Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Secession Season: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

“If any State in the Union will declare that it prefers separation with the first alternative, to a continuance in union without it, I have no hesitation in saying “let us separate.” I would rather the States should withdraw which are for unlimited commerce and war, and confederate with those alone which are for peace and agriculture.” -Thomas Jefferson

We may be in for a wild ride, given my surprise by recent events in the US. Unless you’ve been completely isolated from the outside world, you likely have heard of Europe’s economic woes. When the ill-planned Eurozone was being rushed through political channels, the books were cooked regarding the peripheral countries (Greece, Italy, Spain, etc.). Said manipulations were performed by many of the same characters who are now calling for austerity, privatization of public assets, and similar measures. While Iceland offers a clear solution on dealing with corrupt financial institutions, the same has not occurred in the rest of Europe. Many countries had their elected governments replaced by former bankers (such as Italy and Greece). Referendums and democracy are shoved out the window to benefit the same group of kleptocrats who caused the crisis in the first place. This is the very definition of regulatory capture, oversight agencies taken over by individuals who compromise their function. In this case, regulatory capture extends to several layers of the EU bureaucracy, US politics, and countless other places.  

Interestingly, there is another trend that could serve to counter this. If a state government is compromised, why not start fresh from a new state? Likewise, in weakened states, prosperous regions do not wish to “foot the bill” for the less prosperous regions. Regionalism can become a nascent nationalism unto itself. In regions that formerly were nations, nationalism can re-emerge in times of crisis. The drawbacks are that it can lead to racism and discrimination against immigrants and minorities. There are, however, discrete benefits beyond merely saving money in taxes. Downsizing a political regime to a smaller level makes it more responsive to popular pressures. The EU’s bureaucracy is ill-prepared to handle several different countries and cultures. Attempts to force them together result in tensions and instability. The less removed a particular group of people feel from decision making, the greater the potential for unrest. Add in an economic crisis unrivaled since the Great Depression, changing demographics, and you have potential for quite the mess. Is it any wonder why Scotland, Catalonia, and Venice wish to leave their respective countries?

Just imagine that. Scotland is about to hold a referendum on independence, and perhaps remove the “United” from the “United Kingdom” (especially if Wales gets some ideas). Catalonia has a history of political unrest during the Spanish Civil War and Franco dictatorship, and there’s still quite a bit of tension there. Venice was once its own empire, and perhaps we shall see the return of ‘Juditha triumphans,’ as its national motto. While affluent, I imagine a Second Venetian Republic’s most pressing concern would be climate change and sea levels. I can imagine the status quo and its beneficiaries, such as governments, businesses, and perhaps even covert operatives, using dirty tricks galore. They might ensure referendums fail, ignore them, or barring that, move in like opportunistic parasites via the normal backdoor deals and regulatory capture (although that would definitely take time).  

What I am surprised, about, though, is that secessionism made its comeback in the EU before the USA. It took yet another charade of an election between two cardboard cut-outs to get people talking secession again. Also unsurprisingly, there are many of the old Confederate states. How much of this is serious talk, and how much is partisan inspired post-electoral posturing remains to be seen, however. I have a feeling this is much more that latter than the former (at least at this stage). 

Interestingly, though, these secession petitions are not merely “Blue” or “Red” states. We’ve got some “swing” states in there, as well as both. The total list includes: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.   

There is a backlash against this as well, a petition calling for anyone who signed such a pro-secession petition to be stripped of US citizenship and exiled.

I wish I was making this crap up. A lot of this just seems to be regular posing, but what remains to be seen is how much momentum or lasting appeal it actually has. There are a number of reasons outside political partisanship for preferring secession (or at least more “states rights”): the failures of FEMA compared to Occupy in the wake of Sandy (even with Bloomberg having the NYPD brutally evict them), the decrepit and decaying American infrastructure (with no one talking about fixing it), dislike of Federal overreach (such as giving away public lands to oil companies or bank bailouts with taxpayer cash), the NDAA (indefinite detention for everyone for any reason), the drone assassinations of US citizens (no due process), the warrantless surveillance, privatized prisons in league withgangs, disillusionment with the Drug War, and others. I believe local decision making would resolve many of these issues in a way politically acceptable even to the majority of people within a state.

I could see the USA possibly coming apart in a few ways, although a new era of “states’ rights” might give the polarized country the breathing space it needs. Under such a scenario, the Feds lease land for military bases and handle the major inter-state infrastructure (and a few other tasks), while most other issues are handled locally. (I had a secession attempt being averted by such a political bargain in a fictional setting.) There’s also the possibility of a military misadventure backfiring, detailed in another fictional scenario.

Still, there are benefits in the form of ending the “culture war.” Imagine, the Red States get their guns and family values, and the Blue States get their birth control and socialized medicine. There might even be unintended environmental benefit due to less carbon emissions from less frequent driving and lower demand for military manufacturing. Perhaps if the Southern States were more pragmatic than proud, they might've continued a political secession course instead of a militaristic one. There's also the fact that despite stereotypes, the "Red" states get more Federal money than they collect, so any new CSA probably would be in economic dire straits.

Apart from “Confederacy 2.0,” I could see even the “West Coast Blue” states and “East Coast Blue” states having cultural differences. (Compare San Francisco to New York City, and see what I mean.) California also has some cultural differences with Hawaii and Cascadia (Oregon and Washington), and was also once its own country. If this is more than posturing, maybe it will be again.  

Add into this confusion the possibility of Puerto Rico trying to join the USA. Still, I don’t think anyone would be sad to see New Jersey go. If the US wishes to save money on making 51-star flags, perhaps they should merely expel that toxic waste dump and promote Puerto Rico in its place. 

Seriously, though, I believe secessionism and separatism as a cause around the world will only continue to gather steam. Relocalization of agriculture, manufacturing, and energy production is likely to occur (legally or not) as the global economy continues to crash. The technologies and techniques for such methods continue to improve, a side effect of the consumer and military industrial complexes’ own developments (ironically enough). The militaries of the world realize local manufacture and production of fuel and supplies simplifies their logistics chains (which any commander will realize as key to success). Technology in the military sector will eventually make it to the civilian market, legally or not. Social change is a self-organize system, so it is logical to guess relocalized decision making will become more politically relevant. 

The corrupted political regimes will use every trick to prop the old economy up, up to and including assuming even more despotic powers. Even if they do this, there’s a limit to how much you can centralize things before they crash. “Bailouts” and wishful thinking are no substitute for your own local social safety net to fall back on. Your brain literally evolved to prefer your local contacts over some distant folks you've never met personally, after all. This isn’t just about “doomsday preppers” (a form of false security and magical thinking onto itself all too often). Rationed supplies cannot last forever, and small families/individuals without support can fail pretty quickly. Ironically, even the more savvy “survivalists” realize this, and deride the Mad Max/Rambo-esque fantasies for what they are. David Brin’s “Postman” is a good depiction of how much you’d miss being a part of a functional civilization.

At the same time, though, it is important to realize the global system’s current incarnation has no decent future. There is more debt than the world’s GDP. Median household incomes are falling across the developed world. Even the BRICs, whose development propped up the system a bit longer, seem to be sputtering out. Solid nations may splinter into smaller chunks. The climate’s going mad, and the easy to get fossil fuels are increasingly depleted (despite magical thinking and PR). Even if some genius physicist comes up with a viable fusion reactor or the like, innovation-unfriendly patent laws and a lack of investment in new infrastructure projects would hinder deployment.

Relocalization is coming, regardless of what the zombie governments want. Some may wise up on the transition, and others may not. Still, a multipolar world of several small states is preferable to a neo-feudal corporate socialist world system. The cyberpunk dystopia will give way to a postcyberpunk one, if we can manage it.

That is why this secessionist wave will be interesting to watch. Even if they fail, they could easily remerge in a few years. Once something has become mainstream politics, there’s a good chance it will last until it passes (or something close to it does).  

Of course, it could all take us down with it. It’s not hard to imagine the governments of the world using war to distract people from domestic troubles, and if nuclear superpowers get involved, things can get real ugly rapidly. Likewise, there is a remote chance of a catastrophic collapse that makes Mad Max look utopian. However, I believe the current batch of separatists will continue to use legal and political methods for the foreseeable future. Sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.


  1. I am sure dividing a state is not the solution to the problem , look at the ottomom empire and the state of the Arab world today as a vivid example, however the real solution would be to eliminate the causes of the debt problems and unequal , unfair and inhumane wealth distribution that has plagued the world, some form of debt forgiveness or an icelandish solution is needed , but believe me the last useful thing is small nations , the US is the leading country in this world because it is the UNITED states.

  2. The Arab world was mostly carved up by the Brits and French after WWI to aid in their own interests, not by domestic pressures. The US' union has become increasingly a form of strife rather than strength over the past decades. Too much centralization of power, feuding bureaucracies (just look at the CIA/FBI/Petraeus mess), and top down corruption are rendering the whole system dysfunctional. Some dramatic event may shake things up (for better or worse), but I believe the Northern and Southern states would be better off if they parted ways. The South is a tax hole for Federal dollars (despite them hating the Federal gov when a Dem is in charge), and the North can't do their social programs due to influence from the South. The North could continue on as the US while the South and Alaska become Palinistan.