Monday, February 26, 2007

A Natural History of States: Waiting for Arnold, Part 2

By Bernie Quigley for The Free Market News Network, 2/26/07

At the end of this cosmic age Vishnu will change into a white horse and create a new world. This refers to Pegasus, who ushers in the Aquarian Age. - Carl Jung

Photo by Annie Leibowitz

FMNN reader Tom asks: "Am I reading that Arnold and many Californians would love to secede from the Nation? Does west coast harbor secession?"

I see nothing overt. But part of what I do in my life is write about historical patterns as they portend a change in culture and California appears to be in a state of awakening and beginning to feel a state of autonomy similar to what New England felt in the mid 1700s.

History has soft conditions and hard conditions, much like the body has bones and blood. They each do their own things, but they go to the same place. Beneath the hurrah and hubris, lay simple events dictated by economy and perhaps by nature. These bring about secession movements, revolutions and glorious events, but they are only glorious in the eyes of the victors, who paint themselves as great moral warriors and their enemies as criminals. Beneath each historical turning there are simple economic determinants which demand economic and political change.

Among the main ones are different economic structures rising together or a variety of different economic structures acting together. There is an almost biological destiny to these events: the Strong will Eat the Weak, and by weak is implied an economic system no longer suited to the period; it will soon to be overtaken by a new system.

Victoria’s kingdom had slave-based global agriculture and industrial-based economy growing together. The Victorians claimed the high moral ground by freeing the slaves, yet it came at a time when England’s economic base was rapidly moving to industrialization and capitalization and no longer required slaves. These two systems would play out in warfare in the U.S. in 1860. Northern industrialism was the stronger and would dominate.

Redundant economic systems are another cause of change. Beneath the triumphant echoes of American Revolution was the basic economic reality of two political and economic systems doing the same thing. One or the other is eventually irrelevant.

It is different for different regions. Where I live in New England there was a large Puritan population. For the first long while, these people, pious though they may have been, were not particularly competent in surviving in a new land. The Puritans relied for a very long time on the Crown, especially in protecting them against the French and the Indians. By the mid-1700s they had passed on to another kind of culture, and the Yankee yeoman farmer was well able to take care of himself. The job the Brits were required to do – send out the French and the Indians – had been completed. Likewise, by then Boston business people were equal to and as able as their British counterparts.

So what was the point of paying for British security when they no longer needed it and business-supporting tariffs when they were making their own goods and conducting their own trade? New Englanders no longer shared the objectives of British globalism in many ways and naturally came to see themselves as a separate people. As Sun Tzu said, “The war is over before it begins.” The American Revolution was the end-game of a practical relationship that had served its conditions well and worked since 1607. By 1776, it simply no longer made sense.

Much has been written about red and blue state alienation in the last two decades. It is an important division which must be considered if we are to be a federation: A federation implies that each distinct region respects the needs and the culture of the others. But I see this as well as an end-game; the end of 200 years of North/South contention.

It is the fate of all dynamic regions to divide into two parts (which might be called Particle and Wave or Yin and Yang) as the Romans did and as the Christian Church which followed in its wake did; as Paris divides between the Burgher’s Right Bank and the Artist’s Left Bank and as New York City likewise divides between the artist’s Downtown and the businessman’s Uptown. The fate of our country and of this continent will be East/West. What we have seen so far in 400 years is prelude.

Contention has been growing between East and West for a long time – perhaps since the opening of the West. But there has been a distinct breach between New York and its point of view and LA and its point of view at least since 1964. New York, in the academy and in class periodicals like The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker and The NYTs, still looks to Europe and thus lives in the shadow of Europe. At its most regressive, it features itself sitting in the café Les Deux Magots writing one-act plays against racist if only it had a non-smoking section. A characteristic writer in this period like Susan Sontag would want to live in Paris and New York both – they will carry European wood like Sartre and Beckett across the Atlantic to continue the Europeanist pattern in he U.S. Thus, East coast is inherent nihilist and anchored in the past (and, in my opinion, burdened by a useless weight).

LA does not do this: California is born free on the Pacific side of the Mississippi. It opens to new ideas organically, without fear or inhibition and it does not look back. George Lucas is characteristic. Clint Eastwood is characteristic. Arnold Schwarzenegger is characteristic. The Pacific region is conduit to the East and Eastern thinking. NY is terrified of Eastern thinking: Lucas’s Taoist-based Star Wars sent shivers through the deconstructivist English department in the East’s ivory tower.

If you watch pop culture closely as it has been my job to do in different places in the past 40 years, you see this invisible hand of culture everywhere today. I saw it most recently with the Clintons and the comments of Hollywood’s David Geffen and the Dreamworks Three. The Hillary/Geffen discord was an organic East/West spat in which the West established dominance and territoriality over the East.

The Clintons’ mistake was in moving to NY after the Presidency, thinking it to be the center of power and imagining that they could thus dictate power from that perch. But the Clintons (both of them) have a fundamental misunderstanding of power. They think they are the power. Napoleon understood better: Power resides in the people and a true leader is the least of the important people. Geffen understands this: He understood that the Clintons were intending to extend their power beyond their yard and beyond their period.

This can get pretty arcane. If you work in this realm you can see the institutions speak symbolically as the Swedish Academy does when it gives a Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama or Jimmy Carter. The Academy Awards people do the same thing and this week has been a smorgasbord of court drama.

A big issue these past years is why does Martin Scorsese not get the big awards? He’s a great American director, no? And why does Clint Eastwood get one? He makes cop movies and is not so great, is he?

Yes, but Scorsese, like Robert De Niro, is a New Yorker and is always referring to Italian directors of the 1930s and ‘40s that you learn about in film school (and those glasses – he wants to look like one). And they are always going to places like Paris to make friends and making movies about NY.

Not Clint Eastwood (except for Cannes, which is different). True West never looks back across the Mississippi. Not ever. (It is always a fatal error in life; like Moses going back across the Red Sea.) Scorsese finally got his Oscar last night, but only after the Dreamworks Big Three spokesman had put a whooping on the East Coast Clintons a few days before. (And Billary nemesis Al Gore got one as well. Ouch! A double whooping for Billary!)

This is, to paraphrase Clausewitz, culture as warfare by other strategies. The distinction is already there, although it is still amorphous in the ozone. One day it will delineate and rise to politics. Perhaps eventually in history, to warfare.

But not today.

Today, California is the City on the Hill, born free in the new millennium. And as we celebrate it in Virginia this year, the rest of us are 400 years old.

We live in a system of federalism born in the mind of Alexander Hamilton. It proclaims a strong central government without barriers to advance the flow of corporate capital. It was possibly the best form of economy in building new regions out of a frontier. But eventually, those regions will be built, and when they are built they should be able to take care of themselves. The relationship of the regions to the central power will become similar to the relationship between New England and England in the mid 1700s: They will have Redundant Economic and Political Systems. And that implies two taxes for the same services; one of which works well, one of which doesn’t work at all.

I bring it up because there was an interesting op-ed in the NYTs two weeks ago by Gar Alperovitz, an old historian and scholar at the University of Maryland. Alperovitz looks to California and its Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and asks if the country has not reached the point where it is ungovernable as a single unit.

He writes: “SOMETHING interesting is happening in California. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to have grasped the essential truth that no nation — not even the United States — can be managed successfully from the center once it reaches a certain scale. Moreover, the bold proposals that Mr. Schwarzenegger is now making for everything from universal health care to global warming point to the kind of decentralization of power which, once started, could easily shake up America’s fundamental political structure.

“Governor Schwarzenegger is quite clear that California is not simply another state. ‘We are the modern equivalent of the ancient city-states of Athens and Sparta he recently declared. ‘We have the economic strength, we have the population and the technological force of a nation-state.’ In his inaugural address, Mr. Schwarzenegger proclaimed, ‘We are a good and global commonwealth.’”

The Governor today advances his own and the state’s ideas on global warming.

“The federal government doesn’t believe in global warming,” he says. “We do.” End of conversation.

California establishes its own strategies and today even makes inroads out-of-country with British Columbia, creating its own foreign policy.

At one point this question will occur without hostility, but by fair-minded people with basic and simple curiosity: But don’t we pay the feds to think about this? Why are we doing their work? Why are we being taxed for work they are supposed to be doing when we are quite capable of doing it ourselves, and when we do it successfully and they fail at every turning?

California is in a cultural phase of transition. A political phase will inevitably follow. I see no antagonism between Californians and their Governor between themselves and federal government. I see only common sense in their approach.

2 comments:

Rob Gordon said...

Well written and interesting, and you are right "there is something happening in California". For this I think you can blame Bush. California is just to big to be unrepresented by our government- to have a President who is hostile to our values, and to have political parties who see the state as nothing more than a place where they come to get money. Still, no one is seriously talking about succession. For all the damage Bush and the right wing have done, we are still Americans.

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