The Global Soul vs. The Local Soul

I read with interest Ethan Zuckerman's recent piece 'The Moving Circus, the Post-National, the Global Soul and the Xenophile.' I agree with Ethan's central point that "the future, in a very literal sense, belongs to the post-national, the Global Souls, the economic migrants. They're the best placed to create solutions to global problems, to invent new products for global markets, to build bridges and understanding between different nations."

I have been an advocate for the Global Soul since 2002 when I helped host the first annual 'Interdependence Day' at the University of Maryland. However, I have always found the Global Soul to be an incomplete concept. To understand this, I want to look at a concept that I will call, for expedience sake, the Local Soul.

The Local Soul is someone who devotes their public life to a local community, a place they can touch or feel. Local Souls can be teachers or, in my mother's case, a county government employee in an emergency social service that helps poor people who are facing eviction or improper treatment from their landlords. My mother told me an anecdote this weekend that I think illustrates the value of being a Local Soul.

My mother spoke of a 31-year-old woman with two jobs and several serious health problems who came into her office for housing support because this woman's mother, who was her main source of economic support, had recently passed away. This woman had nowhere to turn and was facing homelessness. My mother, along with several associates, sat her down and advised the woman how to navigate the tricky local government bureaucracy to give her support in her job training, housing and medical treatment. Afterwards, they hugged emotionally, because this woman had realized that these caring people had given her another chance.

This is to say that what the Global Soul misses is both sentimental and pragmatic. The pragmatic challenge is that in the abstract sense, eliminating suffering faces the same barriers everywhere. However, in real terms of making peoples lives better, one has to deeply understand the local environment. Secondly, the Global Soul lacks a sense of what German
sociologist Albert Tonybee called gemeinschaft, a sense of community defined by its strong bonds and kinship (contra gesellschaft, or society, which connotes simply co-existence). Technology can mitigate the effects of this sentiment, but I don't believe it can eliminate the sentiment completely.

However, what Ethan is saying when he talks of zenophilia, is that being a Local Soul is no longer enough. We know that our (local) way is not the only way, and for personal and creative reasons it is necessary to reach beyond the bounds of the Local Soul. This is absolutely true, and perhaps what has attracted me to the Global Soul from the start. How do we balance this tension?

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  • Local Souls and Global Souls live as one just down the street from you in Mt. Pleasant and other neighborhoods. Global souls don't have to be physically global, in fact they may never move, but they are not "parochial, isolationist nationals" (Ethan's words). There are plenty of global souls at the foundations of every diverse, vibrant local community in countless neighborhoods.

    By Blogger O.D.B., at 5:06 PM  

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