Think Locally; Act Locally: In Praise of Being Narrow Minded

Think locally and act locally. You may recognize that this is a riff on the famous Earth Day slogan, “Think globally and act locally.” I don’t think that we can think globally, and I have come to believe it is a bad thing even to try. I observe that thinking globally dissipates energy.

Don't you think the world might be a better place if people minded their own business? I don't mean this in the typical way of asking people not to bother us. I mean really minding -tending to- the things they can do.

Am I concerned with the plight of refugees in Syria or with potential famine in the Sahel? Yes. Am I going to do anything about it? No. These things are globally more important than tending to my couple hundred acres of forest, but any effort I would reasonably make to solve these big problems would be a pee in the ocean, a waste of time for anything but potential virtue signaling. On the other hand, efforts in my forest will regenerate habitat for a generation. That is more important for me and to me, since it is mine to decide.

We live in a world of distributed power, distributed information and distributed decision making. We depend on the efforts and intelligence of others, since our own intelligence is so puny as to be almost undetectable in the aggregate, our effort so inconsequential to be - repeating - a pee in the ocean. But when we do our part and do it well, we increase the general intelligence and effort. This works if and only if we are tending to our own business and taking responsibility for that. The person so concerned with the big problems of the world that he neglects his near environment is useless. I do not admire this sort of "big hearted" but inconsequential folks, never have. Unfortunately, society sometimes admires these guys. They seem unselfish. But what is more selfish than not doing their part because they claim to be above the "smallness" of doing it.

I don't like those people who claim to love all humanity, yet cannot think of very many people they like, the environmentalist who is concerned about the big picture of global climate change, but still drives a big car, lives in a big house and jets around the world first-class or in private planes.

It is not that I hate hypocrisy. In fact, I see its uses. Hypocrisy is the tribute vice plays to virtue and there are plenty of good reasons to play a role in many situations. It is kind of like protocol. Do they expected things, even if they are not the ones you would otherwise choose. Sincerity is overrated. What counts are values and motivation as evidenced not by saying the right things but by doing them. That is why I so dislike the convenience of expressing concern for the big things that the individual cannot affect substituting for activity on little ones that he can.

We all want to change the world and all of us can, all of us do. But we don't play the starring roles. Playing a role is a good analogy. Our choice is often between playing at a contrived great role that makes us legends in our own minds but does nothing useful, maybe even a negative outcome, or choosing an effective real one that accomplishes little in the great scheme of things, but a lot in terms of the cards you were dealt to play.

I think what applies here is variation on the idea that it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. A lot of "globally aware" activists are in the cursing business, and it often works for them. They can get credit for being sensitive and if they run an organization the gnashing of teeth is a good way to raise consciousness and raise money. Those working on narrower interests get less attention, but they get more done.
One more thought - communists and Nazis gave collective effort a bad name. This is because their version of it was bogus. It was not collective effort, but rather collected effort manipulated and centrally directed. True collective effort is distributed and emergent. It comes from the millions of decisions and aspirations.

Contributors need not get together, need not even know or like each other. The complex relationships among them is what makes the system work, not the heroic efforts of some fighters who can "truly think globally."

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