Localism and Community

[F]aced with the unpalatable conclusion that small alternatives won’t out-compete or destroy capitalism, localists cling to a fierce faith in communities to band together and do it yourself.

Localists yearn for community, freed from the uniform mediocrity of anonymous, corporate-controlled spaces. However, the petite bourgeoisie’s way of life precludes a community, since members of the class rely mainly on themselves for economic progress and emotional support. Community members are either fellow petite bourgeois competitors or customers demanding lower prices. Perhaps this is why so many localists have such a strong nostalgia for community as an ideal place where business happens and values take shape. Farmers markets aren’t just a place to shop, but a place to socialize: since “consumers have ten times as many conversations at farmers’ markets as the do at supermarkets… You go from being a mere consumer to being a participant.”

Why do localists want their shopping trips to include personal conversation? Alternately, you could appreciate the anonymity and speed of supermarket transaction if you have other ways to socialize. But it makes sense that the petite bourgeois, trying desperately to succeed in the marketplace or gain control on their own merits, would feel lonely. They try to re-forge the social connections lost in the marketplace in the same individual way they advance. Consumption is where they compete to achieve the symbols of habitus. The desire for friendly consumption is as close as the petite bourgeois get to stepping outside their daily antagonisms.

Just as ideology is a single class’s way of life generalized to all of society, community for the petite bourgeois becomes community for them alone. Wendell Berry criticizes corporations, governments and schools for concealing a “private aim (which) has been to reduce radically the number of people who, by the measure of our historical ideals, might be thought successful: the self-employed, the owners of small businesses or small usable properties, those who work at home.” This persecution of petty capitalists sets local community advocates against “Communists and capitalists (who) are alike in their contempt for country people, country life, and country places. They have exploited the countryside with equal greed and disregard.” The local community are “small farmers, ranchers, and market gardeners; worried consumers; owners and employees of small businesses; self-employed people; religious people; and conservationists.”

The inference is clear: the working class isn’t part of the community. [Emphasis mine.] The images are of the town square, the main street where everyone knows your name, the butcher, baker and small shopkeeper. These evoke market towns where residents distributed commodities made elsewhere. In contrast, industrial towns were often centers of intense class struggle between owners and workers. Not coincidentally, industrial towns created close community networks forged in that struggle. These close-knit communities of workers also demonstrated all the values of collective self-sacrifice, yet localists never mention them, preferring fuzzy invocations of consumerist fantasy.

The problem lies in how malleable the term community is, including capital, the state, and workers — groups whose interests are fundamentally at odds. By suggesting workers are at most another group making demands on the state, the designation of community hides power relations. It replaces class with innumerable differences of income, culture and other sociological categories, bounded by geography rather than a common exploitation. This blurring of conflict is fundamental to localism. By invoking community, localism attempts the political equivalent of Proudhon’s fair markets for small artisans, imposing a false social peace by eliminating the working class rhetorically.


Greg Sharzer, No Local: Why Small-Scale Alternatives Won’t Change The World (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2012), 98–101.


Nostalgia must be guarded against — it’s debilitating. People become nostalgic when they feel they’ve lost control of their lives. When they see no way forward, they look backward. Nostalgia is fear of the future, a symptom of resignation.

It’s sad to think that there are people who long for the degradation that existed in the “East Village” in the 1970s/80s. These are primarily (exclusively?) people who moved in when the neighborhood had been all but abandoned. Today, those left pine for the time when few people would venture into the area. They don’t take into consideration that regular, working people left due to the degree of decay that they cherish so much. “Slumming” is not something people born into slums find attractive.

When I was growing up, it was the beginning of the period of crisis that led to the current neo-liberal era. Nostalgia then was for the 1950s: American Graffiti was the rage. I remember my high-school English teacher asking our class why we were so enamored of the 50s. The 50s weren’t so great, he said. It was the time of McCarthy. Of course, it wasn’t our nostalgia; we were just high-school kids. It was the nostalgia of his generation. But it was the time of crisis, and to take people’s minds off of it, an idealized vision of the past was offered up as a distraction. Today, oddly enough, that idealized vision is of the crisis period itself! I guess it shows that the time is less important than the superimposing of childhood memories onto that time.

I had the idea to write this recently while walking with my son, approaching Whole Foods on Houston Street. It occurred to me that this will be his recollection of Houston and Second Avenue, while others go to their graves lamenting the demise of the Mars Bar. Your starting point is where you are today, and your goal is the future, not the idealized past.

The Wrong Version

On Wikipedia, The Wrong Version of an article is the version that is protected during an edit war. If you’re not familiar with the workings of Wikipedia, an edit war is when two or more parties change an article significantly and often, so that no version of the article is ever in place for very long. Eventually, a Wikipedia administrator will step in and “freeze” the article, preventing further edits, until the warring parties come to an agreement on the content of the article. The version of the article that’s frozen is inevitably the wrong version.

The wrong version I’m referring to is a discussion I was involved in in the comments section of another blog. I use the term “discussion” lightly — it was more a collection of anonymous attacks that I was defending myself against. Anonymous, because that’s how most people there present their arguments: anonymously. I don’t waste my time responding to most of the anonymous attacks, but if someone puts their name to a comment, I will respond. However, after a couple of back-and-forths, my response was not posted.

No matter. The moderator of the blog probably thought the “discussion” had gone on long enough, and didn’t want his comments section to become a version of Usenet. I can understand that; I would have done the same. Still, for me the comments end in The Wrong Version.

I’m not going to post what my response was. It really doesn’t matter. Let the wrong version stand.

Fan Mail From Some Flounder

I try to rely on the WordPress spam filters here at Quilas, but sometimes I wonder if they’re working properly. When you read these, it’s hard to think they’re really spam, and not fan mail!

This must be why my spam posts are so popular!

By the way, these all come from the post Saving the Lower East Side?, a very popular piece, itself.












Please note that comments must be on-topic. So, for instance, comments about 7‑Eleven should not appear in a piece titled “Search Terms,” which has nothing to do with 7‑Eleven.

In the future, comments that are off-topic will be removed.

Quilas Meets Save the Lower East Side

“You look a lot like… oh, never mind.”

Quilas Meets No 7-Eleven

I found a new site recently: GoAnimate

Expect to see more animations on Quilas in the future!

(What they’re talking about.)

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