We’ve tried liberalism and conservatism and now we’re trying populism. Maybe the next era of public life will be defined by a resurgence of localism.
Localism is the belief that power should be wielded as much as possible at the neighborhood, city and state levels. Localism is thriving — as a philosophy and a way of doing things — because the national government is dysfunctional while many towns are reviving. Politicians in Washington are miserable, hurling ideological abstractions at one another, but mayors and governors are fulfilled, producing tangible results.
Localism is also thriving these days because many cities have more coherent identities than the nation as a whole. It is thriving because while national politics takes place through the filter of the media circus, local politics by and large does not. It is thriving because we’re in an era of low social trust. People really have faith only in the relationships right around them, the change agents who are right on the ground.
Since it will probably be the coming wave, I thought it might be useful to make a few notes on localism:
Localism is truly a revolution. It literally means flipping the power structure. For the past several decades, money, talent and power have flowed to the centers of national power. Politicians tried to ascend to national office as they advanced their careers. Smart young people flocked to national universities, and then to New York and D.C. The federal government assumed greater and greater control of American life.
But under localism, the crucial power center is at the tip of the shovel, where the actual work is being done. Expertise is not in the think tanks but among those who have local knowledge, those with a feel for how things work in a specific place and an awareness of who gets stuff done. Success is not measured by how big you can scale, but by how deeply you can connect.
Under localism, national politicians are regarded like generals in Tolstoy novels. They move pieces around the board, but the actual battle is nothing like what they imagine. Wise young people leave the centers for towns where they can make a visible difference.
Localism is not federal power wielded on a smaller scale. It’s a different kind of power. The first difference is epistemological. The federal policymaker asks, “What can we do about homelessness?” The local person asks Fred or Mary what they need in order to have a home. These different questions yield different results. The federal person sees things that can be reduced to data. The local person sees things that can be reduced to data but also things that cannot.
The second difference is relational. Federal power is impersonal, uniform, abstract and rule-oriented. Local power is personalistic, relational, affectionate, irregular and based on a shared history of reciprocity and trust. A national system rewards rational intelligence. A local system requires emotional intelligence, too.
Change happens differently. Federal change often means big shifts quickly, such as when a big law is passed after a long debate, like Obamacare or tax reform. Local change happens more gradually, more iteratively. There’s a legacy system, like a public school, a grocery story or an investment fund. Somebody breaks free from the system and creates an innovative alternative, like a charter school, an organic farm market or a crowdsource campaign. As Leo Linbeck of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism describes, the new innovators “announce the availability of the upgrade and then allow users to choose when to make the switch.” There’s a conversation between the legacy system and the innovator, as the former learns from and adapts to the alternative. Change happens through the conversation between old and new.
There is a different division of labor for making change. As impact investor Deborah Frieze put it in a 2015 TEDx talk, change is led by Walk Outs. These are people who leave the legacy system and pioneer new alternatives. Then there are Illuminators. These are people who analyze and bring attention to the change that is now available.
I’d highlight two other social roles. Elders are the city mothers and fathers who hold sway in the town because of their established positions. The Elders support the Walk Outs, make room for them and reform old systems. Then there are Network Entrepreneurs. They link the Walk Outs, who tend to be lonely, overworked and short-staffed. They help the Walk Outs build a support system and a way to exchange knowledge and care.
Change in a localist world often looks like a renewal of old forms, which were often more intimate and personalistic than the technocratic structures of the past 50 years. Localism stands for the idea that there is no one set of solutions to diverse national problems. Instead, it brings conservatives and liberals together around the thought that people are happiest when their lives are enmeshed in caring face-to-face relationships, building their communities together.
Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter. David Brooks became an Op-Ed columnist in 2003. His column appears every Tuesday and Friday. He is currently a commentator on “PBS NewsHour,” NPR’s “All Things Considered” and NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and is also a best-selling author.
Preview YouTube video How I Became a Localist | Deborah Frieze | TEDxJamaicaPlain
The Localist Revolution
Sometimes, it pays off to sweat the small stuff
By David Brooks, Opinion Columnist, New York Times, July 19, 2018
改變發生的方式也不同。中央層級的改變代表，當政策在長期的辯論之後通過，大規模的變化會很快發生，像是歐巴馬健保案或是稅務改革。地方的改變則是比較漸進式，比較緩慢。這是一個傳統的系統，像是一所公立學校，一個雜貨店或是投資基金。有的人打破系統，創造出創意的其他做法，像是特許學校，有機農夫市場，或是集資企劃。就如機會都市發展中心(Center for Opportunity Urbanism)Leo Linbeck所形容，這些新的創意人士「宣布這些升級的機會，讓使用者決定什麼時候可以轉換。」傳統系統與創新者會有對談，前者可以學習和調整。透過新與舊的雙方的對話，改變就會發生。
促成變革的勞務分配有所不同。就如影響力投資者(impact investor )Deborah Frieze在一場2015年的 2015 TEDx talk中所分享，改變是從離席者(Walk Outs)所引領。有些人離開傳統系統，創新提出新的作法。有些是點亮者，這些人分析變革，讓大家看見可以做出的改變。
請在臉書與推特(@NYTopinion)，追蹤紐約時報的社論版面，訂閱Opinion Today訊息。David Brooks於2003年成為Op-Ed專欄作家，他的文章每個星期二、五刊登。他目前是PBS NewsHour、All Things Considered與NBC的Meet the Press評論者，也是一為暢銷書作者。
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Most of our big systems—education, healthcare, government, business—are failing our communities. What if we stopped trying to fix them? Deborah Frieze says it’s not possible to change big systems—we can only abandon them and start over or offer hospice to what’s dying. This talk explores the underlying beliefs in our culture that continue to prop up the global mindset and shares a radical theory of change that reveals how localism is the hope of the future—and you have a critical role to play.
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