighted to think globally for the sheer manic fun of such fine and elevated conversation. After all, abstract warfare is safe warfare. But if we want our Town Square toilets to be clean, our environment to be healthy, and our small businesses and farms to thrive, we need to "wage war" at home.