Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Fearless Prediction! Divided In Two Parts.

Predictions are easy to make, usually fun, and most of the time come with very little risk to whomever is making the predictions. The following is one prediction that I hope and trust you will find interesting, even provocative.

Sometime in the next decade or two, the United States will come under threat of disunion. By disunion, I mean that, some area, some region of the country will come under such duress and suffer such discontent that the idea of initiating separation from the rest of the nation will take root and grow. It seems almost inconceivable and outlandish in prospect, and may in fact turn out to have no merit as a bit of prognostication, but bear in mind that all large empires have ultimately disintegrated. Rome, The Ottoman Empire, Ancient Islam, The British Empire, and more recently, The Soviet Union, have all, as they say, bitten the dust. Why should the United States, which has already had one tumultuous Civil War that very nearly sundered the nation, be an exception?

As I consider the fate of our empire, it strikes me that those empires that lasted the longest are those that came into being early in the history of human civilization. I posit that consolidating and controlling vast expanses of territory and ruling over diverse peoples was, while never an easy matter, more attainable then than now. And while I realize that the matter of how empires rise and rule is undoubtedly complex, my sense is that among other advantages empires have over their weaker adversaries, such as greater organization, leadership in technology is crucial. Certainly the U.S. has had a technological advantage for generations, and may still, but for the purposes of maintaining an empire, I wonder if our tech lead, such as it is, has become, among many other reasons, too thin for the maintenance of empire.

Clearly mismanagement of finances and ill chosen conflicts are writ large in the history of empires that fail, and it would seem that the U.S. is by no means exempt from such pitfalls. In fact, my view, my thesis is that U.S. financial and martial mistakes are of such magnitude that the very core of the American empire, the lower 48 states, will be at risk. The wherewithal of government plays an enormous role in government's ability to maintain authority over the citizenry. When central government becomes increasingly incapable of responding to crisis, man made and natural, the populace has little incentive to feel, let alone act, as if they are part of something greater than themselves.

The response of the federal government to hurricane Katrina, widely seen to have been profoundly inadequate, is instructive. Local governments almost certainly failed in their missions as catastrophically as the federal government did in theirs, but in the minds of most Americans, the greatest and most damning failure was, understandably, that of The Executive Branch of the federal government. Going forward, for a variety of reasons, such as climate change, disasters like Katrina stand to increase in number and intensify in severity. And as communities around the nation suffer from even more trying conditions, an over taxed federal government will have little in the way to offer in response. Equally, as per the legacy of The War on Terror, it is not unreasonable to expect the federal government to respond to growing social chaos with ever more repressive measures that will do nothing but inflame discontent and drive the citizenry towards separation, or if you prefer, independence from the rest of the nation.


DED said...

Sometime in the next decade or two, the United States will come under threat of disunion. By disunion, I mean that, some area, some region of the country will come under such duress and suffer such discontent that the idea of initiating separation from the rest of the nation will take root and grow.

I thought we were already headed down that path in 2004.

I think that the next four years will determine if we'll continue down that road. Irregardless of the rhetoric each candidate showers upon his base, what he does in office will be the real test.

I realize that you're not "enamored" of Obama, but I'm a little more confident in his chances than McCain's to right things. If he can steer a moderate path and get the majority to ignore the shrill right wing hate machine, he's got a chance, albeit a small one.

Please, don't confuse what I wrote with optimism. The signal-to-noise ratio out there is bad.

How about Jesse Ventura? :)

Edwardo said...

Ded wrote:

"I thought we were already headed down that path in 2004."

And what was it about '04, a rather unremarkable year as years go, that inspired that view? Indeed, I'm not enamored of Obama, but I agree with you that he would likely respond to difficult times in a more satisfactory way than McCain. Jesse Ventura? That's funny.

Cinnumeg said...

I personally have felt that this country was kept together with nationalist duct tape and bobby pins since I was a kid. Today, in Thomas Naylor's book on Vermont secession, I read that it might be simple debt that's keeping this country together, certainly nothing sufficient to merit it staying together.

I feel curious about how things might play out over the next few years. Could there be secession movements within secession movements? For example, I think that both California and Texas are too big in and of themselves to be governable. Vermont is the 2nd smallest state population wise. (I think only Wyoming has a smaller population.) So it probably can self-govern better than many places. I live in upstate New York and while I don't wonder whether downstate and upstate will separate (I think that's a foregone conclusion), I'm curious as to whether there would be even further divisions within both upstate and downstate. Would Westchester and Rockland Counties go one way, and Nassau and Suffolk another and Manhattan by itself, and Kings County and Queens County by itself? With Staten Island maybe joining with certain N.J. communities nearby? I don't know.

And upstate--well, last summer my partner and I traversed the state all the way to Buffalo and back to Albany-Troy, and experienced different regional flavors in the Leatherstocking Region, the Finger Lakes, the Lake Ontario coast and over to "Chatauqua" (Buffalo and environs for lack of a better word for it). I really liked the diversity, and I feel even between the "Capital Region"--a name that would probably have to change at some point to perhaps Mahicanituk (the Haudenosaunee word for the Hudson River) or something referencing the locale more specifically--and points north to Plattsburgh and Watertown might be of sufficient differences to also form different principalities.

And all this is just thinking locally. For me, Katrina too was, and please pardon the pun, the watershed event that made it a foregone conclusion that the unraveling of the formerly United and now Untied States of America would come to pass. I just wonder how far down the localization and decentralization will move until it settles to its own level.

Naylor, Kirkpatrick Sale and others I think have the right idea--this is the Titanic of nation-states, and it's hit the iceberg. What lifeboats are available to us? That's the relevant question.

DED said...

And what was it about '04, a rather unremarkable year as years go, that inspired that view?

The election. The divisiveness just seemed unparalleled. I really felt that the Republicans would risk tearing the country apart so long as W got re-elected. There was no limit to the shameful depths that they would mine in order to get the job done. And the MSM only seemed to fan the flames. Idiots like Chris Matthews seemed to literally get off on the vitriol.

I wonder if Kerry had won, would the GOP have pressed their argument past the voting booth. It sure seemed that way in Florida in 2000.

I realize that our country's political history is filled with bottom feeder tactics and that 2004 really shouldn't come as a surprise. Newspapers have long been in bed with political candidates who could be bought or shared the interests of their owners. I just had this uneasy feeling that we reached some tipping point.

Evan said...

I for one don't forsee an official Secession or an official Revolution in the old style.
I actually think a Snow Crash scenario is probably the most plausible- in which the United States still exists; but just as the land on which various federal buildings are built- still hires bureaucrats to pretend to carry on important business- yet has no more power than, say, Microsoft or Starbucks or the Church of Scientology or any of a thousand regional mafia groups. Its currency has become worthless, and its laws have become toothless since its privatized cops and soldiers have been hired away by higher bidders; as a result; there is still a President but no one knows or cares who he is.

I mean, strip away the bullshit and see we're already there.

Amendments IX and X make it clear the Federal Government was intended to be minimal from the beginning. What are we getting in return for our tax money from the bloated tumor of authoritarian militarism that it has become?
It in the ass, that's what.
We don't need the Federal Government. We just need to keep giving it money and filling out its paperwork out of fear of being thrown in prison.

The majority of our tax money and political attention should go to county and city governments; and they should be in charge of most of our laws. Second, to the state governments, for infrastructure and large scale public works. The Federal government- a distant third.
The power hierarchy we have now is completely upside-down.

Overseas imperialism has failed. Commercial mass agriculture for long-distance food trucking and airline travel are failing soon.
Globalism (outsourcing and economic colonialism) has reduced our educated middle class to serfdom.
As a result, everything will necessarily be getting more local.

The working class masses are going to realize that the U.S.A. does not serve any of their interests about the same time they become unable to pay their taxes and the government becomes unable to collect them- these things won't happen overnight, but they will happen simultaneously.

Smart city governments will adapt to 21st century realities. The Feds will continue to pass laws that will make it illegal for anyone who isn't a multinational corporation to make an honest living. People will ignore those laws, and local police won't enforce them.

Any regional post-US states will probably arise after; or during, the long slide into irrelevance of our Empire's center in Washington DC.

DED said...

I agree with alot of your points, Evan.

My wife and I already pay as much money to our town (property taxes on home and cars) as we do to the Fed for income taxes. The state, whose tax revenues subsidize the towns within, hits us with income AND sales taxes.

Edwardo said...

Thanks cinnemug for your thoughtful and interesting response. I haven't done anything like the full monty, as it were, regarding the possible variations on secession. And while I can see some of the larger states breaking up into smaller entities, I had not considered the possibility of places like New York doing so. But then New York is diverse as states go, certainly more diverse than Wyoming, Arkansas, Oregon, or The Dakotas to name a few.

Ded, it's funny I didn't get that feeling, but that's probably because, as per the article in the most recent edition of Harper's entitled The Wrecking Crew, the repubs have seemed to possess (in spades) the mentality you describe for longer than I care to remember.

Very interesting ideas, Evan, a nation in name only. In a sense what I am suggesting amounts to a point of recognition that may come well after the terrible trends that you describe as already being in play, have done their worst.