I’d like to begin by showing you a picture and asking you what you see.
Good. With that in mind, have a look at this one and tell me what you see.
Here’s another, and this one, you’ll note, has a similar shape to it.
Now let’s shift gears a tad. What do you see here?
And finally here?
Okay, on the assumption that I’m working toward a point, what do you imagine that point might be?
If you guessed that it has something to do with how maps change over time, good job. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how borders are temporary, malleable things, and that even the best maps, even the most productive and stable arrangements in history have changed as a result of incremental economic expansion or violent overthrow or amicable separation or brute intimidation.
For our present purposes, we Americans need to understand that nothing about the current configuration of the United States was ordained at the dawn of time. Our borders have changed multiple times just in the last century, and while those changes have always involved growth, history teaches us one lesson we’d do well not to forget: empires come and empires go.
It’s only logical, then, to consider the possibility – indeed, the probability – that at some point in the future the US might well contract. Or break up. Or something. The question isn’t if, but when. And how. And in response to what forces. And finally, what does the political map overlaying the North American land mass look like at that point?
There are any number of theories out there. For instance, a Russian economist predicts that our current economic mess will fracture us thusly:
The science fiction game Shadowrun has all kinds of fun carving up the former US, merging parts of the Northeast and Upper Midwest with Canada and, of course, reviving Dixie as a nation state. David Eriqat’s Eight Countries of the Former United States argues that what we have now is no longer tenable given cultural and economic realities, and he suggests that what comes next might look roughly like this:
I’m not 100% sure of the rationale behind this version of the future, but the author is apparently a retired US military and intelligence guy.
Then there’s Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America, which doesn’t predict the future so much as it sets out to describe the present. Still, if you’re the sort who thinks that coming shifts will be dictated by shared cultural and economic interests, this map provides plenty of food for thought.
And so on and so on. A lot of people have contemplated the breakup of the Union and there are any number of ideas as to how it might all play out. So with that in mind, let me ask you to consider one more map, one that reflects a particular contemporary reality. Any idea what you’re looking at?
In recent months my colleague Wufnik has done a couple of outstanding analyses on the secessionist chirping we keep hearing from the nutbag wing of the American political landscape. In a post last August he explained the problem of “giver states” vs. “taker states” – that is, those who contribute more in federal taxes than they receive back in services vs. those who contribute less than they receive. As it turns out, most of the worst anti-gummit, anti-tax, pro-teabag secessionist bitching comes from people in taker states. Put less charitably, they hail from places that aren’t pulling their weight, an inconvenient fact that certainly runs counter to the uncritical ideologies of self-reliance and the incessant bootstrap rhetoric that characterizes so much of what these folks have to say for themselves.
So, about that map above: the red states are the takers and the blue states are the givers. Rhode Island, in purple, gets exactly much back it receives. Interesting picture, huh?
Wuf’s follow-up post looked at how various state governments are acting out a little bit, asserting their state’s rights and all. And again, those acting up tend to be takers.
Now we have another round of state government uprising, as 14 states are suing the federal government over the health care bill. There aren’t many surprises to be had here, either. 13 of the attorneys general filing suit are Republicans (the lone exception being the gentleman from Louisiana, a state whose leaders tend to be so dumb and corrupt as to make partisan affiliations more or less meaningless).
Also, a majority of the states are takers: Virginia, Alabama, Idaho, Louisiana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah. The remaining litigants hail from giver states, but even here we see some unusual circumstances. Florida and Texas are the two “least giver” states – that is, they’re the two donor states that lie closest to the break-even mark. Washington’s AG is regarded as something of a loose cannon, it seems, and his participation in this action has outraged the state’s governor (and, one suspects, much of its generally progressive citizenry). Colorado is an odd case under any circumstances – take away Denver, Boulder and perhaps some of the ski country and what you have left is dangerously close to a teabagger paradise.
Futurism is an iffy business under the best of circumstances, but I feel safe offering the following conjectures:
- It’s almost certain that we haven’t heard the last from our anti-taxes-by-god countrymen.
- It seems entirely likely that we’ll continue hearing yarping about secession, and
- given the effectiveness of the right wing’s finely-tuned noise machine, it’s possible that this meme will gain in strength and credibility.
- Our economic woes are far from over, regardless of what a variety of econopundits might be saying, and
- hard financial times are likely to fuel anti-government and anti-tax sentiment.
- The rabble-rousing is likely to continue emanating from Taker Nation.
- At some point, it’s safe to say that the American empire will contract in some fashion.
If these predictions hold true, and if some form of political realignment happens while I’m still alive, I have to admit that a break along something like giver/taker lines wouldn’t trouble me terribly. I wouldn’t expect such a divorce to be without its painful moments, to be sure, especially since my home state and some people I care a lot about w0uld likely wind up on the other side of that line.
But if the result found me living out my days in a nation that placed a greater collective value on education; that was socially more progressive than punitive; that operated according to a sense of equity favoring justice and opportunity over raw Darwinism; that asserted an economic logic where the public interest was deemed more important than base profit; and that functioned according an ethical code that drew its inspiration from something more enlightened than the rankest, most reactionary readings of the Old Testament, well, I have to be honest: that wouldn’t be the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.