Relocalization infringes on individual freedoms

By Eric Magazu

Many of us are casually familiar with a key catchphrase of our day that is often referred to as globalization. Globalization is the idea that with improved communication and transportation, that the borders between towns, provinces or entire countries are gradually being erased. I don’t mean being dismantled in a legal sense, but through the use of modern technology and infrastructure, the barricades that previously existed among groups of people are losing their effectiveness. The exchange of goods and the exchange of culture are being merged into one global marketplace.

Globalization is used as a bugaboo by those who believe it to be a force for much of what is negative in modern society, especially because it has been associated with economic systems that place a lot of power with individuals and corporations. It is important to know that corporations are simply associations of individuals. Free trade is implicated as a villain, because without strong barriers to trade, people are free to participate in the global marketplace and the global exchange of ideas. This can easily undermine provincial initiatives.

Globalization is seen as a negative by those who pursue sustainability and environmental conservation. The thinking of those who are opposed is that constantly increasing human mobility results not only in the pollution resulting from transportation, but in the degradation of the land itself. This has spawned a concept to reverse globalization called relocalization. Relocalization has a strong following in the Amherst area, especially with our progressive culture that is induced by the presence of three top-tier universities right in town and even a few more just outside of town.

According to the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities, who publish a website called Relocalize Massachusetts (relocalizemassachusetts.org), relocalization involves many initiatives, including campaigns for buying local, home gardening, encouragement of local recreation and renewable energy. These campaigns appear to be quite positive.

There are more ambitious initiatives that are included in the overall agenda, including local currency, cooperative planning, community banking and public healthcare. Some of these need further explanation.

Local currency involves producing money that would only be accepted in local venues. With this new currency, you could spend your money in Amherst or surrounding area, but it would not be accepted elsewhere. Cooperative planning would provide for planning decisions to be made by all of the major stakeholders in an area, presumably to bolster local sustainability initiatives.

Community banking is an initiative that would remove banking from the private sector and make it a collective enterprise, perhaps more like the water company. Public healthcare would be a system where healthcare would be guaranteed and operated by an administrative authority rather than a private entity.

These issues may or may not have merit, and it does appear that they have a goal of having an anti-globalization effect, but they may not necessarily maximize the freedom of local individuals or local communities. Many of the initiatives of relocalization supporters have a strong element of collectivization built right into the package. The initiatives have a certain goal in mind that may or may not be very amenable to any form of amendment by the community itself.

There is a key difference between a community that exists in a democratic and representative form of government that we have had in the United States and a community that operates on a collective framework. In a democratic community, all citizens have a voice on the direction of the community, but at the same time each citizen retains a great deal of individual freedom, as well as the ability to change the goals of the community as new situations arise.

In a community operating on a collective framework, there must often be a single goal. This can be good at the beginning. However, it is not always easy to change the direction of the community, and it can be seen as problematic for individuals to go their own way or even to voice their own opinion, if it varies too far from the central goal.

This has a very real effect in our own community. In the Town Meeting season to take place in Amherst starting during our exam week and into the summer, it seems that this is what has occurred with two contentious articles. Article 24 and Article 25 propose to rezone two key centers of Amherst with the goal of creating a sustainable community as defined by relocalization supporters.

The vision is that by creating high-density housing in urban centers, among many other elements, we can reduce our dependency on automobiles and thus reduce our total level of pollution. In addition, by adding services at these central locations, the quality of life can be improved for nearby residents. At the same time there is the hope that through these plans, society can reduce the number of people living in single-family homes with significant amounts of surrounding land.

Amherst is a progressive place and many people are eager to support many initiatives to make our community less polluting and more sustainable, but these visions can’t be done with a vision imposed from above or from a manual, they need to keep in mind that there is a strong democratic process that must be allowed to go forth in order to create the communities that we all want to live in.

Eric Magazu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]