Welcome To The Autonomous States of America

04 May 2022 · 4 min read

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Poster map of United States of America with state names
image credit: iStock / FoxysGraphic

Based on a recently leaked draft majority opinion, it now seems virtually certain that Roe v. Wade will be overturned by the US Supreme Court sometime this summer.

I say this because the arguments contained in the leaked draft really leave no room for ambiguity or doubt or equivocation: they unflinchingly lambast the original Roe v. Wade decision as deeply flawed, and without a single redeeming judicial characteristic.

And so, with one breath, the house of cards holding up universal abortion access in America appears about to fall.

Instead, every state will once again be empowered to set its own rules on abortion, and we will have taken one more step away from the United States of America, and towards the disjointed, discombobulated, and largely autonomous fifty states of middle North America.

In many ways, this should not be surprising.

We know that a drive for autonomy is one of the key motivators for all humans. And we know that local autonomy is one of the Core Design Principles for the Efficacy of Groups, even as group sizes scale to larger populations. And so, quite naturally, each of our fifty states wants to assert and express its independence from our federal government.

And we know that, as a country, the US is riven by vast differences between its various parts. Consider:

  • We have two states that are not part of the contiguous, continental US at all, with one, Alaska, being close to polar, and the other, Hawaii, being close to equatorial.

  • Even within the contiguous 48 states, we have a number of separate regions that are very different from each other in significant ways: the Pacific coast, the Southwest, the Western plains, the Midwest, the Northeast and the Southeast, just to name the obvious ones. Differences in climate, history, culture, economics and degrees of urbanization are just some of the ways in which these regions differ from one another.

  • We have a number of states with significant coastlines, along one of two different oceans, with many of these states containing at least one major seaport, and one international airport, providing easy and regular access for goods and people entering and leaving the country.

  • On the other hand, we have a number of inland states that are landlocked, and harder to access, especially for international commerce and travel.

  • We have a number of highly populous urban areas – generally close to oceans, or to our Great Lakes, and/or to our national borders – but much of our country consists of vast tracts that are still sparsely populated.

Looking back on our US history, we can also see that some of the phenomena that once brought us together as a nation have been on the decline for some time now. Consider:

  • When the US was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor, we came together as a nation to defeat fascism in WW II.
  • During the Cold War, and the race to land a man on the moon, fears of communism brought us together as a nation.
  • Broadcast TV news, as presented on our three major networks, helped to bring us together as a nation, as we all viewed the same images, with largely congruent commentary, at virtually the same time.

For the last several decades, however:

  • Technology has fragmented and fractured our news media.
  • Globalization has diluted our national identity, without providing any sort of cohesive new larger identity capable of serving as a suitable replacement.
  • Starting with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1981, our federal government has often been seen as bloated, unhelpful, ineffective, bureaucratic and guilty of massive overreach.

On top of all this, we have the anthropological phenomenon of schismogenesis going on, which I have recently learned about through the book The Dawn of Everything, by Davids Graeber and Wengrow. This book presents multiple instances in early human times when two different societies in close proximity to one another, and fully aware of each other, seemed to develop in contrarian ways that can only be explained by their innate urges to just be different from those other folks.

And so, when we look at what we think of as the partisan divide in our country, we at some point may have to accept that this is not a temporary aberration – some deviation from the historical norm that is bound to diminish over time simply through a regression toward the mean – but a more-or-less permanent feature of our national identity.

What then?

  • We may see more US citizens and companies voting with their feet, to move to one state or another, based on differences in things like abortion access.
  • The Democratic party, in particular, may find itself challenged to refocus its efforts to target governorships and state legislatures rather than placing so many of its eggs in the federal basket.
  • The forces of aggrievement that increasingly seem to power our politics may well swing in the direction of more progressive interests: overturning Roe v. Wade might well take the wind out of Republican sails, and start to fill Democratic equivalents, as women are denied abortions and forced by the state to bear unwanted children.
  • Republicans may well find that they should have been more careful about what they wished for, as their governors and legislatures become freed to do more truly stupid and terrible things, and their citizens begin to take a harder look at the realities their votes have engendered, and begin to experience buyer’s remorse.

Many of us may not like what this brave new world of disarray will look like, but at least for now, there may not be much we can do to hold it back.

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