Alright, so I know this will sound completely insane to anyone in the know from the get-go, but here goes anyway.
I've developed a hybrid theoretical framework I believe represents a tremendous step forward with respect to scientific understanding how the human world functions.
You are right to wonder why this matters, and also why I characterize this development as insane. I'll answer both, but you'll have to bear with me a bit, because the answer to both is (as with most things in this world) linked in complex ways. I'll do my level best to be as succinct as possible.
The human world - and by that I mean human societies, economies, politics, so on - is largely driven by decisions made by people who hold certain beliefs about human nature.
Most of these beliefs are wrong.
They are rooted in a wicked cocktail of bad theory, producing poor empirics, a result of centuries of accepting very simple, exceptionally pernicious conceit.
The idea that a bunch of Greek philosophers three thousand years back discovered truths of the world that were re-discovered in medieval Europe, enabling that peculiar society to be the first to "discover" science, to which we owe all progress in human affairs.
This is a myth. A fabrication. A deliberate misunderstanding of history strategically deployed by generations of scientists to justify their maintaining control over the architecture that produces new scientists.
Like any other myth, it has value.
But only when considered from the proper perspective, along with the right caveats.
To become a scientist, at least in the English speaking world, you have to choose a major, spend about ten years of your life (combining undergraduate and graduate levels) passing courses with decent grades, pass a series of "comprehensive" examinations (in quotes because they vary by discipline and sub-discipline), and carry out a formal research project that ends in publishing several academic papers and/or writing a dissertation, essentially a book.
Then, you have to convince five or so people at your university to say you did a good enough job to be awarded a PhD, which earns you the right to sit in judgement on would-be scientists in your own turn.
The myth is that this process is meritocratic in nature.
The truth is that the process is political.
Now no, I don't mean political in the sense of conservative vs. liberal, right vs. left (though it does occur sometimes).
I mean political in the Office Space sense. The banal, endless grind of allocating tasks, responsibilities, and resources within the workforce.
The truth of scientists is that, for all intents and purposes, they live in a world where they are accountable only to their fellow scientists.
This is a problem. For many reasons.
It has resulted in science being fragmented into innumerable independent disciplines, each with their own separate truths that cannot be reconciled.
It has created and sustained the hostile environment experienced by women, people of color, indigenous scholars, anyone not a white male of a certain background - hence why conservatives sometimes encounter it too.
It has bound the basic metabolism of scientific research - the day-to-day efforts of scholars alone or in groups to answer questions of interest - to that of the modern university, an institution that primarily serves as a social gateway to decent employment for the vast majority of students.
Simply put, there are political and moral economies at play that have essentially hijacked science, rendering it an ideology and stalling desperately needed progress in understanding human beings and the global society they've constructed as they are, rather than as scientists imagine them to be.
Academic disciplines, but especially the social sciences, are social organisms inherently more concerned with their own reproductive success than carrying out the vital business of advancing scientific knowledge.
As a result, they have made the natural choice to become cloisters within a church, to create canonical bodies of knowledge all would-be scientists in that discipline must master - that is, prove to their superiors that they know and accept, in order to remain a member in good standing.
Going outside the canon, particularly if it contradicts one of the accepted paradigms within the discipline, is frowned upon - until you have tenure, and "academic freedom."
A boon only granted to those who have not only won the favor of five superiors in the discipline, but have demonstrated fealty to the discipline (and their local department's) objectives for a sufficient time (another 6 or so years).
Naturally, the process of selecting disciplinary canon is political, an effort to reconcile sub-disciplinary tensions (the nature of this sort of hierarchical system is to tend towards niche-seeking, and ultimately fragmentation) under conditions of scarce resources, resulting in the production of excluded perspectives.
Canon ultimately being defined, of course, by what isn't allowed in.
So my assertion that I have come up with a global framework is insane, because it would never, ever be accepted under the scientific status quo, at least not in the English-speaking world. It contravenes the entire mythos of science as demanded by the present political-social economy of academia.
In Europe, or perhaps the developing world, it might. That, after all, is where I source most of the literature essential to building and supporting this framework.
But for the foreseeable future, and probably in my lifetime, I won't have the ability to jump countries, much as I want to. Too many roots where we are, too many obligations to family. Also, I'm autistic, so change is rather difficult - I simply work best from my home, like a wizard in his tower.
Still, I believe all the work I've done over the years, the hundreds upon hundreds of books and papers (sorry trees) I've consumed, has both merit and serious practical implications for anyone who wants to understand and help manage the world better, whatever scale level they work at.
So my plan for this page is to use it as a sort of living document. A living outline, which I will slowly build out as time allows. At first, it'll be just a blurb or two about pieces of the framework, and an ever-extending reading list. That way, anybody who happens on the page can benefit, maybe even take the idea in directions I can't imagine.
Here the outline shall begin!
And as promised, it is only an outline. This will change - slowly. I am a fiction author (more people will consider my ideas if expressed in that mode, the oldest form of teaching) with a production schedule.
But for a teaser - to concoct the theoretical brew I argue is needed to carry the social sciences forward under a united banner, you need:
General systems theory
Ecological systems theory
Social systems theory
Agent based modeling and simulation
Groups as primary unit of analysis
And also just a lot, and i mean a lot, of history.
Core Reading List
*More to come. Start with Niklas Luhmann.
Why I am a Cascadian
I was born an American, and like my father and grandfather before me, I served in the United States military during a time of war.
I used to feel pride in being an American. But I don’t anymore.
The fact of the matter is that the United States of America is a colonial empire no better than the British Empire that spawned it. After winning independence, the elites who have always run the show actively pursued wars of aggression, committed genocide against the indigenous inhabitants, and eventually seized colonies in Latin America and Asia to become a formal empire itself – a path that led the US directly into the atrocities of the Second World War. A conflict that culminated in the first-ever human use of atomic weaponry to murder a quarter of a million civilians at a point when the war in the Pacific was already a foregone conclusion.
And of course, they didn’t stop there. Hell, they built a few tens of thousands more, and thousands still sit, lurking, waiting to take a few hundreds of millions of lives.
The United States of America has, since the Second World War, directly caused the death of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. It has indirectly caused the deaths of millions more. The War on Terror has simply continued a long, bloody history of slaughter. The bombs have never stopped falling for long, and although the citizens of the United States have two broad oceans protecting them from invasion, more than 50% of every single dollar paid in federal income taxes by all American taxpayers flow into a Pentagon bureaucracy so bloated and mismanaged that it cannot even be accurately audited.
This ongoing theft of our dollars by the Pentagon, and their ultimate destination in the pockets of a few privileged actors in the defense industry, directly connects each and every American taxpayer to an unending stream of atrocities. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan – they never end, no matter which of the two major parties is in power or what personality occupies the Oval Office. Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, Trump – no President in my lifetime has failed to kill less than a few thousand innocent people around the world, and some (Clinton, Bush II) have killed far more. Neither party makes ending the nonstop violence a core component of its platform, and the US media doesn’t seem to care.
“American” is an identity that no longer contains the slightest shred of pride for me. The facts of history reveal that the United States of America is a vicious global empire, no less worth defeating than any that has come before. To put in Tolkienian terms: We are all Orcs. Sauron is our master. Barad-Dur belches wickedness into our skies. And Washington DC is the Ring of Power.
But all empires, due to contradictions in their internal structure and the detachment of their elites from the persistent degradation of material conditions experienced by the majority of the population, eventually fall. Leaving those of us stuck living in the aftermath with the difficult task of figuring out what to do next.
But, as the British say, sometimes you just have to get stuck in.
I believe that the time has come to recognize that we desperately need new principles of political organization to deal with the growing complexities of 21st century life. I believe the time has come to adopt the idea of the Bioregion as a natural and workable foundation for a nation held together by the vital task of collectively managing our common environment.
We in the Pacific Northwest, present-day Americans, Canadians, and First Peoples, live where we do because this land calls to us. Whether our ancestors came here millenia or decades ago, this place sustains our life, gives us air and water and food, and offers a soul the chance to experience some of the few remaining places on this Earth not entirely spoiled by industrial society.
In truth, our political, economic, and social systems are all bound to the bioregion and those things we need and value that can be sourced from it. Common management of collective resources is, as Nobel-winning scholars have persuasively argued, one of the fundamental reasons why a recognizable human society exists in the first place. And in an age of global economic turmoil and global climate change, comprehending this link is absolutely essential to our long term prosperity.
So starting with the idea of the Bioregion, I collected some basic data and used my moderate GIS skills to put together this map, which is a Version 1.0 style presentation containing the broadest outline of my professional sense, as someone with graduate level training in policy and resource management of what an autonomous or independent Cascadia established along bioregional lines could – and I’d argue, should, look like:
This Democratic Federation of Cascadia would have a combined population of about 17 million people as of the mid 2010s, and it will likely reach 18 million in the mid 2020s. The total Gross Domestic Product would be almost $1.1 Trillion today, a bit larger than the Netherlands or Indonesia, a bit smaller than Australia or Spain.
Depending on whether Cascadia maintains the US level of per-person military spending (over $2,000 even before the most recent increases, taking it close to $2,500) or drops it to the NATO-standard 2% of GDP, Cascadia’s Defense Forces (Mandates: protection of residents from aggression, and disaster relief), it would spend about as much as South Korea ($35 billion per year) or Canada ($20 billion per year) on defense.
Most of the population would reside in Rainier (5.20 million), Willamette (2.80 million), and Fraser/Okanogan (4.40 million together – not certain where the best BC split might be). Once split out, Okanogan would likely be the smallest state by population (Again sorry for the US focus, readers in Canada), followed by Klamath (.80 million), Missoula (.80 million), Teton (1.20 million), and Columbia (1.80 million).
The population distribution into these states is particularly important – in fact, I’d call it vital to the entire concept. One of the biggest issues with contemporary discussions of Cascadia is lack of a clear solution to what will always be the most fundamental challenge in uniting 17 million people across such a large, rugged area: political cultures.
The media-sustained narrative of the US having two ideological poles – left/liberal and right/conservative – with a pool of moderates in the middle, is complete and utter pseudoscience. It is endlessly-repeated nonsense with no basis in anything other than convenience. You simply cannot usefully describe a population, in statistical or functional terms, using a single-dimension metric. Politics in any place or time will always be about more complex than that. Politics is a human activity, rooted in human social and economic interactions. As such, it is subject to the same tribalism as any other aspect of our world. People vote based on how they perceive a candidate or issue is related to their people – whoever they are.
Where people live, the environment they’ve known – social, economic, and/or natural – in their lives, is a crucial component of their self and group identities, which are the ultimate drivers of politics in the real world. The paramount divide within Cascadia exists as a gap between two cultures, rural and urban, each of which is characterized by quite different patterns of existence, which produce different ways of looking at the world.
Cascadia, to function as a political entity, will have to be structured to take these fundamental differences in worldview into account. There is a strain of thinking about Cascadia and Bioregionalism more broadly, that more or less follows the lines of the Ecotopia ideal. The problem with this idea, from a political perspective, is that rural people very rarely see their Ecotopia as being quite the same as urban people. Those who grow up living and working in nature have a definite tendency to see it in different practical and moral terms than someone who has primarily experienced it through vacation trips to national parks. As a result, there is a strong urban bias inherent in the Ecotopia idea, that has absorbed a certain ideology about nature’s relationship with humans rooted in what amounts, to most rural folks, to an argument for their exclusion from the nature they’ve always known.
Anyway, my main point is this: the right-left divide in America is not a “natural” aspect of our society, but in Cascadia, this divide happens to follow geographic lines. And there is only one real solution to the problem of correlated political culture and geography: Federalism.
Cascadia will have to reconcile the differences in how local people want to see the environment managed, by maintaining a strict separation of political powers held by the state governments, and by the Cascadia Federal Government. The Cascadia map above draws on recent American voting records (British Columbia’s are more complex, but the broader urban-rural divide follows the same lines) to identify eight states where one of the two major parties – used here as a proxy for the urban-rural divide – scored a minimum 20-point margin over the other in the 2016 Presidential election (margins are closer in 2012, but the overall pattern is identical).
In other terms, in each of these states, either the democratic or republican candidate received a maximum of 36% of the total vote. Which basically means that this party, in this area, mostly because of its ties to national politics, is functionally non-competitive. You could have – as was the case in California’s most recent senate race – two candidates from the same party competing in a general election, without immediately losing to a solo candidate from the other ideological pole.
This is partly the case now, where it wasn’t 20 or 30 years ago, due to shifts in the values of the American electorate, which you can read more about in any of the awesome Pew Reports available. But now it is the case, and strongly implies that the two-party system simply no longer functions in American society.
This is why I argue for Cascadia to be organized as a Democratic Federation. Like the United States, it will preserve separation of powers between state and federal, and between the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches within each state. It will have a national legislature comprised of a 200-member multi-party Parliament and 10% of seats reserved for members of First Nations, as well as a Senate with a fixed number of Senators from each state - as few as 3 (24 total) or as many as you'd like - depends on how small you want an individual senator's constituency to be. It will have a Presidency, however this office will be restricted to supervising the federal bureaucracy, which will be tasked with carrying out the will of the Legislature. And, naturally, it will have a Supreme Court, with members selected by the President – who will be elected by direct popular vote.
To be clear on one point in particular: Cascadia should not be seen as a secession movement, but a reform movement. The Constitution of the United States can be legally Amended by a convention called at the behest of a sufficient number of state legislatures. I believe the simplest and best way forward out of the present political crisis for all Americans is to pass the necessary identical legislation in the necessary number of states, calling for a convention to enact the following Amendment (or an equivalent variation, if advised by legal scholars):
Any contiguous group of counties may demand, via public referendum, full and permanent devolution of all powers and responsibilities presently held by the Federal Government of the United States of America, including the right to Amend the inherited Constitution, save the right to declare war on any part of the United States or its allies.
This will allow for any American region to go its own way, without anyone seceding or sparking some massive Constitutional Crisis – or in the worst case, a Second Civil War. California (Calexit!), Texas (Texit?), independent Alaska, Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, Vermont, Deseret (couldn’t keep constructing exit puns) – if the people want it, it should be allowed to happen, under the authority of the Amended Constitution.
Ideally, all the Post-America successor regions would maintain the existing customs and currency union, and citizens of one would remain a citizen of all. It could even retain parts of the existing DC infrastructure to handle big things like management of the nuclear arsenal and continental defense affairs and the space program that all regions could agree should still be managed at the DC-level. But there are no guarantees in America anymore, so Cascadia would need to be prepared to go it alone.
This same model could work for Canada, too, opening up other opportunities for Cascadia if a customs union and free movement could be established/maintained. In my ideal world, devolving federal powers from Ottawa and DC to more rationally organized successor entities would actually be a more sustainable governing solution for everyone in the long run, and would let all of North America perhaps move towards an EU-like arrangement (though with far less bureaucracy). People can still be American or Canadian if they like, but the identity can become less political, and more social – as it should be.
As for Cascadia, my goal is to make the shift to a regional federal government as smooth as possible, hence wording my Amendment such that it simply devolves powers, allowing successor regions time to work out the details to minimize disruptions. Once established, Cascadia would then need to take the inherited US Constitution (and for British Columbia, all their fun legal stuff) and amend it locally to produce the specific structure we as Cascadians decide we want.
Well! Since this is running long, I’ll leave it at that rather than dive into ridiculous details, like I instinctively want to (but who would want to read?). My goal for this essay was to articulate the political structure I think is necessary to make Cascadia a reality. I hope it is a useful discussion piece, and I’ll send it to some forums (fora?) and folks to see if it interests anyone. I have a book project in mind based on this concept, but that’ll probably have to wait until 2020 or so, when I’ll have Bringing Ragnarok done.
But the bottom line, to conclude, is that I believe the Democratic Federation of Cascadia represents the best way forward for residents of the Pacific Northwest who want to live in a country that doesn’t function as an engine of death, transforming your labor to tax revenues to bombs that never seem to stop being dropped. I don’t want to be an American, and rather than accept the bullshit "then get out" argument, I take a different approach: I deny the legitimate right of the United States federal government to continue to lay claim lands it originally stole through deliberate genocide.
So to hell with the blood-drenched stars and stripes I once proudly wore. That symbol no longer deserves our honor or affection. It is too stained with the blood of innocents, and its nature is so manifestly pernicious that it cannot be allowed to continue. The time has come to throw the Ring of Power into the flame, and move on to build the world that-should-be.
I am Cascadian.
Update Note (March 2019)
In the two years since writing this, the case for transitioning the United States from one central federal capitol to six or seven autonomous regional federal capitols, each taking the Constitution and interpreting/applying it to suit the residents of Americans living in their area, has only grown stronger.
The current President has openly claimed unconstitutional powers through his "Emergency" declaration, and history shows that these kinds of power-grabs function as a prelude to even more extreme actions, unless vigorously opposed. But so long as the Republican party's core supports Trump, nothing fundamental changes in DC, no matter how many Democrats decide to scrum for the nomination.
The USA is already divided into two distinct societies, each claiming a different set of facts as truth and alleging that the other society is dominated by "fake news."
These divisions run deep, are tied to historic patterns of settlement and migration, and have produced a nation that can no longer hold together - at least, not structured as it currently is, with DC hoovering up tax money and directing it to the Pentagon.
A Federation of Pacific States, organized along the lines I argue below, stands the best chance of effecting a smooth transition from the dying US system to a new, Pacific future. It will protect the economic, social, and political interests of Pacific Americans and let us build a better America.
If this concept speaks to you, there are some simple steps to making this a reality.
1. We need to demand a Constitutional Amendment allowing regions to establish their own federal government and inherit all powers Constitutionally veted in DC. This will most likely be achieved by coordinating legislative efforts at the State level across the entire US, allowing all regions the same rights as we're seeking.
2. A limited and focused Constitutional Convention will be held to come up with the specific legal wording and procedures for handing off responsibilities from DC to the new local capitols.
3. Establishment of a shadow government with popular support (via an initial election) to drive the process and work with the states joining the FPS to keep the process as smooth and fair as possible.
Final Note - I consider myself a Cascadian, and long-term I hope to make Cascadia a reality. But it is best achieved, I believe, by first supporting the establishment of an autonomous region that can prove it has what it takes to function on its own.
The Federation of Pacific States is an autonomous federal region organized under the authority of the Constitution of the United States of America, specifically the "Opt-Out" Amendment of 2021, adopted in the wake of the violently-contested 2020 United States Presidential Election. This Amendment allows any grouping of two or more contiguous states to demand full devolution of all existing Federal authority to a new regional Federal government, with the right to subsequently amend and evolve the Constitution as desired by the citizens living within the associated states.
The western-most six states of Alaska, California, Hawai'i, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington were the first region to demand full autonomy from the D.C. government, and held the first Federation of Pacific States Federal Elections in November, 2022. In 2026, after a transition period involving the handover of responsibilities and assets as well as the adoption of a formal plan for effecting a slate of Constitutional reforms favored by the citizens of the Pacific States, the Federation of Pacific States capitol in San Francisco was recognized by the United Nations as a separate entity from the United States of America proper.
Although the Federation of Pacific States remains in perpetual supra-federal union with the United States and its successors, waiving the right to unilaterally declare war, coin its own currency, or restrict freedom of travel between itself and other USA federal regions, it is a fully sovereign Federal Democratic Republic legitimized by the will of the people and the Constitution.
A Pacific Nation
In 2030, the Federation of Pacific States is home to more than 63 million people, the vast majority of whom live in the more than 400,000 square miles of the Continental Pacific States of California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. As a comparison, England houses a similarly-sized population on approximately 1/8th the land area. The northern state of Alaska alone covers more than 600,000 square miles, though it is home to fewer than 1 million people.
The Physical Geography of the Federation of Pacific States is dominated by two major features: the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Ring of Fire. The precipitation that sustains the region's highly productive ecosystems originates in the Pacific, is deposited in the Sierra, Cascade, and Rocky mountain ranges, then flows back to the Pacific via the life-sustaining waters of the Columbia and the Colorado. The Pacific moderates the climate in Western North America from Mexico to southern Alaska, producing unique temperate and mediterranean climate zones that have supported human life for more than twenty thousand years.
The Pacific Ring of Fire, largely responsible for the creation of the Pacific States' great mountains, also produces the majority of natural hazards experienced by Pacific States' residents. Many of the world's most active volcanoes occur in Alaska and Hawai'i, and others slumber in a long line from California through Washington. Underlying this volcanism is the long series of faults that stretch from Mexico to the Aleutians, and which regularly produce massive earthquakes and tsunami events, which can prove catastrophic to human life.
Despite these hazards, the Pacific States have produced some of the most dynamic social and economic innovations of modern times, and remain an active hub of high technology, pouring more public and private investment per capita into research than any other region of the USA. The region is a crossroads between the markets of Asia and Interior North America, and is expected to grow in population and wealth over the next twenty years, buoyed by the maturation of the Chinese national economy and the growing economic integration in the broader Pacific.
The Federation of Pacific States is by and large a nation of immigrants. Continuously occupied by humans for at least the past twenty thousand years, First Peoples experienced a major population crash at the onset of the invasion of the Europeans in the 17th-19th centuries. This was followed by a major population increase in the late 19th and again in the mid 20th centuries, as demographic pressures to the east produced a major flow of European migration that has only increased in the early 21st Century, accompanied by a shift in the origin from Europe proper to the independent nations that formed in the wake of European colonization in Latin and South America.
Although the migration of Europeans to the Pacific Coast shaped the region in the 20th Century, it was accompanied, and in many areas exceeded by, immigration from Asia. Chinese and Japanese Americans moved to the Pacific States in the 19th and 20th centuries seeking economic opportunity, and in the late 20th century large-scale immigration from Southeast Asia and the Middle East began. And though they moved in smaller numbers and mostly to urban areas where there was sufficient work available in shipyards and factories during the Second World War, African Americans also constitute a major ethnic group within the nation.
As in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, First Peoples have fought to ensure their place in society since the European immigrations to the Pacific began in force in the 19th Century. Constituting a major portion of the electorate in Alaska and Hawaii, the establishment of the Federation of Pacific States provided an opportunity for First Peoples from all six states to organize collectively to demand protection of their rights and access to political process. With sixteen reserved seats in the Federation of Pacific States Senate (8% of total) and comprising the ethnic majority in a number of counties, the First Peoples Caucus plays a key role in the Federation of Pacific States Legislature.
Preliminary results from the 2030 Pacific States' Census indicate that the ethnic composition of the region continues to diversify, with the Caucasian fraction of the population expected to decline to 45.4%, while the Latino fraction increases to 32.2% and the Asian fraction increases to 12.2%. As a result of its broadly pro-immigration and pro-refugee stance, the population of the Federation is expected to increase rapidly through 2050, with migrants from Africa and the Middle East constituting increasing fractions of the annual total.
The Federation of Pacific States represents the world's 4th-largest national economy, behind only the United States proper, China, and Japan, with Germany not far behind. Although the economic turmoil of the decade lasting from 2016-2026 kept real annual growth rates under 1% of GDP, the steady increase in population has ensured that the economy grew from almost $3.6 Trillion to just over $4 Trillion between 2015 and 2030.
An advanced services-based economy fully integrated with global markets through sea and air connections along the Pacific Coast, the Pacific States are the North American gateway to the vast markets of East and South Asia. High-technology is the dominant economic sector, with specialty agriculture, tourism, and energy production are also particularly important to the Pacific States' economy. Entertainment is a major economic and cultural export, with the 2029 Reconaissance Office annual report on national security trends indicating that by 2026 the Pacific States were perceived as fully distinct from and more positively viewed in the world than the United States as a whole, and this was now a key factor driving substantial foreign investment in the economy.
Significant challenges facing the Federation of Pacific States economy in the near to medium term include systemic economic vulnerabilities in rural counties in the Continental Interior, agricultural losses as a result of an increasingly unpredictable climate, and the persistent dependence on oil as the primary transportation fuel, which in the face of long-term decline in the availaibility of conventional oil resources represents a long-term source of structural inflation.
To a significant degree, the Pacific States owe their current economic competitiveness to infrastructure investments made by the United States federal government in the 1950s and 1960s. Dams, roads, ports, and aviation facilities constitute the basic enabling infrastructure for the High-tech economy. Failure to invest in maintenance and modernization of this core infrastructure has been widely identified as a factor in the United States' long term trajectory of economic decline.
In part to mitigate this decay, but also in part due to a political need to offer financial incentives to the poorer, more conservative, rural counties in the Continental Interior in order to win their support for establishing an independent Federal government in the region, the Federation of Pacific States has made significant public investment in infrastructure and in particular in driving economic growth in the Continental Interior by funding a major build-out of renewable energy production facilities. As a result, in 2031 the Pacific States are expected to generate more than 55% of electricity from renewable sources, a transition that has simultaneously reduced greenhouse gas emissions and boosted rural economies, and the state of California has enacted plans to go even further, and mandate 80% of all electricity to be generated via renewables by 2050
In 2030 a 5-year infrastructure re-investment program was authorized by the federal government of the Pacific States, that aims to dramatically reduce energy use in metropolitan areas and along the Interstate 5 corridor by mandating that all future commuter and government vehicles be electric and fully-automated, with traffic flows on major arteries coordinated by a driving network to maximize the efficient movement of vehicles through an urban road network. This build-out aims to reduce productivity losses due to time spent in traffic as well as dependency on oil as a transportation fuel, and essentially scales-up an existing successful pilot program deployed in Honolulu, Hawaii in 2023.
Federal Constitutional State
Officially an "Autonomous Region Within the United States", the Federation of Pacific States is a de-facto sovereign federal constitutional state - save with respect to certain powers reserved by the supra-national capitol in Washington D.C. The 2021 "Opt-Out" Amendment to the United States Constitution authorized the six Pacific States to demand and receive a full devolution of all practical federal authority, inheriting all rights, privileges, and obligations accorded to the United States federal government by the Constitution - including the right to subsequently amend the Constitution to suit the needs and desires of its own citizens.
The "Pacific Solution", as it was later called, was to unite the six states under the authority of a federal government with strictly limited powers, with most governance responsibilities devolved to the states. Only those deemed necessary to the security and economic prosperity of the Pacific States would be retained by the federal authority, with enhanced checks-and-balances built into the governing mechanism to prevent a dangerous centralization of power in federal hands, as happened in the United States proper. Further, recognizing the severity of the urban/rural political divide within the four Continental States of California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, a substantial degree of sub-state level autonomy would be granted to groups of contiguous counties that would become the basic administrative units for the federal and state bureaucracies.
While most governing authority would remain in the existing state capitols, these new Districts would be granted the maximum latitude feasible in implementation of state and federal programs, particularly those that were seen as impinging on local social values. This would allow the more socially and economically conservative Continental Interior a significant degree of political autonomy, and mitigate the common perception (and reality, in many cases) of the rural districts being forgotten by the far more populous urban areas. While controversial, annual attitudinal surveys have demonstrated a slow but steady increase in support for the Pacific Solution over time.
As of 2030, this process has resulted in the creation of four Districts: Sierra, Tahoe, Klamath, and Columbia, from the more rural, conservative portions of California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. In each District, all state and federal level elected representatives meet once per year to decide on a "Governance Plan" that interprets recent legislative changes and directs the local bureacratic offices' implementation, with District-level referenda used as needed to legitimize potentially controversial decisions.
The federal government of the Federation of Pacific States functions as a Republic, with a bicameral legislature, independent judiciary, and executive branch headquartered in the federal capitol of San Francisco. The Constitution of the Federation of Pacific States is considered a direct descendent of the United States Constitution, albeit having undergone significant updates and streamlining in order to function more effectively in the 21st Century. Like its predecessor, the FPS Constitution creates a governing system emphasizing multiple branches, each checking and balancing the other, and incorporates both population and geographic controls on the Legislature itself.
The Legislative Branch is comprised of two chambers, equal in rank: the Senate, with 200 seats and headed by the Chancellor of the Senate, and the Assembly, with 100 seats and headed by the Speaker fo the Assembly. Each County in the Federation elects one Senator every two years, as do Guam, the Northern Marianas, and American Samoa. Thirteen additional Senate seats are reserved for members of First Peoples, one seat apportioned to each of the Districts. The Assembly, by contrast, apportions seats by population, with each District allocated a minimum of two Assembly members, and elections are held every six years. Both chambers require a 60% majority for legislation to pass. Thus, the Assembly functions as a popular democratic check, while the Senate functions as a geographic check. The President can veto legislation, but this can be overriden by a 70% majority.
The Judicial Branch functions identically to that of the United States, with 9 Justices of the Supreme Court of the Federation of Pacific States led by a Chief Justice, elected by the other Judges by consensus, who retains a significant staff and administrative responsibility for the court as a whole.
The Executive Branch of the Federation of Pacific States is responsible for the efficient and impartial administration of federal programs in accordance with legislative intent, as well as the foreign policy and collective defense of the nation. The President of the Federation of Pacific States is elected by direct popular vote, and has the right to appoint Supreme Court Justices and Cabinet Secretaries, and along with the other members of the National Security Council exerts full civilian oversight and control over the Federation of Pacific States Defense Forces.
The Federation of Pacific States Defense Forces are tasked with safeguarding the freedom of the Pacific States, its allies and partners, and American citizens in the Pacific. With a baseline annual budget of $108 billion (2015 dollars) representing 3% of its 2015 GDP, the FPSDF has the world's 3rd-largest military budget and an enviable security situation, with an ocean protecting the majority of Pacific States citizens from the only realistic near-future adversary, the People's Republic of China. Further, long-standing alliances with Japan, South Korea, and Australia - with a collective military budget in excess of $120 billion (2015 dollars)
As a result of this enviable geostrategic position, defense planners in the Federation of Pacific States have concluded that the primary military objective of the FPS in the unlikely event of a major conflict must be to prevent any hostile naval or aviation group from operating freely past what Chinese strategists refer to as the First Island Chain, meaning the Ryukus between Japan and Taiwan and the various nations that share the South China Sea. As a result, the Federation of Pacific States Navy is the largest branch, and maintains the ability to deploy a full carrier strike group along with its airwing, escorts, and an accompanying Marine strike group anywhere in the Pacific within 72 hours.
Secondary missions of the Defense Force include joint anti-piracy patrols, surveillance and reconaissance, homeland air defense, and disaster relief - with the lattermost receiving special attention in light of the geophysical hazards shared by the Pacific States. The rapid-response capabilities of the Defense Forces ensure that Pacific States forces can be on the ground and assisting within hours of a natural disaster occurring virtually anywhere in the Pacific.
The Federation of Pacific States Defense Forces remain deeply integrated with the American hemispheric defense system under the coordination of the Pentagon, and maintain full interoperability with both NATO and Pacific Allies' military forces. All units trace their heritage and traditions directly to the United States Armed Forces, and personnel may even transfer freely between FPS and USA formations upon request, with time served in either force considered administrative equivalent for personnel purposes.
The Federation of Pacific States inherited all responsibilities of the United States of America with respect to its security committments and diplomatic efforts in the Pacific. As such, it maintains extremely close relationships with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Korea, a relationship defined in the Pacific Treaty of 2024 as constiting an immediate obligation to provide direct military assistance in case one member is attacked. The Federation of Pacific States also maintains close partnerships with the Southeast Asian nations of Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines and strategic partnerships with Taiwan, India, and the People's Republic of China.
The fundamental pillars of Pacific States diplomacy were defined in 2023 as follows:
In the extremely unlikely event of a global conflict, the Federation of Pacific States remains fully integrated and allied with the United States, sharing the same common bond as exists between Commonwealth nations like England, Canada, and Australia. In addition, the Federation of Pacific States is a nuclear power, maintaining three ballistic missile submarines in its inventory under and with at least one constantly deployed somewhere under the Pacific, giving the nation the capability to inflict massive retaliation on any nation or group that uses a nuclear weapon against any American or allied citizens.
The Flag of the Federation of Pacific States is made up of thick vertical stripes, and six stars on the central stripe. The left stripe is dark blue, symbolizing the Pacific Ocean. The right stripe is light blue, symbolizing the clear skies of the high mountains and interior plains. The central stripe is slightly larger than the other two, and is a field of green, symbolizing the lush environment that allows human life to thrive. Six white stars create a geometric pattern on the central green stripe, representing the relative location of the six states and the six founding states themselves.
NOTE: This is an initial draft (hence, 1.0), with attributions and citations still in-progress. It is the author's intent to release all work under a Creative Commons License in the future. One mind alone can't build a working system.
Developing a "Federation of Pacific States"
It is a strange feeling, writing what amounts to a strategic plan for building a new country. But I can't shake the sense that unless something significant changes in the way the USA does politics, and probably only if the change comes soon, the country is on an inexorable slide towards a set of generally unpleasant outcomes.
So I write, in hopes of contributing to the discourse surrounding what is probably the most pressing question in America for the next 4-8 years: How do we fix this incredible mess we've inherited?
I want to be absolutely clear, up front, on several points:
This work is not:
- An ideological manifesto, arguing for some narrow form of material or cultural revolution.
- A conspiracy theory, laying sole blame for America's problems at any one group's feet.
- Political diatribe, advancing the agenda of some special interest group or another.
If you are reading this in the hope of getting yet another short burst of dopamine from hearing someone confirm yet again your personal social, economic, or political bias, you should stop here. I'm setting aside most of my own political preferences in order to create this argument, so do the courtesy of reciprocating in-kind.
What this work is, at heart, is an attempt to articulate a comprehensive, viable solution for our present national crisis. It argues that the US states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington should politically unite under to a centrist, non-partisan, regional consensus platform, and create a shadow state with the express purpose of demonstrating to the rest of the United States and the global community that the Pacific States exist as a coherent political entity, a nation-in-waiting with the capability and moral right to demand and defend full devolution of the powers held by the federal government in Washington, D.C to a new federal capitol serving those states that wish to join. This would follow the model of the Scottish National Party's success in achieving significant delegation of powers from the UK federal government to a now nearly-independent Scottish government.
To achieve this, we will have to build a new, centrist political party - much as Macron's supporters recently accomplished in France - tasked with advancing our collective interest in D.C. by pressing for the adoption of a new Amendment to the Constitution, allowing 2 or more states the right to demand full devolution of federal authority.
While we will remain united as Americans, each region will have the right to form and sustain a federal government operating under its own version of the Constitution, holding full sovereignty to interpret it according to the preferences of citizens within their jurisdiction - save, naturally, the power to declare war or restrict citizens' right of free movement.
This is not a task that we ought to take on lightly. It is being forced upon us by the fact that the 2016 election represented a historic moment in American history, where foreign interference, widespread voter suppression, one candidate's threat to the integrity of the democratic process, and the undemocratic artifact of the 18th century that is the electoral college conspired to produce a fundamental threat to America's democratic system of government, and ultimately the Constitution that legitimizes it. It is now apparent that broad swathes of the American public can no longer agree on a common interpretation of the Constitution. 2016 demonstrated that the two major ideological poles cannot coexist in the same system of government. Separation is the only long-term solution that does not depend on a radical restructuring of the entrenched political power of the national democratic and republican parties, whose mutual dysfunction across multiple decades has largely produced the present crisis.
The disastrous election of 2016 has now given way to an even-more disastrous Trump presidency. Since taking office, this administration has committed one act after another that any objective observer must grant directly threaten the political, economic, and social future of the United States of America, and will particularly harm those living in the Pacific States:
Collectively, the states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington contain (as of 2010) 52 million Americans. 21 million voted in the 2016 election out of approximately 30 million who were eligible. Nearly 14 million - 2/3 - voted against Donald Trump. Almost as many voters stayed home in the Pacific States as voted for Trump and Pence. Therefore, it is fair to assert that a Constitutional Majority of Pacific Americans reject as immoral and counterproductive virtually the entirety of the Trump agenda. Collectively, we already subsidize the federal budget to the tune of about 30 billion dollars annually - almost $600 for every one of our citizens is sent to other parts of the United States. A tolerable subsidy when used to benefit Americans as a whole. However, because virtually all power is now in the hands of one party in D.C., we are functionally without representation for the near future due to the long term concentration of power in the hands of the US federal government, which is rapidly being restructured to represent the interests of a narrow interest group.
Worse, because of the Trumpists continued attacks against the integrity of the electoral process, it has now become thinkable that subsequent federal elections will not be held under truly free and fair conditions, representing a Constitutional Crisis of the highest order. Even if the Constitution and sanctity of the electoral process holds through 2020, the damage the Trumpists will certainly do to America's national interest at what is clearly a crucial moment in global history is absolutlely appalling. The economic rise of China, India, and the rest of the developing world, increasing scarcity of cheap energy, and global efforts to mitigate environmental impacts are all pressing challenges requiring global cooperation. At the same time the world needs the United States to lead, Trump and his administration have declared their intent to wall us off from our neighbors.
We in the Pacific will be the worst harmed by this effort, because we more than any other part of the United States are integrated into the broader Pacific economy. Our ports link North America to factories in China and Southeast Asia. Our companies collaborate every day with partners in India, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. Hundreds of thousands of people cross our borders to do business, visit family, and spend money in our towns. Our wealth and capacity for long-term economic growth depends completely on our ability to trade with the Pacific. Worse, the Trump administration's provocations against North Korea and China, and its apparent adherence to a worldview that sees the West locked into a Clash of Civilizations, threaten to spark a war that will be waged on our doorstep, by people who in times of peace are our neighbors. And looming beyond that is the dark spectre of a future nuclear conflict, the nightmare of which would fall most heavily on our homes, given that we host most of the military infrastructure necessary to prosecute a war with China or North Korea.
The threat to our long-term survival is so stark, that we in the Pacific States are being forced to band together as a matter of simple political and economic self-defense. But we have morality on our side, as well. Because the Trump Administration has made it clear that its vision of America is one of social regression, a re-institution of a mythical golden era in America's past. A time before the Civil Rights movements, when America was a formal apartheid state. A generation fought and bled in hopes that the American Dream, so long proscribed to so many Americans based on the color of their skin or their gender, would one day be fully extend to all Americans regardless of the circumstances of their birth.
It is impossible to turn back time, and foolish to try. But America only truly began to live up to the original, noble promise of its Constitution when it, finally, materially embraced the reality that political legitimacy is conferred by the people, in order to preserve the common welfare. It is not privilege bestowed by heredity or wealth, but earned by fulfilling the expectations of the democratic community of citizens.
If Washington D.C. is incapable of fulfilling its moral role under the Constitution, then a new solution must be found. If the Trump Administration or a spiritual successor seeks to abrogate this role, then it must be considered to have abandoned its authority under the Constitution.
We of the Pacific States must therefore unite as one, and prepare to act as a de-facto or de-jure state, advocating for a Constitutional Amendment allowing us - or any other regional grouping of states, to do the same. We will inherit the Constitution and its legacy, and carry on America's global message of peace, prosperity, democracy, and tolerance in our own way.
I do not write this happily. Much the opposite. But to stop America's decline, someone must lead. If D.C. can't, then the Pacific States deserve the right to pursue an independent path. And to update Thomas Jefferson's (still unequalled) summarization in the Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self evident: that all people are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. To secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever a form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its power in such form as to them seem most likely to effect these inherent rights."
Outline of the Argument
Regional Federal Governments
Getting it Done
I am writing this because my country is in obvious crisis, and I do not see the powers-that-be articulating a better (viable) non-partisan solution. This work represents my best argument for a different way forward, that operates within the bounds set by the Constitution to de-conflict our now-geographic division and end the long disaster that Washington D.C. has become.
My hope is that this will spark a debate among people in a better position than myself to actually effect this program. What I present here is at best a first draft, a rough sketch, rooted in data and history but also fundamentally incomplete. No one mind can conceive of the totality of the solution we require. All I can hope to do is provide an outline of a way forward, a path to systemic reform that I hope will offer us all a chance at a better future.
The first half (after this introductory diatribe) is an attempt to envision a viable scenario where in 2020 our electoral dysfunction forces a crisis that causes the Federation of Pacific States to follow a new Constitutional Amendment and establish an independent federal state under the authority of the Constitution. The second half contains a number of essays where I apply a systems-theoretic approach to, in broad terms, diagnose our collective dysfunction, put it in context with respect to events around the world, and defend a proposed plan of treatment.
I feel it important to stress that this work does not reflect an ideological or utopian vision of my own personal dream-state. Nor is it an intentionally political work. My own politics tend towards a left-libertarian view equally skeptical of market and state power. In my utopia, states and countries need not even exist, as we have all evolved into a community of communities.
Rather, this work is inspired by that of the Founders, who sought to produce a temporal document - our Constitution - which I, my father, and my grandfather all took an oath to uphold and defend, and which was intended to create conditions under which we could grow and develop more or less as we all independently pleased.
That the greatest threat to the integrity of the Constitution is now our own political elites' ongoing inability to collectively agree on a bipartisan interpretation of the document is something long foreseen, but that we all hoped wouldn't come to pass in our time. Well, it has. And we all have the choice of whether we adapt to the new situation, or declare the breach for what it is and take bold steps towards a new solution.
A question I've been asking myself recently: if the US continues on this apparently unstoppable spiral into total political dysfunction, to the point that we hit our own "Dissolution of the USSR" moment, how might the subsequent map of the (former) Lower 48 shape up?
Here is my conception of where things may be/could be headed, informed by a predilection for analytical geography and manipulation of geospatial databases...which are just fancy ways of saying that I like to see how the world works when you start from a spreadsheet, and go graphical from there. (#nerdalert)
It's worth taking a moment to consider why the question is actually important, and not (just) paranoid fantasy. Here's a short, off-top-of-head list of a few of the larger/more powerful countries in European history that once existed, and their fate:
Split into East and West, with the West subsequently being absorbed into the Germanic cultures, producing a fusion of the Germanic and Roman political and faith systems in the Christian Frankish empire. East persists for another thousand years as the Byzantine Empire, ultimately defeated by and absorbed into what became the Turkish Ottoman Empire
Dynastic struggles split (mostly) the empire more or less along the Rhine river, which separatesmodern day Germany from France. France itself effectively exists from this point, with the eastern areas developing into the Holy Roman Empire (and 1500 years later, early Germany)
|Holy Roman Empire||
Often said to be neither 'Holy' nor 'Roman', it was as much of a confederation of German feudal states as anything else, and degenerated completely not long after the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire was put down for good, leaving rival monarchies in Prussia and Austria to feud (with France) over a string of city states from the Baltic to the Adriatic (many later re-united as 19th Century Germany and Italy)
The core of modern-day France passed through the hands of a number of royal dynasties, and only recently (in historic terms) shook them off in the series of revolutions France has had since the 19th century. The French Empire that emerged, after failing (under Napoleon) to conquer Europe, turned to conquering colonies abroad
Competed with the British Empire for power and colonies abroad, and was eventually defeated by the National Socialist regime that controlled Germany from 1933-1945, after which it lost its colonies and emerged as modern France - the butt of many a joke, probably because the rest of the world is just happy that the French elites subsequently decided against bringing their version of 'liberty and fraternity' to the rest of the world (again)
Prussia united (by force) the various German city-states and principalities of the mid-19th Century, then pursued breakneck industrialization and militarization that, in part, led to its own destruction at the end of World War I, leading to the emergence of the short-lived Weimar government
1918-1933, RIP. A short-lived attempt to create a post-revolutionary democratic German state, minus all the colonies and under strict international sanctions due Imperial Germany's role in sparking the disaster of the First World War. Torn apart by internal poltical struggles, a minority party - the National Socialists under Adolf Hitler - decided to 'Make Germany Great Again' and build a '1000-year Empire (Reich)'
Defeated in the First World War, and broken up into a bewildering variety of successor-states, that were supposed to match hard ethnic/linguistic boundaries but didn't, couldn't, because people in reality mix rather freely with one another and are difficult to arbitrarily split apart. Major successor states include Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, neither of which survived into the 21st Century
Long story short: History's biggest whoops. Killed Weimar. Re-wrote the rules of German society to exclude (eventually kill) 'deviants' (=Jews, Roma, the disabled, communists, pacifists...) and enforced these genocidal goals ruthlessly. Ate Austria, France, Yugoslavia...basically, tried to conquer Europe, failed, and was put down decisively in 1945. Territory was divided into occupied zones that only reunited in 1990s. Austria was re-separated, Prussia mostly depopulated of Germans and territory given to Poland. Modern Germany works very hard at representing a permanent break from the Nazi's madness
A peripheral player in Europe until the age of colonization gave it access to cheap (stolen) resources, the British Empire became the most powerful in the world by the start of the 20th century. Lost the North American (US colonies) in the 18th century, which set a trend: by the end of the 20th Century the Empire itself was gone, and the Commonwealth remained, with a former colony (the USA) effectively replacing the British Empire with the 'Pax Americana'
After the Soviet Union broke apart, Yugoslavia did too, leading to a horrific period of civil war and the partition of the country into almost as many bits as the (former) USSR, despite a far smaller territory. Bosnia and Kosovo in the 90's served as a reminder that the evil that is war hadn't been entirely extinguished in Europe, and the past screw-ups of history were well capable of returning to haunt the present
In contrast to Yugoslavia, the Czechs and Slovakians were able to negotiate a peaceful split of the country in the 1990s, separating the country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. A small, but important, example of a country peacefully separating once its political system was no longer able to keep the country together.
Took over the Russian Empire (from Imperial Russia, RIP Tsars) after a devastating Civil War, and the USSR's ability to hold together after the German invasion in 1941 was the real reason Nazi Germany was defeated in 1945 (yes, the Western Allies helped by shipping huge quantities of material (trucks, bullets, tanks, planes), but the Soviets lost at least 20 million soldiers and civilians). The USSR's elites essentially decided Marxism-Leninism wasn't worth it in the late 80's, and after attempting Gorbachev's reforms the USSR dissolved with a speed thought impossible at the time.
*Note that this table entirely ignores the rest of the world, and also the recent functional disintegration of (what feels like) half the countries of the Middle East (Libya, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq...)
**All 5 of which the United States is currently (a continuation of the last administration) bombing under the auspices of one excuse or another (the particular excuse changes every few years).
Countries live, countries die. Empires rise, empires fall - and yes, the USA has been, and still in many ways acts like, an empire - and hopefully, our species has almost arrived at an era where we don't even have empires anymore (I'll save my screed on radical digital democracy for another time). But my main point is that history is hard on countries. They seem to have a natural life-cycle of sorts, to the point that I would argue that you can look at the global power structure as a sort of ecosystem. A dynamic, constantly shifting ecosystem that results in the rise and fall of one 'Great Power' after another.
There is no valid reason to think the United States of America is immune to whatever historic forces cause countries to come together and break apart (for a visual of this effect over human history, look chronologically at Thomas Lessman's excellent maps of Eurasia from BCE times to the present). And given how deep differences have come to run between the various components that together constitute American society, it is reasonable to question whether such a dissolution might not come sooner rather than later.
I am by no means the only person writing along these lines. Consider this piece in Der Spiegel, a major German publication that is usually both sane and prescient, a welcome break from most of the US press. When a media outlet that is basically a less-haughty German equivalent of the New Yorker is willing to call out America's political crisis for what it is, folks should pay attention. Retired military officer William Astore, writing on his website Bracing Views (also posted on Tomdispatch), offers a similar warning.
For a more graphic/geographic perspective, here's a summary of two of the most prominent perspectives on how a post-US breakup map might look.
Being of a geographic bent, I wanted to brainstorm my own map of what the political geography of the post breakup USA might look like in a 'peaceful, sensible divorce' sort of future, where the goal was to manage the breakup by using the existing (political) red/blue lines as a basic guide, but then further split the resulting (pseudo-homogenous) regions into as 'natural' a set of hypothetical countries as possible using the existing geographic dimensions (political, cultural, economic) of the Lower 48 to come up with a rational map.
Which really simplifies to: I tried to use some hard data to guide my own sense of what distinct 'regions' already exist within the United States. But something to note: most maps that try to break up the US in a logical way tend to focus entirely on existing state boundaries. However, I believe that the county is a more appropriate base unit of analysis for my purpose, because anyone familiar with state-level politics in the US knows that the states themselves often contain significant political and cultural divides, which in existing statistics show up at the county or precinct level.
As a side note, it is important to realize that the current map of the US we've (almost all of us) memorized since grade school was produced by two centuries of growth and change. Though we're all predisposed to think of the USA as this coherent entity produced through Manifest Destiny, it is worth remembering how the boundaries of what has become the USA have changed over the years:
So given all the diversity in so many different dimensions, that could quite reasonably serve as a basis for a 'post-USA' map, why focus on the political angle? After all, the US isn't truly split into hard red/blue regions - conservatives and liberals, democrats and republicans, moderates and radicals and independents of all stripes live side by side, mostly without serious conflict. Dividing up the country strictly on red/blue lines leaves a lot of people on the 'wrong' side of the line, and encourages us to focus on our (mostly superficial) differences.
Adding further complexity, consider that red and blue in the United States each have internal shades, such that a conservative republican in a state like California or Oregon actually has a tendency to sound closer in tone and concerns to a liberal democrat in that same state, than they do with their co-sectarians in Alabama or Georgia.
The deeper political problem in our country isn't that conservatives and liberals can't get along locally, but that they can't get along nationally. Local is linked to national by the Democratic/Republican party apparatus (apparatuses?), which can usually subordinate local concerns to whatever national objectives the party is focused on, preventing useful non or bi-partisan alliances from forming with respect to local issues. Which actually happens all the time - consider land use planning in Oregon. Back in the '70s, under the leadership of Republican governor Tom McCall, conservatives pushed for stricter land use rules to control urban sprawl, and in the process allied with environmentalists who had the same onjective (though for different reasons). Despite this, they worked together and created the regulatory architecture that, while by no means perfect, have helped prevent Oregon's urban areas from sprawling into the surrounding countryside nearly as much as has happened in places like Los Angeles and Seattle.
Washington D.C. has long since degenerated into a sham of politics where the real business takes place between well-connected insiders behind closed doors, and the vast majority of Americans know it. Even in elections that by recent standards are 'high turnout', 33-40% of eligible American voters don't go to the polls. Why? Because the majority of Americans are well aware that neither of our Janus-headed major parties are trustworthy (and the bigger minor parties are disasters too). Americans are united in their dissatisfaction with the legislative branch. All it serves to do in the 21st century is decide which sector of the economy gets tax breaks or tax hikes, and use the Pentagon as a pass-through for who even knows how many pork projects in the districts of the best-connected politicians (because no one ever audits the Pentagon, which is insane given that the organization hoovers up more than 50% of all our federal discretionary spending, all funded from federal income tax revenues).
But the gridlock in D.C. also serves as a giant checkmate, forcing a society that has divided along political-economic-cultural lines, to channel all attempts at reform through the massive blocking institution that is the federal government. The truth of the matter is that Americans functionally live in different countries, despite our shared flag, currency, and constitution. When you look at a map of the US, and see it broken into red and blue states (or shades of purple), what you are seeing is not a map of a fundamental divide between all Americans, but an imperfect echo, of very different social and cultural trajectories within the USA, that are increasingly difficult to reconcile within the same system of government.
2016 more than any recent election laid bare real differences that divide Americans, that have been simmering and growing particularly since the 2008 financial crisis and aftermath proved Barack Obama's election promises of Hope and Change to be little more than stale rhetoric. The truth is, the past eight years have revealed that America has functionally divided socially into distinct clusters, each with its own major concerns, and each increasingly at variance with the others - with the 'Neos' all-but having seized control of our government over the past quarter-century or so.
I characterize these clusters like so:
(Screenshot of Diagram made in Dia)
The emergence of the Trumpists has essentially colonized the entire national architecture of the republican/conservative/red/right, and has simultaneously paralyzed the traditional party apparatus in both the republican and democratic camps, which have so far been patently unable or unwilling to do anything meaningful to resist the Trumpists as they've systematically moved to hollow out the federal state since formally taking power in January 2017.
Trumpism's current control over and demonstrated willingness to dismantle the core institutions that have kept the USA together since the turbulent 1960s, while simultaneously governing exclusively in the interest of what the hardcore Trumpists truly believe is the 'correct' kind of American (White, Christian, (ideally male), and obedient - look at how members of the press or protestors at Trumpist rallies are treated, if you want to verify that characterization) is literally tearing America apart.
I believe it absolutely fair to say that our current political crisis risks the dissolution of the Union. And the example of the USSR demonstrates how quickly these things can actually happen. Particularly when the governors of certain large, prosperous states (California #calexit. Texas #texit.) are faced with increasingly strange and unpredictable actions taken by a rudderless federal bureaucracy. At a certain point, autonomy becomes a fact of life when you can't rely on the system to at least produce consistent results.
Being a radical pragmatist, I say that perhaps we all ought to be thinking about how to take advantage of the coming period of dissolution and decay to try to come up with some kind of better way to do things. If it is the fate of every generation to cope with the mess left by their predecessors as best they can, the post-Boomer generations are going to have to figure out either how to put a deeply divided country back together, or find a new Constitutional arrangement that lets us evolve in the directions we, on a regional level, culturally, politically, and economically, are now headed.
My current thinking is that we ought to basically give each inheritor state emerging from a post-USA breakup the Constitution as-is, then allow citizens within their boundaries to interpret it and reform it (and the successor governments) however they choose. The new countries would be combined by splitting up the existing states according to the trajectory of the local political geography over the decade, then merging like areas until all the state-fragments are united back into a new set of countries, each as politically de-conflicted as possible and following, where possible, existing cultural/regional boundaries.
In all respects save for a common currency and common defense pact in case of physical aggression (not 'defense of American interests', which is probably the most abused excuse for military agression of all time) against any member state, each new country would be free to internally interpret/develop the Constitution to suit.
So, how did I produce this US breakup map? Geographers have a tendency to adore geographic information systems, and I'm no exception, so I snagged a database of county level voting results for the past three presidential elections (2008, 2012, 2016) and a county-level shapefile of the Lower 48 US states. This allowed me to produce, in QGIS, this political division of America at the county level:
To create this map, I classified each county by the average number of raw votes the winning candidate received in each of the last three elections:
Class 1: 10,000+ average margin of victory
Class 2: 2,000-10,000 average margin
Class 3: within 2000 votes either way.
Classes 1 and 2 were further broken up by color (in different shades), naturally red and blue. This let me use the 'bluest' and 'reddest' regions, usually corresponding to major population centers, as 'core' areas with the red/blue shades representing more intermediate degrees of blue or red predominance (either narrowly divide precincts or small-populations). Using the relatively unpopulated (or politically balanced) Class 3 areas to connect the cores together, allowed me to assign a hard red/blue characterization above.
***Note that the coloring of individual counties, was done by hand in Gimp. If there is interest, I'll write follow-up pieces that use QGIS' tools to produce something a little more consistent, but because I've spent a lot of time shifting counties around, it was easier to produce this (rough) version in Gimp.
The next step was to think about how to break up these red and blue regions in a consistent, functional way. Because as discussions of gerrymandering show, trying to draw boundaries between political jurisdictions can go stupid very quickly. So I relied on a variety of maps as guides. Here's a few:
And for good measure, here's how the US looks from space! (Ryan Kaldari crop of a NASA image)
The reality is that the USA is already functionally divided up, because the country is simply too large to govern as a unitary entity. Consider this: wherever you are in the US, if you must interact with the federal government you typically don't go to or work with anyone in Washington D.C., because while national policy gets set there, in reality bureaucrats have to apply federal rules as best they can in their local context. Already, the way the Constitution gets interpreted by the federal administrative apparatus, whether we're talking about the IRS, Park Service, or FBI, depends a great deal on where you live - what federal district you are in. D.C. these days mostly serves as a national 'pass-through' organization for tax revenues, with, by the way, many states so economically non-competitive that the wealther states basically subsidize their dysfunction.
In any event, what I'm trying to communicate is that when you want to divide up an entity as big and complicated as the USA, things get heuristic (own best judgement) quickly. But, in comparing my map with what other folks have argued would make for a natural post-US map, I actually quite like my take. If I can get a discussion going someplace on how this map ought to be modified, I'll see if I can't update it in the future once I have time and energy to think more on the topic.
And as an extra bonus, because I have a bunch of census data in the GIS I built to produce the base map, I could actually generate vital statistics for the 'New 24' as I'm (cornily) calling them (if I even counted correctly). Which would add some texture to these divisions, and possibly identify which of these proposed new countries would be more - or less - viable given a rapidly changing global economy that is further complicating the project of keeping the different parts of the US together under the same political-economic system.
Weaknesses of this Approach/Result
Would a political division of the country solve anything? I believe it would. My hope is that something like this, particularly because it would break up the existing states (a boundary refresh seems like an objectively good idea, given how different today's world is than that of the 19th century, when the boundaries were mostly drawn.) and therefore the connections between the national/state level party establishments and their local subsidiaries, opening up new opportunities for re-drawing political coalitions. But that will only be possible if the USA can reform its federal structure to try and deconflict the factions that are tearing our society apart, just like the Founders feared would happen.
Whether a clean/peaceful/rational disentanglement of the two Americas is possible is an open question. It used to be a paranoid fantasy, the idea of a new American Civil War, the sort of thing only worth exploring in dystopian fiction. But if you are willing to set aside the instinctive "America, $%&* Yeah" impulse we've all been indoctrinated with since grade school, and accept that the map of the USA is not set in stone, and may change (again), the question of "what comes next" seems, from a historic perspective, both sensible and important.
And to hazard a prediction: if we do not, as a society, come to terms with how our institutions are being colonized and turned against us, our current set of imbecilic leaders will sooner or later tear the country apart. Change and reform are coming, the question is whether we the people have any say in the matter, or whether the charlatans and hangers-on currently infesting our imperial capital re-write the rules for their own benefit.
Edit 11/2018: I don't actually use Amazon affiliate links anymore, but these links ought to still work just fine.
The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, by Paul Kennedy
Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, by Barrington Moore
A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn