Tuesday, May 24, 2011

All Politics (and Food and Education and More) is Local

At a time when advances in technology have brought the world closer together, people with an eye for the future are becoming less global and more local in their outlook. New York is no exception.

One of the most noticeable is with the food we eat. Technological advances in agriculture allow farmers to grow food that won’t spoil as fast and can survive in more extreme climates, and suit the tastes of Americans. We can get fresh fruit all year round that can be shipped to us from tropical climates.

While advances in technology were great, the abuses of that technology in the interest of profit margin have corrupted the purpose of agriculture: to bring healthy food to people. Warnings about pesticides, genetically modified food and serious questions about general food safety have caused people to turn to local food sources. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms that provide food to its local member customers are increasing in popularity. And a new identity has been embraced: “Locavores,” are dedicated to eating all of their food from within their local area (local area generally being defined as within100 miles; I know of no one brave enough to eat a tomato grown in Greenpoint’s natural soil).

While “locavores” have possibly discovered a way to be more obnoxious in restaurants that even surpasses the most grating vegan or vegetarian, they are on the right track. The future will be more localized.

The institutions that were supposed to create a more globally efficient and harmonious world failed miserably at both. People have lost confidence in large multi-national institutions and are looking for ways to do things on their own. We see it starting to happen with food, education and politics right now.

Over the next several years home schooling will not just be for religious fundamentalists anymore. We will begin to see home schooling start to take shape among secular and even liberal-minded people who otherwise would have sent their children to public schools. Public schools in many cities will become more dysfunctional. New York City is somewhat of an exception here because there is a multi-tiered school system where a handful of very competitive high schools continue to draw great students and do a great job teaching them. This doesn’t mean

New York is also ahead of the curve in that charter schools are going to take over more and more from public schools. Public schools have become too bloated a bureaucracy to survive in these continuing austere times. New York can afford the schools better than many places and we can’t really afford it right now.

One big sign for me of the increasing failure of centralized institutions was the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Here we had a government engaged in two overseas wars and fretting over Iraq’s border security while one of our major American cities drowned. The federal government (with the exception of the Coast Guard) was useless during Hurricane Katrina, but thousands of volunteers loaded up U-Hauls and pick up trucks with water and medical supplies and headed for the stricken Gulf Coast, and hundreds of local police and fire departments from around the country sent help.

More and more, the U.S. government appears to be a crumbling empire unable to secure its own borders or serve its own citizens. Just as the Roman Empire devolved into a series of feuding Italian city-states, it’s possible to see a United States fragmented along ethnic, religious and political lines. People are more likely to live in areas that are politically hegemonic; recent studies have showed electoral districts being won by larger and larger margins. Several states have nascent secessionist movements that come from both sides of the political spectrum. Increased cultural diversity creates more insular behavior, even between people within the same cultural or ethnic groups.

Here in New York City, while our stronger local government has insulated us from some of the worst of the federal government’s dysfunction, the can-do spirit of New Yorkers is already hard at work looking for local solutions to our problems.


Emily said...

What I think is interesting about being a localvore is how its on the one hand very much tying a person to their community, to the land and it touches on the traditional American "can do" value, yet at the same time it wholley rejects the American ideal of capitalism. As small local companies grow they become huge national corporations, giving only lip service to their original missions (case in point, currently and for the last fcew months the only "fresh" garlic available in Whole Foods has been imported from China).

It presents and interesting and challenging conflict of values for me...

OfTroy said...

I see (and agree) with many of your points--

I see it as a matter of scalability--some systems (email say) can grow and grow--and at some point--the number of users outgrow the system.

This is part of what is happening I think--my senator (1 of 2) Schumer, say is a person I vaguely know –and he represents MILLIONS (½ of the 8 million in NYC; ½ of the 1 million in Buffalo; ½ of all the other NYers (another 8 million or so)

about half of NYState is urban, another large percent is suburban, and another (shrinking) percent of the population is rural (and agricultural in nature)

How can he work for all of us? The poor, the rich, the self employed, the stay at home parents? The financial systems, the social systems? So many conflicts, and so little time for him to connect to the people he represents.

When we started, a senator represented few than ½ of a million people--and it was largely an rural and agricultural

Today, our representatives --(supposedly closer to our needs/and more representative of them) now represent over 600,000 people--(more than ½ a million!)--more than a Senator represented at the founding of this nation.

We have reached the end of the scale. Our population is too big for meaningful goverment (I think, at times NYC is too big for meaningful government by 1 mayor!)

We will move along, not quite working—but the system is going to fail. The center will not hold.