“All politics is local”: once a savvy saying, now a wistful whine. All culture, too, used to be local, but that’s changing fast. The rule of thumb for distinguishing between vestiges of the merely local and harbingers of the emerging global is simple: efficiency.
You can fit many more units of global into your life because each unit requires you to do far less. Global is 24-7 with no capricious “day of rest.” Local culture coats your tongue, colors your speech, flavors your mind, gets all over your clothes and under your fingernails, makes you a veritable zombie in its service, while global culture is clean and modular: Simple, interchangeable units plug easily into and out of the desired modemality. Local means being stuck in character all your life; global means never having any character at all.
Global permits you to be a tourist in life, just driving through, as opposed to being “on the ground,” rolling around in the dirt with the rest of the planet’s lower fauna; it allows you to pick and choose among the nice parts (cuisine, amusing dances, bizarre costumes, touching legends), while leaving the nasty parts (nationalism, chauvinism, sexism, religion, military service) alone. Would you rather be very good at just one culture, or appreciate many? Would you rather be “just yourself,” or all things to all people? Global regards local much as the Dustin Hoffman character in Wag the Dog regards the masses whom his artfully crafted sentimentality has moved to tears. (“Real tears,” he murmurs. “It’s my greatest production ever!”) In other words, local culture is a spectacle, but not one you’d want to take seriously enough to be trapped inside forever.
The globally cultured realize that, all things being equal, nothing in particular is worth a damn. There’s always someone or something bigger, better, smarter, faster, cooler, hipper, weirder, or just different somewhere else or other, so why bother? Everything suffers by global comparison. If you’ve seen them all, you’ve seen that one—been there, done that. Why stop at anything? Instead of wasting your life painstakingly mastering a particular culture in order to recreate and reproduce it, wouldn’t you rather subscribe to Humanity’s Greatest Hits and have them all at your fingertips? Why learn and transmit a culture when you can simply access one as needed? And why spend time and energy creating when you can consume with a fraction of the effort?
The entire process of evolution itself has been advanced—or, perhaps, miraculously reversed—by modern methods. The primitive form of evolution led to greater complexity, difficulty, differentiation, separation, incompatibility, and unpredictability. The progressive form reunites, standardizes, equalizes, and radically simplifies. This has already led to a new (but quite temporary) global division of labor. For instance, the best (and cheapest) baseball players come from the Dominican Republic. The best comedians come from Canada, the best motel keepers from India, the best taxi drivers from Kashmir, the best Defense Intelligence Agency and National Security Council employees from mainland China, and so on. Instead of trying to compete for all these professions within a single historically distinct geographic entity (“nation”), let each region specialize in its own area of expertise until such time as progressive evolution has at last abolished all distinctions and all jobs are One.
The following guide highlights the local versus global distinction (senseless busywork versus efficiency):
Local: Listen to the particular melodies of the wind as it blows through your native forests and mountain passes; carve woodwind instruments from selected branches; reproduce these melodies; move slowly to the music in intricate dance patterns so deeply a part of you they are almost unconscious. Later, develop the dance music of your people into symphonies, symphonic poems, variations, mazurkas, polonaises, barcaroles, tarantellas, rondos, minuets, ballads.
Global: Press another selection on your CD player.
Local: Cultivate certain vines and breed them into bearers of the perfect grape; wreathe hillsides with carefully trained and tended plants; pick the grapes at just the right moment; crush them, steep them, rinse them, ferment them, mix them, age them; decant the wine at just the right moment, for a distilled draught of sunlight from a long-lost vineyard.
Global: Drink a can of Coke.
Local: Spend hours in passionate argument at a cafe, sipping the regional aperitif or cordial or wine or beer or downing small cups of strong coffee, you and your friends constituting a long-standing, self-established debating club, informal court, floating chess game, and drinking society.
Global: Watch CNN while drinking a can of Coke.
Local: Proudly prefer your own people; know its history intimately; defend it as if it were your extended family (which it is); revel in the unrivaled beauty of its characteristic complexion, hair texture, eye color, nose and head shape, its famed musicality, its sense of humor, its melancholy verse; loudly discuss among friends its many faults and shortcomings, but disdain hearing these pointed out by outsiders; bask in the “narcissism of small differences,” those quirks and oddities and endearing strangenesses that mark your people as truly itself and none other; extol its precious and unique accomplishments; worry about its vibrancy and potency in a hostile world, since you know that whatever is not growing is probably dying, and that a people without a territory is just another extinct race in the making.
Global: Watch CNN; recognize that all other peoples are much superior to your own, except perhaps for the one that’s been earmarked for this month’s Group Hate.
Local: Memorize hours’ worth of poetry, stories, and legends and many verses of songs for every occasion; sing or recite in company when the spirit moves you.
Global: Download and watch a movie online.
Local: Compose a stew that simmers on the stove all day, combining fat from your ducks and lard from your pigs, dried local beans, a bouquet of garden herbs and vegetables, wine and whatever lamb, sausage, or chicken you have on hand; know how to tell if an egg is good or a nut is ripe, how to dress a goose and remove its liver, how to make a watertight basket out of woven dried grass, how to gather and use herbs and essential oils to lessen fever and heal wounds, how to read the signs on earth and in the heavens for sowing and harvest, drought and blizzard.
Global: Order Thai takeout.
Local: Hew logs into planks; cure and bow the wood into ribs, a hull, hatches; build your craft without computer calculations or simulations; rig it to be seaworthy; navigate by compass, sextant, or dead reckoning; endure months of hard physical exertion, uncertainty, exposure, bad food, hostile encounters, and rough seas; land in uncharted coves and explore unknown landscapes; contact and learn to communicate with strange peoples; draw beautiful maps by hand; make your way home to tell the story.
Global: Adjust the headrest on your airplane seat.
Local: Meditate upon transcendent, paradoxical ideas; withdraw from society in order to devote yourself to purity and illumination; rise daily before dawn to sing matins; fast, pray, labor, look inward; selflessly engage in good works; walk barefoot for hundreds of miles to worship at a shrine.
Global: Watch Touched by an Angel.
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