Localism, Federalism, Globalism

Almost all the problems we face as a society can be traced to the “lag time” between the accelerating pace of significant–even monumental– change, and the alterations to existing social and political institutions that are needed to deal with new “facts on the ground.”

Another way of saying that is that we are trying to manage 21st century realities with tools created for the problems of the (early) twentieth century.

The recent mass murder in New Zealand provided an example. As the Washington Post recently put it,

The United States and its closest allies have spent nearly two decades building an elaborate system to share intelligence about international terrorist groups, and it has become a key pillar of a global effort to thwart attacks.

But there’s no comparable arrangement for sharing intelligence about domestic terrorist organizations, including right-wing extremists like the one suspected in the killing of 50 worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, according to current and former national security officials and counterterrorism experts.

Governments have considered domestic extremists a domestic problem. In the U.S., such tracking as is done largely falls within the jurisdiction of the FBI. Thanks to the Internet, however, white nationalism is an international threat.

But increasingly, nationalist groups in different countries are drawing inspiration from each other, uniting in common cause via social media, experts said. Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the 28-year-old suspected gunman in Christchurch, posted a manifesto full of rage on Twitter in which he cited other right-wing extremists as his inspiration, among them Dylann Roof, who killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.

It isn’t just the globalization of terrorist networks that requires rethinking where responsibilities should lie. Communication and transportation technologies have made a large number of institutional assumptions and arrangements obsolete.

Take federalism, America’s division of jurisdiction among local, state and federal levels of government. The division may still be useful (state and federal governments really have no reason to assume responsibility for handing out zoning permits or policing domestic violence disputes, for example), but many of the current assignments of responsibility no longer make much sense. State-level management of elections, for example, was necessary in the age of snail-mail registration and index cards identifying voters; in the computer age, it’s an invitation to misconduct.

In a number of areas, there are awkward pretenses of state “sovereignty” where none really exists. Think of federal highway dollars that are conditioned on state compliance with federally mandated speed limits. Or the myriad other “strings” attached to federal funding that remind state-level agencies who’s really in charge.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are an increasing number of issues, including but certainly not limited to the threat posed by white nationalism, that must be addressed globally. Climate change is the most obvious.

We humans are creatures of habit: we become accustomed to the world we have grown up with, and assume that the structures of whatever society we inhabit are just “the way it is.” A great example were the people who argued against same-sex marriage by insisting that marriage “has always been between one man and one woman.” That’s demonstrably false. Even if you ignore biblical history, more than half of the world still recognizes plural marriage. But it was true within the confines of their (limited) experience.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone defend a practice by saying “but that’s the way we’ve always done it!”

Unfortunately, the way we’ve always done it isn’t necessarily the way it needs to be done–and ultimately, those who don’t adapt to the realities of their brave new world become extinct.

I worry that we’re on the way…


  1. “but that’s the way we’ve always done it!”

    Unfortunately, this is how most people think. They don’t think outside the box. That is why most people are not cut out to be leaders, but to be followers.

    Unfortunately, those same followers tend to want to place people in leadership positions if their ideas are in line with their outdated beliefs or if those leaders are able to lie and convince the followers to believe some BS that will be better (yet won’t be). Sigh….

  2. Yes, and in the Republican playbook, change is anathema. The Republicans will do anything to prevent change, especially that change that they perceive to harm their donors. The people? Not so much. The newly emboldened Trump administration now wants to declare Obamacare un-Constitutional. This coming from someone who can’t read a comic book.

    Republicans made themselves into the institution of the strong father model, where what daddy says is the rule of the land. We’ve seen how well that’s worked out with illegal wars, depressions, recessions, civil strife, race wars, etc.

    Now Republicans want to suppress from the American people a 2-year study into presidential corruption and criminal activity. Even House Republicans voted 100% to see the Mueller Report in full. But not the Lord of the Senate, Mitch McConnell. He’s still clinging to the notion of holding back “national security” issues…like he knows what that means. Speaking of fantasies, imagine what his tune would be if Obama was the principle being investigated. I think we’d see Mitch at the head of the line with a pitchfork and a noose in his hand.

    The root of the problem discussed in this blog is Republicanism as practiced since 1981.

  3. Mankind has spent all of history ignoring the lessons of history. It will be our ultimate downfall, but it should not be unexpected.

  4. Per your note: “In a number of areas, there are awkward pretenses of state “sovereignty” where none really exists. Think of federal highway dollars that are conditioned on state compliance with federally mandated speed limits. Or the myriad other “strings” attached to federal funding that remind state-level agencies who’s really in charge.”

    To my eye, this is just what the Founders intended by modeling a “republic”. The root meaning of the word is kin to the “tie breaker” that the common good takes precedence over individual persons’ or states’ rights. There has been enough ranting here and elsewhere about states ignoring or weaseling around appropriate Federal mandates for safety, environmental protection, etc..

  5. When I confront Republicans on social media who are trying desperately to hang on to an increasingly obsolete past that entitled them I frequently am told that I am an enemy of the ex United States because I believe in “globalism”. Well, yes as a matter of fact I am struggling to understand why everyone doesn’t.

    It’s not like “global” isn’t the best description of not only markets but corporations for the last few decades. It’s not like it’s not the best description of the information network that now contains reams of intimate data on all of us. It’s not like it isn’t the playground that many now enjoy for our vacations. It’s not like it isn’t mere reality.

    There’s the problem. Reality is at odds with the culture that Republicans have been taught at the knee of plutarchs preaching on pervasive entertainment media a la “1984”. The skin of reality is too dark, it’s religous practices too unchristian, it’s languages so foreign and it’s borders as leaky as childhood dreams to monsters of all shapes and sizes.

    We are at a crossroads in history. Off to the right are times like we got too used to that gave some of us so much at the expense of others; to the left is reality now, a step towards an even scarier future.

    Like the dinosaurs we are challenged to adapt to what the world will be. If we don’t the consequences are not the comfort of the past but extinction. We are in control, but collectively as much as individually. And we are failing.

  6. As I have written elsewhere, the nature of change is itself changing in order to accommodate innovation. Sheila’s suggestion of old tactics to meet new realities is right on. Silicon is very interested in innovation, but like coal-burning industries, not interested in responsibility for its activities. Coal-burning plants, on the other hand, whose activities are only one step removed from the homicidal, are disinterested in innovation. They are doing well with their toxic activities as the need for ever more energy increases. Oh, so people die? Too bad; way it goes.

    So what standards shall we use to come up with new standards for innovators and polluters whose chief interest is in their bottom lines? The corporate model is to tax them for their invasion of the common good (air, water etc.) but they will only add costs of such compliance into the cost of the goods and services consumers pay for, so that is not an inducement to cease their toxic activities. Some (including me) would seek alternatives to their activities on an emergency basis in the production of energy and shut down coal-burning plants with substantial investments into alternative forms of the production of energy.

    Unfortunately, any such new standards we adopt will be politically decided,, and we can expect bottom lines and political contributions to slow down the absolute need to regulate such industries under the usual pretenses (socialism, Big Brother etc.). Trouble is, time’s awastin’. We are headed for the environmental cliff and have little time left within which to regulate the activities of these corporate killers that are ruining our air, soil, water, and even people, though in an ideal world free of bottom lines, profit and political contributions everyone of us would theoretically via some form of regulation based on new standards, whether by tax or a mixture of tax and stringent regulation, end these profit-driven assaults on the only environment we will ever have. The bad news is that we don’t live in an ideal world, but rather, like the old world to which Sheila alludes, one whose old tests don’t meet today’s and tomorrow’s realities. The answer is, as usual, trips to the polls to change personnel who pledge to work without cease to save both our environment and our democracy. So to the ramparts!

  7. good story bout cover up general barr.by Thom Hartman. commondreams.org.. did we forget?

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