California Splits

by Katherine Dalton on February 14, 2014 · 6 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Region & Place

4932332761_9b2e62bfd4_z

Louisville, Kentucky. For how many years has much of the country joked about seceding from California? Well, every so often California talks about seceding from us, or at least from itself, and we’re in one of those cycles again. In case you missed this over Christmas, here’s a short piece on technology marketer Tim Draper’s ballot proposal for the six Californias.

Then there are the “seasteaders,”  who are finding Elon Musk’s hopes for Mars-steading too remote at the moment, and who want to create a thousand floating cities on the oceans, little Atlantises of freedom and innovation. Milton Friedman’s grandson Patri Friedman is behind this, in partnership with PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.

Their goal is to seed the next generation of governance beyond the reach of existing countries. In their words, they want to promote “banking systems to better handle the inevitable financial crises, medical regulations that protect people without hindering innovation, and democracies that ensure our representatives truly represent us.” Though this proposal sounds more like a post-religious Shaker village than the secession of the American colonies from Great Britain, one has to be sympathetic with the desire for something smaller to manage.

But the very placedness of both these plans—for even a floating island is still a place–would seem to make them unworkable to Stanford lecturer and entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan. In a talk last year at the Y Combinator’s Start-up School, he proposed the quixotic idea of virtual secession, and encouraged Silicon Valley to stress (more) technologies that enable human beings to leave where they are without physically leaving. 

If, he says, we agree that the notion of a citizen’s “voice” can be epitomized by voting, and “exit” by his emigration, then the ability of a community to “exit gives voice its strength.” (This is part of the argument of secessionists everywhere. You’ve assumed the same premise yourself, dear reader, if you’ve ever walked away from a salesman who wouldn’t give you your required price.)

But Srinivasan is not really talking about the physical exit that enabled his own father to leave India and start anew in the United States. He says Silicon Valley’s response to American economic and governance problems needs to be along the line of the seasteaders or Larry Page’s proposal to build an opt-in society, outside the U.S., outside any government, free for experimentation. Srinivasan then suggests that to a great extent this place be “peopled” remotely—allowing its participants to opt-in in the most flexible way possible.

He says Silicon Valley’s “Ultimate Exit” is a technological one, in a world where “warfare is going to become software, laws are going to become code, management via robotics is going to become automation, and property rights are going to become network effect,” the way the value of bitcoin is due entirely to the effect of others using it. To me this sounds like we’ve left the Shakers and John C. Calhoun behind and taken up with Philip K. Dick, but maybe tonight at dinner you and your family can debate the possibility of taking the “land” out of the concept of “native land,” and see where that leaves you.  Are you able to be native without it?

As urban Californians know to their sorrow, Man was not made for a Megalopolis. I don’t think he’s made for a New Harmony, either. But if the only answer to our wish to improve our neighborhoods is to tell us to ditch them—by making the hard choices of floating out to sea, rocketing to Mars, or resigning ourselves to living better virtually in some other place by working through our computer and a remotely controlled bot—well, none of these choices seem much of a replacement for even the played-out soil of my native state, to me.

On the plus side I am enjoying thinking about names for the new Californias, since most of the ones Tim Draper recommended are boring (Central California) or presumptuous nonstarters (Silicon Valley). His suggestion of “Jefferson” is always good, but speaking personally and as a rank outsider, I would like to see the new states of “Alta California” (reviving an old Spanish name), and, in the good American tradition of using Indian place names, “Ishi” (for the last Yahi indian of his tribe, who emerged from the California forest to live among white men in 1911). And if “Jefferson” is politically impossible, as it probably is for the usual reason, how about the great state of “Jeffers,” for poet Robinson Jeffers.

Shine, fissioning republic! You, kind reader, will have your own excellent suggestions.

Photo credit Benson Kua

 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar John Shelton Reed February 14, 2014 at 8:18 pm

Hi, Katherine –
Nice fancy. Despite my usual pro-secession prejudice, though, the idea of California with 12 senators scares the bejeesus out of me.

avatar Mitchell February 15, 2014 at 9:07 am

California with 12 senators would actually lend a conservative voice to the state. Its not a liberal monolith. Splitting up the state would allow the various regions to have more apt representation.

avatar David Smith February 15, 2014 at 11:04 am

“But if the only answer to our wish to improve our neighborhoods is to tell us to ditch them—by making the hard choices of floating out to sea, rocketing to Mars, or resigning ourselves to living better virtually in some other place by working through our computer and a remotely controlled bot—well, none of these choices seem much of a replacement for even the played-out soil of my native state, to me.”

Utopianism and over-romanticizing (Although, if you truly love something, how can you not romanticize it to some degree?), can infect any idea. My parents moved from here in rural Middle TN in the ’50s to SoCal. The new suburban paradises of LA, San Diego, the Inland Empire, were doubtless largely the products of taking more than their fair share of water from the Colorado R. and from NorCal. In retrospect, I really couldn’t blame NorCal for wanting to secede. Furthermore, much of inland and far northern areas would be fully justified in divesting themselves of the narcissistic and delusional costal cities, who are leading the state into suicide.

The point is any talk of secession – unlike Mr. Srinivisan’s – from a larger entity needs to be grounded (literally!) in reality and a firm understanding of what it means to be human, including our design and limitations! Ah, but yet again, I’m no doubt preaching to the proverbial choir!

avatar D.W. Sabin February 15, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Might we consider “Feckin Igitopolis” as a suitable name? Ahh yes, an archipelago of mellow houseboats flying a flag depicting the Unified Navel. California was a fine place until the 60′s. After that, it became the world’s largest caricature with a crop of Senators and Congressmen who make Caligula’s Horse seem preferable.

Still, the Statement Against The War in Iraq by the citizens of Bolinas remains one of the most picturesque usages of the english language since Bill and Ted communed with Sokrates.

None of these brave-new worlders would ever dream of doing the heavy lifting and frustrating maneuvering of acting on their local stage, they want a blank slate to be made in their own image. I do love the cockeyed notion of living someplace but having your laptop be your republic. No wonder the Zombie Genre seems so persistent.

avatar Kate Dalton February 20, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Thanks, all.

Perhaps the greatest danger of making really big money is the growing conviction that you can possibly do something new and really, really useful with it.

The Srinivasan talk was given with the cheerful smirk of one crazy entrepreneurial dude to another. Nevertheless, such was his argument.

Mr. Sabin, I think “Caligula’s Horse” would be a great article title. Looking forward to it.

avatar dave walsh March 16, 2014 at 8:47 pm

” the greatest danger of making really big money is the growing conviction that you can possibly do something new and really, really useful with it. ”

Think the same thing, and to me is kind of weird, never seems to have affected (as examples) Madonna or Shaq, and I think of it as a burden for those folks. Trying to come up with an explanation I decided it reveals an underlying ideology which is: freedom is equal to choice, and by choice is meant the ability to purchase, and the ability to purchase is determined by the amount of money one has to spend, therefore the folks who have the most money to spend have the most freedom. I am not saying they have invented it so much as succumbed to it.

And so if one day it turns out the code someone wrote is worth billions to advertisers, that person would seem obligated to think of themselves as a modern day John Winthrop or Penn or (pick), founders of a new land, yet without any of their skill, vision or facility. And that is a cross to bear.

I don’t know if that’s correct, it’s just I imagine great fortune earned by someone with a different way of thinking would manifest in a strikingly different way. It’s far from me and I suppose my speculation is vanity, but I’m holding to the seeming weird part.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: