The Revenge of the Local

The defining cultural struggle of the early 21st century will be between the local and the global. This is already familiar ground in this column. In our post-Cold War, post-industrial world, a globalized electronic capitalist culture is working to impose a single worldwide market economy with a single set of marketized cultural values.

It's much more convenient for global capital (which is, of course, Northern capital) to have the same hotels and restaurants in every city, all accepting the same credit cards. In the free trade era, local products—from food grains to pop stars—are crowded out by the omnipresent, and promotionally omnipotent, culture of the Global Colossus. Around the world today, you hear the same songs and see the same cable channels. And with the global culture comes a global pay scale and global environmental standards. These, of course, are the only standards set by Third World local practices.

Complications are bound to ensue. People don't live in a global marketplace. They live in villages and neighborhoods, on particular land that has nurtured particular histories and traditions. Those local identities must, and will, be expressed, one way or another, for better or worse.

This subject is much on my mind these days because my family has taken a decisive stand for the local, with all its ambiguities. We just moved from the Babylon of the Information Age (the Washington, D.C. area) to a small town in the northeast corner of my native Mississippi. As has been widely noted, at least by Southerners, the South is a sort of quasi-colonial, semi-underdeveloped territory within the United States. It has been viewed by the rest of the country as a cesspool of ignorance, poverty, and disease; useful mostly as a source of cheap labor, raw materials, and cool music.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1997
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