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Juan Enriquez, untying America

Juan Enriquez is an amazing polymath. Usually, when we see him on stage, he’s speaking on issues of genomics and innovation. But his most recent book, The Untied States of America, he heads into the realm of geopolitics and the future of states.

We start by looking at East Germany, a dictatorship which controlled all aspects of life – the workplace, the school, the market. Despite having all control of the state, the whole thing fell within 9 days. Once a state starts falling apart, the whole thing can come apart very quickly, whether or not you mean it to. George Washington, Enriquez tells us, didn’t mean for the US to secede – in fact, he tried very hard to keep the US from seceding.

There are three times as many borders, anthems and flags in Europe than there were a hundred years ago. He shows us a beautiful animation from Maps of War, showing the dozens of different empires who’ve conquered the Middle East over the last 5,000 years. After we watch the last waves sweep through, he asks, “So why do you suppose it’s so hard to govern these places?”

Secesion happens – Padanian is trying to secede from Italy. In Spain, which has had a common religion and language for 500 years, still has the Basques, Catalans and Galicians trying to secede.

Could it happen here, in the US? Texas calls itself the Lone Star State, drinks Lone Star beer and a state slogan on the license place: “It’s like a whole other country”. By state law, people pledge allegance to the Texas flag, as well as to the American flag.

States make promises. The gap between those promises and reality creates a “legitimacy gap”. If that gap gets too wide, a state can dissaper in nine days. Great emperors and gods can disappear as well – when the gap between what a god promises and delivers grows, the god goes into an archeology museum.

Around the world, the trend line points to new state creation. It’s not just decolonization – countries are splitting up, irrespective of history, race or culture. It doesn’t seem to happen in the Americas. We’re the only continent that hasn’t followed the tripling trend. But it’s not going very well in Mexico, for instance, where there’s four different nations trying to work together. (Enriquez’s book makes this argument in detail.) Things are so bad that 1/5th of Mexicans have left the country and come north.

How we handle this hispanic influx will determine our future. In Canada, the Quebecois were horribly treated for many years – forced to speak a different language, persecuted for religion and culture. Their license plates read “Je me souviens” – I remember when you treated me badly. We don’t want the license plates for Amexica to read “Yo me recuerdo”.

It’s worth looking at the fall of the UK to forsee our future. The UK, at the turn of the last century, had the best universities, smartest people, best manufacturing, best navy in the world, and low taxes across its empire. Had you asked what the map would look like in 1955, very few people would have predicted that 11 million square miles would turn into 89,000 square miles, that Scotland would have an independent parliament and Welsh would be making a comeback. “And now the pesky Irish are richer than the average Brit.”

The factor that could ultimately break apart the US is debt, now at $89,000 a person. A few of our states – the upper Midwest, New England, the West Coast – transfer enormous wealth to the rest. Perhaps the maps of “Jesusland” and the “United States of Canada” aren’t that absurd. The long takeaway – Don’t take the existence of your country for granted.

6 thoughts on “Juan Enriquez, untying America”

  1. Fair :) Now that I read the sentence again, of course, he got all three of them wrong- pretty embarassing, and more than a little damaging to his point, given how quickly most 2nd-3rd generation American Hispanics, like myself, tend to drop Spanish. Still, an interesting idea, and not completely implausible.

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  3. For whatever its worth?, i.e. value?

    Fellows its not about Hispanics and Anglos doing xenophobia on one another! Its about historical reference to basic human traits. Why is he expouding on this anyway! Maybe it has something to do with the super exponential growth in technology and economics we are experiencing. Folks its accelerating and it is going to expand the legitimacy gaps he spoke of.

    Push is coming to shove in many areas. The inevitable results are not pleasant, as history tells us. See you on the ramparts. Hopefully with flowers……

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