Imagination, a Force to Be Reckoned With

I’m constantly surprised by the lack of imagination with so many people. This even includes many intelligent people who I know are able to think outside-the-box and to consider alternative perspectives. But imagination is a genuine talent, separate from intelligence.

I guess I’m surprised because I take imagination for granted. It is a talent that either I was born with or I learned young. As long as I can remember, I was always creative and curious. I have many other inadequacies and deficiencies, but a lack of imagination hasn’t tended to be a failing of mine.

Imagination is one of the most frustrating talents to possess. Cognitive imagination is to conceive of other possibilities and emotional imagination is to perceive other experiences. I’m about equally proficient in both at this point in my life, although my natural ability is more in the direction of emotional imagination.

I have a natural instinct for empathy which can be problematic, as it relates to hyper-sensitivity and some social anxiety, and hence contibuting to my introversion, depression, and certain anti-social tendencies. I can’t watch the news without the experience of complete strangers being emotionally or even viscerally real to me, as if I’m there with the people being shown. There is a paper thin boundary surrounding my emotional experience.

When I imagine possibilities, they are real to me while I imagine them. A possibility isn’t just an abstract thought. I build my imaginings out of my personal experience. The ability to reconstruct one’s experience into new forms is something I couldn’t begin to explain. I’m not sure how I go about doing this. It simply comes naturally to me. I normally don’t think about it. My imaginings just happen in the way lifting my arm just happens. The intent and the result are so nearly simultaneous as to feel seamless.

The one thing that is hard for me to imagine is not being the way I am. I constantly live in a world of possibilities and empathy. The type of person who is strongly and narrowly focused, who is practical and simply sees the world “as it is”, such a person is almost beyond my imaginative capacities. It is as if I don’t even live in the same world as those people, and they’d probably say the same thing about me.

My imagination has been honed over my lifetime. I’ve gained a fair amount of experience of the world and even moreso I’ve gained knowledge. Those are two central factors that are beyond imagination as mere talent. Anyone can gain experience and knowledge and by doing so expand the range of their imagination. But few people ever get around to going beyond the experience and knowledge they gained when they were young.

Most people just know what they know. This is typically constrained by what they’ve been taught and told. Even their experience has been constrained by the social world they are part of. Few ever venture outside of this safe zone of certainty and familiarity, even just in imagination, much less in actuality.

To venture into the unknown is a risk. I’m not so much thinking of the risk to life and limb. I’m more considering the risk of change and of being changed. There are certain experiences that can’t be forgotten, certain ideas that can’t be unthought, certain possibilities that can’t be unimagined. Once this happens, you can’t return to what you left as if everything is the same. Once something becomes real in your experience or your mind, it isn’t easily made unreal again.

To even just think of a possibility, even without seriously imagining it, is dangerous. You begin to give it the force of thought. You’ve welcomed it into your mindspace and it may not be so easily dislodged. As I see it, that was the power of the Enlightenment. New ideas and imaginings were introduced. They acted like mind viruses and transformed the people who came into contact with them. Once you have the notion of freedom and independence, how can you go back to drudgery and oppression?

We face a similar era of new radical thought. We are at a time when people are more seriously considering what democracy means, what it could or should mean. Many who fear change have gone to great lengths to contain this contagion. Once people genuinely imagine the possibilities of democracy, how can they go back to being satisfied with mere voting? Once people have felt deep in their gut the possibility of self-governance, why would they ever again be satisfied with being ruled by an elite? Once people begin to take seriously the freedom part of the free market ideal, can they ever again be contented with capitalism and corporatism?

Imagination isn’t easy. But sometimes conditions are just right that the imaginations are sparked even for the unimaginative. Much of what we feel able to imagine depends on what our society tells us can be imagined. When new possibilities are in the air, the floodgates of imagination are opened. Then, instead of just a rare talent, imagination becomes a dominant force.

40 thoughts on “Imagination, a Force to Be Reckoned With

  1. The Enlightenment really is a great example. When the ideas were first articulated, few could imagine how infectious they would become and the impact they would have. There have always been radicals and troublemakers who will run with some idea. Many of the poor and disadvantaged, of course, would feel inspired by some of the moral rhetoric.

    But it would have been hard to predict something like the American Revolution where these ideas came to infect even the minds of the slave owning aristocracy, the very people who should have been scared shitless by the possibilities that were being let loose on society. In terms of naked power and profit, the ruling elite had little to gain and much to lose. These radical ideas got the better of them and some of them felt as inspired as the lower classes.

    A few like Jefferson held out the hope that people like himself, slave owning aristocrats, would one day be obsolete. Now, that is inspired, to feel so much excitement about future possibilities that the bonds to the status quo become loosened. Hypocrite though he was, Jefferson helped to promote the very ideas that indeed one day would make slave owners obsolete. He helped to destroy his own way of life and the entire social order he was a part of.

    That is the power of imagination. An idea can grip the mind and never let go. People will kill and die for ideas, start revolutions even, potentially sacrificing everything they have ever known. An idea is a seed and only after it is planted in the mind does one find out what it will grow into.

  2. The problem is that most people are not naturally curious, naturally imaginative, and have a very linear way of thinking about problems.

    I suppose conservatives do argue that this is an argument for economic inequality, but I am more concerned about the long term implications for the human race more than anything else.

    • Like many others, I’d argue people are naturally curious. We are socialized, trained, and educated to not be curious. It takes great concerted effort by a society to destroy the instinct of curiosity that every child is born with. Imagination, I’d also argue, is likewise a natural potential of human nature and the corollary to curiosity.

      This different view of human nature is what makes me a liberal, specifically a radical liberal, rather than a conservative or a conservative-minded mainstream liberal. I don’t think of myself as inherently radical, but society in seeing imagination and curiosity as a threat forces my principled liberalism into radical mode.

  3. There are two competing views on curiosity.

    The first is that people are naturally curious and that it is society that suppressed that sense of curiosity.

    The other is that only a small amount of people are actually curious and rational. Most are content and passive. I tend to subscribe to this view. We never really evolved a sense of long term curiosity.

    • I see human potential as vast, not infinite but still vast. We have no clue how much potential for curiosity humans possess. We only see mere gllimpses of what humans are capable of. One thing we can be certain of is that humans have greater potential than they express. The question is what kind of society might allow greater expression of that potential. That has been the question of the entire history of civilization. All of progress has been an expansion of human capacity in the world.

  4. It doesn’t matter either way. There has been no society that has managed to encourage free inquiry for the human brain to achieve its full potential.

    There is also a paradox of how people who want to build such a society can realize their ambitions.

    I believe that it is a lower order curiosity because we evolved to minimize energy consumption more than anything else.

    • I think it matters, but I understand your doubts. As I see it, some societies have been much better at encouraging free inquiry than others. The US is doing better now than most societies in human history. There is real progress in that, whether or not you think its significant enough. The internet itself is the most massive expression of colllective human curiosity that the species has ever seen.

  5. Perhaps so, but it might not be “good enough”.

    I would argue in some ways, the Europeans, perhaps the other Anglo nations, and maybe even the East Asians have built a society that is in some ways better than the US in terms of free inquiry, in some ways worse.

    But “good enough” does have a bar.

    – Will society make serious efforts to address internal problems like declining quality of life, education that is increasingly rote based, and poor future prospects for future generations

    – Will the US in particular make a serious effort to re-vitalize itself, as the problems seem more serious in the US than elsewhere

    – Will there be a serious effort to build a more egalitarian society and roll back neoliberalism?

    – How will each nation do relative to the others – East Asia right now seems ascendant in some ways

    – Can serious global problems be addressed? Global warming is a good example of one.

    These are bars that if a society fails, there will be very serious consequences in not addressing or worsening them.

    • There are two aspects for me. Both are personal.

      First, I have an instinct for idealism. In Myers-Briggs terms, this would be my dominant function of Introverted Feeling (Fi) filtered through my auxiliary function of Extraverted iNtuition (Ne). These are the two main functions of an INFP, the most idealistic of all the types.

      I can’t begin to explain to you what this means on a personal level. Fi gives me a sense of absolute and passionate conviction in what I believe is right and what I feel is true. There is a core sense of value that means everything to me. Ne gives me an infinite sense of possibility and potential in the world, an endless creativity and curiosity, which my Fi allows me to sense in others as well. I see in others what even they may not see in themselves and this is broadened to my entire sense of society and humanity.

      I am a hopeless idealist. I have a cynical and pessimistic side as well. But none of that changes the idealism that lives within me. Not all the depression and despair in the world has been able to kill that idealism, not yet. It isn’t rational and neither is it irrational. It just is what it is.

      Second, I know deep in my bones the suffering in the world. I know all the ways humans fail. My empathy and imagination never lets me forget. I stand on the brink of despair as a normal part of my existence. My vision of the darkness and evil in the world is Gnostic in proportions, but it is also Gnostic in its visionary quality. In some sense, I see the “Kingdom of God” all around me in this world, a sense of infinite potential that makes human failure seem all the worse in comparison.

      This is not a theoretical discussion to me. It is my life on the line. I’ve spent my entire adulthood with chronic depression as my constant companion. I’ve attempted suicide before and that frames my sense of life. I know how easily life can be ended and also how hard it really is to accomplish that. If I were to ever fully and permanently fall into cynicism, I would kill myself and this time I would not fail.

      I have to believe with my heart of hearts that humans are capable of more. It is the only way I survive day by day. It is my fight against the darkness in the world that makes me resonate with the radical hope given voice to by the likes of MLK. It isn’t lost on me that people who cling the strongest to that hope are the very ones to be chewed up and spit out by this world. Even MLK seemed to have seen his own death coming and it just made his hope all that more radical. He wouldn’t back down, no matter how hopeless it may have seemed to others.

      The world needs holy fools who will fight against impossible odds. Nothing great in this world was ever accomplished because most people thought it was possible, much less reasonable. All of civilization was impossible according to the status quo of the earliest hunter-gatherer bands. Likewise, according to the status quo of the present system of power, democracy is impossible. Rationally, there is no more reason to believe humans can form democratic societies than for people in the past to have believed humans could fly or land on the moon.

      It’s a good thing there are enough unreasonable people in the world to force progress. Humans are endlessly destructive and yet humans are also endlessly creative. I can’t tell you what that will mean in the end. But I do feel certain enough to say that there are a million experiments going on in the world right now. Whatever the future may become is already taking form somewhere in the world. We are discussing the past carried over into the present, even as others are building the future and none of us may live to see it.

      We live in an era of crisis. The future seems uncertain. But such crises have come many times in the past. They come and go, and in their place new social orders take root. Maybe this crisis will be the final crisis to end all crises. Then again, people in the past thought that about their own eras. Doom and gloom is the oldest myth of civilization. The world is always ending and yet never ends.

      I can just as easily turn my skepticism toward expressions of doom as toward expressions of hope. My skepticism is equal opportunity. Doom and hope are always intertwined. Human potential, however, is beyond either doom or hope. The one thing that never changes is change itself. We can be guaranteed that the future will be different from the past.

    • Basically, I want a world worth living in. I will do anything in my power to help make that world possible. Because seeing that as a futile effort would mean that this is a world not worth living in. Why would I want to live in a world not worth living in? And why woudn’t I do everything in my power to make a world worth living in?

      I’ve always believed ideas and words have immense power. How and what we think, how and what we communicate creates the framework for the world we collectively create. The world is the way it is because people like you and I helped make it that way. History shows that a change in ideas, such as with the Enlightenment, can change all of society.

      If I was so cynical as to believe such change impossible and naive, I would see no point in life at all. What little happiness and pleasure I get out of life doesn’t offset all the suffering. Without hope, the world would be a dark place. So why not hope? It was hope that transformed the world in the past, that ended feudalism and legal slavery, that made theocracy and monarchy rare.

      Lacking hope, what do you have? What makes life worth living?

    • It is an interesting question to ask yourself: Why go on living? Why not kill yourself? That question puts life in perspective like nothing else can.

      Do you ever ask yourself that? If so, have you come up with an answer? What keeps you alive? Is it just fear of death? Or do you just seek the good life for yourself and too bad for the rest of the world and future generations? Do you genuinely believe that you can make no difference, that your life doesn’t matter, that there is little hope for anything better?

      Are you a philosophical pessimist like Peter Wessel Zappfe and Thomas Ligotti? I fully sympathize with that position. I sometimes identify as a philosophical pessimist as I’m agnostic about freewill, my sense of humann potential not being dependent on freewill. But I’m not a cynical fatalist.

      I’ve struggled with these thoughts for decades. I don’t just have blind faith in human progress. I make it my business to look for reasons for hope. It is easy to find reasons for despair. There are always reasons, whether they end up being reasonable reasons or just more rationalizations. Despair can be rationalized just as easily as hope. Doom and despair easily becomes just another belief system.

      We should always be careful which beliefs we hold and invest ourselves into. We can never absolutely know reality, not even human reality. None of us knows what is genuinely possible and impossible. This is why I’ve come to embrace an attitude of experimentation, of life as an experiment.

      As I see it, life is about what gets you out of bed in the morning. For some people, the habits and drudgery of life are enough to keep them going, just the inertia of living itself. Sure, there doesn’t need to be a reason for life. But I’ve personally have found it necessary in dealing with my depression. Having a worthy reason to go on living is a nice thing to have, so I think.

  6. By that logic, one should take ones life upon facing an exceptionally difficult challenge.

    Humans are far from perfect. We are anti intellectual. We hold to an ideology when it makes no sense to do so. We procrastinate. We have a strong tolerance for cognitive dissonance.

    The best way to address the problem is to acknowledge the problem in the open and try to develop a system that compensates for the weaknesses as best as possible.

    That being said the unexpected is inevitable at times. The thing is, the better the average quality of free intellect, the more I would be willing to bet on pleasant rather than unpleasant surprises.

    • “By that logic, one should take ones life upon facing an exceptionally difficult challenge.”

      No. That isn’t the logic I was proposing. I actually argued that hope can at times be strongest in face of adversity, for hope tested can manifest as faith and compassion. That is why I used the example of MLK. Adversity with hope can be more bearable than no adversity combined with no hope.

      “Humans are far from perfect. We are anti intellectual. We hold to an ideology when it makes no sense to do so. We procrastinate. We have a strong tolerance for cognitive dissonance.”

      And humans are far from being utterly depraved and beyond hope. There are near endless positive attributes that humans possess and express on a regular basis. But what we focus on we tend to increase because what we focus on frames how we think about our choices and determines even what choices we can see. How we think leads to how we act which in turn leads to what the world becomes.

      “The best way to address the problem is to acknowledge the problem in the open and try to develop a system that compensates for the weaknesses as best as possible.”

      We’ll have a hard time acknowledging our problems and compensating for our weaknesses if we can’t or won’t acknowledge the very strengths that would help us compensate for our weakensses. If weaknesses are all that we see, then we are unlikely to find effective ways to compensate.

      “That being said the unexpected is inevitable at times. The thing is, the better the average quality of free intellect, the more I would be willing to bet on pleasant rather than unpleasant surprises.”

      I’d agree about intellect. But I’d point out that intellect on average has improved vastly over history. Just a century ago the average American had little ability to think abstractly, an ability that since has for the first time ever has become the norm for the American population. Those earlier Americans when tested had average IQs that today would be judged functionally retarded, and yet those Americans did and built great things.

      Our society needs to be put in perspective.

    • I should point out that I’m quite negative. I spend much of my life dwelling in and obsessing over everything that is wrong with the world. Seeing problems and weaknesses is one of my greatest talents. But I’ve learned to compensate for this negative side of my personality. All of life is a tricky attempt at maintaining balance between extremes, so it seems to me.

    • I’m a person who sees possibilities. But the thing is that I see negative possibilities just as easily as positive possibilities. Put it more simply, I just see endless possibilities. I don’t tend to categorize in terms of positive and negative, although sometimes I do.

      Along with my possibility-mindedness, I have a strong contrarian streak. If I’m around someone who is constantly emphasizing the positve, I’m likely to point out the negative. And vice versa. I can’t help it. I feel the compulsion to give voice to whichever possibilities are being ignored and not acknowledged.

      I’m sorry if I was irritating you by this tendency of mine. But it is fundamental to how I view the world. I see possibilities. I’m incapable of not seeing possibilities. It is who I am. All of my writing comes from this attitude, this way of thinking and perceiving.

      • The long term trends certainly give some reason for encouragement.

        1. The elite can no longer for example oppose democracy. They know that using excuses like divine right to rule no longer will hold water. Instead they are forced to use sophisticated propaganda to keep up the idea that a highly unequal society is a good thing.

        2. In the Western world, there has been advancement of women’s rights, racial equality, and a few other areas. It’s not perfect, but it’s a huge step forward. It is increasingly less acceptable to be racist for example and the right has lost the narrative hear.

        For sure though, there are regressive forces here. The Religious Right, the various anti-immigrant factions in Europe, and so on.

        3. Knowledge too is increasingly valued among, at least among the urban population and in general in the Western world outside the US.

        4. As an extension of 3, logic and reason have made substantial inroads, a product of the Enlightenment. Generation Y looks to continue this.

        5. It’s possible that we’ve reached a point where a large proportion of the population is rejecting materialism, maybe capitalism as well in favor of a more egalitarian society.

        There are some positive trends for sure.

        But at the same time, we have other trends, such as the police state, rising inequality, the still dominant neoliberal econoimcs, etc.

        Some of these are worsening. Worse, a large proportion of the population seems passive and complicit in their own decline.

        • “The long term trends certainly give some reason for encouragement”

          I’m a long term optimist and a short term pessimist.

          “But at the same time, we have other trends, such as the police state, rising inequality, the still dominant neoliberal econoimcs, etc.”

          Yeah, that is the short term. Within any era of history, there are always seeming downward trends. Sometimes they even have bad endings, at least temporarily, as nothing is ended for humanity until the entire species is ended.

          Take the trends that led to the collapse of the Roman Empire. It could be interpreted as not so much a collapse as a shift of power to other Romanized governments. Also despite it being called the Dark Ages, the average person was healthier after the Roman Empire was gone, as studies have shown.

          If the Roman Empire had remained in power or even grown, then maybe none of the rest would have followed. No Protestant Reformation, no Renaissance, no Enlightenment, no democratization of the West, etc. Shifts are traumatic but necessary for allowing for new ideas and systems.

          “Some of these are worsening. Worse, a large proportion of the population seems passive and complicit in their own decline.”

          That is always true. But it is also relative. Most of the population of Americans today are likely a lot less passive than most of the population of Rome. Once again, it is all about perspective.

  7. I still think that the risk of a 1984-like society is very real.

    Life after Rome was complex. Some things though, there were very real declines. There were some areas that were less well off, some more well off. The other issue is that the ability to build large scale engineering declined drastically.

    This is an especially big problem as science, infrastructure, and other areas play a much bigger role.

  8. On the note of small societies, let’s do a thought exercise.

    What if the US did split?

    – The Northeastern US would make up one nation
    – The Southeast, along the Bible Belt would make another nation up, which would include Appalachia and perhaps Virginia, and parts of Texas
    – The Midwest would make up a region
    – The Western states would make up another region
    – Along the West Coast, there would be another nation

    So around 50-60 million people per nation.

    How would that look?

    • Some would consider that a collapse and a disaster. It would likely be traumatic and violent, although not necessarily. From another perspective, it could be a progressive evolution of power toward democratic decentralization. or, in some respects, a return to the simpler societies of the past.

      So, the US very well might be in decline and that might involve catastrohpe. There might be revolutions, civil wars, or even world wars. But in the end, it might be a better world for the reordering. The trick is the process from here to there. It would be nice to smooth the pathway to make the change easier. I think the US should look to the British Empire’s slow disintegration as a model.

      • I get the impression that when a nation disintegrates they will not have a choice on the model. Collapse is by nature hard to predict and not controllable.

        The other problem is that the political climate in the US is toxic. The 0.1% will not be letting go of their control or their wealth.

        I think that for some parts of the split up state, it would be worse.

        • “I get the impression that when a nation disintegrates they will not have a choice on the model. Collapse is by nature hard to predict and not controllable.”

          I agree. But to some extent the condtions that make collapse possible and probable can be foreseen. More generally, major changes can be foreseen, which may or may not lead to collapse, depending of course on our collective response to it.

          I was having a discussion about revolution on facebook:

          I offered this quote by RFK:

          “A revolution is coming — a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough — But a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.”
          ~ Robert F. Kennedy

          The interesting context to that quote is that apparently he was speaking to a Peruvian crowd. But his vision of revolution was large in scope, as indicated in some other things he said in the same speech:

          “America is, after all, the land of becoming–a continent which will be in ferment as long as it is America, a land which will never cease to change and grow. We are as we act. We are the children and the heirs of revolutions and we fulfill our destiny only as we advance the struggle which began in Santa Fe in 1580, which continued Philadelphia in 1776 and Caracas in 1811–and which continues today.”

          He was speaking of all of ‘America’ as a revolutionary society with a long history of history, a history that was ongoing and still in the making. All of ‘America’ or rather the Americas is made up of post-colonial countries, including the United States. These are all young countries that aren’t yet stable.

          In trying to explain what I meant (and maybe what RFK meant), I made another comment about revolution as systemic change:

          “Change is inevitable, but some societies deal with it better than others. Some choose gradual reform. The US has never been great at gradual reform. We are a society with a strong reactionary streak. We are one of the few countries in the world that has its origins in revolution. Many other countries were able to end slavery without violence, but the US required a civil war that almost destroyed the country. The civil rights movement even required quite a bit of violence and the threat of even greater violence for the government to respond, and it helped that there was a Cold War going on which morally foced the hand of those in power. So, the civil rights movement didn’t require mass violence at the level of a civil war, but I consider it to be just as revolutionary. Many people see the civil rights movement as a continuation of a fight that began with the American Revolution and continued through the American Civil War. Change has always required struggle in the US, and sadly that has too often been violent, but it doesn’t need to be. Many countries have allowed for massive change without violence.”

          If we know massive change is coming, we can prepare for it as best we can. That could involve many things. Effective reform would be great, but both you and I lack faith in our government to allow the changes to happen willingly from within the system. As you say,

          “The other problem is that the political climate in the US is toxic. The 0.1% will not be letting go of their control or their wealth.”

          That’s a tough problem. The most problematic of problems is those in power who won’t let all the other problems be solved. It’s not just that there is a plutocracy. Other well functioning societies have plutocracies. It’s just the US plutocracy lacks a traditional sense of social responsibility as a duty and obligation of being born into privilege.

          It is hard to allow for fundamental change when those in power resist it to such an extent. In the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Progressive Era, and the Civil Rights movement, there was finally enough people in power who either relented to or joined in the change that was happening. But it would be nice to get the powerful on board without letting it get to the point of violence or threat of collapse.

          “I think that for some parts of the split up state, it would be worse.”

          I have no doubt that would be the case. Some woud thrive under the new condtions. Others not so much.

  9. Thinking about this, I’d guess that the Northeast would do well. The West Coast and the West might face problems due to drought though. The South would be in trouble. The Midwest would I think be a mixed bag due to the decline in manufacturing.

    Yes I would argue that the US plutocracy does not seem ot have any sort of civic sense of responsibility. I would argue that this is the same problem that faced Rome.

    The question is, how does it end for the US? I don’t think that a total collapse is likely, but there will no doubt be serious difficulties.

  10. A fascinating question will be where one would want to live after the split? I would hesitate to guess the Northeast or the Northwest, or perhaps the more prosperous parts of the West and Midwest.

    The rest of the US though could face declines in living standards.

    • I think the Upper Midwest bordering Canada would do the best. In fact, they might just decide to join Canada. They already share a regional culture and an ancestral heritage because of settlement patterns.

      It is great farmland with plenty of water. That is the main thing needed for a stable and prosperous society. If not for farming (mostly from the Midwestern Breadbasket), the US never would have become a powerful nation in the first place.

      • The reason why I don’t think that is because outside of the agricultural sector there are serious difficulties.

        They call it the Rust Belt for a reason. In some cities, most notably Detroit, but parts of Chicago as well, the politics of race remain almost as severe as the South.

        Finally, it is not clear what global warming will do. The Northeast will get an increase in precipitation (which may be bad too as it could raise the risk of flooding), but the Midwest is uncertain, and that’s a problem. Soil depletion, unsustainable farming too add up.

        On the other hand, as you note, even with those, farming does play a major role, and even with depletion, it is blessed with one of the richest soils in the world.

        It’s hard to predict really.

        The cities tend to be very left of center and right at home in Canada (or left wing Canada). The rural areas of the Midwest though are very conservative (and I should also note very rapidly aging too).

        • I would agree with you about the Lower Midwest, specifically the states part of the Rust Belt. But that wasn’t what I meant.

          I was talking about the Upper Midwest. It primarily includes Wisconsin and Minnesota but also the Dakotas. You could expand that region a bit by including all of the Midwest north and west of the Mississippi River. This would add Iowa and Nebraska. All combined, this could be thought of as the Midnorthwest.

          These are the states that are and always have been primarily agricultural. Even with soil erosion, they still have a lot of the best soil in the world left. That rich dark soil is quite deep.

          The Upper-Midwest/Midnorthwest is distinct from the more Eastern and earlier settled Midwest. The Rust Belt is racially and ethnically diverse. The area I’m talking about is quite homogenous, mostly Germans and secondarily Scandinavians. The settlement pattern of this area extends up into Canada.

          By the way, this relates to climate change. Global warming would likely shift the primary growing region of North America to this border region between the two countries.

          There are aging populations in the rural areas. But this is the most economically stable area of the country. It also includes interesting economic experiments like the North Dakota public bank. These states were largely untouched by the recession.

  11. Perhaps so … the upper Midwest splitting off into yet another group of nations. Interesting, so 7 rather than 6 nations.

    One thing I would like to note is that the Dakotas in particular are prosperous owing to the discovery of oil as well as other factors like the Bank of North Dakota.

    It might form a pretty interesting area not unlike Canada as you note. There might be still some degree of right wing politics though. Wisconsin’s failed recall election and Michelle Bachmann are good examples. Of course, Canada has its own crazies – Rob Ford being an example and I would argue Harper as well, our current Prime Minister who I view as a disgrace

    • It is also an interesting place politically. It does have some reactionary politics but also a history of a particular kind of radical left-wing politics. Both are probably related. There has been a strong third party tradition in this area. Along with the ND public bank, there has been sewer socialism and lots of co-ops. This is the origin of an agrarian socialism that migrated up to Canada. The Populist and Progressive eras were important to these states. In some ways, it is a politically unpredictable region.

  12. Well they did play a role in forming the NDP and starting universal healthcare.

    I suppose if you split the nation into 7 fragments, then 6.

    So that leaves us with:
    – Northeast (mostly New England)
    – Midwest Rust belt from upstate New York to perhaps Illinois (includes MIchigan)
    – Upper Midwest (Iowa, Minnesota, Dakotas, Wisconsin)
    – Southern States (Appalachia, Kentucky, the Virginians)
    – Deep South (primarily the Bible Belt)
    – Western states (interior Western states)
    – West Coast (along the Pacific)

    It’s not a perfect split, but it’s more representative of what cultural and ideological boundaries there are.

    Alternative I guess is a blue-red split.

    • It could be interesting. The best way to do it might to be make each region its own independent confederation of states. The regional confederations could to varying degrees and in various ways form agreements and alliances, temporary or long-lasting, with other nearby regional confederations.

      The Upper Midwest, as defined here, has some cultural commonality with the Northeast. Because of settlement patterns, New England’s cutural influence extended west quite a ways. This is why there are New England style farmland-surrounded small college towns found in Iowa.

      These two regions border Canada as well which also gives them more commonality. Maybe all the regions bordering Canada would create a collective agreement with Canada. It would mostly deal with trade and transportation. This would be important for Canada as these border regions would be a buffer zone for defense purposes, if for nothing else.

      All the farming regional confederations might create a trade agreement. That might help their ability to compete better on the global market. This might also help them deal with issues of climate change and water resources that impact the entire area.

      The Upper South could just as easily form an alliance with the Lower Midwest as with the Deep South. Or maybe the Upper South, having been an economic drain on the US, would suddenly find itself unwanted by any other region. That could be a problem. It might lead to an unstable region. Appalachia, in particular, might become a dangerous place where fundamentalist terrorism and drug cartels could form bases. It might become the Afghanistan of North America. The regions surrounding it might struggle to keep it contained, and the isolating of the region would just make it worse.

      The Deep South could be quite an interesting place. The Southwest as well. Both would suddenly find themselves minority-majorities without the rest of white America to counterbalance them. There would be no federal government to turn to. Like the Upper South, the Deep South has grown economically dependent upon the federal government. It would be a shock to the system, after decades of state’s rights and anti-big gov rhetoric. The white ruling elite would be forced to finally take responsibility for their ideological BS. And that white ruling elite would find itself surrounded by dark faces, no where to escape.

      A civil war or even revolution might erupt all along the southern regions of the former United States, and that might further foment unrest in Northern Mexico. The Southwest and Northern Mexico might reconnect as they were prior to the US dividing them.

      It’s harder for me to imagine what would happen to the West Coast, specifically the Pacific Northwest. They would be much more isolated from the other regions and their problems, and might choose to barricade themselves in their corner of the continent. Maybe they’d form their own separate alliance with Canada and the Pacific islands.

  13. The Northwest in particular has a close relationship with Canada. Vancouver and Seattle for example are regarded as sister cities. They call the area “Cascadia”, although the interior tends to be a bit more libertarian conservative than anything else.

    New England I think would be one of the biggest beneficiaries. They’ve gotten the short end of the stick historically due to the fact they pay so much from the federal government and get less back.

    I suspect that the Upper and Deep South would end up with conditions closer to that of a developing nation. It’d be interesting to see how Florida reacts to being geographically isolated.

    So I suspect – doing well and will probably form an agreement with Canada:

    – Upper Midwest
    – West Coast
    – New England

    Not doing well
    – Upper South
    – Deep South

    Mixed bag
    – Rust belt
    – West

    The West is interesting because there are some states that are doing very well (Colorado comes to mind). A lot of the West and Southwest though is heavily subsidized. Once that ends, it could be a problem.

  14. I should mention that I will add the coast of California to the West Coast areas and the interior California to the Western interior.

    • The mountains create a division along the West Coast. To the east of the mountain ranges it is extremely dry. And to the west it is extremely moist and temperate. That is true at least as far as Oregon which has the only rainforests in the US, but just on the other side of the mountains there is desert. This forms two quite distinct bio-regions side by side.

      Also, I’d note that, in California, there is a clear divide between Northern and Southern parts.

      Southern California has a history as an important part of the Spanish Empire and so shows cultural continuity with the Southwest. Much of California still uses the land divisions set up by the Spanish Empire. On top of this, there was a mass migration of “Okies” from the Deep South to Southern California. It shares a military industrial economy with Texas and a fundamentalist culture with the South.

      As for Northern California, it had an early wave of New England settlers. They established the progressive liberal tradition of intellectualism and industriousness. Also, part of the weird alternative spirituality also originally comes from the northeast.

      By the way, Utah also originates from New England. That is where the early Mormons came from. The Mormons are the last of the Puritans who mutated into a new form. If you look at Mormon history, you’ll see that religious tradition of progressivism and collectivism. This is why Utah decided to give homes to its homeless, something that wouldn’t happen in the Bible Belt. It is a different Yankee kind of religiosity that doesn’t emphasize the individual so much.

  15. Between the South and North of California, I’d say that the gap is not so large that they’d split up. The interior though is different as its much more conservative.

    It’s a rough generalization between the biggest areas – unless you want even smaller nations (Balkanization) in a sense. I was aiming for 30-100 million per nation.

  16. Yeah I still think that 7 is the right number. We could split it even more, but then they’d be really small.

    I’d have to argue that South California, particularly dominated along the West Coast, by cities like LA and San Diego are relatively left of center and for the most part would be a part of the West Coast state. There are differences, but it’s not huge.

    The interior though would definitely go into the Western states.

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