Against Global Thinking

“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.

* * * * *

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.”

* * * * *

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.”

* * * * *

“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!”

35 thoughts on “Against Global Thinking

  1. Great post! I recently finished reading the Pontifical Academy For Life’s “Humana Communitas in The Age of Pandemic:Untimely Meditations on Life’s Rebirth”, a document saturated with precisely the kind of tyrannical, arrogant global thinking you have criticized so astutely in this post. As I read the document, I couldn’t help but think that a true human community centered around family, one’s neighbors, and perhaps a few coworkers, and that this is the human community the Church should be celebrating and endorsing. That community is concrete. Everything else is largely abstraction. Yet we are ordered to worship the abstraction – this nebulous global community – over the concrete reality of our own, small, personal human communities. To replace real love with altruism; real responsibility with passive consent. To adhere to some manufactured vision of human brotherhood that automatically trumps the brotherhoods we can establish in our own personal communities.

    Unfortunately, the tyrannical streak inherent in thinking globally is alive and well and, at the moment, very much in power in the guise of the Great Reset and other such initiatives.

    • Thanks. I’m glad to see you’re back to blogging after your break, and I’ve just now read your latest post on Humana Communitas. I found you by way of Bruce Charlton, and have been reading your posts for some time now. I think the Catholic Church used to be quite good at melding the local and the universal, but something has gone badly wrong. As you say in your post, it seems to have become more interested in the Tower of Babel than it is in the City of God.

    • But my actual neighbors, family, and friends are so disappointing, boring, critical (read: aware) of my faults, and taxing of my time and resources when I’m often not enthused to donate them . . . it’s much more pleasant to care about some ideal noble savage on the other side of the world. I can give my little donation on my time and on my terms, and I can heckle others for their lack of humanity for not caring about these people in that pure, Kantian, disinterested spirit — as I do. You see, I’m a global citizen, while you, peasant, are a provincial hick. Remember your place, and lower your eyes as I stride past.

      • I suspect we often take pleasure in the suffering of people who are near at hand, or at lease believe they deserve to suffer (and they very often do).

  2. Pingback: Against Global Thinking | Reaction Times

  3. Your post speaks to the wisdom of governing affairs by the principle of subsidiarity, something which the Catholic Church used to teach explicitly but which has been lost in the Jesuitical turn to a preoccupation for human development. We are losing our grasp of the transcendental as we sift through the ten thousand facets of the mundane.

    • Yes. Handle things at the lowest level they can be handled, and do not imagine you could run your neighbor’s household better than he does.

  4. Yes, but what about the plight of the Uyghurs in China?

    I know you never heard of them until the day before yesterday; but the international mass media have told me that they exist, what they are and why I must be concerned. They are now the most important issue in the world…

    Oh wait! Today it’s something else.

    • As it so happens, it was a thumbsucker about the poor Uyghurs that provoked this post. As I read it, it occurred to me that, for all I knew, the Uyghurs might be a thoroughly troublesome and obnoxious minority. Many minorities are. And even if they are not troublesome and obnoxious, the affairs of what used to be called Chinese Turkestan are really the business of the people in Chinese Turkestan. As you indicate, sucking our thumbs over such things is a distraction from our proper business.

      • Sorry for the post on an older entry, but I ran into this after seeing some stuff about the Uyghers recently. The comments above really provided some useful context that isn’t found everywhere. One thing that I do find curious is why, when China locks millions of people up because they’re members of a minority, this is a major human rights disaster, but when they lock millions of people up because some of them have a respiratory virus, this is something that the rest of the world needs to copy.

      • You are being manipulated through sympathy in the first case, and through fear in the second. In either case the media has you devoting way too much time to thinking about Uyghers and the corona virus. This may be to distract you from something else, or to soften you up for some soon to be announced imperative.

    • I read about the Uyghurs and their plight week before last Tuesday. So there. And you’ll never guess in a million years where I read about these poor unfortunates half a world away, so I’ll save you the trouble of guessing. I read the transcript of a podcast hosted by the thoroughly “conservative” Heritage Foundation (presided over by the eminently qualified, I’m sure, Mrs. Kay Coles James). The podcast itself (which is from time to time, along with Heritage Foundation and Mrs. Coles James herself, the butt of my jokes at my kids’ private blog) enjoys the distinctive irony of being named Problematic Women. Here is the opening monologue copied and pasted from the episode in question:

      Kelsey Bolar: And now we are going to talk about the human rights abuses that are unfolding in China as we speak. We wanted to talk about this story for two reasons.

      One, as women and members of the freest and most prosperous society in the world, I believe it’s our duty to use our voices to stand up for the human rights abuses faced by others. Secondly, because I think this story brings some important perspective to the national conversations we’re having right now in America over issues of inequality and race.

      As you can see from that short introduction, and if Prof. Smith is right that chances are that the Uyghurs in China are indeed a troublesome and obnoxious minority, or at least probably would be were they not kept in check, then what we have here is one group of Problematic Women doing their “duty” to defend the “rights” of another group of problematic women half a world away. There can be no doubt that the group living in “the freest and most prosperous society in the world” is the most troublesome, obnoxious, and in fact dangerous of the two.

      BTW, I wrote above (parenthetically) that Mrs. Kay Coles James is “eminently qualified” to, among other things of equal and greater political importance, run the show at the Heritage Foundation. I’m very sure of her eminent qualifications, as I said, because she is not in the least bit shy in witnessing to those qualifications on her own behalf from time to time. To wit:

      As a woman and as a black person who lived through segregation, I have experienced both the inequality and the opportunity of this nation.

      And,

      As a student of history and as someone who works with governments around the world, I know how women and minorities are treated in other societies compared to the United States.

      I don’t know about you fellows, but I’m certainly convinced. Even though my senses tell me that Mrs. Coles James’s “blackness” isn’t exactly as pure as she would have us believe; and in spite of the fact that common sense teaches me that she is overexaggerating what she actually “knows” about “how women and minorities are treated in other societies”; that what she actually “knows” about that subject, as opposed to what she thinks she knows about it, likely amounts to little of nothing of utility or substance.

      “Now a woman can never resist an appeal to the principle of generous devotion; her glory is to crucify herself in the cause of duty and of zeal,” wrote R. L. Dabney in 1876; “But when the virtuous have once tasted the dangerous intoxication of political excitement and of power,” he further wrote, “even they will be absorbed; they will learn to do con amore what was first done as a painful duty, and all the baleful influences of political life will be diffused throughout the sex.” This is of course where we are today with our Problematic Women in the West; and this is where, in crucifying herself in the cause of duty and zeal, the problematic woman of Western extraction will take the rest of the world if she has her way. And damn the destabilizing consequences.

      • Mrs. Jones’ childhood memories of Richmond must give her a natural grasp of life on the margins of the Taklamakan Desert. They say that life at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains is a lot like life at the foot of the Tien Shan, and that the Silk Road was really just an interstate with camels.

        Tocqueville talks about this in Democracy in America. Because men in a democracy believe in the fundamental equality of all humans, they imagine that they can understand total strangers through introspection. Democratic man believes that the stranger must be thinking what he would be thinking (or rather thinks he would be thinking) if he were in those circumstances.

  5. Our Lord told his followers to love their neighbour, not the people who lived in Hispania or far away Scythia. Wise words-His advice is hard enough to follow, as it is.

      • I do not understand why anyone would cite this verse (and parable) as an enjoinder to charity. It is obviously an enjoinder to gratitude. Why the good Samaritan was so neighborly to the battered Jew is entirely beside the point. The point is that the battered Jew is now under an obligation to be neighborly to the good Samaritan, and not to his rotten ethnic kin who left him in the ditch. I will grant that the good Samaritan is a good man, but the point of the parable is not that we should be like the good Samaritan, but that we should recognize goodness wherever it is found. The philanthropic reading is an extremely unnatural construction.

      • Jesus defines what he means by “neighbor” in this passage as it relates to the commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself. Clearly neighbor is not restricted to those living in close proximity nor is it restricted to those of the same ethnicity.

      • Nor is it necessarily extended beyond those living in close proximity or bearing close blood ties. If your physical neighbors and close kin are good to you, your obligation to love would obviously end with them. Another problem for the philanthropic reading is that this story give us absolutely no reason to love people who have not been good to us. The battered Jew is the protagonist, not the good Samaritan. If the philanthropic reading were correct, Jesus would have the said the battered Jew must continue to love the rotten Jews even though they had done him no good.

      • The battered Jew is the protagonist, so Jesus obviously means that his his disciples ought to do what the battered Jew ought to do. Jesus has just shown his disciples that the battered Jew should feel gratitude and loyalty to the Samaritan who has done him good, and that he should slough off the ties of religious tradition and kinship that do him no real good. Go and do likewise means go and do like the battered Jew. Do not be trapped in dead and hypocritical forms. I would say this gives Christians the freedom to slough off unloving kin (but not dependent wives and children), but it does not require him turn his back on a loving family. Choose life!

      • I think the plain meaning of the writing does not align with your interpretation.

        29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

        30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

        36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

        37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

        Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

        (Luke 10:29-37)

        When Jesus says “go and do likewise” he is not referring specifically to the protagonist. He is clearly saying, “Go and be merciful as the one who showed mercy did.” As such, the one who shows mercy is a neighbor to the one to whom he shows mercy. This is the definition our Lord gives in this passage.

      • The original question in verse 29 is “who is my neighbor.” The question in verse 36 asks “which of these three,” so the answer to the original question has to be either (a) your neighbors are people who act like the Samaritan, (b) your neighbors are people who act like the priest, or (c) your neighbors are people who act like the Levite. The answer cannot be (d) your neighbors are people in the condition of the Jew in the ditch. I agree that verse 37 taken alone would seem to support your interpretation, but the answer cannot be (d). It has to be (a). Another was to put it would be “your friends are the people who are friendly to you” or “a tree is known by its fruits.” The Samaritan is certain good, but the point of the parable is that the Jew should overcome his prejudice against Samaritans and honor this real goodness, and that he should see the priest and Levite for the humbugs that they actually are.

      • It doesn’t refute what you wrote, but it does show that the philanthropic reading is not as self-evident as the philanthropists tell us it is. I concede that verse 37 is a difficulty for my reading, but explain why verse 36 is a difficulty for yours. The bottom line is that the meaning of this parable is not nearly so obvious as philanthropists say it is, and that they should not waive it like a bloody shirt every time they wish to shame people who do not share their leapfrog loyalties. Philanthropists are free to point to the good Samaritan as an example of a good man, since he obviously is a good man. In fact his goodness is too obvious to be the point of the parable. Most people would do what the GS did if they found a man in a ditch. Perhaps not so lavishly, but very few people would “pass by on the other side.” And those who did would know in their hearts that doing so was discreditable. So I believe that gratitude is one point of the parable, since humans are naturally ungrateful, and that abandonment of dead forms is another, since this is a unique theme in the gospel.

  6. “If the apparent problems of that faraway place were susceptible to the solutions that occur to you… they would long ago have been solved in precisely that way.”

    Is that really true? Think of the new solutions to “problems in faraway places,” developed over the years by the Institut Pasteru or the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Diseases.

    • It is not true in every single case. Sometimes people benefit from discoveries that were made far away. I’m talking here about those glib global thinkers who think the problems of faraway places are “really quite simple.” These are the people who begin their sentences with the words “all they need to do . . .” This is not unique to global thinkers. All problems look easier from a distance. I daresay you and I think our friends are tangled up in needless difficulties, but that our own problems are intractable

  7. From the O.P.:

    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.

    Although I allowed myself initially to be distracted by Mr. Charlton’s comment to the article, and to your reply to his comment, I did intend to later write a comment independently of anyone else’s thoughts, addressing the quotation extracted above from the O.P.. So, here goes.

    I of course share your belief that a man’s plate is full enough making sure the needs of his family are met without concerning himself with the goings on, or with what doesn’t go on, for that matter, half a world away in another hemisphere. Indeed, I was just telling someone the other day at another website that “I get up with the chickens, crow like a rooster for a couple of hours, then it’s back to the ol’ grind [making sure the lights stay on, the kids have plenty to eat and so on] for me the rest of my day, as has been the case the entirety of my adult life, or at least since I got married and started a family.”

    By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread all the days of thy life.

    Whereas you have college level students to whom to impart the principles of “World Regional Geography”, whatever that means, my students are my children and grandchildren, and, more recently, one great nephew who is ten (the same age as our youngest son). The only time I encourage these students of mine to “think globally,” is when I’m teaching them geographical principles best imparted and best understood from a whole-to-part perspective. E.g., earth as a whole yet only a part of the immense universe; earth as a part of the Milky Way galaxy, and of the solar system; Earth in its two great motions – revolution about its axis and its annual orbit about the central body of the solar system; what causes the seasons, and so on.

    Notwithstanding any or all of which, I have never used the terminology “think globally” with my students that I can recall. It is more like, “think in terms of the earth as a whole, as a globe,” in these relations.

    Of course, Physical Geography is a fascinating subject that may be divided into several branches. It was Mr. Maury, I believe, who divided the subject into three branches which he denominated Physical Geography, Mathematical Geography, and Political Geography. I take it that by “World Regional Geography” your course of study mostly deals with the latter of the three, or Political Geography. If this is the case, I’m not surprised. One of the things I’ve figured out the hard way over the course of years is that the public schools neglect the teaching of Physical and Mathematical Geography entirely, or almost entirely, and instead put an inordinate amount of effort into teaching their students about different (political) parts of the world (different regions and countries and their inhabitants, their cultures and mores and so on). This of course, and as I intimated, at the expense of the lessons their students would derive real value from knowing and understanding. Which is of course why many modern Harvard graduates cannot explain the changing of the seasons, to say nothing of continental, regional, or local drainage.

    I could go on and on, but the point is that I have had hundreds of converstaions with people who say their kids “love geography,” by which they mean their kids “love” learning about other cultures around the world. This is probably an exaggeration of their kids’ true interest in the subject matter, but it isn’t what I mean by Physical Geography in any case, or, more correctly, it is but a part (and a fairly minor part at that) of what I mean when I raise the issue that the principles of Physical Geography ought be taught to our children because it’s very useful information that every child, inasmuch as (s)he can grasp the concepts (which are pretty simple, but that’s another matter), may use to his or her advantage when (s)he is older and occupies those places in the world (s)he is bound to occupy. As Webster noted, the end of education – true education – is to fit them for usefulness in their future stations. And this is why he also noted that education in arts and sciences is important, but that religious education is indispensable; and that a heavy responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect those duties.

    Now I think I’ve managed to come full circle. As you say, and I concur wholeheartedly, I’ve got a plate full (and then some) making sure all of those kids above-mentioned get the proper nourishment – body, mind and spiritual wise – without worrying myself (and without worrying them, by extension) with the affairs of other men half a world away, which is mostly none of their concern in any case. And vice versa.

    • Before we can say what education is for, we must say what man is for, since the former obviously follows from the later. This is why the educational philosophy of a society reveals so much about its real answers to the great existential questions of life. Are its schools designed to turn out workers, saints, warriors, pigs? Educational philosophy is refracted through the disciplines–indeed it has a big say in how the disciplines are defined–and geography is no exception. Thus geography has been taught, at one time or another, as an aid to natural theology, political economy, imperial expansion, and international socialism. The last is, of course, dominant today. International socialism says that man exists to merge into a global community, and that all education should advance this doctrine by singing the praises of our international socialist future, while deploring the multiple and manifest disasters of the present.

      I described by class as World Regional Geography to make it intelligible to my readers. Many years ago its actual name was changed (over my objections) to “The Global Village.” The professors who actually teach in the spirit of this nauseating title naturally treat the world’s great civilizations like huts in a village where the people have a great deal in common because they are all members of the tribe called humanity. The emphasis of these professors naturally falls on the international trade, as this is international, materialist, and a good excuse to point out the evils of capitalism, racism and the existing world order.

      It is not uncommon to hear professors say they are training students to be “citizens of the world,” which of course means international socialists and workers in a materialist technocracy. And this is what “thinking globally” actually means

      • This is why the educational philosophy of a society reveals so much about its real answers to the great existential questions of life.

        Ah!; now you’re tugging at my heart-strings. Those existential questions are some form or other of “who am I,” “why was I made”; “what is my duty?”

        I have pointed out many many times that one may take Webster’s original (American) definition of education and fit it to his or her own uses or educational philosphy. It all depends on how one defines terms like “instruction,” “discipline,” “enlighten,” “correct,” “form,” “fit,” and of course “usefulness in his future stations.” I can know, with a reasonable degree of certainty, what the most important of the “future stations” are that my own children and grandchildren will occupy. I know this, indeed, better than anyone else, when it comes to my own children. None of them is likely to become a doctor, or a lawyer, a rocket scientist, or a college professor, for that matter. One, perhaps two, of my boys will ultimately wind up choosing the profession I am in; the rest will choose other professions they have a particular bent for – one of them will be a farmer, another a professional pilot more than likely. I have one daughter who seems more or less content to be a spinster. As to the others, they’re all the homemaker type like their mother. And these considerations, as you note, determine to a large extent how each of them is educated under my direct supervision because I will not allow the education apparatus in this country to, as you have expressed it in another article, “spoil them by a false education.” I mean to say I will not allow it voluntarily.

        Incidentally, I went to public school of course. My little town is known above all in Oklahoma for its excellent H.S. football program, and I was on one of those high achieving teams many moons ago. My 15 year-old son, Sam (who is very athletic), would love to play for the team. I don’t want to deprive him of the opportunity if it can be helped, so I talked to the coach about getting into the nuts and bolts of how to make that happen without enrolling him in the school as a fulltime student there. Now, I already know what the “nuts and bolts” of how this works in Oklahoma are, but the reason I asked the coach to get into it is because I want for him and the broader school administration to understand them as well; as well as to understand that by enrolling our son for a couple of hours a day at the school should that happen, I am not granting them authority to undermine me educationally in any sense of the term. I’ve read their little pamphlet they pass out to all the parents at the beginning of every school year, which essentially states, when you boil it all down, that ‘we are the professional educators here, so when it comes to your child’s education you’re best advised to go along and keep your mouth shut, especially when you disagree with this or that aspect thereof.’ That of course simply won’t fly with me, and that is why I’ve already done the best I know how to prepare our hopeful son for the ultimate letdown. So to speak.

        “The Global Village.” Well there ya go.

      • I’ve written here before about the perils of a “false education” that gives no serious attention to vocational training. The most recent was my post on “playboy scholars.” But I’ve also denounced the vocational mania that has arisen as an overreaction against “false education,” particularly among some conservatives. This represents the battle in higher education as a clash of utter frivolity and complete drudgery. Either one is a postmodern gender studies major or one is a grind who is preparing for life in a cubicle by “learning to code.” I think both views assume a false philosophy of man by reducing him to either a political or an economic creature. We defraud young people if we do not teach them a trade, but we also defraud them if we do not cultivate their appreciation of the wonder and beauty of God’s creation. Man is born to work, but that is not the only reason he was born.

  8. As someone who doesn’t live in their birthplace/home country… I think there is one major benefit to travelling and living abroad. Rather than putting your own preconceived notions on how other cultures should be, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on your own cultural roots… for example, Asians value a strong family unit so much more than in America. I’ve learned that from direct experience. Another example, I don’t need to be convinced that marxism/socialism is a bad idea… I’ve been to Cambodia and seen first hand a country who’s entire population suffers from PTSD from all the horrors that happened during and after the Khmer Rouge. It doesn’t make me an expert of these places, not at all… but I can only see how those experiences can enrich your knowledge of the world. I hope I’m making myself clear enough… it is a clear distinction between the type of global thinking you are referring to, right?

    • I would be a very strange geographer if I thought it was a bad idea to think about the earth or faraway places. The “global thinking” that I decry in this post is thinking about the earth and faraway places in a particular way. It consists of seeing these faraway places as essentially a set of problems to which the global thinker has ready answers.

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