Local vs. Global

Lately, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about global (top-down) governance versus local (bottom-up, sort of) governance.

Most of it came from reading about the negative effects of the top-down “aid” aimed at developing countries/disadvantaged groups. A lot of it is basically a bunch of privileged people waltzing in and declaring they’re going to do something or other for the disadvantaged group, “for their own good”, whether they really want it or not. The most absurd and blatant examples are boarding schools for Native kids, to expunge their own cultures from them and turn them into little white-people-clones; and wars of aggression under the banner of “democratization”. But other things fall into that category, too: pretty much everything from large national projects that have a negative impact on local population (China being the best known example of this, with their massive dam projects; but they’re not the only ones doing it), to aid programs in the name of some abstraction or another (“democracy”, “freedom”, etc.) that ignore the uniqueness of the situation on the ground and the actual needs of the people that are supposedly being helped, especially the sort of stuff done by IMF and the World Bank, which destroys local economies in the pursuit of free markets, free trade, etc. So, yeah, I totally see how local self-determination, and local decision-making about how, when, where, and what kind of development should take place, and what kind of rules make sense, etc. are essential, and more suited to getting things right than oblivious top-down “helping” and establishment of what’s good, bad, useful, harmful, etc. Locals usually really do know better how to improve and run their own lives and what precisely they need and want.

On the other hand, Jim Crow. Pretty much all of the civil rights battles in the US were settled on the national level, by Supreme Court decisions. So, definitely top-down, definitely “impinging on states rights”, definitely not letting any sort of local self-determination happen. The same goes for legalization of abortion, and it seems to me the same thing will be necessary to finally settle the same-sex marriage debate. And this handling of it is good. It would have been absurd and inhumane to wait until the South would have deigned to desegregate itself. It is absurd that people are voting on the basic right of marriage for others, state by state, and some states aren’t even recognizing the marriages performed in other states, even though the law says that contracts from one state must be considered valid in others. Similarly, the issue of a national school curriculum is one of not letting provincialism take over education boards and school boards and therefore stuff creationism and other dreck like that into schools, thus disadvantaging kids for the future. Or the issues with local court systems being abused by nepotism or, again, the sort of strong in-group/out-group thinking that results in people who are different being abused by the law; or even the question of those New York “Justice Courts”, Ed Brayton was writing about. I want State and Federal oversight over these things, and national rules of how to run them. I also want a nation-wide healthcare with public option, and I don’t give a flying fig whether some state, or some county, or some town, might actually produce a majority that doesn’t want it and doesn’t feel like they need it.

And above that, there’s the international level. The real global level. We don’t even have much at that level, but it’s becoming very obvious to me that something is needed: to prosecute those that break international laws, and do so thoroughly and equitably (i.e. not according to the power and wealth of the perpetrators. American breakers of the Geneva Conventions shouldn’t be treated any different than African ones, just because one of them has all the guns); to have a source of law above the multinational corporations, simply because at the moment, they are literally above the law, since they operate above the national level; to be able to coordinate and enforce globally needed actions, most notably about Climate Change, but also about resource depletion and other problems that concern the whole world, because otherwise we just have to deal with the Tragedy of the Commons, where the thing that’s rational for each nation to do is slowly destroying us as a whole.

Soooo…. yeah. I’ve not the faintest clue how to reconcile those. How do I support local self-determination and self-governance on the one hand, but the banishment of creationism even from schools in creationist communities on the other? How do I support “local people know best what’s good for their community” without running into the Tragedy of the Commons, when the rational and understandable needs of these communities are killing the larger community? How do I support the right for people to determine themselves how to run their village/town/county/state/nation on the one hand, but at the same time feel justified to tell them that no, they don’t get to ban abortion, even if it’s “against their values” to have legal abortion?

This shit is giving me cognitive dissonance and a massive headache. I’m hoping that learning more about it will help me resolve these issues, but so far it ain’t looking good.

2 comments on “Local vs. Global

  1. David Marjanović says:

    This gets talked about a lot in EU contexts: the “subsidiarity principle” which the EU likes very much. It says that every decision should be made at the appropriate level: local, regional, national, EU.

    Now, of course, it gets meta: how do we decide which level is appropriate for which kind of decision?

    Unsurprisingly I agree that a global level is needed, for the reasons you list. The UN is a drastically underfunded organization…

  2. David Marjanović says:

    Of course there’s a Wikipedia article on it. It’s really hard these days to find anything that doesn’t have its own article or redirect. :-)

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