I raise a gin and tonic to the Brexit. I raise it because the Brexit was an accomplishment, or at least historic. The gin seems British, though in my case it is really just vodka infused with juniper. The idea of a tonic seems to be what a lot of people could use right now, though in my case it is just sparkling water that was on sale. The glass is a mason jar, because fancy bar ware is saved for more formal occasions. The United Kingdom decided to untie itself from the European Union by a vote of 52% to 48%. The election startled many people because of the immediate implications for economies and border control; but I suspect there is a deeper, more unsettling realization that dissatisfaction is greater than people realized, and that if it happened in England it could happen anywhere. Plans are important, but one of the great fallacies of any plan is assuming things won’t change. The Brits just proved that change is inevitable, can be unexpected, and dramatic. Welcome to yet another opportunity to redraw maps, revise plans, and reconsider possibilities at every level.
One frustration I have is not being able to find a particular TED Talk from a few years ago. The topic was countries and globalization. While we assume globalization will continue and possibly lead to a New World Order that will encompass all nations, the speaker made the point that the number of countries is increasing, not decreasing. Globalization is continuing, but that is an economic unification. Politically, countries are fracturing. After we passed through the eras of tribes and kingdoms, the concept of countries was appealing. The world began redefining itself thanks to revolutions like those in North America and France. People reorganized themselves based on shared identities within specific physical boundaries. Then came World War I, after which empires vanished and faded. Then came World War II, after which colonization faded and many new countries were born – whether they liked their borders or not. The Cold War enforced a draconian consolidation until it ended with the disintegration of the Soviet Union into many new countries again. The video illustrated the consolidation then fracturing of political borders until only a few large countries remained: Russia (but with a much reduced population), China (with significant internal divisions), Brazil and Canada (with great unoccupied areas), and the United States of America (which has always had a debate about state sovereignty.) The European Union was one movement attempting to counter the trend, but it is evidently failing at political or economic unification.
The United Nations started with 49 members and now has 193 members with several non-member states.
Countries, corporations, and people are trying to quickly revise their financial plans. The effects are greatest in the United Kingdom, but economic globalization means global repercussions. The British Pound was down to levels last seen in the mid-80s. My portfolio of American stocks is down enough that I don’t want to look, but I know there was lots of red the last time I glanced at the daily chart.
I’ve written about such possibilities before. (Changing Odds) I informally study enough history to see that few nations last longer than several generations. Many have long histories, but except for dynasties, governments tend to undergo dramatic changes frequently. Historically, those were internal struggles between power centers. Now that information can flow more freely, populations are initiating such events. Sometimes the populations resort to uprisings like the Arab Spring. Sometimes the populations resort to more peaceful ballot measures, as we’ve just seen. I think part of the surprise is that analysts have a habit of watching the politicians while the real power has shifted to the people, which was the idea of democracy (though arguably not the idea of a republic.) When enough people are dissatisfied and are given the opportunity to act on it, they will – even if they don’t fully understand the consequences. To me, this election cycle for US President has less to do with him, her, her, and him (and yes, I include at least four in the running), and more to do with millions of perspectives loosely gathered around a few options. Tens of millions think a wall is a good idea. Tens of millions think Wall Street is a terrible idea. Tens of millions want moderation and change. They all want change.
The United Kingdom is not unique. The United States of America has several dissatisfied populations. So does China, Canada (yes, even there), and the rest of the European Union.
One scenario has been that if one such division happens it will encourage others. Originally, I thought Quebec could initiate a fracturing of Canada, which would inspire Texas to depart the US; but Texas separatists have been coordinating with the Brexit organizers. Texit could happen. Quebexit could happen. In my part of the world, Cascadia is considered an option that is fanciful to many and serious to others. The logic for a separate region is based on a reasonably a similar culture that extends from north of San Francisco along the coasts of Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and into Alaska. Restrict it to similar climates and the eastern border follows the Pacific Crest Trail. While some Seattlites may welcome getting rid of Texas and its culture, some Texans would be happy to get rid of the left-leaning left coast. “You want to leave? Fine. Go.” may be a common response regardless of the division. There are enough scenarios for redrawing borders within North America that I’ve resorted to collecting them on a Pinterest board (Alternative Americas.) Base it on state borders, culture, watersheds, tribal heritage, or whatever, the states and the country don’t have to be drawn along the lines we have now.
The United Kingdom is exiting the European Union, which may untie the Kingdom. Scotland, which recently almost voted for independence from the UK (45/54), solidly voted for staying in the EU (62/38). London voted to remain. So did Northern Ireland. Check history and find that Scotland has allied with the continent before. Ireland’s status may be mean that Northern Ireland may prefer to reunify the island rather than remain with England (56/44). (You know I did a bit of Walking Thinking and Drinking Across Scotland, right?
It has been a long time since the number of states in the United States has changed. Fifty is not a magic number. Puerto Rico would probably appreciate a change. As some have pointed out, trying to get 50 states to agree may be too many to resolve issues of budgets, rights, and goals. A series of smaller countries probably wouldn’t collectively spend as much on a military; and various regions would place different emphasis on public programs and private liberties. Deciding the details would probably take decades, and hopefully, only debates.
Whether anything similar happens anywhere else is somewhat moot, important, but moot. On a personal level, it is difficult to plan for such events and scenarios. Imagine someone in the UK planning for Scottish independence then a few years later having to deal with Brexit. To me, it is more important to be aware, realize assumptions aren’t absolutes, be flexible, consider (but not obsess about) the possibilities. Could Brexit inspire Texit which inspires Quebexit which means the US and Canada spawn Cascadia? Yes. Do I expect it? No. But, I consider it by doing things I’d do anyway: investing in local stocks and my community, thinking about the opportunities within the region, and reminding myself that the only constant is change.
Fortunately, I think juniper grows around here, as do potatoes, and the sparkling spring water is local. Limes may be an issue, but something like a gin and tonic will be possible (just ask the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy). Cheers!