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Can buying local morph into something ugly?

One of the signs of an enlightened society is the ability to stand outside itself and look in on what is happening
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There is a simple truth in our world—we tend to naturally gravitate toward people like ourselves. If you like hockey, you have a tribe. If you like ballet, that’s your tribe. The mark of an enlightened society is that we fight the urge to play only with people from our individual tribe, race, religion, etc. Although we naturally gravitate toward folks who are like us, most of us have learned that everyone is valuable to society. This is a simple explanation of why we fight discrimination. If true, is it possible that the recent federal election was a diversion from this hallmark of an enlightened society?

I congratulate those who campaigned in Guelph and across the country making sacrifices to support a democratic society. But I am less enthusiastic about how each party tended to offer goodies that appealed to one specific tribe or another. Should we be surprised that we are increasingly polarized? Maybe that is the way it has to be to win. However, it does affirm if not validate the narrative that this is about my individual needs as shown by how provinces are more splintered than ever based on their common tribes.

On the same topic, I’m troubled when asked at the checkout counter to make a donation when the final convincing kicker is always “This goes to help organizations in OUR community.” My hair stands on end. The implication is that you are giving, but you are also getting. Think locally, act locally. Local charities do a great job. But I’m bothered by this increasing sense that helping my community or tribe is somehow nobler. There are great needs outside our city; do they not also deserve help? Maybe even more? During the election, one party campaigned on reducing foreign aid. A voter commented on television, “Why are we giving money away when we have needs here at home?” I understand the comment, but reducing poverty makes the world a safer and healthier place. Our international assistance stands around 0.27 percent of our GDP. It’s a small sacrifice a rich country.

Let me make another leap, but on the same topic. We are encouraged to “buy local.” It makes sense that an apple from Ontario uses less transportation energy, and is fresher than one transported from another country or province. Fair enough—it saves the environment. But I wonder if buy local often morphs into kind of a soft, convenient excuse to discriminate against outsiders? Though unintended, is it possible that this philosophy subconsciously affirms that our tribe is of higher value?

One of the signs of an enlightened society is the ability to stand outside itself and look in on what is happening. It is difficult for me to be self critical of the tribe to which I belong. It is true for all of us no matter your ethnic group or political standing.  The most frustrating part of watching politics in the Canada, The U.S.A. and the U.K. these days is that it seems that all political clusters view the world in radically different ways. They seem unable to see things from outside their political group, and don’t seem to see that the opposite party offers anything of value to the process. There are many examples of how we sometimes morph things like buy local, emotionally at least, to give unfair preference to our tribe without realizing it.

Where appropriate, it’s a good idea to buy local, support charities, and of course, vote freely whatever your political bent. However, even if you disagree with how I got here, I hope you agree with my conclusion that we need to be careful to avoid becoming insular. Some local focus is good and some walls are necessary, but I hope we understand how these things can become discriminatory blinders. We are in danger of building echo chambers, only listening to those with whom we agree.  Slowly, we build walls around our lives, our provinces and our country, and this degrades society.

The paradox is that we’ll build walls and feel like we are doing the right, even the righteous thing.

United we stand, divided we fall.