Why is localism such a big part of the green movement? I was made particularly aware of how odd this is at a meeting at the American Political Science Association recently, where the speaker argued that a critique of political economy was insufficient if it failed to critique the anthropocentric assumptions of modernity (which seems reasonable), which she equated with replacing modern political forms with an ecological politics which takes place locally, such localism apparently being “the scale of life.” I’m really not sure in what sense this could be true, especially in the context of environmentalism, where the most striking threat to life, global warming is, as the name implies, global. The idea seems to be that the complex interconnected societies of modern humanity are, because of their scale, incompatible with “life.” But this is, itself, anthropocentric, proposing that the products of human activity are something (what?) other than nature. Better, I think, for overcoming the anthropocentric assumptions of modernity is Marx’s position in the Paris Manuscripts:
The life of the species, both in man and in animals, consists physically in the fact that man (like the animal) lives on organic nature; and the more universal man (or the animal) is, the more universal is the sphere of inorganic nature on which he lives. Just as plants, animals, stones, air, light, etc., constitute theoretically a part of human consciousness, partly as objects of natural science, partly as objects of art – his spiritual inorganic nature, spiritual nourishment which he must first prepare to make palatable and digestible – so also in the realm of practice they constitute a part of human life and human activity. Physically man lives only on these products of nature, whether they appear in the form of food, heating, clothes, a dwelling, etc. The universality of man appears in practice precisely in the universality which makes all nature his inorganic body – both inasmuch as nature is (1) his direct means of life, and (2) the material, the object, and the instrument of his life activity. Nature is man’s inorganic body – nature, that is, insofar as it is not itself human body. Man lives on nature – means that nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous interchange if he is not to die. That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.
So we should turn the claim around, I think: to go beyond the human, we also need to go beyond the local.
The other dubious argument that got made in the same session was the suggestion that we can galvanize opposition to contemporary capitalism by arguing that capitalism doesn’t involve real free markets. I have no idea what people mean when they say this, or what they imagine markets are; they’re certainly not talking about the markets described by neoclassical economics, perhaps falling for the ideological delusion that markets involve choice or diversity. They don’t: the defining characteristic of free markets is equilibrium; markets are vast machines for creating identity.