Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How It Could Happen, Part Five: Dissolution

This week’s post is the last of five parts of a fictional narrative tracing out a scenario of American imperial defeat and collapse. As a bankrupt and divided nation stumbles toward its destiny, the question that remains is whether anything can be salvaged from the American experiment.

Within hours, thanks to news media reporting minute-by-minute from St. Louis, word of the proposal to dissolve the Union circled the globe.  The most common reaction was to dismiss it as an edgy joke.  One pundit wrote hopefully that the prank might finally bring the convention to its senses. A few articles profiled the two delegates who had written the measure, giving them their first fifteen minutes of fame—they were back in the news two years later, on the occasion of their wedding—and then the media tried to move on to what it considered important news.

Over the days that followed, however, the proposal took on a life of its own.  Across the country, in bars and living rooms and grange halls, people talked about little else; public meetings and rallies drew huge crowds, and with each passing day more of them backed the proposal.  Meanwhile the online forum set up for comment on the convention’s debates crashed three times in as many hours, flooded by posts about dissolving the Union.  By October 4th, the day that the proposal was scheduled for a vote on the convention floor, comments on the forum were running ten to one in favor of dissolution.

Politicians and pundits were discovering to their horror what more perceptive observers had noticed long before—that the United States had long since broken apart culturally, and stayed together only because the power of the federal government put disunion out of reach.  Now, though, the unthinkable was an option. Every region saw a chance to get what it wanted without wrestling with the country’s yawning cultural chasms; western states in which up to 90% of the land was owned by the federal government, and thus exempt from state taxes and fees, ran the numbers and saw how easily they could balance their budgets once all that real estate fell into their hands;  ambitious politicians on the state level began to dream of leading new nations; and the thought of getting out from under the massive Federal debt, by the simple expedient of dissolving the government that owed it, was on many minds.  For them and many other Americans, dissolution seemed to offer dazzling possibilities, and few considered the massive downsides.

On the night of October 3rd, opponents of the measure counted heads and found that they lacked the votes to stop it.  Parliamentary maneuvers kept it off the floor the next day, but that unleashed a popular reaction that convinced even the most sanguine observers that something drastic was afoot. Rallies had already been called for the 4th, and they exploded in size as word got out that the vote was delayed.  Across the country that night, crowds gathered and slogans sounded in the firelit dark.  St. Louis saw one of the biggest demonstrations, with shouting crowds marching past the convention center for more than three hours. Delegates looked down at the sea of faces, and wondered where it would end.

The proposal to dissolve the Union finally came to a floor vote on the 6th. Despite impassioned pleas from opponents, it passed by a large majority.  Another vote abandoned the amendment that would have stopped unfunded mandates—in the absence of a federal government, the point was moot—and a third brought the convention to a close. The moment the final gavel came down, the floor erupted in angry words and more than one shoving match, but the thing was done: what would be, if it passed, the 28th and last amendment to the constitution was on its way to the final test of ratification.

Now Congress’ decision to require amendments to be ratified by state conventions rather than state legislatures came back to haunt the Washington establishment.  The power struggle between the states and the federal government had suddenly been overtaken by the people, and if the delegates they elected to the ratifying conventions supported dissolution, there was no way under the constitution to stop them; by law, a US constitutional amendment took effect the moment it was ratified, with no need for enabling legislation or anything else  As the crowds marched, though, at least one person was thinking about ignoring the constitution—and he had, in theory, the power to make that happen.

*  *  *
Admiral Roland Waite, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, paced down a Pentagon hallway to “the tank,” the soundproof conference room where the Joint Chiefs met.  The Vice Chairman and the heads of the service branches were there, but so were the DCI and DNS, directors of the CIA and NSA respectively, along with key officials from elsewhere in the executive branch.  Most of the federal government’s remaining power to make things happen was concentrated in that one room.

“You’ve seen the president.”  This from General Mendoza, the Marine Corps commandant.

“Yes.” Waite settled into a chair at the long table in the room’s center.  “Every time I go there these days, I wonder if I’m the only adult in the building.” That got an uneasy laugh.  “He’s still dead set on a military response,” Waite went on, and the laughter stopped. “Today he ordered me—his word—to get things rolling: troop movements, logistics, everything. He’s got Justice working on the legal excuses.”

“They’ll need ‘em for martial law,” said General Wittkower, the Vice Chairman.

“It’s not just martial law.”  Waite leaned forward. “He wants the whole country under military rule.  Homeland Security’s working on a list of people to round up, internment camps, that sort of thing.”

“Jesus,” said Wittkower. “He’s talking coup d’etat.”

“Do you think we can make that stick?”  Mendoza asked.

The DCI answered.  “Best case scenario, yes, but we get a major insurgency out West backed with arms and money from China—no way will Beijing be dumb enough to miss an opportunity like that. Worst case?  The National Guard and some Army units side with the states, and we get civil war, again with China backing the other side. Could we win?  Heck of a good question.”

“That got asked a lot in 1861,” said Mendoza.

“In 1861,” said Wittkower, “one region wanted out and the rest of the country said no you don’t. Now?  The North wants to get rid of the South just as much as the South wants to get rid of the North, and let’s not even talk about the western states.  I wish I could say we could count on the Army, but what I’m hearing from our security people isn’t good—and the National Guard is worse.”

“There seems to be a lot of money backing dissolution,” said Waite. “Chinese money?”

“Heck of a good question,” the DCI said again. “America’s made a lot of enemies, and China’s only one of them. We’ve tried to trace the funds, but whoever it is knows how to hide their tracks.”

“What does Wall Street think?”  This was from Wittkower.

“Depends on who you ask,” said one of the civilians, a career bureaucrat from Treasury.  “Some firms are scared to death of dissolution and some are eager to cash in on it. Military government?  That’s no problem, they know they can work with us.  Insurgency or civil war is another matter.  Even if we win, they’re saying, that’ll trash what’s left of the economy and hand the rest of the world to Beijing. If we don’t win, they’re going to be hanging from lampposts and they know it.”

“Right next to you and me,” Mendoza said.  No one laughed; they all knew the commandant was right.

“Here’s the question that matters.”  Waite looked from face to face around the table.  “Do any of you think we can make it work?” Nobody answered.  After a long moment, Waite said, “Well.” He got to his feet.  “I think we all know what comes next.”

*  *  *
P.T. “Pete” Bridgeport showed up at eight the next morning for his weekly talk with the president.  A genial fixture in the Senate for three terms, he had been an obvious choice to take the vice presidency after Weed resigned.  He neither liked nor trusted Gurney, but politics was politics and a job was a job; he put on his friendly smile and went through the door.  He found the president staring at a flat screen with a face the color of putty and the expression of a man who had just been strangled.

“Good God, Lon,” Bridgeport said.  “What is it?”

The president kept staring at the screen and said nothing.  Bridgeport came around to see for himself.  A TV newscast showed Admiral Waite in uniform in one of the Capitol briefing rooms.  ADMIRAL:  GURNEY PLANS MILITARY COUP was splashed across the bottom of the picture.  “—a terrible idea,” Waite was saying, his face bland. The words at the bottom of the picture shifted:  RESIGNS AS CHAIRMAN OF JOINT CHIEFS.  “But if this is how the American people decide they’re going to exercise their constitutional rights, the military’s job is to salute and say, ‘Yes, sir; yes, ma’am.’”

“Lon,” Bridgeport said quietly, “did you?” He had been told nothing of the military planning, but the president looked at him, and Bridgeport could read the answer in his face.  “You’d better pack your bags,” he told Gurney then; his smile was gone, and his voice was suddenly that of the experienced politician explaining realities to a clueless junior.  “They’re going to have your guts on toast.”

A president with strong public or Congressional backing could have survived the news, but Gurney had neither. At ten o’clock that morning, the Speaker of the House, ashen-faced, announced that other business would be set aside to consider a bill of impeachment.  By the end of the day, nobody doubted that the bill would pass, and a head count of the Senate showed that conviction would follow.  That night, Gurney had his press secretary read his resignation and fled the country on a private jet. 

President Bridgeport took the oath of office a few minutes before midnight on November 12th, and his inaugural address called on Americans to join together and make the nation work again.  Though his personal popularity was high, his message fell on deaf ears. For a great many Americans, Gurney’s failed coup had been the final straw, and Bridgeport’s efforts to rekindle a sense of patriotism were openly compared in the news media to Gorbachev’s attempts to relaunch Communism in the Soviet Union’s last days. Even his executive orders bringing the last US troops home from overseas and scrapping the nation’s obsolete carrier fleet did nothing to shift the terms of the debate.

There was little else Bridgeport could do, because the federal government was dissolving around him.  The collapse in the dollar made federal salaries worth next to nothing, when plunging tax revenues allowed the government to pay them at all, and most federal employees simply walked off their jobs.  Meanwhile, as the US dollar moved closer by the day to its ultimate value of zero, a pragmatic mix of barter, state scrip and Canadian dollars became the medium of exchange across much of the country.

The first state to ratify the 28th amendment, in a fine piece of irony, was South Carolina, the first state to secede in 1861. The ratifying convention met in Charleston on December 6th, and it took them less than three hours to pass through the formalities and vote for ratification; crowds sang “The Bonny Blue Flag” late into the night.  Two days later Colorado met, and though it took longer—a loyalist faction fought hard—the results were the same.  Before Colorado voted, Michigan met, and startled observers by voting against ratification.  The next day, Iowa and New Mexico met, and voted to ratify.

That was the way it went, day after day, week after week. A handful of states bucked the trend, but only a handful, and the count rose steadily toward the crucial number of 38 states, three-quarters of the total. On January 29, when the Nebraska convention assembled in Lincoln, the count stood at 37 for and 9 against.  It was a quiet, businesslike meeting.  Once the delegates had been seated and the preliminary business taken care of, by unanimous vote, the convention closed debate and went straight to a roll call vote.  By 118 to 32, the 28th amendment was ratified and the United States of America ceased to exist.

*  *  *
Three weeks later, Pete Bridgeport walked to the Capitol for lunch, greeting passersby on Pennsylvania Avenue as he went.  The Capitol doors were unguarded these days; he went to the elevator and punched the floor for the Senate lunchroom.  That was a restaurant now, serving the famous Congressional bean soup and sandwiches named after dead presidents to help keep the lights on in the old building. He knew the regulars at lunch, but this time Bridgeport spotted a crowd of unexpected faces.

“Pete!”  A senator from Pennsylvania—former senator, Bridgeport reminded himself—waved him over.  “Your timing’s good,” she said. “We’re inventing a country.” 

“No kidding.” He ordered a bowl of soup and half a Harry Truman, paid in Canadian dollars, and went over to a long table where a dozen former senators and representatives sat over half-eaten lunches. The senator’s words were no surprise. New England had just declared itself a republic, nine southern states had delegates in Montgomery hammering out what wags were calling Confederacy 2.0, the republics of Texas and California had been proclaimed, and word was that Florida would follow shortly

The senator filled him in.  “We’ve been at the Senate Office Building on the phones with the states all morning. The seven eastern states that voted against ratification are in. So are Ohio and Delaware—they called off their conventions once Nebraska made it moot. New Jersey only ratified because of Trenton; they want in, and Kentucky talked it over and decided they’d rather be with us than with the South. So what we’re saying is, okay, the rest of you don’t want the Union, that’s fine; we still do.”

“Thinking of using the old name?” Bridgeport asked.

“It’s got a nice sound to it, doesn’t it?  Here, take a look at the map.”  She handed him a printout: the old United States with a new border, marking off twelve states across the eastern core of the continent:  from New York and the mid-Atlantic westward through Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky to Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, linking the Atlantic, the Great Lakes, and the upper Mississippi.  It was, Bridgeport realized, a viable nation.

The senator looked past Bridgeport, waved.  “Hi, Leona. Care to pull up a chair?”

Leona Price had been the District of Columbia’s nonvoting delegate to Congress, and was a lunchtime regular at the Capitol.  The senator filled her in, and asked, “How about the District of Columbia?”

“How about the state of Columbia?” Price replied.

That stopped conversations at the table for a moment, but only a moment; the district’s aspirations to statehood had been common knowledge in the old Congress.  “Rhode Island’s gone,” said an Ohio congressman down the table, “so, yeah, we’ve got an opening for a little state.  You want the position?”

Price grinned.  “Have to put it to the citizens, but I’m guessing yes.”

“Just a moment,” said Bridgeport.  He left the table, found another lunchtime regular, a former Senate staffer, and talked to him in a low voice. The staffer left the lunchroom and was back five minutes later with a bundle of cloth. Bridgeport stood up, and said, “Can we clear some space in the middle here? This might be useful.” He and the staffer unrolled the bundle. Thirteen stars in a circle, thirteen red and white stripes: a tourist-shop copy of the original US flag lay spread in front of them.

“It was a pretty good country,” said Bridgeport, “back when there were just thirteen states, and we weren’t trying to run the rest of the world.  It could be a good country again.”

“It’ll take a lot of hard work, Mr. President,” said the senator from Pennsylvania. She emphasized the last two words.  “A lot of hard work.”

They were all looking at him, Bridgeport realized:  not just the senators and representatives, but people all over the lunchroom.  “I know,” he said.  “What do we need to do first?”

End of the World of the Week #46

If you’re going to be wrong, there’s something to be said for being wrong on the grand scale, and the redoubtable Edgar Cayce certainly managed this when it came to his predictions of apocalypse. A devout if eccentric Christian with a talent for self-hypnosis, Cayce would put himself into trance and provide intuitive readings for clients.  The practical advice that came through these sessions was often remarkably sensible—clients who asked about investments all through the 1930s and 1940s were urged to buy and hold stock in electronics and technology companies, a tip that made millions for those who took it—but his scorecard when it came to the end of time was not quite so impressive.

Not that Cayce’s narratives were dull—far from it.  According to him, a cataclysmic sequence of earth changes would ravage the planet between 1958 and 1998. The earth’s poles would shift, bringing tropical temperatures to areas that are now frozen; vast tracts of the western United States, Europe, Japan, and other places would sink beneath the seas, and new land would rise out of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; Atlantis would return to the surface in 1968 or 1969; finally, the Second Coming of Christ would take place in 1998, the battle of Armageddon in 1999, and a Utopian future of perfect peace and enlightenment would dawn with the new millennium. It was a grand image, and formed the usually unmentioned backdrop for a great deal of the New Age movement’s more lurid fantasies of the future; it seems almost cruel to point out that none of it happened.

—for more failed end time prophecies, see my book Apocalypse Not


Steve said...
So Roland Waite is the Smedley Butler of the 21st century. I like it.

The aftermath is going to be a big mess, but the peaceful dissolution of the union is a grand idea to introduce to the cultural narrative. It's something that hasn't gotten much press in the last 150 years, and it deserves being run up the flagpole in such a creative way.

The challenges ahead for the FUSA are many - a populace that's been on the receiving end of an imperial wealth pump for generations is going to have a steep learning curve to avoid becoming good fodder for the business end of someone else's.

I'd be surprised if Minnesota and Iowa didn't join the new union before too long, too. Anyhow, great story, JMG, and I'm looking forward to the next direction.

Happy Samhuinn!

10/31/12, 8:07 PM

Robert Mathiesen said...
The final divisions of the country seem realistic to me, likewise the possibility that a weak president might try to institute a military government. New England would certainly think about going its own way as a whole, even though some parts of it are basically extensions of New York now. As for California, the main question is whether California would decide to resurrect the old "Bear" Republic, or to become part of a larger new country named Aztlan. I'm guessing the latter, if it were put to an unrigged popular vote in the state. Either way, well done, JMG!

10/31/12, 8:08 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi John,

I wonder how many of your readers were looking for an apocalyptic ending? hehe! That would have been truly ironic.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable read and the last instalment made me feel somewhat uncomfortable.

If given enough food and water and time for recovery, I'll point out that hard work isn't necessarily a bad thing. I reckon we hang onto the status quo because people inherently don't like change, but also because, well there is always the uncertainty that things could get worse!

Thanks for putting the time into this series.



10/31/12, 8:15 PM

GuRan said...
I really enjoyed this series. Great stuff. Well done.

captcha = histUSD (!)

10/31/12, 8:18 PM

Puzzler said...
Nice twist put DC in to bring the total to thirteen.

A future news flash from 2015:

"John Michael Greer's The Archdruid Report has ended his End of the World of the Week series at #202 when his prediction of the end of United States in 'How It Could Happen' from October 2012, actually happened.

10/31/12, 8:24 PM

Dad0Seven said...
Having waited these weeks with breathless anticipation, I read the final installment. When I was done, I took a breath, looked around my workspace and thought, "Great, we're starting what?" I guess that's when... various mutually beneficial alliances are formed along with provision for the common defense...

But that sounds a lot like the Utopian experiments I read about in high school...what to do when the neighbors are snotty, or just plain mean 'n ugly?

10/31/12, 8:34 PM

Zach said...
John Michael,

Very nicely done. Both plausible and quite readable. I had to chuckle at the names "Roland Waite" and "Bridgeport" - fitting!

I suspect, if/when the Union dissolves, this scenario of yours counts as optimistic. As portrayed so far, this is a relatively soft landing for the FUSA.


10/31/12, 8:41 PM

Camillus O'Byrne said...
Thanks JMG. I'm sure that, like me, a lot of readers have been hanging on the next installment for the last weeks.

Thanks more generally for the very valuable service you provide in creating and directing a forum of intelligent, informed and compassionate speculation and dialogue.

I'd like to think that the US can have an ending as sanguine - not sanguinary - as this. However unless these changes coincide with the long-vaunted/prophesied raising of global spiritual consciousness it would seem to be a forlorn hope.

But then it just might. Remembering always that all we can ever to do change the world for the better is to change ourselves.

Best regards to you and all here,

Camillus O'Byrne

10/31/12, 8:45 PM

Christophe said...
What a magical Samhain treat you have given us. As a Washington native, I really liked the idea of the Capitol building struggling to keep its lights on.

Could it really go back to the good old days when my grade school took us for recess to the park down the street, better known as the Capitol grounds? How many times did Jenny and I get "married" in a cathedral of shrubbery and maples in the southeast corner? And how many times, playing with matches under the bushes along the Capitol walls, did we start the tiniest of fires and scare ourselves silly with images of conflagrations?

Could life really return to reasonable proportions if we stepped out of the shadow of empire? The guards and the guns and the fear have become so normalized that remembering how we lived before their arrival seems like an illusion.

10/31/12, 8:45 PM

streamfortyseven said...
A document under which the United States could survive as a country under this scenario exists - it's called the Articles of Confederation. The Federal Government would play a very small role in this scheme of confederation of States as independent republics or regional confederations. People have been thinking of this for a while now - see

10/31/12, 8:47 PM

Brad said...
I don't know how happy I am that Wisconsin (my well loved state) stayed with the old union. Depends, I suppose, on how serious they are about no longer trying to run the world. Maybe we'll figure that out one day.

So what do they do first?

10/31/12, 8:48 PM

thesnakey said...

First time commenting, but I've been reading your blog for quite a while now. I've mostly lurked, previously, but I wanted to say that your last five posts, the story, have been quite amazing.

They're well done, rather disturbing and frighteningly realistic in their potential for the future. A very haunting potential for what's to come and it had me really wanting to read more.

The future is going to be fascinating for the next twenty years or so, no?

10/31/12, 9:01 PM

Kevin said...
Considering prior comments about the incipient Republic of California, I gather nobody cares for us much. So when Chinese gunboats head for harbors on the western seaboard, it appears we'll be on our own. Maybe Mexico will be only too eager to come to the rescue?

For access reasons, It's been ages since I could comment. Glad to be able to sound off again.

10/31/12, 9:19 PM

Richard Larson said...
Smooth ending. One in a million or so chance - that the thing is rebuilt at all. But hey, we can hope!:-)

10/31/12, 9:29 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Steve, excellent! Yes, that's one of the people I had in mind when I invented him.

Robert, thank you. My guess is that nobody else would want to join California in that bigger republic, so it's back to the bear.

Chris, it's the evasion of hard work that's landed the US in its current mess. I decided to be a bit more hopeful in this story.

GuRan, thank you.

Puzzler, funny! The End of the World of the Week series, though, will end on December 26th of this year. Stay tuned...

Dad0Seven, not Utopian at all. The states are themselves functioning governments with a cadre of experienced politicians on staff; they'll make arrangements for mutual advantage, some of which will succeed and some of which will fail -- like any other political project you care to name.

Zach, good. Yes, I deliberately made it a bit of a soft landing; I'll be talking about that next week.

Camillus, I don't think it'll take any sort of spiritual awakening. What it might take -- now that's a topic I'll be talking about down the road a bit.

Christophe, you get tonight's gold star. I suspect such thought will be surfacing in a lot of minds in the years immediately ahead.

Stream, the Articles didn't work so well last time around -- thus the various efforts to create a new constitution. I'd point out that the major problem with the US Constitution these days is that we no longer follow it -- but that's a discussion for a later post.

Brad, I'm not going to take the story any further. Put yourself in Bridgeport's shoes; what do you think needs to be done?

Thesnakey, thank you! That's high praise.

Kevin, welcome back! Those Chinese gunboats are looking for a trade treaty and maybe a naval base -- read your Alfred Thayer Mahan for details. (Based on China's strategy in the Indian Ocean, they've certainly read Mahan.)

10/31/12, 9:39 PM

Unknown said...
Thanks for this story, Mr. Greer.

I always find this type of fiction interesting and thought-provoking.

In this case, the energy implications are interesting. The "New USA" would have coal and shale oil/gas on its territory, but not much conventional petroleum. "New England" would seem to be even less endowed. I wonder how this would play out?

A couple other uncertainties:

What happens to Alaska-- annexed by Russia, perhaps?

And Hawaii? Could it make a go of it alone at its current level of population, or would they need to link up with another Pacific-rim nation (Japan/China/California?)


11/1/12, 12:46 AM

Karim said...
Original and gripping story! It would make a great fiction book. Perhaps it might be possible to sell the publishing rights to a chinese company!

On a more serious note, Could the political consequences of military defeat together with the current weaknesses of the US in general be of sufficient magnitude so as to lead to the dissolution of the Union?

11/1/12, 1:14 AM

flute said...
Thanks for a brilliant series of five posts, which I will recommend from my blog!

Hope you had a good Samhainn!

11/1/12, 2:52 AM

Jason said...
Reading this has been so interesting given that my own country, 7 decades or so ahead of yours on the decline curve, is starting the breakup process at last now. Almost no strong reaction anywhere yet...

11/1/12, 4:03 AM

Odin's Raven said...
Thank you, Archdruid, for a an ingenious and entertaining series.

For a bleaker and more satirical suggestion as to how the United States could end, you might like to see my little story 'Alternative Ending', which gives a nod both to yourself and to T.S.Eliott.

11/1/12, 5:08 AM

Merle Langlois said...
Oh JMG, your story made me cry at the end. Granted, I'm a fairly sentimental guy, by the sense of tragedy combined with the even bigger sense of hope were too powerful to resist.

I'd certainly say that your country doesn't have much of a future, but then again there are few countries nowadays that do. It seems in the story that they're already far enough down the Long Descent that there is almost nothing to lose by dissolving the union, which, as long as civil war doesn't break out first, sounds like a realistic basis from which to start the political conversation of breaking up the country via legal means.

At this point, as a Canadian, and as one living in a major city, I'm just hoping China doesn't break our backs from bending us over backwards. It seems the province of British Columbia and the federal government are already allowing China to bring in temporary Chinese workers to do what would be well-paid important resource extraction jobs. There is a new mine being built in B.C. by a Chinese firm that is going to use two hundred Chinese long-wall miners. Apparently the company said there were no Canadians with these long-wall mining skills but didn't ask the governments relevant to train any workers ahead of time (they must have heard about the provisions of the treaty by the PRC before it was implemented here). We recently signed some new treaty that benefits China more than us, and now it seems the chickens have come home to roost. This reminds me of what I've heard from my friends from Sudan, Chinese workers taking over jobs in exchange for tax revenues and some infrastructure building. Seems Canada is racing to the bottom with gusto. It would be such a pleasure if you guys would get your act together so that we'd at least have a bidding war for our resources.

11/1/12, 6:29 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Ending? Ending? Everyone keeps talking about an ending. History has no ending, there's always another chapter!

One thing about the aftermath of a peaceful dissolution: Now everyone has the idea in their head that all those lines on the map we grew up with are not handed down by God, but are things we invented and we can change. Once everyone has experience with succession and rearrangement, there will be nothing sacred about the former State boundaries either. The Republic of California would have a heck of a time holding together; expect the secessionists in the State of Jefferson to begin a rebellion before even the rest of the states secede! Southeastern CA might belong more naturally with AZ, which would make them the Saudi Arabia of Colorado River water. And so on. No, this is not an ending, it is the beginning of a tumultuous era of redefinition, reimagining, and a lot of failed experiments.

Re: Not following the constitution, I might think that most future sub-USA Republics would take a good look at the exiting C for the USA and decide "Heck, that's not half bad as is! Maybe we should actually try using it for a change?" Add a few tweaks for specific regional interests, more safeguards against governmental overreach, and some funky little customizations here and there just to say "we're different" and presto! New Nation. If you look at the Constitution of the Confederate States of America, it was remarkably similar to that of the USA except for stronger explicit guarantees of private property rights and a 6-year term for the Presdent. The Bill of Rights was still there (including freedom of speech and religion), bicameral legislature, checks and balances, etc. Sure slaves and women were not citizens; nor were they in the USA. at the time.

Re: International relations -- This will be the life or death of any region that becomes autonomous. Texas will have to fight hard not to be swallowed up by Mexico in whole or in part whenever they become independent (which seems inevitable). If it happened today the drug lords would overrun it in a flash.

11/1/12, 6:37 AM

Robert Mathiesen said...
JMG wrote: "My guess is that nobody else would want to join California in that bigger republic, so it's back to the bear."

Indeed not; but would some existing state *force* California to join it.

There are deep and true memories, especially in Spanish-speaking South California, that all that land once belonged to Mexico and was taken from it by force alone, not by any right. Greater Aztlan may be a pipe dream, but a lesser Aztlan could easily come to pass once the Federal Government no longer maintains the border defenses. This is our West-Coast parallel to the Israel-Palestine situation, and is certain neighborhoods in South California it is still just as passionately felt.

11/1/12, 6:42 AM

Twilight said...
Well done! And we're left to imagine the fate of the now separate regions as the world slides down the slope of available concentrated energy. What areas slide into armed conflict, who fights their way to power and at what cost. I can almost see the future wikipedia entry for North America - it's a little too blurry to read, but I imagine it's not too dissimilar to the ones I've read on Rome, Britain or Europe. Or anyplace else for that matter. I especially wonder what happens to the Marlboro Men of the south west, without water and the subsidies of the federal government, as the warlords from the south move to control their territory. I imagine the south west would very quickly become Spanish speaking Mexico once again, under the thumb of some very brutal strongmen, while the north west would become a new mixture with a lot of Asian influence.

There is no end to the possibilities one can imagine, but the exercise is useful.

11/1/12, 7:00 AM

Glenn said...
Kevin said...
Considering prior comments about the incipient Republic of California, I gather nobody cares for us much.

Speaking as a third generation Californian that's emigrated to the Olympic Peninsula; not quite that. There is the consideration that California would be the big fish in a small pond with any of it's neighbors, and they might fear it's domination.

I was one of the people making those Republic of California forecasts, for slightly different reasons. One, California is one of the few states large enough and diversified enough to make it on it's own. Also, it is surrounded by mountains that make natural borders. Especially the Sierras to the East behind the moat of Nevada and the rest of the Great American Desert. And the Siskiyous make a fairly effective barrier between the Central Valley and the Willamete drainage. Without cheap fuel, it's hard to see the link of the I-5 corridor maintained. Perhaps by rail in the ecotechnic future. Thirdly in pre-contact times the Aborigines were separated from their neighbors by the geography as well.

That being said; I can see California going it alone, being part of Cascadia, part of Mexico or part of a Coastal Allegiance that stretched from the Aleutians to Baja. There's a lot of possibilities, I wish I was going to live long enough to see them.

Marrowstone Island

11/1/12, 7:01 AM

Shining Hector said...
I could really see this outcome easier than a civil war, really. I have my doubts that there would have been enough support for the first one without the slavery issue. I have a hard time seeing "A house divided cannot stand" being worth the lives of 600,000 soldiers. What would be our reason to kill large numbers of each other over this time? Gun control? Abortion? The War on Christmas? We're pretty war fatigued already just from blowing up other countries' infrastructure, how much stomach would we really have to bring it home?

11/1/12, 7:07 AM

Bob said...
I wanted to reserve commenting on this until its conclusion> First off, JMG, congrats on a fine, fun piece of historical fiction. Great pacing, details, characterization, etc. Oval office suicides notwithstanding, what struck me most about the story is the tone: it is far less grim than I expected. While I know better than to have expected mushroom clouds on the horizon, I was surprised to hear very little mention of starvation, collapsing health care infrastructure, blackouts, or the inevitable invasion from China or another foreign power one the new (weaker, but still resource rich) nations are established (Chapter 6?). Not a complaint, and gods know you have addressed your share of dire consequences in the past, both potential and inevitable; just an observation. For an Archdruid Report saga about the end of the American empire, it seemed downright sunny. Almost as if its author, acutely aware of the intractable regional and cultural differences currently extant in our country, might prefer things that way...

11/1/12, 7:15 AM

Evan said...

In this scenario I wonder what would happen to Hawai'i. Given that many Hawai'ians desire independence -- many making the very correct claim that they never really gave their lands over the US anyway -- it would seem that they would ratify such an amendment quickly. However, given its location and high percentage of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese folks already living there, I can imagine the Chinese jumping at the opportunity and trying to claim Hawai'i for itself, basically re-flagging Pearl Harbor with Chinese emblems.Does that seem like a reasonable notion?

At the same time, I wonder about the degree of reality for many of the regions of the country to keep on as the nation falls apart. What involvement do multinational corporations and banks have in this process? As they are the primary makers and movers of goods like food, it would seem that if the union dissolves there would probably be food shortages throughout the country.

I imagine DC & New England would face many woes in any kind of economy under this scenario simply because I can't think of much of anything produced in that region for export. They have a lot of people skilled in finance, information management, administration and techno-woowah, but few natural resources and little infrastructure to support the creation of new industries. I don't think they have the military infrastructure either to enforce their role of wealth pump, whereas down south there are many massive military installations -- i.e. Ft. Bragg.

In many ways I imagine that politicos could redraw the lines of the map in this scenario, but for people on the ground it really wouldn't make much of a difference as the black market would come to take over a vast majority of economic activity. Then the political establishments would serve only as figureheads to the dying spectacle of politics but their ability to exercise power would be severely limited.

On the whole, though I have trouble believing in such an orderly dissolution, I appreciate this series of posts as a great thought-experiment that has certainly given me much to consider about future scenarios. But just sitting here puzzling over the numerous issues that come up just from this rather believable scenario boggles my mind, reminding me once again that the future will always cloak itself in clouds of unknowing.


11/1/12, 7:19 AM

SLClaire said...
I'm reading this last installment after having just finished Colin Woodard's book American Nations. I live on the Missouri side of the St. Louis area, not part of what would become the new union in your scenario. Reading the installment, I felt a pang of grief. I don't think of myself as being patriotic, but reading this, I know I have an attachment to the ideals I read into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And I have an attachment as a northerner since I grew up in Michigan. St. Louis is, as you and Woodard have noted, a border city, not really being northern, southern, eastern, or western. Right now it doesn't matter so much because we're part of a much larger union, in fact it adds a lot to the city's culture. In your scenario we might end up in a union whose ideals I wouldn't much like. Plus, located at a very strategic position at the confluence of the two largest rivers in North America, we could be the focus of a struggle for control by one or more unions. I hope for both idealistic and practical reasons that the US doesn't break up, but you've laid out a scenario that reads true.

11/1/12, 7:35 AM

Maria said...
Great series of posts, JMG! You had me hooked from the first paragraph of the first installment, and I am not exactly the target market for Tom Clancy-type fiction.

You had to dissolve RI and break my heart, didn't you? My first thought was "JMG didn't get the memo on how scrappy we've always been." But the more I think, the more I see that our economy is mostly a service economy that relies on outside money (largely from the NY area), RI's National Guard employs a lot of people who live in MA, there is a lovely deep harbor not far from where I'm sitting that is currently used mostly for pleasure boats but was once a busy shipping port and could be again... and so forth.

This line of thought brought to my attention state-centric prejudices that I am not proud of and would have previously denied having. I'm also reminded that it really wasn't all that long ago when one of my ancestors signed the Portsmouth Compact, saying in effect "Oh yeah? Watch us create something new and prosper as a result." That blood runs through my veins but could do with a bit of waking up.

Well played, Archdruid. Well played indeed.

11/1/12, 7:39 AM

auchris said...
I love the nod to D.C. statehood. No taxation without representation! Amidst all their corruption, it appears the D.C. Council has finally found a way to push for budget autonomy, at least. Here's hoping they succeed.

11/1/12, 7:46 AM

Jim Brewster said...
But for historical precedent, I would expect modern-day Virginia to stick with the USA before Kentucky, or maybe even reunify with its western neighbor to make room in the triscadekafecta (sorry, couldn't help that neologism).

Of course VA also might be a case where internal strains would reach a breaking point as they did in 1863. The difference between Alexandria and southern Virginia is like night and day.

As always, you offer much food for thought!

11/1/12, 7:49 AM

jollyreaper said...
I still have my questions from last week.
1) Who gets the nukes?
2) Who gets the armed forces?
3) What happens to the international economy when the US defaults on probably $18 trillion in debt obligations?

The ending feels a little too cozy. While I'm not rooting for doom and would be happy if things turned out well, I'm not sure how those problems would play out.

I do agree that there are a lot of ridiculous distortions in the existing economy. We pay farmers to not grow food, we pave over farmland for bedroom communities, spread everything out so cars are required to live when sensible people would build things closer together.

I agree with markets in theory and people voting with their wallets but the usual free market loonies refuse to admit that subsidies distort a market. When so much of suburbia is subsidized, people aren't presented with a true price for their choices. Or when it would make more sense to grow food locally, if factory-farmed food sets the price floor too low, no one can remain in business. We get obviously illogical situations like it being cheaper to buy garlic grown in China than garlic grown down the street. This goes beyond the usual textbook examples of comparative advantage, i.e. growing oranges in groves in Florida being cheaper than growing them in hot houses in New York. Likewise, it's cheaper to build a business twenty miles outside of town than to renovate a building downtown.

Personally, I'd like living on a smaller scale, not having an American empire, not taking part in an insane consumerist potlach of the world's choicest resources. I just have a feeling there will be a lot of fighting and shouting before such a change can be made. Would dearly love to be wrong because things would be dark and ugly if I'm right.

11/1/12, 8:17 AM

KMO said...

I always enjoy reading your posts, but with this series I've been anxiously awaiting each new installment. I'd love to see this series of posts expanded into a novel.

Perhaps in the post-script we can get some details on the failure of the Republic of California as Mexico makes an effective grab for Southern California and Northern California joins Oregon and Western Washington in establishing the great nation of Cascasia.


11/1/12, 8:27 AM

John said...
JMG: Intriguing story, thanks for writing. I would love to see the story continue..... :)

Do you have plans to put Star's Reach out as an ebook?


11/1/12, 8:35 AM

Jim R said...
A soft landing, indeedy.
One thing I didn't see much mention of in these stories: the various three-letter "spook" agencies. You know, the ones Alex Jones likes to rant about?
I realize that eventually, they will not even be able to keep the lights on as budgets dry up... but I wonder what kind of mischief they could contribute to the dissolution scenario?

11/1/12, 8:56 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Richard, thank you.

Unknown, all good questions, about which I don't propose to speculate here.

Karim, that's the big question. Based on my own observations of the country, I think it's possible.

Flute, I did indeed. Thank you!

Jason, I suspect that when Great Britain finally separates back out into its historic components, most people will be relieved. Just a guess.

Raven, thanks for the link.

Merle, Canada's been somebody's property since its beginnings -- first Britain, then the US, and China's next in line. I think it's a habit by this point.

Bill, I've long thought that California is going to end up as one of the most intractable failed states of the 21st century. As for the Constitution, no argument there; one of the few constructive ways out of the present mess, it seems to me, would be a movement to enforce its terms on a federal government that pays no attention to it at all.

Robert, I've commented before that the American settlement of the dryland West has failed, and the territory is in the process of being (re)absorbed by the nearest society with the population and cultural viability to tackle it. In the real world -- I'm not talking about fictional scenarios now --I expect most of what's now the American West to be one or more Spanish-speaking republics within a century.

Twilight, imagine away! That's one of the uses of a viable future history, after all.

Glenn, it's more than that. In much of the West -- and indeed in much of the country -- there's a visceral dislike of California culture and what's seen as the arrogance of Californians. I think you'd have a hard time getting past that.

11/1/12, 9:07 AM

Ricardo Rolo said...
Well, all in all, it was a pretty painless ride for the inhabitants of the ( former ) USA in this story. Ok, they lost a war and all the house of cards they lived in caved out, but it could had been far worse, especially if the military and the federal politics after Gurnsey were more thickheaded ( just for a reference, see how the Spanish military reacted this year to a possible secession via referendum of Catalonia: they started ASAP talikng publicly about shooting the "vampires and blood-suckers" )). And OFC, by ending the story where you did, there is still a lot of cleanup to do ( federal assets and debts division, military asets division or scrapout, state border "readjustement" ( say, how to resolve the BosWash area or the area south of the Great lakes? ), but you had to end the story somewhere ;)

Said that, it would possibly be interesting to see a small epilogue written by someone 30ish years after the happenings, just to give a broadbrushed idea of how things went....

P.S. ( as a comment to last instalement, that I only read today ) : Nice touch on Mr. Weed suiciding after the resignation ;) TBH I'm not expecting to see any living politician of this era doing that outside of Japan and Korea :/

11/1/12, 9:09 AM

Stu from Rutherford said...
Very good read, JMG.
To the degree that California could make it on its own, we New Jerseyans know (hopefully) that we could *not* make it on our own - no resources and our population density exceeds that of Belgium or Holland.
In your story, NJ jumps at the chance to be combined with *some* group, which makes a lot of sense.
Happy New Year to all, especially those of us living the future here in NJ!

11/1/12, 9:15 AM

Richard Larson said...
The manner in which you have described a curse in a past blog, methinks this five part series can be construed as such. The very long curse for the most ludicrious civilization invented? Or maybe you may have performed this series as a "here is where this country could be headed unless you stop the madness" type story? What was/is your motivation, anyway?!?

I don't believe anyone will stop this collapse, but maybe some will heed the warning, prepare, and not have to suffer...

The message is timely with nearly the whole country in denial. I'll let you know when the intereset in solar increases...

11/1/12, 9:17 AM

Malcolm Smith said...
I would expect in such a scenario that Vermont would declare itself an independent republic, and would take much of Massachusetts west of the Connecticut river with it.

11/1/12, 9:17 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Hector, good. That's one of the points I hoped to make -- that when push comes to shove, the survival of the US as a single nation might not be something anyone's willing to fight for, any more than anybody was willing to fight for the Soviet Union in its last days.

Bob, not really. My point is that, to recycle T.S. Eliot a bit, an empire can end with a whimper rather than a bang. The new post-US republics are all facing a difficult future with economies in freefall, pervasive poverty, and a huge amount of hard work to be done, but it's not that different from the task faced, say, by Lithuania or Armenia in the wake of the Soviet collapse.

Evan, what happens after the dissolution is, as Bill commented, more history. Some of the new republics may succeed, others will turn into failed states, still others will be absorbed by other powers -- that is to say, history as usual.

SLClaire, whoever owns St. Louis has the key to the middle of the continent, so it's likely to be a major flashpoint for political and military struggles for centuries to come. Michigan may be a good deal quieter. ;-)

Maria, nah, Rhode Island is one of six states in the Republic of New England. (Maybe seven -- it's not impossible, with Massachusetts' proponderance of population and money, that the other states would require a division into West MA and east MA as quid pro quo for forming the republic.) Still, the state loyalties you've mentioned are a powerful force in this country, and could become much more so as we proceed.

Auchris, here's hoping.

Jim, West Virginia will accept a union with Virginia when pigs sprout wings and fly to the Moon. That said, of course the borders might end up falling somewhere else -- the line I drew was just one of many options.

Reaper, I gather you didn't read the amendment closely. The nukes on US territory become the property of the state in which they're located; the nukes not on US territory are divvied up by agreement among the states. As for the evaporation of the US debt, remember that there's been panic selling of dollar-denominated paper going on for most of a year before dissolution; a lot of people lost a lot of money, but by the time it all became formally worthless, you could buy a $10K T-bill for a couple of dollars. Yes, it was a blow to the global economy, somewhat cushioned by an eager market for Chinese treasury bonds...

KMO, we'll see about the novel. I'd have to have a contract in hand to be able to afford to spend the time.

John, I've discussed Star's Reach with the same publisher who will be bringing out the anthology of peak oil SF in the next month or so; I expect it to see print fairly quickly once it's done, which will be in another year or so.

11/1/12, 9:23 AM

Andi said...
John, thankyou - I have enjoyed reading the story from the other side of the Atlantic and I think it was a very good way of putting together your ideas and getting them across succinctly.

11/1/12, 9:25 AM

Don Plummer said...
While reading your fictional scenario about the breakup of the "good ole USA," I've been wondering what might happen after next week's election should Barack Obama win the electoral college vote but lose the popular vote to Mitt Romney--a distinct possibility if I read the polls aright. To be sure, this has happened before (the last time, after all, was only eight years ago), but I think the stakes are much higher this time around because of our heightened political divisions and especially because of what can only be called the raw hatred that a significant segment of our population holds against the incumbent president. If an electoral-only win for Obama is recorded, we're sure to hear much more than the oft-repeated calls to eliminate the electoral college; we just might see the onset of the breakup you are envisioning here, beginning as early as next week.

11/1/12, 9:34 AM

Robert Mathiesen said...
Evan wrote:

"I imagine . . . New England would face many woes in any kind of economy under this scenario simply because I can't think of much of anything produced in that region for export. They have . . . few natural resources and little infrastructure to support the creation of new industries."

What New England is still rich in is high-energy water power. This, taken together with its many fine harbors, gave New England a great economic advantage two centuries ago. This was when industries operated on a much smaller scale than now, before the USA succeeded in unlocking the cheaper energy concealed in petroleum. It may not be so much a question of creating new industries as of reviving old ones.

New England also has a number of stubborn small farmers who still have the skills needed to run a farm without the use of internal combustion engines. We also have a certain number of well-established old institutions that are dedicated to keeping the knowledge of these same skills alive.

We also have similar institutions dedicated to the skills needed to build and operate wooden sailing ships. As I already mentioned, we have a many excellent harbors. In the days before railroads we also built and maintained canals. (The canal-building skills are, I think, lost now, but stretches of the disused canals remain in place, and the necessary skills can be recovered by reverse-engineering what remains.)

Instead of computers and high-tech savvy, it would be a revival of all this older low-tech savvy that would have to be the basis of New England's future.

Yes, New England wouldn't be able to grow enough food for anywhere near its present population after the hypothetical breakup. A lot of us, including most of our "best and brightest" and our highly educated, would almost certainly starve to death in fairly short order. But old-fashioned Yankees have always fancied themselves to be a tough breed, formed and taught by a rocky land with poor soil, and up to any hard challenge for survival. I dare say enough of us would survive to keep the new state going.

And the very harshness of the land *might* make us less attractive to invaders from outside . . . If so, that would be a real plus.

11/1/12, 9:40 AM

Robert Mathiesen said...
JMG, I heartily second your views that California is a failed state and that most of the American Southwest will be speaking Spanish as its first language within a century (if not sooner).

BTW, did you know that the treaty by which Mexico ceded the territory that is now New Mexico to the USA stipulated that New Mexico would be officially bilingual in Spanish and English? It's one of those legally founded exceptions to the common opinion that the current USA is all a single English-speaking country with a single system of laws. Another such exception is Louisiana, where English Common Law is not in force (with its provision of innocent until proven guilty), but rather the Code Napoleon.

I say this as a fifth-generation Californian who emigrated to New England (Rhode Island) 45 years ago.

11/1/12, 9:56 AM

JohnGoes said...
Reading your blog is on my weekly must-do list. Awesome and realistic description of a scenario for the demise of U.S.A.

My first thoughts on reading the conclusion is what I'd tweak for a new constitution. Stronger freedom of speech (prosecuting/persecuting reporters & bloggers somehow quashed). A more refined 2nd amendment - hunting arms good, militia style arms avaiable through your militia armory and supervised. And finally, a person is a person, a corporation is NOT a person.

One thing I could envision is a mass migration of people from region to region as they find themselves in regions whose political/social vibe don't match their personal beliefs. I for one would desire to find a more moderate home than I currently reside.

Speaking of which, the business aspects of this story would help flesh this out in book form as well. Would TBTF banksters crash and burn? How about those JIT supply chains. A whole lot of people would be out on the street and trying to find ways to survive if business collapses as I would expect under the scenario you describe. In a way, this could be the new beginning of the "localization movement".

So under your scenario, Fort Knox is sitting pretty, and NYC is sitting pretty with all those gold piles. I'd bet after the collapse of the dollar that some form of gold/silver standard would re-appear.

11/1/12, 9:56 AM

Mike 'Pops' Black said...
Thanks for the story.

My only comment is that I think peaceful Balkanization in the US is impossible. This is simply because political lines are drawn at the rural vs urban boundary and not state or regional lines.

11/1/12, 9:58 AM

Jim R said...
Continuing my previous thought, I mean that I have an image of a lot of James-Bond-license-to-kill types wandering around. Obviously the office workers will simply be huddling in their unheated homes or on the streets with everybody else.

They could be a sort of post industrial Samurai, submitting their resume's to the House of Cascadia, or Kentucky, or to the Zetas..

And, too, it's a matter of timing: does one thing run out of steam before some other thing. Budget cutbacks could set them free before the dissolution.

11/1/12, 10:10 AM

RPC said...
P. T. Bridgeport as President! Walt Kelly must be laughing himself silly somewhere! More seriously, I found the address from the Emperor of Japan hauntingly effective. Congratulations!

11/1/12, 10:16 AM

jollyreaper said...
I did read the amendment but there's property and there's nuclear weapons.

I can see transferring Armed Forces property to the National Guard forces in each state. Federal lands transferred to state ownership? No problem. Weather satellites? NOAA? Coast Guard? I can see that becoming a continental "international" sort of program, like INTERPOL or the ESA. The nations of North America pay for it because they all benefit.

As for the nukes, facilities are scattered throughout the nation and there's a lot of high-level maintenance required. Some figures I've read say the tritium needs replaced every few years with the plutonium cores requiring a full remanufacturing every decade or two. Russia did not give up her nukes after the USSR ended. Russia proper is a huge country even without the satellite states. Maybe none of the successor states would have the means of keeping them maintained?

Aircraft carriers probably aren't seen to have much value given the scenario that played out so I doubt any of the coastal states would want one even if they were free. Attack submarines would remain incredibly useful but there's no way to divine something like that equitably, let alone the question of whether any coastal state would have the financial wherewithal to pay for them. Some things may be considered axiomatic and agreed upon without debate right up until the solid ground everything was built upon turns to quicksand. "Of course Great Britain will have a navy twice as large as the rest of the world! We have a global empire to run and this goes without saying, pip pip!" Genteel poor living in the ruins of great mansions on the hill still imagining themselves the betters of their social inferiors in town who are actually solvent. So of course nobody would willingly give up their nukes, maybe they'll just quietly go bad in their silos? "Jeeves, what's the status of our strategic deterrent? Non-functional, you say? Double the guards, we must make it look like we have something worth protecting. Keeping up appearances."

I know that the whole scenario is taking place a few years in the future, not Next Sunday AD, but I do have to wonder what a sudden collapse of the American presence in the world would mean elsewhere. Politics abhors a power vacuum. I wonder how cozy Russia and China will remain when their interests come into conflict.

11/1/12, 10:27 AM

Jim Brewster said...
I do concede your point on the likelihood of Virginia reunification! Interestingly, Maryland (along with D.C.) and Kentucky also were at different times designated parts of Virginia, though the contexts of each territory's departure couldn't be different. I do perceive yet another breakup under your scenario.

11/1/12, 10:30 AM

Robert said...
The global effects of the US implosion are not part of the story but I suspect Israel would find they could no longer maintain the status quo with the Palestinians without Uncle Sam's support and I also reckon that once NATO was gone Russia would have something to say to Estonia and Latvia about how they are treating their Russian minorities.

There's no reason to believe that the Chinese Empire would be any less ruthless than Washington once it became the global boss but the Chinese model of capitalism is very different from that of the Anglosphere and in some ways it might prove superior. The government controls the banks rather than vice versa and the Chinese model is more geared to long term strategic planning and less short termist than that of the Anglo world. Once the US was defeated the prestige of so called free market economics would decline fast and many states would be ready to learn from the Chinese.

11/1/12, 10:39 AM

Seaweed Shark said...
Dear JMG, I held off commenting on this until it finished; I hope you won't mind a few remarks which are offered in a spirit of respect and appreciation. This kind of prophetic fiction is very difficult to do well, and I think you do it well (It reminded me of the 1987 TV miniseries "Amerika" which attempted the same ur-narrative of national breakdown and renewal, in light of the political currents of its time).

As a story, these 5 parts lack a strong central character. I think these parts would do very well as chapters, alternating with other chapters recounting the lives and choices of one or more people experiencing these changes from the ground. At least one of these people might be an incipient green wizard. I think if it were brought together right, it would be very marketable.

I think the story overstates China's current or future global power, but China is a perennial target of emotional engagement for Americans, so this doesn't hurt marketability at all. We all know that the purpose of such fiction is not to accurately predict the future, but to remark on the present.

Beyond what I've said above, I'd like to offer two more suggestions. First, I think the story should do more to depict the thoughts and motivations of the two Presidents, perhaps reflected in dialogue, meditations, quoted writings or interactions with their wives. Both of them seem a bit cardboard to me, and the "coup" is not described enough to seem real. Second, the dissolution of the Union seems too easy and glib. This may reflect your actual view of the case, but I think the story could well handle at least a few discourses, quoted writings or conversations forming a sort of "new anti-Federalist." The statement that in 1861 one part of the country wanted out but the rest wanted it in, seems like an attempt to put away a complex argument with a simple, dubious assertion. The US was, if anything, more diverse in 1861 than today and many in the North, including several of Lincoln's generals, were not at all sure they wanted the South in. That's the sort of thing that needs unpacking.

Many thanks for your most entertaining and thought-provoking efforts.

11/1/12, 10:49 AM

blue sun said...
Sorry to be off-topic. Living as I do within the metropolitan area of New York City, this is now our second climate-change-related storm (if you count Hurricane Irene).

I encountered a strange new creature who is filling a newly-opened ecological niche. Walking around my town the day after, I came across an unfamiliar sound, that although new to me, has proliferated quite quickly, and I'm sure will become a familiar sound in the years to come. Every block or so, one of the houses would have a generator. I felt like I was walking around some new and strange post-peak world of haves and have-nots. The generators were like gigantic white-noise machines scattered across the landscape, identifying those who were attempting to sooth themselves, perhaps by blocking out the sounds of passing sirens and the rest of the world.

I can't say I'm fond of them: they're very loud and can be heard for quite some distance. They sound to me like a garbage truck revving its engine--continously. Until now, I had only read of generators on peak oil blogs and "prepper" websites and I didn't realize they'd be so dang loud. They are taking away one of the silver linings of this hurricane for me: quiet, and at night on my street at least, darkness.

My other observation is that their owners don't seem to be much concerned with conserving what energy they produce. Glancing inside one generator-owner's house, I could see the lights on in an empty room. During the height of the storm, the generator at the business across the street kicked in, whose sole purpose it seemed (being as it was the middle of the night) was to shine a security light through my bedroom window. This has continued each night since, and frankly, it seems wasteful to me to run a generator just to turn on the TV or illuminate an empty parking lot. Can't we just enjoy our few dark quiet nights while the power's out?

p.s. A friend and I drove around an hour ago looking for gas. Visited six stations and got nothing. I didn't realize you needed electricity to pump gas. Not a fail-safe method.

11/1/12, 10:55 AM

Nano said...
One cycle ends and another cycle begins, only they are called cycles to those in the deep future.

I really liked the way you finsihed the series. Thanks for sharing!

It does make me think of the native american alliances I recall reading about in History. The same one's that helped give the original founders their core ideas for a union. Go figure...

11/1/12, 11:05 AM

Farka said...
So the initial unionist backlash was an ignominious failure that actually further discredited its own cause - convenient, but conceivable. Buyer's remorse still seems a likely outcome, though. The post-Great Power years are going to be hard with or without a breakup, and folks who grew up expecting a, well, American standard of living will be looking for scapegoats. You seem to have done your best to finish the story on an optimistic, "let's get to work" note, and that's certainly the reaction one would hope for; but is that really the reaction you expect? I'd think there would at least be some kind of Unionist irredentist movement, proclaiming that we were stabbed in the back by traitors and foreign agents, and our only hope is to overthrow the new governments and reconquer each other - uh, I mean reunite the country.

11/1/12, 11:21 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Jim, if Alex Jones rants about it, it's probably not worth worrying about. I also included a couple of the letter agencies -- note the presence of the DCI and the DNS at that final meeting.

Ricardo, granted, there's a lot of mess to clean up. I'll leave that to President Bridgeport and his equivalents!

Stu, that's what I figured -- and NJ has a lot of ties to the other mid-Atlantic states, so a new nation would be plausible.

Richard, my motivation was to get past the Tom Clancy "America is invulnerable" fantasies and the equal and opposite apocalyptic fantasies, and offer a narrative that has the US coming apart the way real nations do in the real world. Once that's done, thoughtful conversation about the future of this country might just become possible.

Malcolm, only if the people of the Republic of Vermont are up for a future of grinding poverty. Vermont by itself, or with some chunk of western Massachusetts attached, doesn't have the economic basis for independence. New England as a whole might.

Andi, thank you!

Don, one of the reasons I suggest breakup as a real possibility is the extent to which every close election yields a bumper crop of talk about it. As that continues, the idea may well move in from the fringes toward the center.

Robert, I didn't know that. As for California, I mean "failed state" here along the lines of Somalia...

John, I'd assume a lot of migration as well, in all directions -- a lot of conservative people scattered across the blue states would very likely up and move to the Confederacy, for example.

Mike, the rural/urban divide is a constant in all societies with cities, and the rural population inevitably ends up with the short end of the stick. In my experience, living in various parts of the country, the differences between regions are more deeply rooted, and will have more potent political effects.

11/1/12, 12:00 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Jim, all the successor republics would likely have as many soldiers and spooks as they thought they needed. What that would mean for the future of North America is another question.

RPC, excellent! You get today's gold star for getting the joke.

Reaper, good. We'll be talking about the long term future of nukes in an upcoming post.

Jim, I can foresee a lot of breakups of one kind or another.

Robert, the global effects could be a book in themselves. NATO? A lot depends on whether the nations of Europe step up to the plate and pay for their own defense for a change. Israel? One way or another, it's toast once the US goes down; I may have to address that in a future post, though I know it's going to get screaming trolls from all sides of the issue.

Shark, this is a narrative scenario, not a novel. If I were writing it as a novel, I'd have two sets of central characters, one at the top level of DC politics -- Pete Bridgeport and his good friend Weed's secretary of defense would be good choices -- and the other on the ground level -- a working class family in Pittsburgh, say, with a son in the Army who ends up in Kenya. I'd weave back and forth between those two groups, showing the entire process from the top and bottom ends, and probably find some way to weave them together toward the end. But that's a novel which, as already mentioned, is not something I'm planning to write.

Blue Sun, my understanding is that those are common all over the Third World. I've mentioned more than once that the US is becoming a Third World country; here's another data point for that transition...

Nano, thank you!

Farka, oh, granted -- but that belongs to the future, and isn't something I plan on chronicling.

11/1/12, 12:09 PM

Alphonse Houner said...
Thank for a great story with a thought provoking conclusion.

It is fun to speculate over the eventual outcome of all these little countries and your Star’s Reach effort does an excellent job at that. My sense is this being only the first of further dissolution as the various surviving entities would lack the cohesion to enforce any sort of long term control. I believe circumstance is driving the complete dissolution, or entropy as is now popular, thus the immediate need to strengthen the bonds and renew local communities. The awareness that the political and economic cores at both the State and national levels don’t have the ability to manage ongoing events seems to be the subtext of conversation within our local community. This is a loss of credibility which is a large step in the direction of eventual long range dissolution and re-localization of our society.

What’s next for your blog?

11/1/12, 12:23 PM

jollyreaper said...
But that's a novel which, as already mentioned, is not something I'm planning to write.

You've been very clear about this. I believe your thinking is this scenario will be collected in a future book. But could it also be a kind of backdoor pilot, running it up the flagpole to see if people salute it or shoot it? I think it was week 1 or 2 you said had gotten more views than anything you've done all year.

Writing a book is a pretty big gamble of time but if it's something people will be receptive to... It's always hard to guess what will catch the reading public's attention.

11/1/12, 12:23 PM

Robert Mathiesen said...
JMG wrote:

"As for California, I mean "failed state" here along the lines of Somalia."

Oh, now I see what you meant. Yes, that too, somewhat later.

11/1/12, 12:32 PM

Lugnut said...
Lurker for awhile, first time poster. Excellent series, and well thought out.

That said, I think the larger issue ignored within this excercise (in what would be a messy post-script) is the fact that while these 'sub-nations' can work out over time viable economies of their own, what they can not do is adequately do is support any type of viable lifestyle for the current population size.

Contraction would necessitate a Darwinistic minimalization of huge swaths of the population without viable skillsets or adaptability (or means or access to power).

That would be messy, and likely create large scale civil unrest by economimcally displaced.

Nature has provided many instances of when large animal populations are suddenly deprived of their habitats or food supplies, by some type of unexpected disloaction. Scavengers eat and bodies litter the landscape. I expect no different in this scenario. The disolution may be peaceful, but the contest for limited resources never is.

11/1/12, 12:48 PM

Robert said...
Agree about European defence. The political will to pay for a common Euro defence would require an external threat sufficient to unite the Euro countries. I don't see Russia as a serious threat to the interests of Britain and France who would form the core of any European military. Estonia and Latvia would just have to clean up their act. Poland might be hostile to Moscow but as long as Russia maintained a decent working relationship with Germany Warsaw would be marginalised.

Israel yes raising the subject tends to generate a lot of heat. I'd be interested to hear your take. For what it's worth I'm sympathetic to Israel before 1967. I don't condone everything they did in 1948 but I don't believe the Jews behaved any worse than any other group would have done in their situation. After 1967 however Israel has gone further and further off the rails. The situation in the West Bank is one of apartheid and it is futile for Friends of Israel to deny it. The perpetrators of Operation Cast Lead are war criminals.

I also belive that the Israel Lobby in the US is in reality no friend of Israel's true interests at all. By protecting Israel from any effective Western pressure to make a meaningful peace deal with the Palestinians they will succeed in destroying any possibility of a two state solution until the balance of power eventually swings decisively against Israel as it eventually will. When that happens the Palestinians will no longer be interested in a two state solution, they will demand all their country back.

11/1/12, 12:50 PM

Malcolm Smith said...
"Malcolm, only if the people of the Republic of Vermont are up for a future of grinding poverty. Vermont by itself, or with some chunk of western Massachusetts attached, doesn't have the economic basis for independence. New England as a whole might."

Nothing will have changed then -- Vt. is already poor, the number of wealthy out of staters skews the demographic. It's main industry is and will remain tourism.

11/1/12, 12:59 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
blue sun -- please don't fall in to the trap of blaming individual weather events on global warming. These claims are scientifically unsupportable and easily debunked, and hence they only serve to undermine the credibility of those who are trying to work towards action on climate change (and all other environmentalists by extension). There have always been hurricanes and other severe storms striking the northeast, the gulf coast, etc. Not a one of these can be definitively or even statistically attributed to any single cause. Weather is not climate, and Sandy was weather.

11/1/12, 1:29 PM

Rashakor said...
An interesting twist to this story and to any analysis of the future of the USA is that China, or should we say PRC, presents nowadays most of the same or similar energy, infrastructure, weaknesses than any empire in overshoot (in some case, even worst than the USA's).
I believe the story of imperial defeat of the FUSA will definitely be more convoluted and muddled than anything we can envision.
PRC is today a glaring example itself of imperial overreach. The consequences of which will be felt probably at the same time than the slipping on the USA. In the Druid's scenario I would not be surprised a bit of a pyrrhic victory for PRC. Pumped up by its victory over the former hegemon, they would embarq on wanton expansionist wars, precipitating its own collapse if it encounters defeat in its way.
The 21st century will neither be the USA's nor PRC's.

11/1/12, 2:21 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Don -- I don't think the raw hatred many Republicans feel for Obama is any more intense than the raw hatred many Democrats felt towards George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon, and expressed in language every bit as vitriolic as is used against Obama. This is nothing new in American politics. It remains to be seen how much the deep political divides really permeate American culture or if they are just exaggerated by the party primary system pushing out the middle and the 24-hour fake "news" media shouting for ratings.

11/1/12, 2:43 PM

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
How wonderful, JMG! I will herewith post some comments as a writeup, in two parts, from the nonexistent Abbey of Saint Fictivia. - The video to which I refer below can be found at, and Vasili Arkhipov (briefly referred to not only here but also in my comments on JMG's "Part Three" posting) can be examined by giving Google the search string

vasili arkhipov wikipedia

A joyous peal of bells summoned the brothers from field, from coppice grove, from forge and kiln, from lab bench. They indeed summed even me, qua Novice-wannabe.

So the Union was dissolved!

As our Abbot seated himself comfortably on the chapel floor, in the centre of our little circle of wooden chairs, I reflected uneasily on the Ultimate in Scary Rabbis explaining this thing and that in Roman-occupied Palestine, to his audience of self-confident Pharisees and scribes, and I braced myself.

It was not, in the end, too bad.

Our Abbot started by reading the opening words from "Gaudium et Spes", which I translate thus: "The joy and hope, the grief and anguish, of the people of this time, particularly of the poor and of those in any way afflicted, are also the joy and hope, the grief and anguish, of Christ's disciples, and indeed nothing human is to be found which does not resonate in their heart."

He then remarked that even as the Abbey had to be a light to world (labouring, he admitted, under painful shortages in both expertise and materials) in liturgy, in the permaculture of coppice and coldframe, in a couple of branches of science, so too it had to labour in politics. This could not normally be work in our state-or-province legislature, or even in that key forum (key because, the Abbot reminded us, all politics is local) the Town Council. But we did have a political duty of witness.

In what (he asked) might our Abbey's labour of witness now consist?

We had, he said, a duty of joy, for in a time of public anxiety a burden had been lifted.

We knew Uncle Sam well, he said.

Many of us in the Abbey had learned, he said, from writers such as Chris Hedges and Morris Berman how Uncle Sam had been promoting a hustler individualism from the very earliest years of the now-defunct Union.


11/1/12, 3:05 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Alphonse, we still have some details about the decline and fall of the American empire to discuss. After that, well, I'm still mulling over a couple of options.

Reaper, the response to this sequence of posts has been stunning; the first episode is already the most read post in this blog's history, and the others are rising rapidly to join it. I'm not at all sure what to make of it. I didn't intend it as a pilot for anything, just as a narrative exploration of the themes I've been discussing; we'll see where it goes from here.

Robert M, oh, granted, it's already the first kind.

Lugnut, like so many people, you're stuck on fast-collapse imagery. Population can contract in many ways, most of which don't require bodies littering the landscape. One way or another, of course, the human population of this planet is going to decline to roughly preindustrial levels, but "one way or another" includes a great many options, especially when the decline is stretched out over a century or two, as I expect it to be.

Robert, a huge amount depends on just what Russia's long term intentions are. If they simply want to control their near abroad and provide for their own security, Europe could be a fairly peaceful place, until the Middle East overflows and you start getting mass migration. As for Israel, we'll leave that for a future post.

Malcolm, I don't think you really read my suggestion. Vermont is poor by American standards today; in the event of independence, it would very quickly become poor by African standards. Are you prepared for that?

Rashakor, possibly. I think it's rather more likely that China will dominate the first half of the 21st century and then plow into serious trouble later on, as rival powers emerge.

11/1/12, 3:05 PM

John Michael Greer said...
DeAnander (offlist), er, if you want to trim the profanity off your post and resubmit, I'll happily put it through.

11/1/12, 3:06 PM

dltrammel said...
Great series of posts JMG, and as I see from the comments one that has the writers in your audience thinking about the universe you just created.

I wonder if there is enough interest for another story contest, along the lines of the first, only this one being titled perhaps "Post Peak - When Empires Fall".

I can already envision a few short stories filling out the lives and adventures of people in this scenario. I'm sure others can as well.

If people are interested enough, I'll post some general guidelines in the Story Circle of the Green Wizard's site.

11/1/12, 3:20 PM

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
Uncle Sam, he said, had not abstained from using even our Church in malign self-promotion. (Here I recalled Catholic Worker Robert Waldrop's analysis of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Conference, Waldrop found, had kept a rather systematic silence in 2003, when Uncle Sam trashed Iraq.)

We had learned from military deserters, the Abbot continued (here I recalled my own chats around the dinner table at Catholic Worker in Toronto) how Sam had preyed on America's poorest, dangling the carrot of a possible college education as an inducement to enlist in his glittering Army.

And we had lately seen Uncle Sam, our Abbot reminded us, dissected on YouTube by ClassicWarFilms, under a title copied from Thoreau's injunction "Let your life be a friction to stop the machine."

With Uncle Sam's burden, he said, gone, there would for at least a while be a chance for ordinary people to take their local political affairs into their own humble hands.

Moreover, our Abbot noted (this was really his last point): we had a duty not to preach, not to hector, but to quietly note our own position on God and history, if and when we were queried.

God, he said, is engaged in history, working through the concrete agencies of individuals, through the Arkhipovs and Weeds and Bridgeports, with their consent or even without it.

I left this homily feeling not too bad.

The day was ending, grey clouds now parting to reveal a yellow glow from the final hour of sunlight, above grey stone Abbey walls.

I thought: yes, here we sail, these our walls a hull on deep waters, Uncle Sam's twenty-odd decades one short phase in something bigger.

Then the Abbey bells rang again, signalling that evening was at hand, and I hastened with the monks to evening duties.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo
near Toronto, Canada
www dot metascientia dot com
Toomas dot Karmo at gmail dot com

11/1/12, 3:21 PM

Red Neck Girl said...
You left out (I'm sure by necessity), what nation the Pacific North West would form but I suppose Cascadia would cease being a joke. I wonder how the rest of Canada would feel about that? I know what Cascadian cities would look like down the road. Public buildings would have massive foundations designed to lock together like Incan ruins do and the buildings would look vaguely Japanese, built in sections with a massive central support post in the center of each section from which would hang the roof to withstand the earthquakes common to the country. Taxes might be paid in much the same way of the Incans by so many days of labor on public works by able bodied adults if not paid for by goods, commodities and livestock. Country houses would be rammed earth and timber designed to last generations. Of course that would be after the last combustion motor coughs its last.

Or, I'm as wrong as it gets!

Loved the narrative, too bad its too big of a gamble for you to spend your time on.


11/1/12, 4:17 PM

artinnature said...
Well that was a fun and thought provoking detour JMG, thank you. I actually find all of your fiction to be fairly (very?) hopeful after letting the details sink in for a bit. Of all the thousands of possible future scenarios that can be imagined, I find yours to be quite palatable.

Am I the only one that sees this story nicely dovetailing as a distant prequel to Stars Reach? I think we just witnessed the birth of Meriga!

Interesting how you left the fate of the PNW out of your narrative, unless I missed it. As someone who moved here with my wife from the upper midwest right around the time you and Sara moved from the PNW to the rust belt, I'm more tuned in to your thoughts & comments regarding the relative merits, here vs there. I have read Cascadia's Fault, and recall your comments on the global trade based economy here, valid points.

I just received an email from my library: American nations : a history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America is ready for me!

Cheers from Cascadia

11/1/12, 4:19 PM

Renaissance Man said...
A most statisfying end.

Although I don't think that I'd describe North Carolina being first to adopt dissolution as particularly ironic. I think irony would be if one of the states that supported the Union so vigorously in 1861 had been first.

(I know I'm painting in really broad strokes here) Given the variety of ways empires end, some in internal flames, some eaten away in chunks by invaders like Rome, and others simply breaking up into progressively smaller pieces like the Ottomans, and some just... dissolving from internal stresses like the Mongols or the FSU, I believe that more-or-less peaceful dissolution is more common than not, unless there are geographical neighbours pressing in. I note the FSU didn't break into civil war, although it was a violent place for some time, that was less political and more criminal. Since the U.S. isn't likely to be invaded by either Canada or Mexico or anyone else, a relatively amicable internal dissolution is most likely.

I loved Cayce & his predictions. I used to read all sorts of articles about him and books that referenced his predictions, for example, claiming that basalt blocks on the seafloor near the Bahamas were really a sunken road to Atlantis, which 'proved' his predictions. Of course, I've never been able to "see" a road in those blocks and Cayce is better taken as a novel than as reality, in the same way as Star Trek is not the space program...

11/1/12, 4:19 PM

Edward said...
on 11-1-12 9:23 AM JMG wrote: "...history as usual."

That's a keeper!

As you said, this is one possible outcome. If there is one thing to take away from this, it is that the neither the business as usual or the apocalyptic scenarios are likely to play out. It's sinking in.

11/1/12, 5:24 PM

Thomas Eicher said...
The secession/dissolution idea is making its way into the mainstream in a way I've seen in 50 years of following politics. In the most dystopian scenario in Stephen King's latest novel has Maine becoming a Canadian province and most of the US collapsing into regional conflicts.

Thinking about this raises an interesting question: how destabilizing would a breakup of the US be on Canada and Mexico. Both countries have significant regional tensions. Quebec secession, the plains provinces vs. the east in Canada. In Mexico, there are simmering rebellions going on in Chiapas and Oaxaca and much of the border north is descending into the chaos of a failed state. The north has never been comfortable with rule from Mexico City.

11/1/12, 5:59 PM

Chris Balow said...
This week's post, in which Kentucky (where I live) decides to stay in the Union, is a good illustration of a point you've often made: that rural populations usually end up doing what urban populations want them to. Outside of Louisville, Lexington, and the Cincinnati suburbs, this state is thoroughly and irrevocably Southern; but the influence of the urban centers could certainly override that.

11/1/12, 6:14 PM

Ozark Chinquapin said...
Thanks for the series, JMG, it definitely is thought provoking. I've always thought the US would break up sooner or later, although I had never considered it happening through a constitutional convention before. Its a pretty soft landing compared to the scenarios I've tended to think about.

Even if the US as a whole breaks up peacefully, I wonder what wars the new nations will end up fighting, civil wars as well as wars against each other, especailly with the ongoing climate changes shifting which areas are habitable.

The Republic of Florida of your scenario, for instance, would face a nasty future. I would imagine that many forward-thinking people would have fled the state before the break-up was complete, and those who stuck around would face a future in which their country steadily shrinks from rising sea level, and either becomes a failed state overflowing with refugees, or else starts a war as a desperate move to claim territory that's above the rising waters.

The southeastern coastal states have the most land to lose when the sea rises, and I imagine that at some point in the next few decades, the time will come when few will be able to deny it anymore even in the most conservative areas. If the US manages to hold together until that time, we could even see a situation where all the coastal states from Louisiana over to Florida and up to Delaware oppose dissolution of the union because the predicament of losing so much to the rising seas overwhelms the grievances they have with the north, with the northern states and the inland south all wanting dissolution so they can close their borders to the refugees that they can't deal with because they've got their hands full with their own issues. In this circumstance, Michigan would probably be one of the ones pushing for secession (and proabably joining together with other nearby states with similar predicaments) for the purpose of being able to close their borders to immigrants, as Michigan and surrounding states will likely be a major destination for climate refugees.

Texas could be a viable nation as things stand now, but I see climate change putting them in a very hard position too.

Continued in next post

11/1/12, 6:46 PM

Ozark Chinquapin said...
As for the west, I really can't see any of the states out there doing very well for themselves other than Oregon and Washington. The American settlement of the inland west has never been sustainable, and always been heavily subsidized by the federal government. I can't see any state or coalition of states in that region avoiding a nasty collapse in this scenario. I can't see California doing that great either. With climate change drying up the snowpacks, huge internal cultural differences, and agriculture that's dependent on large scale water diversion projects, I could see civil war breaking out in an independent California easily. If water gets scarce, northern California would see that it would still have plenty of water if they didn't have to share it with the southerners. The state as a whole would likely not vote for a peaceful breakup, as the majority of the population in the south would realize that without the water from the north, they become poor by African standards. If neighboring states/countries were dragged in, it could blow up into a major war.

New England might be able to do well for itself for a while, but at some point along the peak oil curve they're bound to face a crisis due to the large population size for its land area and poor soils, as well as losing some land to the rising ocean, although not as much as the southeast will.

The state where I live, Missouri, would have plenty of issues of its own in such a scenario, and I imagine we wouldn't go it alone but would end up joining up with some other states, although which others they would be could go a number of ways. We do have several things going for us, such as we're not overpopulated, not coastal, and have a reasonable climate. I am worried about climate change and our summers, but even with the extreme drought this summer, it's been wetter than a normal year in, say, central Kansas.

Canada, with its small population and large land area is going to be attractive to many refugees in a hotter climate. With Canada becoming a Chinese client state, I wonder if the Canadians will have to deal with a large influx of some of China's excess population, but also receive Chinese military aid to keep its southern border secure from immigrants from the former USA.

11/1/12, 6:47 PM

Robert Mathiesen said...
I'd like to echo what Bill Pulliam said to bluesun, that neither Irene nor Sandy is, *by itself*, evidence for climate change. Of course the climate is changing. However, there have been comparable storms ravaging parts of the East Coast since colonial times. Take a look at the wikipedia entry on the "Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635" and read about the devastation it wreaked on New England.

As a curious aside (after you have read the Wikipedia article), just to show how much the past is always present in New England, even after nearly 400 years: for a while I chanced to be next-door neighbors with a man named Thacher. We got to talking about our ancestors one day (as New Englanders are prone to do), and it turned out that he was descended from Anthony Thacher and his wife, who were the only survivors of a ship wrecked by the hurricane of 1635, while I am descended from the man who had owned that very same ship, one Isaac Allerton. It is a very small world indeed here in New England!

11/1/12, 8:35 PM

John Michael Greer said...
David, well, I can't promise that I'll have the time to put together an anthology, but if people want to write stories along that theme, that would be cool.

Toomas, thanks for your latest!

Girl, I have to pay my bills, and fiction's been a consistent money loser for me.

Artinnature, I left out a lot of territory, largely because I didn't want this series to balloon any further than it already has.

Renaissance, thank you. That was my thought as well.

Edward, excellent. Thank you for getting the point of the exercise!

Thomas, good question. I don't know that it'll have much effect on Canada, other than handing control of that country from the US to China, but Mexico's another matter; I've been considering a post about the US-Mexico relationship, anyway.

Ozark, oh, I figure that Florida will very quickly end up ruled either by organized crime or by some tinpot dictator, and flounder through one crisis after another until rising seas render the whole question moot. Beyond that, well, you have as much right to speculate as I do!

11/1/12, 10:18 PM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

I agree with those who say that California would not hold together. As others have said, several sections would break off and meld, voluntarily or otherwise, with bordering states. However, California is the size of France and could sustain some subdividing without entirely disappearing as a cultural entity.

In the near term, the greater San Francisco Bay Area would be economically viable as a small country. The lands from Santa Cruz County in the south to Lake County in the north, west to the Pacific Ocean and east to the Sacramento delta contain pasture land and farmland suitable for a variety of crops. It has one of the world's great harbors, fresh water, fisheries, forests and inland waterways. Until the fuel runs out it has refineries, pharmaceutical and electronics companies, top universities, food processing plants and a little light industry. Most of its counties and cities are fairly well governed and have some social solidarity.

What the Bay Area does not have is an army and navy to defend all this wealth from raiders. It would need to make military alliances quickly.

11/2/12, 1:31 AM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

Historically, the independence of any Israelite or Jewish state has always been precarious. Geography is the reason.

Autonomy depends on making the right alliances and there being no hegemonic power in the region. Sooner or later, the ally gets too weak or too strong, and Israel becomes someone's imperial province.

Israel used to have an alliance with Turkey. It is cultivating several of the FSU Stans. There's potential for an alliance with Tunisia. Absent American protection, Israel cannot survive simply by keeping its enemies weak and divided; it has to have friends nearby.

11/2/12, 2:00 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi John,

Glad to hear that you and Sara were unscathed during the recent storm. Is your mulberry tree recovering from its recent fall into the driveway? Cold, wet weather usually isn't good for pruning, although some fruit trees cope quite well with a winter prune. It is hard to tell.

The wallaby here stripped most of the Spring growth off my golden ash tree and has started work on a nearby snow apple. Still, there is plenty of fruit ripening and the apricots are now overtaking the almonds in terms of which will ripen first which is interesting.

Every ending is a new beginning and the formation of a simpler system may well be a step along the catabolic collapse staircase? Forming a simpler existence with less external inputs has certainly made life easier (and harder in some respects) for me.

Speaking of external inputs, I was at the train station yesterday waiting for the train (which was half an hour late) and had this strange thought about the news which I wanted to run past you. I don't watch the news (or virtually any television) and only read the paper about once a week, but I sort of saw the provision of news to society as a ritual of sorts. We as a society kind of look at the news as an end in itself (it is like a ritual, well, sort of). Also the documentation and presentation of that news by the people providing it is also seen as an end point (the important bit for them), when to my mind it sort of seems like a beginning and it is the analysis and what you do with the information that is the important bit that often seems left out. Too often, I think we as a society sort of go, tick, done that and then get on with whatever grabs our attention next. Dunno, I still haven't quite worked it out in my head, but we sort of lack a narrative which could provide us with societal cohesion? Perhaps hard times can provide this cohesion? This has been the case after natural disasters here.



11/2/12, 4:37 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi bluesun,

Yeah generators are a nuisance. I have one here that is used about 50 hours per year and am hoping to phase it out of the system before next winter.

As you rightly point out they are noisy. What you may not know is that they are really inefficient for producing electricity and can use upwards of 1 litre of fuel per hour just doing nothing. Without a large battery bank, it is impossible to use all (or nearly all) of the electricity generated which is why they are running lights for no reason - because they can.

Still, my experience here is that they quickly use up all of their stored fuel at which point the generator is useless. This is what happened here after the Black Saturday bushfires in February 2009 and people were more or less demanding fuel be brought into these areas - which were locked down for very good reasons (no going in or out).

They are also amazingly unreliable and will break down when least expected!

You may get your quiet back before too long and I'd be interested if you could let us all know how it goes.

PS: There is no (or very little) light pollution here at night and on clear nights the sky puts on a huge show. It is well worth taking the time to look upwards and marvel.



11/2/12, 4:47 AM

Malcolm Smith said...
"Malcolm, I don't think you really read my suggestion. Vermont is poor by American standards today; in the event of independence, it would very quickly become poor by African standards. Are you prepared for that?"

That would happen only if all a sudden people did not want to go skiing anymore and wealthy New Yorkers decided to abandon their vacation properties there.

I was mostly pointing out that there is already an independence movement in VT, of which I am sure you aware, and here in Western MA., most folks feel that Boston does not pay us much heed.

Anyway, I think that the scenario you outline suggests that people are driven by political irrationality based on culture.

In this case then, I am fairly certain that VT would resist any attempt to be made part of the former Massachusetts Bay Coloney for long standing historical reasons which go back to Shay's Rebellion and beyond.

Ct. would have no reason to join a Republic of New England. It has not been a real part of New England for a long while.

New Hampshire, Maine and RI would join Boston. Even perhaps Nova Scotia.

The Mid-Atlantic states are a natural confederacy, as you outline.

A Mormon state in Utah, Nevada, etc.

Oregon/Wa and perhaps BC would unite.

California would go independent.

Can't really imagine what would happen to the Rocky Mountain states.

Hard to imagine too how the the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, etc. would reorganize.

Texas would certainly declare its independence, like VT.

Canada would pretty much fracture as well too, with the massive disruption in the economy such a disunion would entail. French-speaking Canada would probably go its own way leaving Nova Scotia, etc. to go their own way with New England.

Fun to speculate about. But I am pretty sure Vermonters would go their own way no matter what.

11/2/12, 6:31 AM

Richard Larson said...
Yes. This country needs such a conversation. My new "smartcard" can't be added to Paypal, so I will have to figure out another way to donate as my other card has expired.

11/2/12, 7:51 AM

Adrian Skilling said...
Interesting that you say the national debt is defaulted on when the union is dissolved.

As you know in the UK, Scotland will vote on independence in 2014. I don't remember any talk of national debt, but I can't imagine it would be defaulted on, more likely shared out in some way. Things have been fairly quiet on the details so far although Scotland wants 90% North Sea Oil & Gas while England+ wants to retain 30%+. Could be an almightly fight!

11/2/12, 7:55 AM

Jim Smith said...
Interesting resolution to your story.

I thought of you this week when I saw the heavy snow spawned by Sandy hitting the region where you live. Did you get a lot of snow in your town? I'm surprised Sandy hasn't come up more in this week's comments. I guess other commenters are better at staying on topic than I am.

People in New Jersey and in New York City are now fighting over scarce gasoline, and the New York Times is reporting that more than half of gas stations in New Jersey and on Long Island are closed. Most of the lower third of Manhattan is still without power. I wonder if you'll address the effects of Sandy next week and what insight, if any, they may give us about the future.

11/2/12, 8:52 AM

blue sun said...
Bill and Robert,

Thanks for the correction. You're right, its easy to fall into just blaming everything on climate change. And as something we can't measure directly in our own human experience, its natural to want to look for physical evidence. Such storm events are made more probable by climate change (isn't that correct?).

Both the governor of New York State and mayor of New York City stepped carefully over making any connection between recent storms and global climate change. I believe the governer said it feels like we've had several 100-year storms in the past few years (another adulteration of meaning--although whoever chose the phrasing "100-year" anything made a poor choice in phrasing! everybody assumes it means that thing will come every 100 years! .....communicating science to the public may be more difficult than the science itself.....)

I can't recall their exact words, but I was left with the impression that their words were politically-motivated: they were only being cautious as not to offend climate-change deniers! The way you have phrased it would make more sense.

Regardless of cause, the storm's aftermath contains elements of human experience that are more probable in the years to come. It has felt in some ways like a dress-rehearsal for a post-peak world.

11/2/12, 9:04 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Unknown Deborah, and those "military alliances" would very quickly blur into the military domination of the Bay area and its hinterland by whatever power was invited in to help, or whatever power was strong enough to push its way in. Small, relatively rich regions that have no provision to defend themselves do not stay independent long.

Cherokee, the mulberry seems to be recovering, though we'll see how it does in the spring. As for the news, I tend to think of it as just one more entertainment medium by which we fill our minds and keep ourselves from thinking; still, you've raised an interesting point.

Malcolm, in the future I've sketched out, most people will no longer be able to afford to go skiing, and vacation homes will become a distant memory. That leaves Vermont to get by on hardscrabble farming, thus my comments on poverty. As for the rest, well, there are any number of ways the future could play out, of course.

Richard, I hope we can get the conversation started.

Adrian, no, the debt goes into default when the nation that owes it dissolves. If Scotland quits the UK, the UK still exists, and so does the debt. Now if England, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Northern Ireland, and the Isle of Man all seceded from the UK, leaving Cameron as prime minister of nothing in particular, that would be another matter.

Jim, Cumberland's in a little valley -- the local term is "holler" -- along the upper Potomac, and what's falling as snow in the hills around us is rain here. It's sheltered from most storms, which is probably why it was such an important transport hub back in the day. As for Sandy, well, we try to stay on topic; I may post something about it down the road a bit, but for all the media coverage it's getting, it's not that big a deal in the larger scheme of things, you know.

11/2/12, 10:16 AM

jollyreaper said...
Kunstler of Kunstlercast fame believes we will see a return to 19th century patterns of industrial activity in the States. This is going to be due to an increase in the price of energy and a lack of intensive capital. When you compare energy cost per mile, trucks and autos are the worst. Rail is far superior and barges are better yet. You can make this comparison with straight diesel but it holds true for whatever hypothetical power alternative you can imagine.

I think that this is very clear in the way our houses are constructed. In Florida, the old cracker homes were built before air-conditioning and every effort was made to use passive means to improve livability. Elevated off the ground, multiple floors, designed to provide a good cross-breeze. They're more expensive to construct this way. With AC, we could build simple boxes that had terrible thermal properties and use AC to make up the difference. You want the house to cost an extra $100k to build or do you want to give up less than 1% of your annual income to heat and cool it? It's a no-brainer.

If electricity costs increase to the point that the AC represents 30% of your annual income, if you can't even afford to replace the equipment when it breaks, cracker-style construction starts looking a whole lot more attractive.

He feels that these economic realities will bring back cities that were marginalized by 20th century transportation. We won't be able to maintain the interstate highways. It will no longer make sense to drill out of the ground in the Middle East to ship it to China to make plastic forks to ship to the States for us to use once and throw away simply because we're too lazy to wash the flatware.

If a scenario like this plays out, we will by necessity see a large return to local agriculture and manufacture.

11/2/12, 10:41 AM

Dave said...
Good story. As Keynes used to say, "Impossible can become Inevitable without ever passing through Improbable."

But the story isn't finished, as America's divisions do not follow state lines. The deepest split is between government-loving cities and liberty-loving suburban/rural areas. Blue states are just red states with big cities.

Ultimately, I expect many large cities to separate from their respective states. The worst cities, like Detroit, Newark, and Camden will become open-air prisons where undesirables of every sort are dumped and left to fend for themselves.

11/2/12, 10:45 AM

Michelle said...
I was intrigued by Malcolm Smith's comment about Western Mass preferring to join up with Vermont. Living in Western Mass, I can aver that we do, generally, feel quite separate from Boston, and generally ignored by that part of the state. However, economically, while we have the Connecticut and other rivers for transport and/or hydropower, we also have some lousy soil and unreliable weather. Still, it's an interesting mental exercise to contemplate what might be likely.

JMG, I, too, was pleasantly surprised by the hopeful tone on which you finished. I also liked someone's comment hoping that the dissolution would be so sanguine and not sanguinary - appealed to my inner language geek! I have to wonder hard about hunger, though... so many folks are hungry already, and so few are taking steps to mitigate that hunger, or to prepare themselves against the possibility. I myself think I do an ok job of being prepared, but facing Sandy last weekend, I was reminded that if I lost power over a long term, I'd lose the contents of my freezers. It was quite sobering.

11/2/12, 10:47 AM

Ceworthe said...
Umm, what about "Climate change is a reality ... we are vulnerable" —Governor Cuomo
and Mayor Bloomberg endorsing Obama because of he had decided over the past several days that Mr. Obama was the better candidate to tackle the global climate change that he believes might have contributed to the violent storm" is playing to the climate deniers? Seems pretty directly opposed to the climate deniers point of view to me.
As regards Canada, there may be space, but alot of the soil is poor due to the fact that the Ice age glaciers scraped alot of soil and rocks from Canada, and deposited it in the Northern US. For example, the bedrock here in Central NY is limestone. However we have lots of cobblestones and larger bolders that are igneous and metamorphic rock, courtesy of Canada

11/2/12, 11:43 AM

Gardener Green said...
Loved your future "plausible" history posts. I am wondering if you had in mind a kind of 'prequel' for your Star's Reach story. If it should be published in book form these 5 post would make great introductory chapter.

Your humorous play with names really amused me. I am sure I didn't catch all of them or possibly even most of them. Jameson Weed aka jimsonweed (a little Carlos Castenada?). Also the loving memorial to Walt Kelly ala P.T. Bridgeport.

thanks for the great series of post and am looking forward to where you take your blog next.

11/2/12, 12:14 PM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

". . .those "military alliances" would very quickly blur into the military domination of the Bay area and its hinterland," wrote JMG.

Yes; that's how the Roman Empire acquired Judea, IIRC.
The Republic of Venice had a navy. Do you happen to know who is protecting Singapore?

11/2/12, 1:20 PM

valekeeperx said...
JMG, Great writing and storytelling as usual; on the edge of my seat the whole time. Thanks.

Ozark wrote:
“I can’t see California doing that great either. With climate change drying up the snowpacks…”

Regarding our fate here in California, I don’t see us doing that great industrial-wise either. However, in regards to weather patterns, they will change, but the entire state isn’t gonna turn into the Sahara. From studies I’ve read, in the state overall, amount of water will be about the same or only slightly less. Wet season is shortened and dry season is longer; fewer storms per year on average, but increasing intensity of storms, i.e., more water per storm. Sierras aren’t expected to get that much drier; though, type of precipitation will change with increasing percentage as rain vs decreasing percentage as snow. So, runoff will be more concentrated and not spread throughout the year as currently from snowmelt. Things will change for sure, but California, particularly the coastal areas, the north, and mountainous areas, will still have a relatively pleasant climate.

As far as Spanish becoming the dominant language and California becoming an independent Hispanic republic, Mexican state, or whatever, I have no problem with that myself. Hispanic culture has many strengths. I think another possibility is that China might look to California for lebensraum and/or agricultural wealth pump.

Civil war could happen here, but maybe not. Given JMG’s scenario, I think first there will be a mass exodus of, um, “Americans” from here and all over the west headed east (a lot of people came here for the money and have no connection to the land, and IMHO, there isn’t really any non-Hispanic culture of any depth to speak of). Many large cities, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson will probably become ghost towns. The coastal California cities will probably retain remnant populations. I think if this happens, there may be no need to fight over the water. SoCal has three big straws – one (California Aqueduct) to NorCal, one (Los Angeles Aqueduct) to the eastern Sierra, and one (Colorado River Aqueduct) to the Colorado River. The CA is the only one dependent upon fossil fuel to actually pump the water and, considering the degrading condition of the Bay-Delta levees, that issue could be rendered moot. The LAA is gravity and siphon fed, and the CRA is run on hydropower provided by dams. In addition to all this, lower elevation SoCal areas average 10-15 inches of rain per year and there are several large, deep groundwater basins. The main issue will be maintaining these systems without the fossil fuel infrastructure. It may still be possible to transport plenty of water to SoCal and no one may object, but it will still need a local distribution system and a significant portion of the existing one is rather aged.

11/2/12, 1:20 PM

valekeeperx said...
JMG, A query I have been meaning to run by you is how long the Colorado River hydropower system could be kept running. Is it possible to set up a local hydro-powered industrial infrastructure to produce the necessary materials for maintaining the system? In addition, could this system produce additional electricity for supporting other small-scale industry and even a small-gauge, regional rail system? It is my understanding that the dams themselves are rather substantial and will probably remain intact for a few centuries at least.

Considering this possibility, I have been playing with the idea that a modest post-peak culture could develop along El Rio de Colorado and that hydropower would help sustain it for a while. Currently, there is significant agriculture in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys using aqua del Rio. However, I expect that within 200 years, these areas, which are already below sea level, will be flooded by the Gulf of California (once it reaches Estacion Coahuila, Baja California) due to rising sea levels (and Yuma, Arizona becomes a port city at the mouth of El Rio). Still, there may be enough arable land above sea level adjacent to El Rio and within the watershed for growing a not insignificant amount of food.

11/2/12, 1:27 PM

Joseph Nemeth said...

I grew up in Wyoming, and live in Colorado. A few comments about the Rocky Mountain states.

They're geographically hostile. There's a reason that they were some of the last states to join the Union: no one lived here, mostly because you can't easily farm.

The biggest issue on the flatlands is lack of water. Water runs off the high-clay soil. We have frequent droughts. The high altitude promotes rapid evaporation, and winters are bitterly cold and dry. The natural flora on the plains is prairie grass, sagebrush, and cactus, and without irrigation, you can't get much of anything else to grow. New Mexico: desert. Arizona: desert. Utah: desert. Nevada: desert. Colorado and Wyoming: high plains desert. Idaho and Montana have some interesting regions that will become even more interesting as the globe warms, but they are still some of the least populous states in the country.

The mountains themselves are called "rocky" because they are: there's little soil in which to grow anything, and the climate is fierce and hostile. Cheyenne (where I grew up) sits at 6000 ft. elevation in the middle of a vast, rolling plain. Laramie, in the bottom of a valley only fifty miles west of Cheyenne, is at 7000 ft. Most mountain peaks are above tree line, and one of the bragging sports in Colorado is "peak bagging," meaning climbing to the tops of all the "fourteeners" in the state (peaks above 14,000 feet in elevation.)

There are lush pockets scattered throughout the RM states, but they are profoundly isolated and relatively fragile environments. All the big population centers, like the cities along the Colorado Front Range, are technological artifacts. Most of our local history starts in the late 1800's, after the transcontinental railroad was completed. Without extensive irrigation and cheap interstate transport, cities like Denver would have dried up and blown away a long time ago.

The entire region has been subject to boom-and-bust cycles from the start, mostly built around mining and timber. We have repeatedly had a massive influx of population supported by outside money, followed by a population collapse when the money stops.

This is the land of the quintessential "ghost town." Every dried up town you ever saw in an old Western was talking about the RM states: whether Tombstone Arizona, or Buford Wyoming.

11/2/12, 1:41 PM

Joseph Nemeth said...
... cont'd

In JMG's scenario, Colorado will suffer a major population crash, and will return to a more sustainable pre-1900 population. I would guess, then, that Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, and possibly Kansas would form at least a trading alliance, if not a more formal union -- there is a lot of cultural sympatico (once you exclude all us liberals who have settled along the Colorado Front Range.) Wyoming and Colorado have minerals, and it's a very short trip back to cattle ranching; the other three have good farming.

New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah will not be part of that group. They're culturally distinct, they don't have a lot to offer the partnership, and they're on the wrong side of the mountains.

What will make this very, very interesting is Cheyenne Mountain, just outside Colorado Springs: the nerve center for NORAD. It will undoubtedly remain allied with the politicians in DC, and it is designed to close up for years, withstand nuclear and conventional assault, and still serve as the nerve center for coordinating a global nuclear counter-attack. It has access to some very heavy ordnance, and lots of it.

It is the Holy City, the Primal Archetype, of every guns-and-canned-goods barbed-wire redoubt dug into a Wyoming hillside.

It will remain a Power. Even after legal dissolution of the Union.

I can't even begin to guess how that will play out. My guess is that it will be gradually dismantled, much like the Soviet war machine after the Soviet Union collapsed. On the other hand, that much power in one place would be so tempting to use....

11/2/12, 1:42 PM

Jim Smith said...
I agree that the hurricane itself is just one of many relatively recent natural disasters, but I think the reaction and adaptation to scarcity in a major metropolitan area could be instructive for the future.

11/2/12, 1:59 PM

escapefromwisconsin said...
I would imagine the reason that these particular posts got so much attention is that they were linked to by Naked Capitalism, one of the top 5 finance blogs and the internet, and a much appreciated voice of sanity.

In any case, I would imagine Americans in this story would feel much like the people in Eastern Europe after World War 2, so eloquently described in this paragraph in this article from Slate:

Many people have tried to describe what it feels like to endure the disintegration of one’s entire civilization, to watch the buildings and landscapes of one’s childhood collapse, to understand that the moral world of one’s parents and teachers no longer exists and that one’s respected national leaders have failed. Yet it is still not an easy thing to understand for those who have not experienced it. Words like “vacuum” and “emptiness” when used about a national catastrophe such as an alien occupation are simply insufficient: They cannot convey the anger people felt at their prewar and wartime leaders, their failed political systems, their own “naive” patriotism and the wishful thinking of their parents and teachers. Different parts of Eastern Europe experienced this collapse at different times. But whenever and however it came, national failure had profound effects, especially on young people, many of whom simply concluded that everything they had once thought true was false.

11/2/12, 8:13 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Re: The Mountain West...

Under their current climate regime these states are hardly uninhabitable without industrial agriculture; they were quite thoroughly inhabited for many millennia before the advent of that! The issues are population density and adaptability, of course. Rocky Mountain peoples had many ways of dealing with the complex distribution of warmth, water, biota, and net ecosystem productivity. Unless climate change dries them up all the way to the top of Pikes Peak (probably unlikely) they will almost surely maintain the ability to support some human societies. Whether these will be dense enough or have enough economic activity to warrant supporting a larger-scale government or be of interest to the more powerful nation states is another matter. But so long as there remains enough water to make a river flow from the mountains into a valley somewhere for at least part of the year, I expect you'll find a settlement in that valley getting by on corn, beans, poultry, hardy grazing beasts, hunting, and foraging. Not the easiest life, but not the hardest either.

Re: Sandy, etc...

The Mid-Atlantic hurricane with a direct strike on the NYC-NJ shore has been one of two nightmare hypothetical worst-case hurricane scenarios for many, many decades. The other was a levee-breaching hit on New Orleans. These have been talked about by climatologists etc. for as long as I can remember (and I started paying attention to this stuff as a young boy), with few in government wanting to listen. These nightmares were based on historical records, not climate change predictions or whimsical fantasies. The Mid-Atlantic scenario generally even included collision with a blocking Greenland high pressure ridge resulting in a sudden westward turn of the storm into the NJ shore to bring it in rapidly with intact wind field and full storm surge, focused right into the NY bight making Manhattan ground zero.

In the last 7 years we have finally seen both of these scenarios play out in the real world, in ways amazingly similar to how they were hypothesized. These storms are not a "new" normal; they are the (somewhat overdue) manifestations of the normal we have always been living in. Now... they do serve to point out how vulnerable these coastal population centers HAVE ALWAYS BEEN, which of course is relevant to how increasingly vulnerable they will surely become in an era of rising sea levels and POSSIBLY increased intensity of storms. But they are mostly demonstrations of the dangers we have always been living under yet have chosen to ignore.

11/2/12, 10:08 PM

DeAnander said...
"One thing I could envision is a mass migration of people from region to region as they find themselves in regions whose political/social vibe don't match their personal beliefs."

Indeed! one of the first things my mind's eye saw, as JMG's shattered USA started re-clumping, was a huge wave of African American refugees getting the hell out of the New South :-) well I certainly would, and ASAP. Meanwhile gays and Jews, and in some areas women, would be fleeing the reddest of the red states. There would be quite an uptick in not-so-voluntary mobility.

And yes to Merle, above: living in BC I agree that China's clout in Canada is getting strangely obvious, and further imho is as good a signal of the failing power of the US as any lost ground war. Harper's just unveiled yet another sweetheart deal, negotiated in secret, months or years in the making, that would sign over a substantal chunk of our energy resources to a Chinese company or consortium.

Where's the payback? well I dunno what Harper personally may or may not have received, but there is a reciprocal (if you can call it that) sweetheart deal which would allow Canadian businesses preferential access to Chinese cheap labour and building sites or facilities there. In other words, our bizpeeps are eager to close shop here and move to China where there are none of those pesky environmental regs, where labour is cheap and intimidated, and where they won't have to pay Canadian taxes. Any disputes regarding this agreement -- an international treaty of significance and consequence, not quite a FTA but close -- would be resolved by an arbitration board of 3, count 'em, three people. Not people elected by any of the multi-millions of lives touched by the "gentlemen's agreement". Democracy? har har.

It's hard to figure out how the general public can ignore the boldly-written power relations underlying this deal; even if we're naive enough to think only in terms of "jobs," we ought to be able to figure out that this deal means fewer of those, not more. And it's even harder to understand how the US, that self-proclaimed hegemon, traditionally claiming Canada as its own turf (NORAD etc), can ignore this obvious incursion into its sphere of influence. As I say, it looks to me like the USA is a has-been. Could this have anything to do with the number of US Treasury Bonds Beijing is even now holding? I shrug, and pack my potato harvest carefully for winter storage :-)

I keep thinking of that bit of doggerel I learned as a kiddie: "I do not like the human race, I do not like its silly face..." We had a chance to be better than all this. And just look at us.

[@JMG: trimmed a fairly mild instance of d--n and h-ll from first graf, was that the objection?]

11/2/12, 10:46 PM

Farka said...
The debt situation is a little more complicated than you suggest. While there is no clear consensus in international law, what usually happens is that the successor states jointly assume the original state's obligations, under pressure from powerful creditors:

"Though scarce, there are historical cases of debt division. Armendariz de Aghion and Williamson (1993) review five of these: Great Colombia, the Central American Federation, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Central African Federation. Three debt division rules emerged: population in the first two, fiscal (revenue contribution) in the third and fourth cases, and GDP in the final case. In all five cases the eventual division of the debt was largely determined and enforced by foreign governments, and in many cases the acceptance of these imposed settlements was seen by the new states as necessary for their “consolidation of sovereignty” (Armendariz de Aghion and Williamson 1993, p. 4)." -

On the plus side, the collapse of the dollar should make most of the debt a moot point.

Incidentally, Deborah: Tunisia's becoming democratic makes it considerably less likely to ally with Israel, not more; and even if this weren't the case, Tunisia is militarily the least powerful state in North Africa, and located quite a long way away. If Israel manages to make any long-term powerful friends in the region - which is unlikely - a more plausible candidate would be a post-revolutionary Iran.

11/3/12, 2:08 AM

Rhisiart Gwilym said...
Small correction to an idea still widely prevalent: there is *no such thing* as bad soil anywhere in the temperate/tropical belts of the Earth's climate, nor any such thing as uncultivable land.

In the matter of soil cultivation: Properly understood, 'cultivation' in this sense means helping and encouraging the members of a living wild soil community to do what they want do anyway, by giving them small, key doses of assistance; but equally important, by *not* constantly doing stuff which severely hampers and devastates their natural efforts -- for example, annual tillage and soil 'cultivation' in the more usual sense of that word, which is to say: constant violent and destructive
physical disruption of the lives and the home of the soil community -- the *wild* soil. This is a prime idea of permaculture, and one about which I know a bit, having studied widely the advice of the appropriate re-pioneers of these ancient ways, whilst at the same time working on the sharp end myself, hands in -- well NO, not IN I suppose, but let's say hovering just above the soil, mostly.

I have beds here, both raised and deposited directly onto uncultivated turf, which have developed hugely rich, quite deep, and highly fertile and productive soils within a couple of years of the first establishment work, despite the substrate being -- allegedly -- difficult, and genuinely wet and heavy clay.

I've been following the -- strictly no-till, low-labour -- paths pioneered by such as Ruth Stout, Emilia Hazelip, the now-legendary Fukuoka, and others of that persuasion.

In the matter of difficult, more extreme weather, the premier agroforestry apostle here in Britain, Martin Crawford ( asserts that his permanent-woodland food/fibre/fuel/medicine/plus operations scarcely seem to notice either droughty or rain-drowning or ice-storm episodes, taking all in their stride.

I have less direct personal experience of dealing with either extreme desertification, derelict soil, constant wet and chill, or other allegedly impossible weather/soil states. But veteran masters of the art of permaculture have indeed accrued decades' worth of dealing with such more difficult (but emphatically not impossible) conditions, and by following the basic permaculture idea of observing extensively, and going cooperatively with what the local land and weather seem to want to do, and also by adding some of the sheaf of crafty helping tricks which permaculturists have accumulated over time, even these greater challenges seem to be surmountable.

See MOST PARTICULARLY this short vid by Geoff Lawton (Bill Mollison's successor) about their seemingly-impossible transformation of a salinated, hyper-hot, almost rainless piece of desert in Jordan:

And tell me then that these same masters of the art couldn't do similar things -- mutatis mutandis -- with the comparable cold, wet, stormy 'impossible' lands further north; near the US/Canadian border, for example...

Since permaculture is a big idea whose time seems to have come, because of its acute relevance to the new era of the Long Descent, doesn't it seem too pessimistic to say that some areas of the US are unviable without amalgamation with other areas? Didn't the pre-Columbus inhabitants of the land achieve highly effective, and thus highly adapted, ways of living self-sufficiently, with no more than limited trade added on, in just about every terrain and weather of the entire Americas -- even in the Land of Ice and Fire, in the furthest south?

11/3/12, 5:59 AM

Picador said...

I was very much impressed with the first four installements -- I found them exciting and surprisingly plausible. This may have been a function of my complete ignorance about military history, strategy, technology, and all related matters.

However, my vast ignorance does not extend to the domain of American cultural psychology. As a son of Washington, DC who now lives in Canada, I would love to believe that the future you describe -- DC statehood at last! The Canadian dollar miraculously surviving the collapse of the US dollar! -- is plausible. But the truth is that this last installment reads quite differently from the previous four, and frankly, it reeks of fantasy and wish fulfillment. A peaceful dissolution of the Union, sparked by the suggestion of two spunky young constitutional conventioneers... in love! I don't want to be too harsh, but this is bad, sentimental writing, and also bad prophecy.

Americans have demonstrated time and time again that, in times of crisis, they desperately cling to the breast of Big Brother. Sometimes Big Brother has been a lone demagogue, but for the last 100 years it has almost always been the federal government itself. This is true for Americans across the political spectrum, even those who like to think of themselves as rugged individualists, from the angriest Tea Partier to the most hard-core anti-imperialist leftist. Do you remember the late 90s? This was a time when anti-institutional rhetoric was at a fever pitch, from both left and right. The New World Order black-helicopter militia crowd and the multi-culti leftist anti-imperialist crowd were united in their opposition to the feds. Crash planes into two buildings in New York and 99.9% of those people started screaming and crying for the state to protect them from the Evil Terrorists.

My point is that all the talk about a cultural divide in America is drastically overblown. The divide is laughably superficial. At the end of the day, all Americans think of themselves as US citizens first, everything else second. Show me a Tea Partier in a "Don't Tread On Me" shirt, or a loudmouth in a cowboy hat and a "Don't Mess With Texas" shirt, or an NPR liberal in a Che Guevara shirt, and I'll show you somebody who cries out for state protection, state violence, and state supervision as soon as the lights start to flicker. "Get your socialist government hands off my Medicare!" was a profound comment, not just because it was hilarious, but because it illustrated so vividly the superficiality and ultimate meaninglessness of the supposedly "anti-government" sentiments being expressed by Americans. The feds are so much a fundamental part of their worldview that they cannot even conceive of a world without the benevolent hand of the federal government shepherding them from cradle to grave. To imagine these people actually trying to unseat the federal government is implausible in the extreme.

Are there a few Americans who genuinely don't feel this way? Of course. In fact, you probably spend a lot of time with these people, and you no doubt are one of these people yourself. But these people -- the survivalists, the off-the-grid organic farmers, the hard-core urban anarchists -- constitute a minuscule fraction of one percent of Americans.

11/3/12, 11:01 AM

JP said...
For your entertainment JMG, I have procured a link to the new sci-fi/fantasy counter-factual future show Revolution.

Here's a link to a nice map of the broken-up USA (four countries, plus wasteland):

11/3/12, 1:55 PM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)


My Tunisian comment was based on news reports, shortly after the revolution, that the new government issued statement inviting Jewish Tunisians who had left the country to return. No other Arab state has done that.

I agree completely about post-Revolutionary Iran, but that revolution looks farther off than it did a few years ago.

11/3/12, 5:46 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Reaper, whatever scenario plays out, we'll see a large-scale return to local manufacturing and agriculture, as the fossil fuels that power the industrial economy wind down. The political pressures in that direction are lagniappe.

Dave, political and economic power concentrates in cities. Now as in every other urbanized society, the way the cities go defines the way that the countryside goes. As for Detroit, yes, I remember reading those 60s-era science fiction stories too...

Michelle, no matter what happens, there will be plenty of hunger in the future. I'd encourage you to look into drying, pickling, and home canning as food preservation technologies, to limit your vulnerability to power outages. They'll likely be ever more common as the years proceed.

Ceworthe, then you'd better get busy building a compost bin!

Gardener, I hadn't really considered it as a prequel -- the separation of the southern states into an independent republic didn't happen in the Star's Reach future, for example.

Unknown Deborah, exactly.

Valekeeper, hydroelectric dams have a limited shelf life due to the silting up of the reservoirs; the time frame varies depending on the volume of river sediment, but it's rarely much more than a century. After that, you've basically got micro-hydro potential, which is admittedly worth having but doesn't produce anything like as much electricity.

Jim, fair enough.

Escape, thanks for the reference! I suspect you'd be quite correct.

Bill, I'm less concerned with the plains states under the current climate regime and much more concerned with their likely habitability under the likely climate regime of a warming world. What I've read suggests severe desert conditions over most of the plains and intermountain West. If you have alternative views to suggest, by all means post a link or three.

DeAnander, you got one and missed the other. Sigh...

11/3/12, 6:18 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Farka, notice the first two words of the quote you cite -- "Although scarce..." I rest my case.

Picador, the Canadian dollar is backed at this point by oil exports and, increasingly, by Canada's transition from an economic colony of the US to a dependency of China. It's thus quite possible that the Canadian dollar could remain relatively stable when the US dollar collapses. As for the rest, you're entitled to your opinion about my writing, to be sure, but as I see it, your background as a former Washington DC resident has blinded you to what's happening in the world outside the Beltway. Still, I'm sure you'll have plenty of company -- just as anyone who suggested in, say, 1980 that the Soviet Union could collapse without civil war and mass death would have been accused of peddling fantasy and wish fulfillment.

JP, I can't say I find the divisions particularly plausible, but then what little I've heard about the show suggests that that's par for the course.

11/3/12, 6:31 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
DeAnander -- so you think blacks will flee a region where they have potent, hard-won political clout and long established communities, hold many top-level elected offices, and have substantial wealth and economic influence, for regions where they will be a diluted disempowered minority and where they will likely be treated no better if not worse? Southern blacks consider the south home as much as southern whites do, they are in no hurry to flee. Living in Tennessee most of the blatantly racist language I hear is from recent transplants from Michigan. Check out present-day African-American cinema, the films about modern-day middle-class black life are set as often as not in Atlanta, not Minneapolis or Philadelphia.

JMG -- orography and biogeography. Judging from the complexity of indigenous Rocky Mountain plant and animal communities, containing many species endemic to the region, the huge climate swings of the pleistocene never turned the whole region in to desert. It takes a hell of a desert to drive the arid treeline (the one at the bottom of the forest) above 14,000'! There were always montane forests somewhere. Where there are forests there is water. The plains are one thing, but the mountains are another matter.

11/3/12, 7:09 PM

LewisLucanBooks said...
Since it's all speculation, I'll speculate.

There's a world of difference politically and culturally between western Oregon and Washington and eastern Oregon and Washington. I think western Oregon and Washington have more in common with each other than with the east. The west is often called "the Wet Side" (of the mountains) and the east, the Dry Side.

I see eastern Oregon and Washington joining Idaho and Montana as a political unit.

11/3/12, 7:55 PM

Joseph Nemeth said...
Bill Pulliam -- fully agreed: that's what I meant by "lush pockets."

The land will certainly support people, and those lush pockets can make for very sweet living -- so long as there aren't too many of you, and you don't outstay your welcome.

The Ute, as I understand it, had an annual migration between Estes Park and the Grand Lake area, over what is now called Trail Ridge Road, which takes you to elevations above 12,000 feet.

The tribes that frequented our area, the Poudre River Valley, were nomadic, with camps along the river rather than settlements.

Abandoned permanent settlements, like those of the Anasazi, are testaments to what happens when you overburden the land and water.

JMG -- that matches what I've seen for warming predictions. Hotter and drier.

11/3/12, 8:42 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Bill, fair enough.

Lewis, down the road, no doubt. I suspect the first fracturing will be along state boundaries, simply because that's the easy way within the political structure we've got. Further dissolution after that? One of the possibilities.

Joseph, thanks.

11/3/12, 10:15 PM

Sooper said...
"Washington has focused relentlessly on military might as its global trump card, dotting the planet with new bases and other forms of military power". After the dissolution of the Union, would the
successor states run a garage sale on american bases everywhere? I googled there are 20-something such bases on south america.... Would the south american countries get a chance to make a bid for the south american ones?

11/3/12, 11:09 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi John,

Thanks for not dismissing my thoughts. The idea in my earlier comment about the news has had an elusive quality to it, and I can almost feel that there is more to it, but then it goes away and is out of reach. Very annoying, but that's life. Oh well.

You know, I wonder whether the provision of news from an external centralised source is actually a weakness and risk for society? I mean historically people would have had to maintain relationships to exchange news, but now it sort of seems that we are outsourcing it and as such it breeds a disconnect in society about the news and between individuals. One part of it is that people think that news is something that happens to other people and that they are somehow not involved with the ongoing thing that is life?

Anyway, I really don't have any further insights / thoughts on the matter, but something is bothering me about.

Oh well.



11/4/12, 3:00 AM

Odin's Raven said...
As it's voting season in this week's fiction and in the current political reality, here's a reason to think before you vote.

11/4/12, 3:27 AM

yooper said...
Excellent ending, John! Heh! I liked how you seemed to use ideas from other's scenarios and put together a collaborant. As good as Edgar Cayce's?

It has lead me to ideas of putting together a more precise, descriptive improvement of my own.

Thanks, yooper

11/4/12, 6:16 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Odin -- Ah yes, decisions made by "wise men" appointed by "wise men" who were appointed by a "wise man" who was appointed by God himself... this has always worked out SO WELL in history, and NEVER leads to oppression, slavery, and genocide...

Not that democracy hasn't many times lead to the same things, of course, but that is not even remotely a suitable remedy for the problems created by voting. I'm for taking authority away from the hands of powerful "wise men," and enmeshing it in a system of checks and balances, even with all the chaos and gridlock that sometimes creates.

11/4/12, 10:59 AM

CGP said...
It seems to me that most of the people that have commented on this story are quite positively disposed towards the dissolution of the union, or at the least are wilfully ignoring the significant downsides of such an action.

I am sure there would be advantages and disadvantages to a dissolution, which would vary across regions. I am impressed by the regional understanding many readers have demonstrated in terms of the ecological, economic, social and political consequences of dissolution. However, there seems to be little realisation that a breakup is in some sense the easy way out that would leave the nation at square one or more likely even worse than that. All of this talk of regional alliances having to be formed to make certain regions economically and militarily viable is moot if the unity and might of the U.S. is kept intact. I understand that peak oil is inevitable and I understand that the nation has some huge problems that must be solved to keep the nation viable. However, rather than wishing for dissolution or fantasising about how it might lead to some almost utopian future it seems to me that the better option would be getting to work on fixing some of the problems besetting the nation. This is the much harder option in many senses to just dissolving the whole thing but it is the smarter and more fruitful one.

Why such a great and powerful nation would want to give all of that up and start from scratch creating smaller and vulnerable entities is beyond me, especially when the threats in the world seem to be multiplying. Dissolution would be a gift to various hostile and potentially dangerous nations and factions. Why hand them such a gift? Why leave yourself so exposed?

I realise that one can argue that dissolution will happen regardless and that the best course of action is to prepare for it. This is understandable but another course of action is to try to solve some of the problems and mitigate some of the predicaments before they fester to the point where the momentum towards dissolution becomes irresistible.

11/4/12, 2:42 PM

Shining Hector said...
@CGP: Part of the appeal of a dissolution is a quick reduction in scale and complexity, a catabolic collapse. A lot of the time and energy we spend just to keep the colossus afloat could ideally be spent elsewhere. We started out as 13 colonies with 2.4 million citizens, now we're 50 states with 311 million people. I don't know what the magic number was, but I do get the distinct sense somewhere along the way we got to the point where our system of representation no longer scaled. It's just a matter of logistics, no handful of evil masterminds with a taste for unearned power are really required. Our government is largely unaccountable to us in no small part because it has to be in order to function, there's no malice required on the part of the myriad functionaries who keep the system running. I'd hazard a guess that it would actually be beyond the scope of a person to know the details of all the laws and regulations that affect them if they committed their entire life to that one single task, much less made some attempt to change them.

As far as defending ourselves, I don't know, what size population do you need to defend yourself? Is it really 311 million? Did I miss all of the smaller nations of the world constantly fighting for their very survival against invaders?

11/4/12, 9:46 PM

Joseph Nemeth said...
CGP -- can't speak anyone else, but I've seen a dissolution coming from a completely different angle.

The top always gets lazy and stupid and inbred and careless -- that's part of what it means to be on top, that you can be lazy and stupid and inbred and careless, and no one will hand you your teeth in a baggie. Wealth is privilege, and privilege is insulation from reality.

The top will add escalating insult upon injury to the lower castes, often unaware, until something pops -- an especially nasty riot, a bombing, something that makes the top feel unexpectedly vulnerable. They then protect their interests with excessive force: they always control the military and the police, so they use this power to "crack down" on the "evildoers." Which happens to be everyone not in their own caste. The omelette gets made, and more than a few cases of eggs get broken.

The repression doesn't sit well, so it starts breeding a culture of sedition directed at those in control. The culture of sedition eventually bleeds into the military/police caste, who work for the top but are not of the top. That's when it gets dangerous.

What happens next depends on how arrogant the upper classes have become. If they back off, offer concessions, reparations, and amnesties while saving face for themselves, they can de-escalate. Otherwise, things get gnarly.

Depending on which way the military goes, you get a continuation of the same-old, or you get a coup. Either way, democracy goes out the window and you end up with a repressive military-police state. Repressive because they have no other way to maintain control.

The problem now is that the military-police state lacks legitimacy. It is in power only because it has power. Other powers will rise up to challenge it. All of them will claim to be the True Democracy of the United States of America. None of them will have anything to do with democracy.

If Fort Meade goes to open war with Norfolk Naval Base (I picked those at random), and it escalates into a pitched battle for control of Washington and the True Nation, where will Wisconsin weigh in? Or California?

I think JMG has painted a particularly sanguine collapse, and the sigh of relief you see is that it wasn't much worse.

11/4/12, 10:21 PM

phil harris said...
I guess the US needs a drastically modified constitution, now, before its defeat. Given the present propensity to keep driving right at the brick wall, you have a point.

It is a bit like asking us to take advertising out of a society based on low unit-cost mass production. Or to remove organised money from politics. The overriding problem though as you rightly discuss is how, despite being, as one commenter here put it, "great and powerful", the Union can survive the loss of vast overseas resources of imported oil et al, at the same time as it must lose much of its overseas military network?

The USSR needed to change everything all at once and didn’t manage it. Breaking a ‘command economy’ is different from breaking up the commanding chunk of world capitalism, but the effects could be similar and create a discontinuity in US institutional structures. However, it is unclear to me that control of local regional (‘States’) currency, ‘tax & spend’, and/or local control of military assets, or the need to find smaller profit-centres, is such an overwhelming requirement that it is likely to break the USA into fragments. This is not the Eurozone, let alone a re-balkanising Yugoslavia. I could be wrong: depends a bit on the nature of that oncoming ‘brick wall’. Change will happen, and it does rather depend on what the other world ‘actors’ and their fortunes have to say about it.

Globalization seems to be an inevitable trajectory for commerce linked to industrialization and also seems inevitably competitive and innovative. The old Imperial structures of Europe and Asia (China and Japan) and the sub-continent did not survive; nor did the more contained and self-resourcing USSR.

My guess is that globalization, like industrialization and mega-urbanism, has a Phase 3 or 4, etc. to run yet, before the gradual failure of large scale energy sources brings about the inevitable retraction.

The loss of hegemonic power over competitors by the USA is of course, as you discuss, going to bring about dramatic changes on the home-turf. But let us see where Europe goes, perhaps first? The game is afoot!

11/5/12, 3:06 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Sooper, in the scenario I've sketched out, the troops come home during Bridgeport's presidency, so it's pretty much a matter of other countries having to figure out what to do with an abandoned US base here and there. My guess is that various rising regional and global powers will bid for some of them.

Cherokee, it's an interesting idea. I'd encourage you to keep exploring it.

Raven, funny. Of course the author of the essay doesn't ask how he proposes to see to it that his nonelected leaders are going to be any better than the masses he despises. Historically, of course, they aren't; the value of democracy is that it keeps the ethical level of a nation's leadership from dropping too far below that of the nation as a whole; but those who crave unearned power -- and the whole Nouvelle Droite has a whopping case of that common syndrome -- always duck that issue.

Yooper, my scenario is not going to happen as written. The same was true of Cayce's. The difference is that I'm aware of this fact!

CGP, good. My scenario is not a sales pitch for dissolution; it's a discussion of the fact that that's one plausible way for the US to cease to exist as a nation. You're right, too, that it's interesting to see how many people like the idea.

Phil, no, globalization was a temporary blip caused by a brief interval of very cheap energy. Now that energy costs are becoming a growing fraction of the cost of everything, only a narrowing circle of rich nations can continue to import most of what they consume -- and that circle is going to get steadily smaller in the years to come, as petroleum sunsets out. As for the US constitution, I think we'd do very well if anybody got around to obeying the one we've got!

11/5/12, 3:29 AM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

I believe that one reason the North was willing to fight a long and very bloody war against secession was that it knew several European nations were ready to take advantage of a dissolution of the Union. It has been more than a century since Americans had to worry about foreign powers interfering in our domestic affairs. We take that security for granted and do not think about how awful life would be without it.

I do think the United States may be near the upper limit in both physical size and population of a country that can be governed democratically. Perhaps there is no upper limit, since India has about triple the U.S. population and is a parliamentary democracy with robust civil institutions.

On the other hand, I believe that maintaining just the contiguous forty-eight states as a single democratic nation will require at least enough of an industrial base to support transcontinental railroads and telegraphy. California joined the Union before those things existed, but I don't think the future population of California can be effectively defended from three thousand miles away or will be remitting taxes to the federal government if the fastest communication with the capital is via Pony Express or clipper ships round the Horn. We would be an independent nation or a province of Mexico within one generation.

One of the things I took away from the experience of 9/1/1 and its aftermath was how very far away we are from Washington and New York.

11/5/12, 3:32 AM

phil harris said...
I agree with you that globalization is/was almost certainly a temporary blip, but it does depend on what you mean by the length of the blip.

You have drawn attention to the previous version, the 19thC British empire ‘free trade’ together with its ‘hegemon’ bestride world trade routes. (It ended I think in tears in WW1.) The late Stephen Bunker (colleague of Alf Hornborg) made a case for the rise of such world trade in the very beginnings of industrialisation, with Portugal and then the Netherlands expanding the outreach for resources, including the very resources, mostly timber and iron, needed to expand the outreach of the necessary shipping. Britain did not gain the decisive competitive edge until well into the 19thC and did not benefit as the new hegemon until British iron/steel and coal made the big break, through probably not confirming full dominance until after 1840; (Bunker, quoting Hobsbawm). Bunker goes on to illustrate the iterative expansion inherent in the combination of industrialisation and globalization using the example of the vast expansion of Japan post-WWII.

The whole lengthy succession depended on transition from ‘wood & wind’ based technology, via ‘coal & steel’, leading finally to the post-WWII expansion of oil and NG. The last phase arrived on the back of existing world coal production and, by then, modern industrial temperate farming. There is no obvious successor to continue this expansion. I agree that any further expansion is probably limited to some countries and will lead, likely rapidly, to a decline in imports of resources for many countries currently dependent on them. What degree of industrial civilisation is possible without being able to maintain the existing full access to global resources is a moot point. Whether whole relatively prosperous regions could be deprived of sufficient of their key imports to fall off the cliff, and how soon, to me also appears moot.

I don’t at the moment differ from you very much I think. Approaching a brick wall without brakes does seem a touch fool-hardy for the leading proponent (still) of industrial ‘progress’; i.e. the USA. The ‘successor’ hegemon is likely to follow the same fate if resources are rapidly constrained, even with the US shunted into serious decline.

11/5/12, 9:34 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Cherokee Chris -- I was having similar thoughts just yesterday evening. I was contemplating that perhaps the breakdown of political dialogue is sped along by the national centralized news distribution. Politics now happens via mass media, not via interpersonal interactions. Not a recipe for fruitful discussion or understanding of those who do not agree with you.

11/5/12, 10:43 AM

Kurt Cagle said...

Please, please, please expand this into a book! This was fantastic!

I got a chuckle over the name Gurney as well - good way to transport a dying patient.

I still think that California will eventually split north and south, probably just south of Monterey Bay. San Francisco is far more Cascadia than LA.

What I like most about this ending is that it brings up the real reason why a constitutional convention will result in the dissolution of the country. There is too much acrimony and too much polarization of viewpoints to expect consensus to emerge on most issues.

11/5/12, 10:53 AM

Steve said...
JMG and CGP:

Regarding the positive reception of the breakup of the union, there are a couple points I'd make. My comment that this is a grand idea to introduce to the cultural narrative was based on my take of what JMG was trying to do with this series. It looked to me like an exercise in ternary thinking.

Consider the polarity represented by the presidential perspective (both Weed and Gurney were bent on maintaining the US as an imperial nation, regardless of how badly that aim failed to square with reality, which sounds all too plausible) and the insurgent perspective (the governor of Texas basically organized a multi-state insurgency to throw out federal troops, along with the comment by JMG that had Arkansas not moved to amend the constitution there would have been armed insurgencies in several states, and the fact that the last time states wanted out of the union the country was plunged into a horrific war). To me this looks like the myths of progress and apocalypse dressed up in American Civics garb.

In that context, introducing a peaceful, legal mechanism for breaking up the union is a "third way" of dealing with a particular situation. We can all think up additional scenarios, but I think this idea fit the scenario JMG presented very well. Given the references he made to people's widespread loss of faith in and then animosity toward the federal government, a relatively bloodless breakup is preferable to a successful coup and subsequent crackdown on dissidence led by Gurney or a civil war predicted by the joint chiefs.

In a broader context, of course the breakup of the union isn't desirable, especially not for so many of us who benefit from the arrangement of cheap energy and the export of violence provided by the imperial power of the federal government. But, given the future sketched here about how it could happen, and given that many of the events portrayed here (the loss of a foreign resource war, the collapse of the dollar and the decline of many major regional economies, widespread impoverishment and homelessness, and many other politically destabilizing things) are pretty likely to happen in some way at some point in my lifetime (I'm 31), I'm happy to have this option introduced to the conversation.

That said I'm still quite grateful for much of what our flawed, corrupt, constitution-ignoring, power-grabbing, confused, incomprehensible bureaucracy of a federal government does, including funding the research that pays my salary, running Amtrak across the country, and helping to clean up and rebuild after major disasters, just to mention a few.

In the meanwhile, I'll be spending my government paycheck this month on cellulose and caulk to get the attic in shape for winter, now that the salvaged solar hot water system is plumbed through it.

11/5/12, 2:38 PM

Zachary Braverman said...
Sorry for being off-topic, but I didn't see a "Contact" link. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I am curious about your opinion of the election.

You have said, I think, that the two candidates are identical in terms of their approach to The Long Decline, an approach which of course consists of ignoring all things related.

I'm still curious about whether or not you have any other insights to share.

11/6/12, 2:47 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Bill,

"Not a recipe for fruitful discussion or understanding of those who do not agree with you."

Yeah I couldn't agree more, it does have as an unexpected outcome the homogenisation of thoughts in society and the simplification of viewpoints too. Strange stuff.



11/6/12, 2:57 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Phil, to my mind it's important to draw a distinction between long distance trade -- which has been a going concern for millennia -- and the specific phenomenon of the so-called "global economy," in which goods and services of all kinds were shopped out worldwide to the lowest bidder. Of course the world under Chinese hegemony will see a lot of global trade, but a movement toward more localized production of goods and services is economically inevitable as fossil fuels become more scarce and expensive.

Kurt, I'll consider it.

Steve, fascinating! I wasn't deliberrately practicing ternary logic here, but some may have slipped in anyway... ;-)

Zachary, no, I said that the two major candidates are identical in terms of what they'll actually do once they're in office, and the slogans needed to appeal to their parties' captive constituencies can be allowed to twist in the wind for another four years. Just as Obama dumped "hope and change" the moment he won and gave us a remarkably good imitation of the third term of George W. Bush, we're going to get a precise equivalent of Obama's second term no matter who wins today's election. It's been almost funny, really, to watch the party faithful on both sides try to argue themselves into believing that there's actually going to be a difference this time.

11/6/12, 5:30 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
JMG, re: the election...

No, no, you clearly don't understand what is at stake here!!! This is the MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION EVER!!! The future of our country is riding on what happens today!!! If Baritt Obomney doesn't beat Mak Romnama this county will become an absolute plutocracy/dictatorship/socialist cesspool!!!! We will all be slaves to the minorities/1%!!!! It'll be U.N. Agenda 21 / Right-wing Fascism!!!! We'll have government-sanctioned extrajudicial killings of U.S. citizens (oh wait, we already have those...)!!!! OPEN YOUR EYES PEOPLE and RESIST THE FORCES OF EVIL!!!!!

Sorry, I must have stared at a TV set for too long...

11/6/12, 6:37 AM

Odin's Raven said...
Here's an article showing that only about one third of America's aircraft carriers are operational at any one time. Losing three would leave a considerable time before they could be replaced in action with any equivalent force.

11/6/12, 6:59 AM

dltrammel said...
With the interest in JMG's recent series of fictional posts, the Green Wizard community would like to announce a second short story contest.

The "Un-Contest" - Post Peak "When Empires Fall"

You can find general guidelines on the GW forum, as well as a place to post links to your story.

We would also like to announce what we hope will be a new tradition among Green Wizards and the community of readers here on the ADR.

New Traditions - "A Gift Giving Circle for the Holidays"

If you would like to join us in sharing knowledge with others, please feel free to. Even first time visitors to the site are welcome to join us.

11/6/12, 7:31 AM

The Wobbly Guy said...
China? I just recall the starting sentence from a chinese classic - "The Empire, Long Divided, Must Unite; Long United, Must Divide."

Even as an ethnic chinese, I don't see how this almost iron-clad rule will ever become superseded. Even with relative cultural and ethnic homogeneity, unification and union has never been an easy matter for China. Just look at the Warlord era after the revolution. Or the chinese quote above, for that matter. The ancients knew a lot more than they let on.

For the US, with its disparate cultures, widely differing ideologies, and potentially explosive mix of ethnicities, it can only be harder, not easier.

No need to overthink about China, Russia, UK, Europe, or any other supra-national entity for that matter. They'll break up and reform, time and time again. Just a matter of when and how.

Interesting point - no chinese dynasty lasted beyond 300 years. The deadline for the US (birth: 1776) is coming up soon.

History never ends. Can somebody mock Francis Fukuyama again?

11/6/12, 8:01 AM

Odin's Raven said...
Democracy does not have a good record for promoting highly ethical leaders. Maybe it's too vulnerable to 'tall poppy syndrome'

Even the Athenians famously executed Socrates, and exiled Aristides the Just, but twice allowed themselves to fall under the blandishments of the glib rogue and traitor Alcibiades.

Ethical quality in leaders and followers is not produced or promoted by voting but by their religious, spiritual, or philosophical cultivation. That is not the business of political processes and institutions, but politics can certainly degrade or reduce the level of ethics in populace and politicians.

Those for whom 'it's the economy, stupid!' will not permit themselves or their leaders to rise above the level of greed. The level seems to fall over time, so it's not surprising that society becomes dominated by the few big thieves at the top and the multitude of almost equally greedy small thieves demanding that the state give them more handouts at the expense of someone else.

The practical wisdom of the American Founding Fathers suggested that the best available system would be, not a democracy, but 'a Republic, if you can keep it.' Small government and division of powers was supposed to limit opportunities for oppression and corruption and allow jealousies to enable politicians to restrain each other.

That hasn't worked for a while, and it isn't likely to be restored. It depended upon the independence of the electorate, people who largely worked on their own small farms or businesses and were reluctant to pay most of their income to bureaucrats and politicians to spend for them. When most of the population is 'on the take' either as employees or claimants or administrators of payments from the state or as contractors for state programmes it is too late to change back. Anyone who exceeds the herd level is more likely to be destroyed than followed. (Up on that cross, Jesus!)

Although the form and rhetoric of 'democracy' may be retained, the reality comes more and more closely to approximate Communism or Oriental Despotism where the only ethical choice is how to most extravagantly adulate the ruler. North Korea may be the not so distant future!

11/6/12, 8:18 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Bill, funny. Of course this is the most important election of our time; so was the last one, and every other one so far in my life, and I'm sure the same weary rhetoric will be trotted out yet again four years from now.

Raven, I didn't think that was news.

David, cool. It'll be interesting to see what people come up with.

Wobbly, the current British system of government has lasted a good deal longer than 300 years, but your point in general stands -- especially where there are major cultural and economic fault lines running through the empire.

Raven, ranting about democracy doesn't mean a thing unless you propose to show that some other system does better. Of course democracies have massive problems, but oligarchies and tyrannies have even worse problems. Would you care to prove otherwise? Until you do, no further screeds about the evils of democracy will be put through.

11/6/12, 11:20 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
I just think about how many times that I can remember myself, that the outcome of a "this is The Big One" election has spelled the End of the World according to one wing of partisans or the other -- Nixon's reelection, Reagan's election, Reagan's reelection, Clinton's election, Clinton's reelection, Bush's appointment to the presidency by the supreme court, Bush's (re)election fair and square, Obama's election... every one would be death of the republic and millions said they would flee to Canada if it happened, all happened, the world and the republic are still here, and hardly anyone has actually fled to Canada. And yet, NO ONE seems to be able to remember any of this four years later! I guess the childbirth rule applies -- if you could remember the screaming you would never do it again, so you are obligated to forget it.

11/6/12, 1:21 PM

DeAnander said...
@ Bill Pulliam

hey, chill dude. it'll just be the Zombie Apocalypse, as the irrepressible Joss Whedon points out in this tone-perfect infomercial spoof:


of course, it'll be the Zombie Apocalypse either way, but perhaps under Obama it will be the slower, shuffling kind rather than the fast 28-day kind...

11/6/12, 6:27 PM

CGP said...
Barack Obama at the end of his victory speech said, "We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America". When he declared that the U.S. will forever remain united I could not help but think of this fictional narrative. Perhaps I am projecting but to me he seemed to make this declaration in an overly defensive manner.

11/6/12, 11:25 PM

CGP said...
In respect to democracy, I do believe it is the best system we have. However, I think democracy is only as good as the society in which it is exercised. Education, values, the way the economy is practiced, spiritual cultivation and so many other factors all determine the quality of specific democracies and their outcomes. The way a specific democracy is functioning is one of the best reflections of how healthy or unhealthy a society actually is. I really do think that as a society we get what we deserve in terms of our elected officials and their behaviour. Democracy's flaws are less a reflection of its inherent inadequacies (although of course it has some) and more a reflection of societal inadequacies in my opinion. We should all do our best to respect and nurture democracy.

11/6/12, 11:35 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
The one relevant thing to this discussion that comes in to my head after the election results. It looks like perhaps the "deep divisive rancor" in political discourse might be primarily the effect of a relatively small subset of old angry white guys with big megaphones. The rest of the electorate does not seem so ridiculous.

Of course this does not address the bigger problem, that our foreign policy is written by the energy and defense industries, our health policy is written by the insurance and pharma industries, and our economic policy is written by the finance and banking industries, and it makes no difference which party is in power. Hence the structural problems with American economy and civilization will remain unaddressed, and the forces that might lead to dissolution will be in no way abated.

11/7/12, 7:31 AM

phil harris said...
A bit late for this weeks comments. I forgot to give the reference for Stephen G Bunker & Paul S Ciccantell,2005, "Globaliation and the Race for Resources". World trade that cannot provide for the movement of bulk primary resources severely limits many industrial processes. Has done in different ways for 300 years, but the effect seems particularly critical near the zenith of industrial expansion, when the volume of movement is so enormous. Decrease in relatively cheap energy must lower bulk trade, as you suggest.
best regards

11/7/12, 2:50 PM

Sooper said...
". My guess is that various rising regional and global powers will bid for some of them" My guess is that some would serve as physical facilities for the long planned and long postponed OTAS project. With the long descent and high resource scarcity the remaining south american resources would require strong defense.....

11/7/12, 8:09 PM

Dave said...
"Dave, political and economic power concentrates in cities"

That's the problem. Many rural areas suffer the political domination of distant cities that don't care about their needs and contribute little to their economy. Upstate New York, Downstate Illinois, Eastern Washington and Oregon, California's Central Valley, etc. After the red states secede, many of those regions will try to break away and join them.

In my scenario, Texas secedes first, followed by most of the red states. They form the Rattlesnake Confederacy, fly the Gadsden flag (usually below the state flag), and thanks to the Internet, decide they don't need a capital city. With Fort Knox and most of the military on their side, the Rattlers negotiate with the rump USA (still flying the 57-star flag) to divvy up national debts and assets. Years later, in a dispute over oil revenues, Alberta secedes from Canada and joins the Confederacy.

11/8/12, 3:40 PM

Picador said...

Didn't mean to be so critical. Like I said, the first four entries had me on the edge of my seat. I just didn't think the last one was up to the very high standard set by the first four. But then, this kind of writing inevitably gets much harder the farther the events in the story spin away from the patterns of the present.

As for my comments about peaceful dissolution being improbable: you may be right that my visits to DC have exposed me to an exceptional slice of America. I am well aware that DC in 2012 exists inside a bubble of affluence and illusion, while the rest of the country suffers. This was not true when I was growing up there, which makes it all the more noticeable when I go back. It's very clear to even the casual observer that this state of affairs cannot last. I'm just not persuaded that things would fall apart quite as quickly and peacefully as you depict. I think the citizens of the USSR had long been relieved of their illusions of national invincibility before the collapse in 1991. I don't think that's true in the US, even among those who pay lip service to "small government" etc. These people still think that the US is the greatest nation in the world, they still support massive military interventions, etc. Look at the polling numbers on Iran, here:

Doesn't look to me like "ordinary Americans" have any interest in dismantling their empire any time soon.

11/9/12, 9:20 AM

AGL said...
Hello, JMG.

Ran across this post at and immediately thought of you. I post it here merely to draw it to your attention. Feel free to share it with everyone else if you see fit. Otherwise, feel free to delete and carry on as always.

Many thanks for all your work. Quite a community of folks you've attracted here. I look forward to each post.

Best, AGL

11/26/12, 10:27 AM

Bruce The Druid said...
Certainly a hot button topic, and living in ground zero for much of my life, living in inland Southern California, two hours from the border, I get the impression many of the commentators seems to be (still) missing the point. "White Flight" and "The Mexicans are taking over!" are phrases I am well acquainted with. I am surprised how emotional I have become after reading through the 150+ comments.

John, I don't need to drive around looking for evidence of what you say. I simply take a walk. Two miles from our little enclave of Canyon Crest (home to UC, Riverside Professors and students)I have my pick of barrios with the corner market with Spanish only signage packed with Mexican products. Over half of the radio stations are Spanish language, the schools are predominantly Hispanic. Just up the street we have several abandoned factories, warehouses, empty office space, deteriorating streets, failing schools, etc. While people point fingers, its pretty obvious whats going on, if you can ignore the rhetoric and simply observe.

I realized then I could fill a notebook detailing my experiences, from my school years, to my workplace experiences, to my college years, driving a fire bus transporting firefighter hand crews from Oregon down to Sierra Vista, AZ. One thing I learned is that nothing is as it seems.

Three books I would recommend for a non-academic point of view: "Wild Steps of Heaven", "Rain of Gold" by Victor Villasenor, and "Cornbread Mafia" by James Higdon.

"Falling Down" with Michael Douglas is an excellent movie, if you understand that is satire. I think it describes quite well the dilemma of the "white man" in America and "his" warped view of reality.

Fun Fact: Many "upstanding" families of the Confederacy left the South rather than live under Yankee rule. Where did they go? Mexico and Brazil:

Kind of mindblowing, doncha think?

12/2/12, 6:03 PM

Sarenth said...
This project is inspiring me to look at Michigan post-collapse of the U.S. Very interesting, and fun, in its own way. So I'm taking a stab at writing from the perspective of one person looking back on things.


12/5/12, 1:06 AM