What does it mean to be local? To be a part of a local economy? To be a neighbor in a neighborhood? But then again, what does it mean to be a neighbor in a community that is not defined by geography? These questions are especially important in a time that globalism is the norm, the world is literally at our fingertips and our personal positive and negative impact is damn near unknowable. As you know from a previous post (here), I have had the pleasure recently of reading a few of Wendell Berry’s essays concerning locality, personal responsibility and the value of community. He is a man that I do not always agree with but cannot deny his depth of insight and wisdom. He writes mostly of the fall of rural culture and economy, and is very concerned with the plight of the small farm and its effect on our society and economy. We are not a rural or agrarian company by any means, but we share his concerns for local culture and economy. One thing that seems to be very clear is that when we become nameless, faceless and all together anonymous in our global society, we are treading into dangerous territory. Accountability becomes fantasy and men are commonly reduced to their most base self. I believe that real value, quality, and richness is found in real community.
To really value your community you have to know and be known by your community. Wendell Berry says that he feels, “We are involved now in a profound failure of imagination. Most of us cannot imagine the wheat beyond the bread, or the farmer beyond the wheat, or the farm beyond the farmer, or the history beyond the farm. Most people cannot imagine the forest and the forest economy that produced their houses and furniture and paper; or the landscapes, the streams and the weather that fill their pitchers and bathtubs and swimming pools with water. Most people appear to assume that when they have paid their money for these things they have entirely met their obligations.” The same can be said for labor. We seem to be comfortable giving up our time, effort, and sometimes our spirit for a paycheck. Money is exchanged and obligations are met, but are all things truly accounted for? Our work should be more than just “time served”. And life should be more than meeting perceived obligations. Should we not aspire to live through concern, responsibility and love rather than mere obligations? What we do for work and what we work for should not require us to surrender ourselves. To lose ourselves in the swell of wanton desire should be unacceptable. But for the most part, we are conditioned to accept such ideas from a very young and impressionable age. What would it take to change? What would change even look like? I have no idea. But I do believe that it starts with knowing and being known and that most effectively happens in real live community. In closing let me encourage us all to look beyond our habits and seek to build our community through the building of our relationships, professional and personal. I believe we can find a security and a depth of life that has become scarce.
“Money does not bring forth food. Neither does the technology of the food system. Food comes from nature and from the work of people. If the supply of food is to be continuous for a long time, then people must work in harmony with nature. That means that people must find the right answers to a lot of hard practical questions…
So far as I can see, the idea of a local economy rests upon only two principles: neighborhood and subsistence. In a viable neighborhood, neighbors ask themselves what they can do or provide for one another, and they find answers that they and their place can afford. This, and nothing else, is the practice of neighborhood. This practice must be, in part, charitable, but it must also be economic, and the economic part must be equitable; there is a significant charity in just prices. Of course, everything needed locally cannot be produced locally. But a viable neighborhood is a community; and a viable community is made up of neighbors who cherish and protect what they have in common. This is the principle of subsistence. A viable community, like a viable farm, protects its own production capacities. It does not import products that it can produce for itself. And it does not export local products until local needs have been met. The economic products of a viable community are understood either as belonging to the community’s subsistence or as surplus, and only the surplus is considered to be marketable abroad. A community, if it is to be viable, cannot think of producing solely for export, and it cannot permit importers to use cheaper labor and goods from other places to destroy the local capacity to produce goods that are needed locally. In charity, moreover, it must refuse to import goods that are produced at the cost of human or ecological degradation elsewhere. This principle applies not just to localities, but to regions and nations as well.
The principles of neighborhood and subsistence will be disparaged by the globalists as “protectionism” – and that is exactly what it is. It is a protectionism that is just and sound, because it protects local producers and is the best assurance of adequate supplies to local consumers. And the idea that local needs should be met first and only surpluses exported does not imply any prejudice against charity toward people in other places or trade with them. The principle of neighborhood at home always implies the principle of charity abroad. And the principle of subsistence is in fact the best guarantee of giveable or marketable surpluses. This kind of protection is not ‘isolationism.'”