This post is really just me thinking out loud. I normally don't like to think out loud on this site, because I don't want to risk wasting readers' time. So usually what you get from me is a lot more structured in the way of argument and presentation. But on this rare occasion I would like to just think out loud and take you along with me.
You may have thought the title of this article odd: A Strange Idea I Probably Don't Believe. After all, shouldn't people only voice ideas that they hold to? But my answer to that is actually no. I think one of the things that's essential to the life of the mind, and to societal discourse in general, is the freedom to float ideas without necessarily believing them or asking others to believe them. And really if you think about it, how are old ideas supposed to be replaced by new ways of thinking if people are only voicing discourse they believe "acceptable"?
So let me cut to the chase with this idea I probably don't believe.
Maybe America is too big.
I know I regularly champion democracy as the best system of government (and I believe that it is). But maybe democracies can only work when a majority of a population already agrees on the answers to big ethical and philosophical questions— or put a different way, maybe democracy can’t work among a large populace that is deeply divided on major issues (like abortion, guns, the economy, pretty much everything). Maybe an election system where half of the people get the representation they want, and half of the people don’t get the representation they want, is ultimately unsustainable.
I mean honestly… look at a map of the United States. What do you see? I'll tell you what I see.
Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida make up the American South. A majority of people in this region tend to be very religious, if not on an individual level, then most certainly still on a cultural level. Their conservatism is largely of a social nature.
New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, California, Oregon, and Washington are states that are well known for their liberalism, which is largely social and environmental.
Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa are where the large stretches of land are: cornfields, heavily-wooded hilly terrain, large frozen lakes, etc. Residents for the most part care about farming and the environment and conservation, but also care about hunting and gun and property rights. They are neither characteristically liberal or conservative as much as they are "rugged individualist".
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Maine, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island are very liberal, but not in the same way that the Western U.S. is liberal. Yes, socially they're just as open-minded, but the liberalism of the East is normally focused around labor rights and multiculturalism. These states have very heavy union presences, as well as more descendants of European immigrants who came in the early-20th century (mostly Italians, Irishmen, Russians, and Jews) than the rest of the country has.
Now of course there are the odd states that I've left out: West Virginia is kind of a "Why are you even here?" state. Utah is basically Mormon Land full of Mormons who want to do weird Mormon things. And Alaska and Hawaii aren't attached to the landmass, so I left them out too. Whatever. Like I said, I'm just thinking out loud in real time.
Now ask yourself, if we actually carved up America according to states that shared common beliefs and values with each other (as described above), would democracies in the new regions function better or worse than our current democracy?
It just seems like there's an unnecessary amount of ill-will being garnered by Americans toward each other, because populations in these four different sections of the U.S. are basically forced to battle each other every few years to see whose particular values and beliefs get imposed on the rest of the country by the ruling powers.
It's like knowing you're gonna beat the shit out of a total stranger this Black Friday, just like you did last Black Friday and the Black Friday before it. Except instead of your fists you have a ballot, and instead of the place being Best Buy it's the entire nation. It's really kinda nuts isn't it?
But now I'm already thinking again... what if carving America up into four different nations isn't even enough to ensure that most people get the representation in government that they want? After all, within national regions that generally share the same norms and beliefs, you still have large cities that buck their surroundings. Folks who live in Austin and in San Antonio and in Dallas are far more liberal than their fellow Texans everywhere else. Folks who live in the San Joaquin valley in California are considerably more conservative than those who live in San Francisco or LA.
So what if we returned to the City-State model? Would that be a better way of ensuring people felt truly represented? Dissolving not only the United States, but the states themselves?
Again, I probably don't believe any of this.
I'm inclined to think that there's still hope for this large landmass full of 300 million very different people. But what does "hope" in this context mean? And when does justified hope become unjustified naivete? I suppose the ultimate question is what the meaning of "melting pot" is. When we praise the "melting pot" as an achievement in defiance of the tribalism so prevalent throughout human history, are we talking about the fact that people from different cultures can unite under a common vision? If so, what is that vision, and is it powerful enough to transcend the major differences in beliefs and priorities of the South, East, North, and West? Because if the vision of America is diversity simply for diversity's sake, then it won't be powerful enough to transcend these massive differences, and it seems like we're nearing the end of the experiment.