“The married [man] and housekeeper hath his hands full if he do what he ought to do. For there are two branches of his affairs: first, the improvement of his family, by bringing them up in the fear and nature of the Lord; and secondly, the improvement of his grounds by drowning, or draining, or stocking, or fencing and ordering his land to the best advantage both of himself and his neighbors.”
George Herbert, The Country Parson (1652)
Although I have for many years taught a college course on World Regional Geography, I have never once admonished my students to “think globally.” This is because no individual is capable of a global thought that is not either commonplace, fatuous, arrogant, tyrannical or false, and even the brightest college students are not exempt from this this humiliating truth.
And this is not all. No individual is capable of a serious global though, but neither are global thoughts needed from any individual. Every faraway place you might think of is well supplied with people just as intelligent and well-meaning as you are, and these people are far, far more intimately acquainted with local circumstances. If the apparent problems of that faraway place were susceptible to the solutions that occur to you while you are swinging in your hammock, or smoking your pipe, or astonishing your friends with your intelligent compassion, they would long ago have been solved in precisely that way.
When a man boasts that he “thinks globally,” he implies that foreigners are really not capable of thinking at all.
“Thinking globally” not only means ostentatious worrying about the troubles of faraway places that you don’t understand. It also means framing your ostentatious worries in some absurdly reductionist theory of everything. “Thinking globally” means “thinking” that the incomprehensible complexity of the world is, in fact, sufficiently comprehended by such sophomoric notions as “neoliberalism” or “capitalism” or “the arc of history.” And as my scare quotes suggest, this is not thinking at all. It is a sophomoric mixture of arrogance and imbecility.
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As George Herbert says in my epigram, a married man has his hands full with his own affairs. The daily duties of a husband and father are not discharged in an hour, and to these duties are added his duty to his business, vocation or trade. A man has done all we can reasonably ask of him when he has fulfilled these duties, and he can fall asleep with a clear conscience if he has done his job and seen to the needs of his wife and children.
As Herbert puts it:
“Could men find out this delight, they would seldom be from home, whereas now of any place they are least there.”
And nowadays many are not home spiritually even when they are swinging in a hammock and smoking a pipe. And this is because they have fallen into the fatal and frivolous habit of “thinking globally.”
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If a man happens to possess unusual energy or riches, Herbert tell us he should extend his concern but a short distance beyond his own property line, and very seldom beyond the bounds of his own village or parish. He can with good conscience leave the concerns of other villages and parishes to the men of energy and riches who live in those villages and parishes. That is their business and he should stick to his. He “hath his hands full” and he should not drop the load he was given to take up a load he was never asked to bear.
“But if after all this care well dispatched the housekeepers family be so small, and his dexterity so great, that he have leisure to look out, the village or parish which either he lives in, or is near unto it, is his employment.”
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“Thinking globally” is a vice, not a virtue, and we are none of us obligated to think or act otherwise. “Global thinkers” pride themselves on entertaining thoughts that are either commonplace, fatuous, arrogant, tyrannical or false, and they betray a profound contempt for the capacity of foreigners to manage their own affairs. Indulgence in these vanities requires them to shirk their real duties to their families, vocations and local communities. Therefore, you should not fall for the flimflam of these moral poseurs who, like Dickens’ Mrs, Jellyby, have “a curious habit of seeming to look a long way off. As if . . . they could see nothing nearer than Africa!”