Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Does It Matter?

One factoid from the post-election miasma sticks in my brain for no apparent reason. I read a report that said the most watched news station was Fox News, while the most viewed news web site was I've made the dangerous assumption that this is true, and from my precarious perch have leapt to the even more dubious inference that this means red-state people tend toward TV viewing while blue-state people tend toward the Internet.

Oh, but i'm not done there, not by any means (i feel sort of like Vizzini in The Princess Bride). I think that the denizens of the blue archipelago are not only more Internet-centric, but that they are evolving toward a real (yet, puzzlingly, virtual) global culture. This hypothesis is not entirely based on their preference for bastions of the liberal media like CNN, but also on their willingness, even enthusiasm, for disassociating themselves from the remainder of the US. To couch this in more inscrutable, pseudo-intellectual sounding jargon, i'd say that the blue have disavowed nationalism entirely in favor of culturalism. That is, they value the principles of their culture over the principles of their nation where the two disagree; and they place little value on the integrity of the nation as an end in itself.

Big freakin' deal, you think. Well, i think it might be. Twenty years ago, the blue archipelago would have been just that-- a chain of isolated pockets of liberalism within a sea of conservatives. There'd have been solidarity, sure. In situations like the presidential election, all the blues would still get to voice their opinion as a whole. But now, the blue archipelago is really a unified culture that regards the red ocean as mysterious and hostile but effectively outside their borders. In fact, the blues have closer association with like-minded folks in the network community who are geographically beyond the extent of the US.

The immediate objection to this picture is that it doesn't matter how the blue people view themselves, since they are still subject to the laws of the land. That's true, but how important it is remains to be seen. First, keep in mind that most blue folk view much of the existing law as acceptable. The Bill of Rights? Sounds good. Dig those other amendments too, in fact, the Constitution is just fine as it is. The red states don't want stem-cell research, but we like it fine here in California. The administration might try to stop it, but they know they've got to betray their own principles of small government and local control in order to do it (as they did with medical marijuana laws).

This peculiar limit to great power is becoming the leitmotif of our age. Terrorists have proved that regardless of the destructive power at your disposal, there is only Pyrrhic victory against an unidentified enemy who regards death as a reward. In part, that's because the terrorists with whom we're at war have no nation, no real affiliation with place beyond Mecca and Medina, no adherence to principles codified outside of the Koran. No, i'm not comparing the blues to the terrorists, except to note that removing allegiance to nation changes a lot of the rules.

I think the real problem with this idea is that blue nation and red nation aren't really as strong separately, even if per-capita GDP is as good and military defenses are equivalent. The US isn't the most powerful nation simply because we're a democracy. It's also because of our size, our location, and the geographic diversity. Even if the relationship is tenuous, what drives our economy is the movement between strong centers of innovation, manufacturing, capital, agriculture and defense. It'll be long time before global culture homogenizes to the extent that this movement can happen across national borders, and those culture wars are likely to be a lot worse than the one on the home front.

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