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A classic leftist slogan, and not even the most harmful. (Not sure which is, but ‘my body, my choice’ springs to mind.) Still, it leads to obvious problems. Let’s try a test syllogism, shall we?
- Think Globally: The Kulaks are robbing the Soviet State blind.
- That guy Jerry is a Kulak.
- Act Locally: Excuse me while I find a short length of rope.
There are three problems with that syllogism. One, the initial premise is just wrong. The Soviet state can rob itself blind, thank you very much. Two, it doesn’t follow that even though Jerry is a Kulak he’s one of the ones causing trouble. And three, what are you doing hanging around with a Kulak to begin with? Do you want to get sent to the camps?
In all fairness, we ought to stipulate the leftist is going to get his major premise wrong. If he were correct in his global thinking he’d be a right winger, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Let’s try another syllogism:
- Think Globally: The environment is good and we need more of it.
- Recycling saves the environment
- Act Locally: I should persuade my local town to set up a recycling program!
Stipulating the major premise, the minor premise (Recycling saves the environment) is at best dubious. But I’m not here to catalog the merits or demerits of that system, only to note that a reasonable person can come to the conclusion that it’s all a crock and darn if he’s going to do it.
Let’s time warp back to the ’70s for a bit. Your local leftist has convinced the city government to accept recycling at the local dump. Or maybe the guy with the truck at the Exxon station every second Saturday who picks up aluminum (you know he was already there) can be persuaded to also ship out your old copies of National Geographic. Result, some recycling gets done with minimal imposition on the rest of us.
Step forward a bit. Here’s where the trouble starts. The leftist continues thinking globally and is shocked to find out that the environment is still in danger. Clearly, he’s not recycling hard enough! Couple things start happening here, he starts raising awareness, and he campaigns to make the recycling laws mandatory. Both things are impositions on his fellow citizens.
For one thing, he’s gone and screwed the local crank. That guy doesn’t want to recycle, and he’ll resent all the mailers and advertising (what did you think ‘raising awareness’ meant?) required to change his habits. The leftist has imposed a large cost on this guy’s quality of life for a minuscule gain in the amount of material that’s recycled. It ain’t as bad as stringing up a Kulak, but you’re imposing a tangible local cost for a dubious global gain.
Thinking globally also puts you in the frame of thinking of global solutions, which usually puts you out of considering local conditions. “Don’t waste water” is excellent advice in California, where you’re never more than ten feet from a wildfire. It makes less sense here in Wisconsin, where anywhere the cows aren’t standing is probably a lake.
Ostensibly acting locally implies that you’d consider the local conditions before implementing your one-size-fits-all solution, but thinkin’s hard, man. It’s easier to digest the pre-packaged slogans from someone else’s initiative (hey waitaminute, who’s selling you this and why aren’t they acting locally instead?) And hey, while you’re considering local conditions, try considering some local problems. Odds are you’ll get better results while pissing off fewer cranks.
Perhaps we should field strip that first clause to ‘Think.’ Dangerous move; people assume they know how, and they assume they practice it frequently too. But let’s move on to the other half of the slogan.
The recycling maven from up above gets into trouble by bending the state to work his cause. There are some cases where imposing the power of the state to advance a cause is justified. That doesn’t imply there are only cases where that’s true. If you assume that ‘acting locally’ means ‘getting other locals to act for you’ then you’re always going to be imposing negative externalities on your neighbors and former friends.
Howsabout we change that second clause to ‘act personally’? You still get the advantage of small actions leading to big changes (make no mistake, the leftist is correct here; the only way to get real change is for a thousand million people to do their own bit. Just be sure to think it through first.) But if you’re acting personally you lose most of the ways your actions screw over your neighbors.
Consider the revised syllogism:
- Think: The environment is good and we need more of it.
- Still Think: Litter is real darn ugly. Less litter would be good.
- Act Personally: If I pick up litter that makes the environment better.
And hey, what do you know? The end result is someone out there picking up garbage, even when his parole officer isn’t insisting. This makes his town a nicer place, and nobody, not even the old crank, is put out by it at all. We advance the same goal (“we need more environment!”) without also having to murder any Kulaks.
The problem is, as it usually is, that this requires effort on the part of the putative do-gooder.Published in