*Having spent the entire week with flu, I had my er… bread saved by Chuck Gannon who offered to fill in this Sunday. We might host him at intermittent Sundays, when he sends us something. -SAH*
Breads, Circuses, and Separatists – by Chuck Gannon
The recent discussion and vote over Scottish independence has, according to some analysts and pollsters, given encouragement to US secessionists. It is certainly a significant debate, particularly as we dwell in the collective shadow of superstate and macrohegemonic realities.
It is important to note that the surge in US seccessionist conversations is by no means restricted, as some like to suggest, to Libertarians. Quite the contrary: a recent poll (Reuters/Ipsos, linked below) shows that the national US average of persons either supporting seccession or willing to consider it stands at about 24%. And the distribution of this sentiment is not so very lopsided: the partisan statistics are 21% of Democrats, almost 30% of Republicans. But here’s the kicker: no matter how much separatist Americans may dislike hegemonic power- politics (domestic or international), I wonder how many have taken the time to find and closely read a reasonable study on what is likely to happen when one–and ONLY one– hegemonic global power diffuses/fractures. (I have sat in on some of those studies and looked at some of those white papers, from both sides of the political spectrum. They have been most illuminating.) I am not talking about the cherry-picking expeditions of selective argumentation, employed by utopists and dystopists as widely divergent as Orwell, Rand, Wells. Rather, I am referring to sober projections carried out with comprehensive databases and reasonable application of games theory heavily informed by historical models.
I will not presume to say one word about Scotland. Not my country, not my right or my business. But in regard to the US, I offer one observation. When the people of a *superstate* dismantle it in a world where other vigorous–not to say “rival”– superstates are active, they have furnished their nation’s arch-competitors with the first condition of the most reliable strategic axiom on record, “Divide and (then) conquer.”
This is not a right or left argument. It is not, in its motivation, even a statist argument. Rather, it is a simple observation of historical fact to date. And given the costs of strategically significant technologies and infrastructures (which include not only the predictable military, high-energy, and aerospace domains but even those of education, medical technology, and information/automation systems), it is simply not in the fiscal and resource scope of smaller states to compete equally with superstates ( do not mistake some small nations’ excellent standards of public tech/service diffusion with total global leverage). They are materially unable to both make the breakthroughs and extensively deploy the resulting devices which ensure not merely their competitiveness with rival superstates, but also their autonomy from the commercial and military pressure that those same states can exert.
Whether one sees the limits of hegemony at the end of national borders or in the larger sense of traditional allies and cultural kin (such as the UK), a splintered US is a world with many new vulnerabilities in general–but particularly for those polities which were once part of the US. For instance, be assured that, in a scenario where separated states might attempt a limited recentralization, any rivals who hope to enjoy greater “freedom of action” in the absence of a US superstate will resist and confound, however they may, any corrective reversion toward closer ties, let alone a reformation of the nation.
And besides, if we are willing to dissolve our bonds of confederation over local inequities and partisan pendulum swings, it seems likely that such rival superstates will always be able to find enough willing collaborators whose cooperation may be purchased in exchange for a boost to their regional interests. Red state vs Blue state, city versus country, cosmopolitan versus fly-over, and all special interest groups versus all other special interest groups: in general, it has ever been thus in this nation. But two things seem to have changed. One change is structural: the increasing centralization of power. And this too has been an ongoing struggle and balancing act for our nation. It may be that we have veered too far away from the center at this moment, or it may be that these are disorienting and dislocating times for many groups in our nation, and that the pace of change and the centralization of power together cause proportionally greater trepidation… which manifests in some as a cautious withdrawal from the common cause and objective of healthy nationhood.
But I suspect that the greater force undermining the union of American States is the decline and even decay of civitas as displaced by sheer materialism and self-interest. When our media holds up self-aggrandizing sports figures and self-absorbed celebrities as the heroes and models for our youth, then we have reason to question what kind of citizens we are mentoring. And also what kind of citizens we ourselves have become in tolerating it. Lest a reader fear that I am about to invoke the tired rhetorics of an out of touch moralist who is more suited to telling kids to get off of his lawn, allow me to make clear that I am not espousing any particular set of morals or cultural shibboleths.I only suggest this: that we may be living in an age of unfettered electronic breads and circuses– which could be the unintended handmaidens to our national undoing. The Cult of Me has never been so strong. Small wonder that the value of We–particularly We The People–has become so weak that many Americans are willing (almost casually so) to undo the bonds that have made us–*together*–the pivotal nation and social experiment of the modern epoch.
If such considerations extend to traditional partners and cultural relatives in places such as the UK, well, obviously, that is ever and only for them to decide. But if their interests at all align with ours in this contentious world, then perhaps they will find some modest food for thought in these lines, as well.
Dr. Charles E. Gannon’s Nebula-nominated best-seller, Fire With Fire, won the 2014 Compton Crook Award. It’s August 2014 sequel, Trial By Fire, launched (with a starred review in PW) as an immediate best-seller, as was Gannon’s June 2014 collaboration with Eric Flint, 1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies. Their 1635: The Papal Stakes, was a Wall Street Journal Best Seller. Gannon also collaborates in the NYT best-selling Starfire series and has been published (mostly novellas) in various shared universes and anthologies (Honorverse, Man-Kzin, War-World, Going Interstellar) and magazines such as Analog.
Although no longer in the classroom, Gannon remains a Distinguished Professor of English (SBU), was a Fulbright Senior Specialist (2004-2009), is a member of the sf think-tank SIGMA (advises DoD, NASA, NRO, others), has been featured on The Discovery Channel and NPR, and won the 2006 American Library Association Choice Award for Rumors of War and Infernal Machines.