Tuesday, 5 February 2008


The devil is in the detail they say, but for a true localist it is in the detail where virtue lies.

While others demand an end to global poverty, justice for the downtrodden and righteous violence against wrong-doers, the localist calls for something to be done about the cracks in the pavement and to sort out those dodgy-looking kids that hang around the local takeaway.

These are petty issues, but they stand at the top of the moral scale of the hardcore localist. If the apocalypse came, the localist would only begin to care when the streetlights went too long without repair and if nothing had been done about the graffiti problem.

This is obviously a caricature of the person interested in local issues. Most, I'm sure, have well-rounded lives and engage in politics and civil society at all levels. But while grand concerns have easy mass appeal, concern for local issues is easy to ignore or even mock.

For me, in recent months I've found my political bearings turned upside-down. Usually ensconced in debates over issues of global significance, now I am arguing with my neighbours online about the need for something to be done about the crime hotspot down my road.

And my local councillor now knows all about the three potholes in my road caused by the water leak the other day.

I almost want to apologise for how petty I have become. Sorry guys, I want to say, but though it is a tiny thing, I really am going to bother you about this.

But I don't apologise. And the reason? Because it is my road and so it is my responsibility to help take care of it.

And while my priorities will not be the same as those of my neighbours, better a clash of concerned active citizens than sullen apathy allowing a void to form.

There is a zero tolerance angle here. In the sense that if an area is well cared for, then this signifies to those that wish to commit crime that it is unlikely to go unnoticed. Virtous circles and vicious cycles abound.

But what difference can one person make? Isn't the world just too big and bad to stand up to? This is a question that has plagued philosophy for centuries.

The simplest answer to this is the story I heard of a boy walking along a beach after a massive storm. The storm had churned up the sea and flung huge numbers of fish and other sea creatures on to the shore where they lay dying, gasping for air. As the boy walked, he carefully threw each living creature back into the sea.

A man walking the other way, seeing the mammoth and impossible task ahead of the boy, said to him that he need not bother, for however many he rescued, many more would die.

The boy, dying fish in hand, turned to the man and said: "What matter are all those to me? This one will be saved."

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