Localism, Again and Again

A friend gave me a copy of Jacques Ellul’s Perspectives on Our Age and tried to give me a copy of Bill Kauffman’s Look Homeward, America. While in many ways the books’ subject matters are far apart, in another sense they are quite closely intertwined. Both Ellul and Kauffman are committed localists, preferring the joys and sorrows of their particular places. Ellul, ever the sociologist, frames his perspective in this way:

I do not believe in global actions. I do not believe in actions on the level of the president of the Republic. In fact, I always apply the motto: “Think globally, act locally.” And this corresponds to what I have tried to be. By thinking globally I can analyze all phenomena, but when it comes to acting, it can only be local and on a grassroots level if it is to be honest, realistic, and authentic.

Kauffman would likely agree. In the most recent print edition of Comment, I tangled with Dr. David Koyzis over this very issue. I can’t agree more. While I have certain sympathies for organizations like the International Justice Mission and the political bent of many Neocalvinists, I also wonder what these folks could do in their own hometowns. We’ve started to talk about how we can embrace this ethic, in our neighborhood and in our church.

That said, I’ve discovered a paradox between this way of thinking and the realities of my chosen profession. I had decided months ago that my current employer was OK as far as these things went. The company was small, the product was acceptable (though after reading Illich on the medical profession, I had second thoughts), and the office was close enough to our home. Then, the office was moved to Sewickley, roughly a 40 mile round trip commute. I’ve been riding there twice a week, meaning nearly three hours on the bike those days. This time expense was not worth it (the ride, too, is fairly miserable, travelling as it does through Pittsburgh’s western industrial decay).

This is simply a long-winded way of saying I’m moving on. The decision was at once easy and quite hard. Easy, because there is little good about a three hour commute, even it is by bike. I generally only spend seven and half hours in the office those days, and I barely I have time to see my kids before they go to bed. Hard, because I’ve been given flexibility in my working arrangements. I poked around the market a bit and managed to get an interview. The company, located in the South Side, brought me in twice. The second interview was very technical in nature, and upon leaving I thought “well, there goes that opportunity.” Imagine my surprise a week later when I was given an offer I could hardly refuse. After, in turn, interviewing the company myself, and speaking with Jen about the change, I decided to accept the offer.

So, the paradox. The company is hardly small (there are offices here in Pittsburgh and also in California–which, coincidently, we will get visit sometime in April), and there is a certain global reach to their product. I’ve concluded the only way to truly be a localist and remain in the field of software development is to be an independent consultant (and even then, there will likely be a much larger reach to the work). This, of course, is perhaps a bit of a five to ten year plan–strike out on my own. But current financial realities keep me grounded in the corporate world, for good and bad. Either way, I am very much looking forward to a 12 mile round trip commute, rather than 40.