So let me preface this essay and strategy thinkpiece with a bit of a (long) disclaimer.
I am not a Democrat. I am an American citizen, but I prefer to identify as a Cascadian of Anglo-Saxon descent, because heritage and local biome matter far more than a bit of dyed cloth ever could. It is my firm belief that the United States should and most likely will break up (in some form) in my lifetime, because its governing architecture has been captured by a privileged elite that has turned its laws and institutions against its people, which is simply not sustainable.
Further, the United States' endless wars represent a series of mounting atrocities that have stained the nation's honor beyond repair and made itself - and the wider world - systematically less safe. Where just twenty years ago the world was at the "End of History" and Great Power struggles were a thing of the past, now talk of a New Cold War and nuclear confrontations is once again the order of the day.
Americans never wanted any of this. The divisions tearing at the fabric of American society are a result of a generation of failed policies in DC. America must reform, must seek renewal, or it won't last for much longer.
But to be absolutely clear: I no longer believe it likely that any power can stop the coming unraveling. I think the USA is already across the cliff-edge, and Trump's people will manufacture "emergencies" while right-wing proxy groups terrorize neighborhoods in an attempt to suppress the vote in the two states that will truly matter in most 2020 scenarios - Arizona and Wisconsin - relying on the conservative-packed courts to deliver another Bush V. Gore 2000 type outcome, while losing the popular vote by an even greater margin than in 2016.
Whether American democracy can withstand this is uncertain - it has never been tested in this way. And even if it does, the media normalization of Trump and Trumpism over the past four years has made it inevitable that other right-wing candidates will maintain his coalition after he is gone.
It is absolutely essential to combat this likely scenario starting now, before attempta to do so become overtly politicized. And because the Democrats really are the only established game in town (this is part of the broader problem in America, but you wage political war with assets you have available) the best chance of stopping Trumpism lies with the Democrats running someone in 2020 capable of turning out enough votes in the right states.
But here's the rub - anyone who has followed American politics since the 1990s knows that the Democratic Party has been colonized by a "Moderate" (Neoliberal) wing, mostly comprised of former moderate republicans who became disenchanted with the GOP. This tribe absolutely loathes identity politics, because it is disproportionately comprised of older and whiter members of the population, and works very hard to control the party' agenda and strategy both behind the scenes and in the major pseudo-centrist "news" outlets like the New York Times and The Atlantic. It is a tribe dedicated to maintaining the status-quo in America, largely because it is the tribe whose constituents (again, older and white than the average member of the population) happen to have the most (and deepest entrenched) power in elite circles.
This is Joe Biden's tribe, it was Hillary Clinton's tribe, and John Kerry's and Al Gore's before them. It is a tribe that consistently loses crucial elections to weak GOP candidates, and worked as hard as it could to prevent Barack Obama from winning the nomination in 2008, just as it was successful in doing so to Sanders in 2016.
It is also the tribe most responsible for continuing America's wars abroad, against the will of the majority of the American people. It is this tribe in particular that is smearing Tulsi Gabbard far and wide, both for her support of Sanders in 2016, and because she is the one Democratic candidate who served in Iraq - a war Joe Biden voted for.
They are also smearing her because America's liberals can't stand the idea of a veteran who does more than serve as a prop for photo ops, but again, that's for another essay.
This is why I support Tulsi Gabbard, and why I am taking the time to write out the strategy thinkpiece below. Because she is a veteran, who chose to enlist during a time of war and volunteered for service abroad. She understands honor. And even better, she understands what it is like to hold political positions based on mistaken beliefs inherited from her childhood, then revise those beliefs once she has learned there are other options.
As someone who also grew up in an extremely conservative (especially by California standards) and religious household, I too once held bigoted views. And then I went to university in San Diego and Berkeley. And then I enlisted in the Army, serving a year in the U.S. South before being selected to go officer (an ambition cut short by injury, though that kept me out of Iraq, so I'm not complaining). And I learned that many of my teenage views were wrong.
So me, I'm very much for politicians who change their mind, so long as they have a good reason for it. And Gabbard, if I'm reading her bio correctly, certainly did.
I don't have much hope left for American politics, and honestly believe that long-term we'll be better off if we break the country into seven or eight autonomous federal regions, so federal policy can be set and implemented more effectively to suit the needs of local Americans, however they determine them. But I also don't like to ignore any opportunity (even miniscule) to make a difference, and if Gabbard runs a very smart campaign (and has more than a little luck) there is a chance that something amazing could happen in 2020, and a true uniter emerges capable of articulating a comprehensive vision for renewing America.
And unlike most commentators, I think I actually have a viable strategy for making this happen.
So with all this in mind, I'll move past the disclaimer and to the meat of this piece - a basic outline of what I believe Tulsi Gabbard's winning strategy is, and why.
I write this in hopes that the Gabbard campaign will see it, read it, and seriously consider my suggestions. They are rooted in a systems-based analytical framework developed during my time in academia, which were to constitute the basis for my doctoral dissertation, had I decided that was worth the time and effort (academia is a very niche audience).
NOTE: I intend to update portions of this as I have time, adding data to back up my argument. I'll add version changes as they occur.
And if you'd like to get in touch, there's a contact page lurking on the site somewhere :)
Gabbard Strategy for 2020 - Comprehensive platform intertwined with lessons learned from personal journey
Preface: There is a deep truth to democracy, that most of us prefer not to acknowledge or think about: People usually vote according to their sense of their own identity, and how their peers expect them to vote. That's not an opinion, that's a scientific evaluation based on a lot of academic research. Most policy preferences people express in surveys and polls are a function of their identity, not the other way around, and people's public behavior (and their votes) are heavily conditioned by whatever group they identify with.
Most conventional American political analysis pretend this isn't true in "advanced" democracies - read, white western democracies. They prefer their traditional model of the "rational voter" - the woman or man who knows what policies they value, and votes for candidates who will advance their policy interests. Identity may be relevant, but it competes with other things that are also valued, and so voters who exhibit behaviors indicating they are "Identity" voters are seen as an anomaly, people who simply value their identity above material factors.
This is the theoretical root of the myth of the "swing voter" - a hypothetical rational and moderate type who sometimes votes GOP, others DNC. While such people certainly do exist, their numbers aren't as large as you might think. The myth persists partly because it offers a conveniently simple media narrative, but also because of a bit of sleight-of-hand employed by mainstream political analysts, 538 included (especially, much of the time).
See, there actually isn't a lot of data that tracks actual voter behavior. Voting is secret, and you have to rely on exit polls and other proxy data to estimate the composition of who turned out and how they identify. This sort of work great for validating whether an election was free and fair in retrospect, but not so good at telling you what different cohorts of voters do from year to year.
When most analysts talk about "swing" voters, they're actually talking about swing electoral districts, where the actual vote count shows the district "flipping" between the parties from year to year. But what is actually happening, according to the data, is not necessarily the same group of voters going to the polls every year, and choosing the "optimal" candidate. IF you had close to 100% turnout, or at least a statistically representative sample of the population, in every election, you could impute the existence of these swing voters.
But you don't. All you have is the number of votes for each candidate, the share of eligible population voting, and some exit or post-election polls indicating (roughly) the composition of the electorate. From that, you can map out the districts by their vote count, and see which districts flipped from one party to the other. Analysts, however, knowing that the average person doesn't have the statistical training to spot the difference, have chosen to portray those district changes as indicating the existence of a group of moderate, non or bi-partisan voters.
What is actually a far simpler and more consistent explanation rooted in what the data can actually tell you, is that many voters - particularly those describing themselves as Independents - tend to show up at the polls only to support people they feel a personal connection with. And in the age of the internet, Obama, Trump, and O'Rourke have all shown that there are large populations of people who will only turn out to vote - but who will turn out - for someone who can appeal to their tribe.
As Pew Research reports show, America is composed of many political tribes, not just conservative and liberal, Republican/GOP and Democrat/DNC. These groups turn out to vote at different rates, they consume different political media, they share their own reality when it comes to how they feel about politicians and issues. The reason why we're all trained to think that American voters are composed of three groups - right, left, and moderate/swing - is largely down to the fact that the media amplifies the voices of the two biggest tribes at the expense of all the others, making it difficult to put together an electoral coalition.
In short, American politics is afflicted by bad theory and bad analysis, because this is profitable for the players involved. But the real, true nature of the beast is that people - and especially in the age of the internet - are tribal. Trump's people appear to have either figured this out, or stumbled on the truth, and that's why his approval ratings have not dramatically changed since 2017.
For Tulsi Gabbard to win, veterans must be her tribe. She is absolutely the only candidate who can credibly claim to represent people who have seen what war does. She, therefore, is the one candidate capable of reaching out to America's twenty million veterans as one of them, and articulate the pressing (and popular!) need for reducing military over-investment in favor of increasing domestic investment in communities left behind by globalization.
The key factor in any successful Gabbard campaign will utterly rely on mobilizing large numbers of veterans who don't usually vote Democrat and convincing them to commit to participating in the Democratic caucus and primary system. Gabbard must make the Democratic party safe for veterans.
Veterans aren't usually thought of as part of the democratic party's base, but this is foolish, and down to so few democrats having had military experience, much less in a combat zone. The services are increasingly diverse, educated, and tired of military interventions conducted with no long term strategy. More and more are speaking out against the Forever Wars - mostly ignored by the mainstream media, of course - and many would consider voting for an anti-interventionist democrat, having seen firsthand the cost and waste involved in regime change wars.
So the following Four Pillar Strategy (call it what you want - take any of this and use it as you please!) is rooted in Gabbard's identity as a veteran, and her ability to speak across all of the major American divides to offer a real alternative to the stale politics of the status quo on both sides of the equation.
Pillar 1: An Honorable Foreign Policy
(Note: All flows from this. This roots Gabbard's entire explanation for why America is headed in the wrong direction, as most Americans believe.)
America's honor has been tarnished and the sacrifices of our forebears have been betrayed. The Forever Wars have consumed thousands of America's finest, indebted us by trillions, and have made all Americans fundamentally less safe. Gabbard has seen the cost of war first hand, and knows that there is no more pressing moral cause than to end the era of interventions, securing a peace dividend that can be invested to secure America's future.
1. Cease all active military operations taking place without direct Congressional oversight and restore the Legislative Branch's Constitutional authority. Simultaneously, begin bilateral and multilateral negotiations with any party to a conflict where the United States or its allies have a clear stake, seeking a just resolution that ends the violence.
2. Commit to a 50% reduction from the proposed 2020 Budget of $750 Billion ($2,300 per American) over ten years. This allows time for a drawdown of forces actively deployed abroad, coordination with allies, and planning for force reductions. Final reductions will be made contingent on the outcome of bilateral arms control talks to be held with leading powers like Russia and China, requiring their committment to spending limits and transparency.
3. Reform the forces to take advantage of America's core strengths - intelligence, electronic warfare, rapid deployment, logistics, command and control, and training - producing a smaller, leaner, elite force capable of meeting 21st-century challenges. End wasteful Cold-War era procurement programs like the F-35, and focus on developing the next generation of military technologies.
4. Expand the Army and Air National Guard, with a guarantee that all currently-serving Active-duty personnel can continue their career despite cuts to the Active Forces. In addition, create a two-tier service system, guaranteeing a career stateside in service and training positions for personnel who cannot or choose not to deploy, ending the stealth draft experienced by many Guard members in the past.
HERE [there will eventually be a collection of relevant stats, that more Americans need to be made aware of. Wonking out here will be beneficial eventually, just don't have the time for it now]
The crux of Pillar 1 is making the case that Gabbard has personally experienced war, knows that there is a growing danger of another great power conflict in the near future, and is committed to protecting Americans from any more geopolitical tragedies sought by the scions of empire in New York and DC. Honor demands that the US seek peace, and return to a principles-based foreign policy that ties aid and support to observing shared norms of universal human rights.
Pillar 2: Restoring America's Dream
Inequality is tearing at the fabric of American society. Too many live on the edge of poverty, while a few live in ridiculous luxury, and everyone else is caught in the middle - what middle is left. While DC has played imperial games abroad, it has neglected to support basic infrastructure development at home. America has become socialism for the rich and savage capitalism for the rest, and Gabbard will fight this assault on the American Dream by investing $1,000 per-American per-year, $325 billion in total, to build a prosperous 21st century society.
1. Rural communities will receive block grants, matching loans, and entrepreneurship support designed to build new green industries in America's heartland. In the West, the forests will be managed to reduce fire risk while providing carbon-neutral biofuels to heat area communities. In the Midwest, farmers will receive incentives to grow new and more environmentally sustainable crops, including next-generation biofuels.
2. Urban neighborhoods will receive similar block grants, loans, business startup support, and other essential community-oriented development programs. Renters who have demonstrated a committment to a community will be eligible for subsidized mortgages meant to help them purchase their own home, and those who sell to renters will receive benefits to encourage rent-to-own contracts, which give all residents of a community a stake in its future.
3. Every American will be guaranteed a free two-year degree through their local community college, and anyone willing to sign a two-year service committment with their local National Guard or other public service organization will be granted a four-year scholarship to a public university of their choice. This will democratize access to higher education across the board, while instilling a committment to service in a generation of Americans.
4. A new national health insurance plan will be offered to all Americans, free to anyone lacking insurance through their employer or another federal benefit. Healthcare is a basic human right and must be guaranteed to all, but America should remain flexibile when it comes to how best to achieve it. Further, medical and nursing school loans will become forgiveable after five years of licensed practice, encouraging more students to study and practice in that field.
HERE some more stats (eventually) comparing US to other high-income countries.
The basic idea behind Pillar 2 is to articulate what we can accomplish if Pillar 1 happens. The goal is to take many of the great progressive ideas out there, and match them up with some common business/operational sense. Here Gabbard can introduce something else that will distinguish herself - a left-libertarian approach, not hostile to capitalism but also not uncritical of it, that allows for well-regulated competitive markets to work where they can work well.
Pillar 3: A Green New Deal to Secure Our Future
Climate change represents an existential threat to global society, and many of America's most vulnerable communities are on the front lines of what will become one of the greatest challenges in our history. Make no mistake - without radical and immediate action on a global scale, storms will get worse, the seas will rise, droughts and fires will become more intense, and millions of people will be forced to move into climate refuge zones. America must do its part to transition to a global carbon-zero economy by 2050.
1. Offer incentives for community-based applied research projects that will identify new and innovative ways to build a green economy at the grassroots level, empowering local businesses and organizations to work together to slash carbon emissions while subsidizing the growth of new green industries across the nation, lowering energy and utility bills for Americans wherever they live.
2. Promote local-scale energy cooperatives capable of generating sufficient renewable energy and next-generation biofuels to meed local energy needs, insulating rural pruducers from rising energy prices while tying each and every American community to the green power grid. We will commit to a zero-carbon energy system by 2050, re-developing rural landscapes as green energy producers.
3. Embark on a total overhaul of America's transportation infrastructure, rebuilding bridges and roads while incorporating the latest technological innovations capable of reducing travel times and emissions, while embracing a completely hybrid and electric fleet by 2030. Further, safe and reliable autonomous vehicles will be deployed to guarantee that every community will have access to public transportation, reducing our reliance on owning our own vehicles.
4. Commit to fair international agreements that aim to reduce emission of carbon and other pollutants into the biosphere, doing our part in the global effort against both climate change and environmental degradation. Further, we will join wealthy nations like Norway and Germany in embracing international protocols allowing for the transfer of green technologies to developing nations in exchange for accelerating anti-poverty and environmental protection efforts.
HERE: some links and citations to relevant literature, particularly those that show how European governments have pushed rural redevelopment in conjunction with green efforts - there are tremendous opportunities to do both simultaneously, and at the community level.
Pillar 4: Leading With Love
Americans are being driven apart by the relentless changes now underway as a result of globalization and the internet. Hate crimes, racism, sexism, and all the other forms of violence that seem to be everywhere right now must be challenged, and veterans like Gabbard are the best for the job. Military service involves learning to work with people very different from yourself, having your ideas challenged, and growing better together as a team as a result. Veterans know that true leadership is always about love, and that a leader must be able to see the value in all perspectives, even while rejecting those that espouse hatred.
NOTE: This section offers a chance to tell Gabbard's personal story, and connect that to the deeper reasons why she should be President.
1. Promote a culture of service in the upcoming generations by tying free public university education to a formal service committment through the revamped and appropriately funded National Guard. We will restore the connection between America's citizens and civic institutions by allowing young Americans to work on service projects in their own communities in exchange for a free four-year education at a university of their choice.
2. Restore faith in American democracy by securing our elections against both foreign interference and the despicable efforts of some to prevent black and latino Americans from voting. Every electronic voting machine will produce a paper record of the voter's choice, and a dedicated task force will investigate every allegation of voter suppression to ensure that no one is able to select their electorate.
3. Reform America's criminal justice system to eliminate racial policing and the scourge of unjustified police killings. We will reverse the militarization of America's police, and require that police departments reflect the composition of the population they serve and protect, while improving police funding across the board to help end law enforcement practices that put officers at unnecessary risk.
4. Bring civility and dignity back into the White House, while working to reverse a half century of expanding executive powers, that have placed the Constitutional balance of powers in jeopardy under the Trump Administration. We will sponsor alternative social media and news services to Big Tech, while expanding regulation and anti-trust oversight of these companies to guarantee the principle of user ownership and control over their own data.
This is a long and dense document, I'm aware, and presently inadequate in terms of citation and support. This is what you get when you've got a refugee from academia trying to make it in the real world, spending spare time working on this sort of thing.
Anyone able to advance this basic concept further, please feel free! My belief is that these Pillars can represent a coherent strategy and narrative that will appeal to the right voters, in the right states, to perform in the primaries and take on Trump. I am certain that Gabbard, with the right prep, would annihilate Trump in the debates.
Winning the nomination will be difficult. The DNC's relegation of superdelegates to the 2nd round of voting in a contested convention should be examined alongside the crush of Dems running for the nomination. The DNC old guard likely expects (and wants) a long primary to demonstrate that the party is The Only Alternative to Trumpism. They'll be fine with allegations of "chaos" because when Sanders is contesting the convention with 1/3 of the delegates, Biden (or if he implodes, Klobuchar)has 2/5, and Harris or Booker has another 1/3, and nobody wins round 1, then the superdelegates will decide for the centrist.
And then they'll go on to lose the election, like they usually do - and are actually fine with, since that means they never have to actually govern and suffer the consequences of their unpopular policies.
But that's another essay.
Gabbard faces a daunting task, to be sure. But being a veteran gives her credibility, particularly on defense, that no one else can match. Veterans also have a highly visible place in American society, even if politicians of both major parties typically use them as props - that's why they do it.
Only a veteran can tell the American story of the past 20 years as one of good intentions defeated by bad strategy, planning, and execution by chickenhawks in DC and their lobbyist allies. Only a veteran can show Americans how they can still be safer than any other nation even with a military 1/2 the size. Only a veteran can get other veterans to carry the torch, to organize rallies and events, to engage in a sort of national insurgency against DC's terrible leadership.
A pragmatic progressive veteran who can articulate a left-of-center way to rebuild America from the grassroots level can evade many of the criticisms routinely leveled at democrats. If anyone can take America back from the brink, it will be a veteran, who can mobilize other veterans.
Here's hoping, Tulsi Gabbard, that you can be that leader. You'll have my vote.
Well, February is almost gone, but there's snow falling in the Willamette Valley.
So as the alley and street turn white, and Broken Wagon farm wakes to a slow winter Monday, here are some random thoughts for anyone who happens on this website.
1. Bringing Ragnarok Book 3, Part 1, has been written. Of course, that's just stage 1, but it is nice to hit the 50,000 word, 1/3-of-the-way-through mark. Especially as the past couple months have been a tad chaotic, as I have been working to wrap-up my academic work in preparation for going full-time on the authorship biz while preparing for my spouse to go through a major surgery (not life-threatening, but will be followed by a long recovery).
2. On leaving academia, I guess I should add some details. I have spent the better part of the past decade working towards a doctorate, but the time for that adventure is now past. Simply put, despite my successes in the field - publishing in a great journal early in my career, getting great teaching evaluations, so forth - haven't left me feeling any sense of satisfaction. Academic writing is too obtuse, good research is locked behind paywalls, and the culture of bullying and exploitation runs very deep in the academy, probably because it is dominated by a bunch of old white men who have been out of new ideas since they got tenure. I'm tired of seeing the best people leave to pursue other careers, and I'm finally ready to go too.
3. I am absolutely convinced that there is a need for the kind of story I'm telling in Bringing Ragnarok. Quality science and competent narrative do mix, and together can have a greater impact than either alone. As the saga progresses, the reader should start to see that I am telling several stories simultaneously - the story of humanity in the age of colonialism, the story of how elites have seized on the idea of war to protect their power, the story of how certain ideas come to dominate the collective conscious at the expense of others. My six perspective characters, in a way, are for most of the saga actually secondary to the plot. Hans Lewinsky in 1944, Sandra Chavez in 2041, and Olga in 2147 are in a way the real main characters in Bringing Ragnarok, much the same as Samwise Gamgee is the real main character in Lord of the Rings. And I chose these three characters to full a particular purpose, that you might be able to guess early in the saga, but will become more apparent in later Books.
4. Politics in the Anglo-Saxon world continue to be insane, as the liberal world order continues to break down. The dark humor is everywhere - from Britain pretending that Brexit is the "people's will" despite like 40% of voters not participating in the referendum, to the American Democratic party's hollow claim to be the "Resistance" while every democrat and their uncle scrambles to be the party's next anointed - each of them catering to a different tribe within the party. Disorganization, chaos, and uncertainty are the order of the day, and as far as American politics are concerned, all the shouting completely ignores the slow, steady move towards formal authoritarianism in DC that is ultimately what will destroy the USA.
Contemporary politics make it wicked easy to predict a bad near-future for humanity, at least. Hey, it'll keep purveyors of dystopian cyberpunk employed for a good long while.
On that topic, anybody who happens to have followed this website over the past couple years will probably note that I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. And actually, I'm rather convinced that my long sojourn in academia has given me a greater ability to "see" the broad outlines of humanity's likely futures - at least better than most of the hacks who pretend to. I have developed a unique scientific view of human society driven by critical social theory and cybernetic social systems, that I believe offers a chance to understand human history (and ultimately, the history of any other intelligent life that may be out there) in a new way, one that reconciles conflict and order and incorporates the post-modern understanding of our shared reality as a sort of illusion produced by our mutual communications about it, contingent always on the ever-present need to acquire the resources needed to survive.
I've come to the view that the world system does move in cycles, that these follow a disctinct pattern of chaos, reconsolidation, rapid growth, slow-growth/niche-expansion, metabolic overload and collapse into chaos, thus beginning the cycle over again. This not a deterministic cycle in the sense that, like, the world always disintegrates and then gets rebuilt. That's an extreme version of the idea, that can happen, but is by no means guaranteed. But the cycle of increasing complexity followed by release and reconfiguration aptly describes many patterns important to human society and history, as well as ecology.
Actually presenting this view in a simple and coherent way is one of the crucial goals of my fiction writing - Bringing Ragnarok, my present project, and Bivrost Nine, the project to come after (a Babylon-5 themed saga). But I have constructed the overarching plot of BR using this critical systems perspective, emboldened by the fact that my assessment of phenomena like, oh, the current "President" and his people's electoral strategy has been spot-on over and over again, while so many others seem continually shocked and surprised by events.
Sadly, my assessment is that things are headed down a very dark path, with hope re-emerging somewhere by mid-century. The cycle of European Great Power struggles produces a geoquake every 100 years or so [see: (1618-1648), (1756-1763), (1803-1815), (1914-1945)] and the next iteration is in the making - unless people figure out how to stop it, and soon. But as the crucial driver is the collapse of the American Empire at the same time China is returning to its historic role as a leading global power, and falling empires usually start a fight and lose with the rising challenger, I see great dangers on the horizon.
Dangers that the DC system refuses to see, and in fact likes, because the American two-party system is outdated, hollow, and colonized by two big-tent parties who benefit from people living as if they're the only political forces in play.
My predictions: 2020 is a disastrous mess of an election. Either Sanders or Biden ends up winning the Democratic primaries in a drawn-out, vicious fight, leading to the loser *probably* launching a 3rd-party bid. (Warren is doomed by Sanders and Harris both running, Harris/Booker will do well in the south) If Sanders takes the DNC nod, the neoliberal wing breaks off, joins the nevertrumper wing of the old GOP, and launches a formal 3rd party bid - not unlike The Independent Group that just formed in the UK from Labour and Tory defectors. If Biden wins, the Sanders-left probably runs a 3rd party bid.
'cause, see, the trick is this: America is fracturing along regional lines, with regional splits correlated to the ethnic composition of the local electorate. And so is the UK. New opportunities are coming, and new coalitions are forming. Individual agendas and egos are all looking at the state of politics, and seeing that the landscape is changing. Media outlets won't pick up on this until it's too late (and the present Oval-office occupant steals the election through some means, rendering opposition mood) - but that's their deal, innit?
Living through these times is interesting, if nothing else. As I said - makes writing dystopian cyberpunk plots with realistic backstorys easier than it would have been ten years ago.
On that, for anybody who has gone through this lengthy blather - despite the nuts-ness of the past few months, I'm aiming to have Book 3 released on Amazon by the end of July, and Book 4 released in mid-December if at all possible. Fortunately a lot of the research for Book 3 carries over to Book 4, as happened with Book 1 and Book 2, so I'm confident I can continue to make progress.
And to reward you for reading this far (or being smart and skimming to the bottom) here's a sneak peak at where Book 3 is taking the characters:
Eryn gets to witness the deployment of Germany's Me-262 fighters in full-force, as Adolf Galland leads his 'Experten' in a desperate bid to stem the tide of American and British bombing of Germany. After that, it's to Occupied Poland (post-uprising Warsaw) for some diplomacy, and last-minute preparations for the massive Soviet Offensive across the Vistula.
Kim, Timur, and Patrick begin the struggle against the Texan invasion of Montana, which is both larger and more technologically-sophisticated than the Deseret attack in the Battle of the Teton River Valley. While they're now actually competent at the whole fighing thing, Chavez will take them on a trip to First Nations territory in former Wyoming, in an attempt to open a new front against the Texans.
Yarielis and Loucas start on Insurgence Headquarters in the Belt, but are dispatched along with the rest of the Insurgence fighting force on a major strike that is partly inspired by the Islamic State's assault on Mosul a few years back. But in Space, and as a prelude to an attempt to unify all the subaltern peoples of Inner Sol, which will take Yari and Loucas to the rebelling Lagrange Point Habitats, Ramallah Station in particular.
So more fun to come, to distract you from the travails of a mad, mad world! I'm also working on getting a print edition out, so those of you who prefer "real" to e-books - on it.
Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary update time!
I have not been as active on this as I should have been, but if you happen to be following along - never fear! Progress on Book 3 is... progressing!
Long story short - this week I'll be just shy of 40,000 words into the draft, approximately 30% of the way through the manuscript. I'm enjoying writing this Book in the Saga in particular because I feel like the characters have "leveled up" sufficiently to be able to independently narrate scenes without relying on asking the core supporting cast so many dumb questions.
Fingers crossed, this will allow me to integrate the idea stuff, discussions of philosophy and science and whatnot, more gently in the narrative than in the first two Books. I'm going for a learning experience type of feel, so the training element is appropriate, I think, but does start to hit the edge of plausibility after a while. If you've reached the end of Book 2, you can probably see where things are going.
In other news, Anglo-Saxon politics remain insane, with America's madness not worth speaking about, and Britain's kind of epically hilarious (to me, not to anyone having to wonder what March will bring) Brexit fiasco. I stand by my predictions on both: America is already in campaign mode, the conventional wisdom is a-flying - and as usual bad theory predominates the discourse. It'll be fun/tragic to watch the unfolding Democratic party clownshow, though there are a few bright stars shining through the fog. And Brexit... if it happens, I'll be shocked.
I have to admit feeling a sort of grudging admiration for Prime Minister Theresa May's committment to holding her Conservative Party together by taking Britain to the brink. If Britain were to vote on the matter tomorrow, the result would be 55-45 against Brexit. And the whole backstop thing - what a perfect issue for the EU to refuse to budge on! They get to look strong to their domestic audience, and justified to an international audience, because who would want to much up the Irish peace process? Basically, May is in a position where the EU gets to look benevolent and principled, while also serving its own interest - avoiding Brexit altogether.
Who says the EU doesn't work?
On the topic of predictions, here's a little map I put together with the help of Alex Wellerstein's excellent Nukemap tool:
What you should see is a rough outline of the regions that will be irradiated (and the likely direct casualties - radiation casualties not modeled) as a result of the 2029 USA-Russia nuclear exchange, following the escalation of the Second American Civil War to the nuclear level by the Hollahan, then Pilsudska, factions. Turns out, the media was wrong about how a nuclear war would go. No simple mutual annihilation and post-apocalyptic horror, no, not in reality. Ray Bradbury was closer to the mark in Fahrenheit 451 - save that neither Russia nor the US would bother targeting cities.
No, when the fearless idiots in Moscow and DC do inevitably drop the bomb, both sides will do everything they can to be selective in their targeting, demonstrating to the other that see, I can do everything you can do, so you wanna take this to the next level? Huh? in a cycle of escalation that will end when someone blinks - or the government falls.
In the 2029 Exchange, Russia targets the American ICBM fields in North Dakota and Wyoming/Colorado (the things are spread out) it judges are under the control of the psychotic Hollahan regime, which came into power via nuclear decapitation of the senior US leadership in 2028, attacked several other nuclear-armed countries (or suspects) and is happy to fling nukes about in order to secure control of the US West in the aftermath. Hence, drawing Russia's paranoid ire.
Putin's solution is (as it would have been a Soviet Premier's in the late Cold War) to go Counterforce against the most threatening part of the US arsenal (ICBMs tend to be more accurate than Submarine-launched weapons, cause Subs move) as a signal that it was ready and willing to go further. The result, is the map above. Hundreds of nuclear warheads are ground-bursted on the American ICBM silos, turning tons of soil into radioactive fallout and throwing it high up into the sky, where an unusual weather pattern funneled it over the Corn Belt.
Most of North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa are contaminated - as are all the tributaries of the Mississippi downstream. Much of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana receive a lighter dusting that will still require removal of all affected topsoil before the region is safe again. Ohio gets a share too, as the geography of the mid-continent funnels the rest to the Great Lakes and beyond - not enough to be dangerous (very), but not exactly healthy, either.
More than 30 million people are forced to evacuate, many never to return, as their homes will be cordoned off, deemed unsafe - and who will pay for the reconstruction? Especially when the USA never recovers, and formally splits apart in subsequent years.
Hey, that's what happens when you insist on maintaining an arsenal of ICBMs at the headwaters of your continent's largest watershed. Don't like this future, Americans? Go talk to your politicians.
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.
Bringing Ragnarok – Dev Diary 10
Well, the New Year has begun, and so the time has come for me to start work on Book 3 of Bringing Ragnarok.
I am rather pleased that I was able to write, edit, and publish Book 2 between July and December of 2018 – just as I’d planned. But plans are one thing, and reality quite another. 2018 has to have been one of the worst two years in my memory. It was a year of things breaking. We lost two of our founding Broken Wagon Farm members, one cat and one dog. Illnesses struck us both and other family members, and while the lass of the house spent a summer working, in effect, three jobs, the lad - me - finally realized that the logic of pursuing an academic career was coming to an end.
So! I am quite pleased that I was able to get the job done, and with a manuscript that ended up a full third longer than I’d originally intended. And with 2019 looking – at least in our household – to be a more stable time, I am confident that I’ll be able to get Book 3 up and published by the July 2019 – and then on to Book 4.
Completing Book 2 was also a relief for another reason – insofar as the narrative goes, Books 1 and 2 complete the first of three “movements” in the Saga. The first movement, First of Fimbulwinter, is about the Six Friends transition into their new world, and coming to grips with the reality of what being in war really means.
As a result, Book 1 has (I hope) a bit of a jarring feel, with a bit of whimsy, while Book 2 is more of a descent down the other side of a rollercoaster – it starts off slow, a bit like the late-middle of Book 1, and then accelerates into a torrent of action. Book 2 also ends on a much darker note, as I believe it has to, in order to serve its role in the Saga.
Book 3, by contrast, begins a new movement, one more focused on exploration and problem-solving. There’s still action, but it is spaced out again, and the Six Friends won’t always be quite so close to the center of the battles. I hope to continue taking the readers on a whirlwhind tour of three periods of human history, while working in as much detail on the crucial question of how the world got so dystopian in the first place.
Which means more about America’s collapse (the news continues to make this both easy and salient), more about Germany’s descent into madness, and more about the dark future the Neoliberals have in store for us all (though unless they get to work on rejuvenation pharmaceuticals soon, those of us reading this in the 21st century won’t live to see that particular dystopia rise).
Also, while I’m using musical metaphors...
*Brief aside: as this sentence was being typed, a cat just leaped onto my lap and then over to the couch. One of my primary functions in life is serving as a cat highway/parkour installation*
...As I was saying – musical metaphors. I make no secret of the fact that I love music. In fact, most of the backstory and plotting that swirled around for a couple years before I actually sat down to write the Saga came together whilst I relaxed on the couch, listening to Amon Amarth.
For some reason, back in about 2015 I got back into listening to music after a long period of, well, not doing much of anything new. Working on my PhD was starting to get... well, I was starting to get burned out, I now realize. Academia is a right hell-disaster, as I’ll get around to talking about on my blog one of these days. Racism, sexism, a culture of bullying – anything you can imagine experiencing in a cubicle in corporate America, you can find it in Academia, too. And there’s only so much self-congratulating hypocrisy from old white men with no clue about how the world actually works one can take in a lifetime.
Well, in any event, while I was starting my three-year journey to total burnout, I was listening to Pandora whilst poring over some statistical data (like ya do) when a song came on – “Runes to my Memory” that just totally blew me away. I’ve always been a huge Tolkien fan, and I knew there was a Swedish melodic death metal band named Amon Amarth, which is the Sindarin (One variety of Elf-speech) word for Mount Doom – the fiery chasm whence the One Ring was thrown, freeing us all from the dominion of Sauron, forever. (others have moved in to fill the void since, sadly).
So when I heard this song and checked the Pandora feed to grok the band name, I knew I had to find more of their stuff. I’ll save the full review, analysis, and impressions of the full Amon Amarth discography for another day, but suffice to say that I acquired all ten of their studio albums and listen to each pretty much once or twice a week, every week. Often, while putting together plotlines and lore for Bringing Ragnarok.
So I think it is fair to say that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Amon Amarth. In fact, there are scenes, even entire chapters, that are directly inspired by certain songs. I quote AA both as Part epigraphs and in the voice of a character, Sandra Chavez of the Missoula Regiment, who (like I suspect I would if I were a 20+ year veteran of the aftermath of the collapse and breakup of the USA) has incorporated certain lyrics as part of her life ethic and enjoys transmitting them via radio as part of psychological operations against her enemies.
It actually strikes me, as I type this, that perhaps I should reach out to the Amon Amarth fan community and see if I can score some readership. In past blogposts, I’ve wondered who my fans are – and I still am not entirely certain of the answer. But I suspect that it is safe to say that someone who likes reading stories about badass women who fight against the odds to change the world, who also enjoys swedish melodeath, and who is super into sci-fi and fantasy books, is probably someone who would like Bringing Ragnarok. So perhaps, I need to think of a way to chase down that particular idea Thread...
In any event, Amon Amarth also deserves credit for getting me into reading Sagas in the first place, which is what allowed me to pull two decades of ideas together into a coherent, epic, metaphysical storyline. Wanting to learn more about the Norse gods Johan Hegg growls about, I read the Eddas (Prose and Poetic). Then I went and read every Saga I could find on Amazon. Ragnar Lodbrok, the Volsungs, Sagas of the Icelanders, Heimskringla – most sit proudly on my shelf.
And it was that spree, tied to my own disillusionment with Academia, that provided crucial impetus for getting me (finally) writing the kind of tale I’ve always wanted to write. Something that blends genres, draws on the critical and postcolonial scholarship that I think is so important for people to encounter, and takes the reader on a familiar sort of journey, while reaching what I hope will be a rather unexpected (if, in point of fact, foreseeable if you’ve gotten obsessed with sagas and mythology) endgame and conclusion come Books 5 and 6...
But first, there’s the fun of Books 3 and 4 to get through. Which I guess I’d better get to writing.
I'm tagging this post 'science' instead of 'politics' for a simple reason:
I am sick of politics.
The past two years in America have convinced me that politics at the federal level are so fundamentally broken that participation is not only futile, it actually does more harm than good.
Here's the basic reason why American politics is insane, and thus, why the USA as a united entity is doomed.
Understanding of how human societies work is barely past the level of pseudoscience. Most political coverage in the media as well as a significant chunk of the 'knowledge' amassed by social scientists is deeply flawed. So deeply flawed, the average person has no idea. It takes the ten-plus years I've spent in academia, reading and working across the many disciplines, just to come up with the words to describe how little the supposed 'experts' actually know about how politics operate in the real world.
Virtually all political coverage and analysis you'll find in the United States relies on assumptions about people that have been out of date for more than a century. Scratch just beneath the surface of almost any argument, any reporting, and you will find a whole series of ideological assumptions that simply do not match up with how people behave in reality. Economics, Political Science, Sociology, Geography, Anthropology, Psychology - they are all caught in a miasma of bad theory stemming from the basic fact that academics, the people whose job in society is supposed to be (as many will claim) 'knowledge production', are all trained in and (if they want to get a PhD, at least) forced to pledge allegiance to ideas popularized by a group of dead white men who lived (mostly) in the 18th and 19th centuries.
More harm has been done to the practice of science than all the legions of flat-earthers and theologians could ever accomplish by the uncritical and frankly racist acceptance of the pernicious idea that there exists some universal Greco-Roman philosophical heritage upon which we base all legitimate science. Most of the 'hard' sciences have escaped the consequences of this disastrous mythos by grace of the fact that the underlying data they work with is physical, not human, in nature. But for those sciences that do (like economics, politics, et al.) have human behavior at their root, the standing assumption of the universal superiority of the Greco-Roman philosophical heritage has undermined their entire claim to validity. It has introduced bias of such magnificence into the study of humanity, and is directly responsible for the ongoing under-representation of non-white, non-male perspectives in science, because the Greco-Roman heritage is racist and sexist down to the core.
In any event, what I'm trying to say is that the so-called 'experts' in politics constantly get things wrong, are perpetually surprised by events like the fall of the Soviet Union, failure in America's 'War on Terror', the crash of 2008, and the 2016 election, because they are unable to see past the blinders imposed by their ideology.
And the media, of course, takes this failure in the academic system of knowledge production, and magnifies it into an ongoing social crisis. There is probably no better example of how this operates in practice than in the way the media habitually describes divisions in American politics and culture in Manichean terms, that is, they portray politics and elections as being a fight between two major teams - right/left red/blue conservative/liberal - with a group of undecideds caught in the middle. Swing voters, as they are usually called. So the conventional wisdom goes, the winner in an election is the team, the party, able to turn out its own base as well as win over the majority of the swing voters. States where the margin is usually close in a given election are called swing states, and attached a higher degree of importance in the election.
There are actually good scientific reasons for the existence of this apparent division between two major ideological poles, and they come down quite simply to the way the Constitution was written in the 18th century. There are many different ways to put together a democracy, and the US happens to have one with a 'first past the post' rule governing who is said to have 'won' a race, which for good reasons that can be pretty effectively described in mathematical terms. The result (which could be modified, if we were to get back to Amending the Constitution, like we used to when the time came for major reforms) is the perception of two ideological poles, two major coalitions battling it out.
But perception is not reality, at least not always. And both the right and the left in America are actually far more diverse than the media will usually tell you, and even the big parties, the republicans (GOP) and (DNC) are not actually coherent entities, but composites of multiple sub-parties, each with their own agenda, united more by the fact that the structure of our elections require them to be than any sort of actual desire to work together. America's system in effect takes all the dynamics of a multi-party democracy and shoves all the crucial competition between sub-parts under the surface, into party primaries and stuff like that.
The reality of America is that there exists no single 'One America', nor does there exist a dualistic Red America and Blue America. In a country of 325 million or so people, with all the inherent diversity of opinion and perspective that entails, it is impossible to reduce the collective down to a unity or duality or even a trinity. The fact that the media continues to do so is down to its own interest in maximizing advertising revenue - and nothing else, if we're being honest. Politics, to a media company, is just another entertainment genre. With subscriptions waning as the internet offers access to a bewildering array of content, all publications - even the supposed national 'paper of record' (as if there really could be such a thing) - like the New York Times is forced to cater to advertisers in order to survive.
And advertising isn't concerned with quality reporting, or deep analysis of ideas - it is concerned with efficiently getting readers' attention, and their clicks. There's a serious moral hazard at play in journalism, which claims as a profession to hold to certain ethics, but remains deeply bound to the more mundane material requirements of running a business. Which, the way the present internet is structured and dominated by Google and Facebook, forces publications to pay particular attention to their niche, to the group of readers who have similar characteristics, tastes, and preferences, and so who can be efficiently advertised at/to.
The reality of contemporary journalism is that writers must produce content that advertisers will be happy with. And advertisers operate on a competitive landscape where efficiency matters a great deal. The net result of their mutual relationship is a tendency towards clickbait that you can see throughout the web, as well as an active attempt to cultivate a particular niche, which in the world of media means catering to a particular set of readers. And - this is why we all get to suffer from a world of 24/7 news, every headline clickbait-ier than the last - readers respond to this niche-cultivation. People like having their own beliefs confirmed, and strongly dislike having them challenged. So every media outlet, from the New York Times to the Guardian to the Atlantic to Breitbart, has a strong incentive to give their readers the stories they will read in large numbers, because that makes it easier and more profitable to advertise to them.
Over the past few years, we've all heard terms like 'fake news' thrown around, and there's no shortage of writers out there willing to wring their hands (metaphorically speaking) over this sudden supposed change in humans, that they'll often allege is the internet's and Facebook's fault, and call for more effort to be spent weeding out misleading content. The irony is that the American media is itself one of the greatest sources of misleading content in the world. Whatever you read, whether it be a liberal outlet like Salon, Nation, Mother Jones, or the New Yorker; a 'moderate' outlet like the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, or Vox; a conservative rag like Fox News, Breitbart, or the New York Post - all are doing exactly the same thing to you. They're all trying to cater to what you already believe to be true, in order to keep your eyes on their pages and your fingers clicking their ads.
This isn't to say that fake news and alternate facts aren't a serious problem - they are. But a major problem with the fake news and alternative facts debate is the niggling problem of what counts as a fact in the first place. You might immediately read that and get your hackles up, but I invite you to think on the problem just for a little bit. Knowledge, knowing, is actually a more difficult concept than it seems at first glance - as even a cursory read of Greco-Roman philosophy will teach you (this is what the Socratic Method is actually all about - showing how contingent knowing actually is). We all perceive through our senses, but sensory perception is intrinsically bound up with a lifetime of experiences, which tells us what thing we perceive are relevant or not, a threat or an opportunity, and so on. We all see the world through slightly different eyes, and we communicate our differing perspectives in order to come up with an estimate, a working model of whatever situation we're considering to one another in order to collectively define what reality is.
Think of it like this: how do you know you aren't insane? How do you know you aren't, right now, hallucinating, or under the influence of drugs, or plugged into virtual reality? Answer - you don't. You can't, not for sure. But if you can communicate what you perceive to someone else, they can (and usually will) tell you if they don't see what you are seeing. If you both see the same things, you have a great deal more confidence that those things are real - or at least, that they aren't entirely a figment of your imagination. This is part of why humans communicate, in fact - we do it to pass signals about our perception of the environment to one another, to try and better understand the fuller nature of whatever we're looking at.
So how does this play into American politics? Simple. To understand what is happening, we all read the work of others. But in doing that work, in constructing narratives about what is real (something humans do almost from birth), we have to make decisions on what parts of what is going on are more important than others. Communication requires a certain degree of actively ignoring all that you could communicate, so that you can efficiently transmit the stuff that's presently important. And that crucial operation, that 'filtering', so to speak, is a learned behavior. The process of interacting with others across a lifetime serves to create shared 'filters' that impact how we perceive what is important, and how observations are relevant to us.
The media forgets this - or, worse, it actively manipulates this natural human tendency. In a way, the written word is one of the most dangerous human inventions, because it creates an illusion of permanence. I write something, post it online and it is there, visible for all to see, ostensibly forever. But in the moment, as I compose this (thankfully neither cat has decided to seize control of my lap, where I put my keyboard) I'm trying to take a bunch of convoluted thoughts I think are important, and choose the right words in English to convey these thoughts. I am all but guaranteed to make mistakes, and worse, in ten years the words I've chosen now and the way I've strung them together may be perceived by a reader very differently than I imagine, as I type them out. Language changes, cultural values shift, because these are things held and used by people, and over time, people's assumptions, preferences, and knowledge all change.
The underlying disaster in American politics is that media representations of the entire enterprise are deeply flawed, and biased towards producing the illusion of constant tension, antagonism, and struggle - because that's what people buy. The New York Times is no different, when you get right down to it, than the National Enquirer. Just, in the case of the former, a lot of people with wealth and power read the thing, care about what people who read it think. And so the NYT can pretty much spew out the same missing-the-entire-point nonsense, year after year, and continue to attract readers - becuse it gives them what they want.
So how is this leading to America's demise? Simply put, our fearless leaders think they know way more than they do, because they too are caught in echo chambers of their own devising. All Americans are, and we have been for a long time. The basic reason why so many people approve of Trump attacking the 'liberal' media is that those outlets he attacks are perceived, by a great many Americans, as having actively excluded their ideas, their perspective on reality, for decades. They refuse to realize that 'conservative' and 'liberal' are as much cultural-linguistic groups as actual political affiliations, that they themselves mush together an incredible amount of diversity into one outwardly coherent package, and that 'swing' voters are primarily people disenchanted by the entire nightmare of a system, that is objectively leading to worse and worse outcomes for the majority of Americans as time goes by.
The reality is that America has been dividing for a very long time. It has always been a nation of 'tribes', each with their own view on reality and mode of expressing it. The entire conceit of the United States of America has been growing ever more hollow with each passing year. The internet has simply lowered the cost of discovering the information, the signal, needed to perceive this hollowness and degradation, and people are now aware of exactly how little America's politicians and elites do, have done, to mitigate terrible structural problems with our political, economic, and social systems.
2016 was a warning that 20+ years of drift are now past the point of no return. Economic anxiety produces a need for explanations among a population, and America's entrenched racism has given Trump the golden opportunity someone was eventually going to take to offer a darkly familiar 'explanation' - others are keeping us from our just due.
I am convinced that America's liberals and progressives, the 'Resistance', as they like to play-act it, are so wrapped up in a delusional view of the situation rooted in a longstanding self-narrative about their being the 'future' or whatever, that they simply can't accept that it doesn't matter that they're closer to being 'right' on most matters these days than the average conservative. The Trumpist right is now fully united around their belief that they have only a short time to act before America is irreversibly turned 'liberal', which to them means, pretty much, 'brown'. The centrist and left-leaning media in America has spent a generation doing what the Simpsons does - condescending to anyone who isn't a white suburban liberal (a category containing many just as racist and sexist as any Trumpist) while also laying the blame for the oppression of what they call 'minorities' (soon to be a majority in the part of the country where I live) at the feet of rural white conservatives. They are unable to realize that they have played a major role in pushing conservatives - who are disproportionately white and rural - into their present trap. And so far as I can tell from reading their media, they've essentially decided that 2016 was a simple accident, and that if they re-play the same script in 2020 the Blue Wall will return, and they'll waltz into the White House.
Note that there has recently been talk of Clinton running again in 2020. And that sage voices call for Joe Biden, another geriatric white Boomer, to run, because he speaks the language of the denizens of the Rust Belt. Warren and Sanders, more old white northeasterners, are also touted as front-runners, along with a celebrity or two - Oprah or Beto - just for buzz, is my guess. Repeating the DNC's usual condescending practice, Booker and Harris are already getting tagged as the acceptable minority candidates, to be held up through the Iowa Caucus and then cast aside for the battle they perceive to be most critical - the Biden neoliberals vs. the Sanders-Warren progressives.
As the German paper Deutsche Welle put it recently (can't find the link now, dammit) - over the next two years we can expect the hostilities in DC to escalate a hundredfold. Everything the Democrats do to rein Trump in, he'll portray as swamp politics as usual. Everything he fails at, he'll blame on them. The media will continue to breathlessly report everything he says on Twitter, no matter how clear it gets that he gaslights them. Everyone will chatter their echo chamber's conventional wisdom, and the Democrats will descend into their brutal civil war come early 2020, because they all believe Trump will be easy to beat.
And then the war will come. The Neocons will not give up the chance to attack Iran and finally get payback for 1979, and they'll play wag-the-dog during the election. The economy will go into recession as a result of these trade wars eventually, though the flood of deficit spending may keep the economy goosed through to 2021 or 2022... and then when the crash comes, it'll be even harder. A macroeconomy is like a fault system - longer it goes without 'adjustment', the more tension builds up and the bigger the boom is when it finally goes.
And 2020 itself will be the ugliest political battle of modern history. My expectation is that it will come down to Wisconsin, Arizona, and/or Florida, and I don't see any way voter suppression isn't an order of magnitude higher than it already is, particularly in Florida. The conservative 'movement' has no option but to ensure victory, even through... shall we say... extra-legal means. The popular vote will go Democrat again, and probably by an even higher margin, but the electoral college is what matters, and with a Trump-packed Supreme Court there exists a serious chance of legal challenges to statewide results sending the election, in effect, to the Supreme Court.
The Democrats will lose because they will think 2020 to be a simple numbers game, where 'swing voters' will save them in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. They're already chattering about the Blue Wall, claiming that moderate suburban candidate successes in 2018 presage a shift back to the Dems in 2020 in these critical states. Perhaps. But I suspect they're drawing conclusions about the composition of the 2020 electorate from inadequate data. Less than 50% of eligible voters turned out in 2018 - a record, but still less than turnout in a presidential election. A huge chunk of voters sat this one out, and they'll be the ones to decide 2020. But the DNC creates its own reality, and the battle between wannabe-presidents is already ramping up. I fully expect them to miss, just like the Clinton campaign did in 2016, the important signs, and run another terrible Presidential candidate like Gore, Kerry, and Clinton, trying to cater to swing voters who don't exist.
The Democrats' success relies in realizing how tribal America really is, and coming up with post-partisan narratives that appeal to those tribes who are disenchanted with and divorced from mainstream politics. They need to start ignoring the media more, and focus on learning how to talk to Americans. They need to set aside wonky policy that only nerds like me care about, and focus on telling a different American story - and representing that story. They only win in 2020, faced with voter suppression that will discourage turnout and may include overt political violence by white supremacists in crucial states, as well as an administration full-willing to rig the outcome in its favor, by truly massive turnout among black, latino, and progressive voters.
They only get this by running someone who can look and represent the America-to-come, and that is best done by recruiting two women, one of them a veteran and one of them multi-racial, to be the anti-Trump. They must run on a platform that specifically denies the existence of left-right duality, and instead embraces linking of key issues, in the good old-fashioned horse-trading sense. That is, they link the need to better serve our veterans with the outrageous amount of money given to the Pentagon, emphasizing that half of all our federal income tax dollars, $2,000 per person (and much more, on average, per tax-paying household!) go to the Department of Defense while the Veterans Administration - y'know, the folks who actually care for our veterans after DC's wars break their bodies and minds - gets only a scant 6.5% or so. They need to link the pressing need to reduce carbon emissions and combat climage change with the need for a complete reboot of our rural economies, pouring money into economically-disadvantaged areas to help them set up green energy infrastructure and land management work that will create jobs for generatiosn to come. They need to link the problem of inequality with the lived experiences of disadvantaged Americans from all of the country, rural places included.
Me, though, I doubt this will happen. There seems to be no creativity, no risk-taking, left in this society so dominated by suburban white liberals, college-educated types who appear to have gotten good at memorizing facts to pass tests, but not to actually think critically. America needs a political movement infused with start-up like energy, that can find new ideas and new ways to do politics.
I suspect that if I had a few billion $ (Jeff Bezos? Bill Gates? Elon Musk? Anybody want to be my angel investor? There's a contact page on this site!) I could put together an effective alternative political movement, in large part because I'd staff the thing with veterans - people who know how to get things done. Unfortunately, this seems as likely as winning the lottery, about as probable as my fiction writing blowing up such that I become the next J.K. Rowling (hey, another billionaire I would like to think would fund something truly innovative. Dumbledore's Army, like any army, needs resources!).
In absence of me or anyone else pulling that off, though, I see little hope for America's future as a united entity. My assessment is that by the late 2020s the USA will be functionally, if not formally, divided into social-economic-political regions. I just don't think all the king's horses and men can put the thing back together again at this point, and as for the dream of some progressive revolution - so far, progressives can't seem to organize their way out of a phone booth well enough to do any real damage to conservatives on a national scale. They do local organizing well (hey, even I voted for Ocasio-Cortez, and she wasn't even running in my district - I just don't like Kurt Schrader) but at the national level? They get played by the DNC ever time.
So how does the USA break up? An interesting question (to me), and one I've discussed before. In fact, I'd like to do another iteration, this time using actual GIS data to produce a better map, with useful atlas-type statistics. Just need to find the time.
But until then, here's a list (in descending order of probability) of ways the USA might go down over the next few years -
So what does this all mean for me? Well, part of the reason I'm spending all day writing this, instead of editing Bringing Ragnarok like I really should be, is so I can stop thinking about it so much. I sincerely doubt anything I do will affect the outcome, unless, again, I win the lottery (metaphorically speaking). Then, sure, I'll take what resources I have and enter the fight. But until then, I have my family and my livelihood to consider. But as a passive observer, here are the options - assuming the USA is in fact, done for - in descending order of how much I'd like them to happen.
Truth be told, looking at America's history of slavery, genocide, atomic bombs, racism, sexism, and attempts to build an empire (that's what 'superpower' really means, after all), I can't honestly say I even mind that much if America dies. Today, for example, I read a report indicating that America's wars in my own lifetime have killed at least half a million people, many if not most innocent civilians. 7,000 American military personnel died, ten times that number have been injured, a hundred times that number have been scarred forever by their experiences. And all of it, for nothing. Just more tax money going to the Pentagon to the defense industry to shareholders' pockets and, whatever is left, into bombs that we give to Saudi Arabia to drop on children in Yemen.
The truth is, though our media won't say it, can't say it, I suspect, so caught in their self-delusion about America being exceptional and special, or whatever, to realize they've been lying to themselves for decades - America is an evil state. One of the worst of modern times. It murders so many people, at so many levels, and then tells the victims' families that whatever we do is justified, because, in short, we're better.
This is wrong. This is evil, pure and simple. We are all Orcs, and because we won't confront the nature of our Orcish mythos and our Orcish leaders, we are blood-complicit, through our tax dollars, in the murder of innocents. Year after year. No matter who is in charge.
And that's the science of the thing. The diagnosis of the disease. a disease no doctor can treat, MD or (especially) PhD.
In the spirit of privilege-checking, I should point out that I am as white, male, hetero, cis..... basically, I'm as vanilla white dude as they come. Despite that, I firmly believe that the Decolonization movement is ridiculously important. Here's why.
There is such a thing as 'Western' science. In fact, most science is 'Western', because despite the usual homilies about science being impartial and objective, concerned solely with facts and the proper methods used to generate them, science itself crucially depends on philosophy. What counts as a fact, what doesn't, isn't a determination that comes out of thin air. It comes, in the Western model, from a group of people with similar backgrounds and interests who get together and agree on two key questions: how they go about deciding what counts as a fact (the jargon-phrase for this is epistemology), and what facts are considered to pass the threshold of fact-hood and so are accepted implicitly as constituting what is "real" (the jargon-phrase for this is ontology).
This is what the "peer-review" process in science is all about. Groups of "peers" read one another's work and decide whether it passes muster as science according to their collective opinion.
Scientists don't usually like to discuss this too openly with laypersons. But this basic reality of science as being a social endeavor, fundamentally bound to the identities of the people doing the science, cannot be denied. As much as practicing scientists are loath to admit it, pure objectivity is impossible in science. Bias is always present, because people can't help but be biased in at least some dimension. Scientists, no less than the rest of humanity, are psychologically and culturally shaped by the circumstances of their upbringing. What they are prone to accept as real or not-real is bound up with their life experiences.
The basic problem with contemporary science across all the disciplines is that this inherent bias is rarely considered. It gets swept under the rug at every opportunity. And because it is effectively taboo to discuss, extremely damaging prejudices and assumptions have been allowed to persist and thrive within the scientific community for far too long.
And here is where colonialism comes in. Most scientists living today have been trained to accept that the European Enlightenment was a time of explosive growth in knowledge and technique, where brilliant minds laid out the fundamentals of what we know today as science. Scientists are trained to uncritically accept that they are, in effect, the intellectual descendents of these Enlightenment luminaries. Standing on the shoulders of giants, so to speak. And further, they're trained to believe that these Enlightenment types were themselves working according to traditions dating back to the European Renaissance, and before that, of course, Ancient Greece itself.
Notice something? This model of science, which is taught throughout North America and Europe, roots itself entirely in a European (and male) perspective. And what contemporary scientists are by-and-large loath to accept, is that these scholars baked in their own narrow prejudices into their writings. Because, like all humans... they were human. Limited in perspective. Limited in time.
They were also direct beneficiaries of Europe's 500-year effort to dominate and enslave the rest of the world. Consider who, back in the 18th and 19th centuries, had the time and education necessary to do science, write down their results, and report them to other scientists. Science at the time was an upper-class and male endeavor. It was also intrinsically bound up with, and served, the European colonial effort. Edward Said's classic book Orientalism shows how this worked in literature, where White Europeans were always the default and proper identity for a protagonist, while the African or Indian was always a secondary or supporting character, often described in atrocially racist terms, denied independent will or capability. And scientists, part of the upper classes who read this literature, couldn't help but have their opinions of other peoples shaped by this European conceit.
And, of course, there was the whole theft of resources (and bodies) from the colonized, which fed the rapid economic growth and industrialization of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
This is why, at the turn of the 20th century, insane ideas like social darwinism emerged from and were supported by the scientific community. Eugenic theories proliferated that insisted (falsely!) African brains were smaller and less intelligent by nature than European brains. The Nazis in Germany, insane as they seem now, actively deployed science and scientists to justify their dehumanization of anyone not sufficiently aryan. And there were many Americans, writing in the early 20th century, who agreed with them.
The heritage of western science is directly tied to the colonial effort. And the rot goes back even further in time. Consider, for example, how many scientific papers and books at some point or other quote some Ancient Greek or Roman philosopher. Only rarely do they quote someone from China, or the Islamic world, or Africa, or the pre-colonial Americas. Consider too, how the "Socratic" style has permeated higher education over the years. Isn't it interesting, that scientists who would otherwise be skeptical of any argument rooted in the ideas of one thinker, will happily commit the basic logic error of arguing from authority - so long as that authority is a dead Greek man.
The Ancient Greeks, and the Romans who imitated them, were nothing more than sexist, racist, elitist, slave-owning murderers. Both societies depended on using war to obtain slaves, who did the actual work necessary to keep Athens and Rome up and running. Citing Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Cato, whomever, isn't that different than citing Donald Trump or Harvey Weinstein, if either were to write a book of philosophy. That modern universities continue to teach the words and style of these disgusting creatures is one of the greater ironies of our time. Particularly when there are scholars from numerous other traditions, whose ideas go back as far as those of the Ancient Greeks, who were themselves merely minor players in the Axial Age.
The pernicious persistence of sexism and racism in the modern university is in large part due to most scientists accepting what amounts to little more than received wisdom. And a graduate student or other aspiring scholar questions this received wisdom at their peril. Because whether or not they are allowed to join the science club is heavily determined by their willingness to parrot this mythological version of science. And this in turn produces powerful selection pressures, which are partly responsible for the continued over-representation of white males in the Academy (the political economy of the modern university, as with other major institutions in our society, is another key factor).
One of the greatest projects of the 21st century will be reclaiming science from the basic failures of the Western model. The institutions must be reclaimed and rebuilt to allow a new generation of scholars to break free from intellectual traditions that, in the end, reduce to arguments from authority, where authority is granted to a narrow and unrepresentative set of perspectives that have fundamentally biased huge swaths of what we accept today as "science".
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.
This is an experiment using Insight Maker, an awesome, free tool for modeling dynamic systems.
Because I'm interested in the idea of looking at society itself as a composite system, I like to do little thought experiments to explore social issues. In this, I model gun violence (just to be outlandish) as a system, where gun buyers scale their purchases to their observation of gun violence in broader society. It is constructed as a bit of a trap: gun buyers make purchases because they see incidents of gun violence on the news, but more guns tends to produce more gun violence, and losses to the gun buyer population due to accidents and suicides*
Long story short, I suggest here that gun violence is a self-sustaining problem, where all actors behave 'rationally', but also end up harming themselves in the long run.