Sunday, October 26, 2008

Geographical Celibacy

I am generally sympathetic to the values and arguments of localism. I still vote in all the city, county and school district elections back home in Arizona. I favor the repeal of the 17th Amendment (direct election of senators) to focus concerns away from the national government and back to the state legislatures. And I oppose statehood for the District of Columbia, on the principle that no one should be from the Federal City, which belongs to all the states; no one's loyalty should be to the entity which exists only to contain the national government.

In spite of this general sympathy with localism, I have not been a particularly shining example of its notions. It has been years since I read a local newspaper on a regular basis; my daily reading is the international Financial Times. Since 2002 I have lived in four different metropolitan areas, in three states and the Federal City. (Not to mention a semester in the Eternal City.) Moreover, I hope to return to the Federal City, quite possibly living out my days there. Though I sometimes buy local products - such as honey in Arizona - I cannot really claim to know anything about local markets. My sense of music is national or even international in scope; I can name few local acts for any of the places that I have lived. And though I have many friends in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, where I once lived, I cannot claim to have really known any of my immediate neighbors at this or any of my previous houses, except the one in which I grew up.

Am I simply a hypocrite, living a contradiction?, I asked myself not too long ago. Well, that is probably part of it. But there is also another explanation at work. In the past, I have made three moves, each of approximately 1,500 miles. Why? It has been an educational calling, at each stage going to the best school I could find (and afford) in the field in question. And in the future, why will I probably end up in the Federal City? Because I hope to teach diplomatic and military history to a rising generation of foreign policy practitioners. In each case, the lure of local life has been overruled by a particular call, a vocation. The result is a sort of geographical celibacy, a renunciation of many of the joys of place, of a home, in order to serve in a different way.

If there is a certain amount of validity to this line of thought - and I would like to think there is - that does not necessarily give me or anyone else a carte blanche to ignore local life. Even amidst the frequent moves and the awkwardness of Federal City's special case, I can - indeed, must - try to enter into and contribute to the local community, the local discourse. That is not always an easy thing to do in a here-today-gone-tomorrow situation, but I guess that is just one of the consequences of geographic celibacy, being a sojourner in strange lands.

Photo credit: I believe this picture is the work of Miss Abigail Jovanovich.
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