Citizenship and the Internet
The Fracture of the United States Series
I'm confident that in the next 20 years the United States will fracture into multiple countries. In this series I'm exploring:
- Why it will happen including
- ~Every empire has fallen and parallels to the US
- ~The concept of large nations doesn't make sense in a global, internet driven world
- ~America's polarization
- ~State sovereignty and its relationship to the federal entity with parallels to Europe
- How it might happen
- What to do about it
- What comes next
Part 2: Citizenship and The Internet (this post)
Citizenship and the Internet
The internet is the most powerful technology we have invented to date. It has connected the whole world, and fundamentally altered how we live our lives. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Before you go to bed? You’re probably on your phone, on the internet.
The internet has fundamentally altered how we work, play, consume, and communicate. Not only that, it’s transcended those core human activities and now changes how we connect with each other. The number one way people now meet their spouse is through dating apps (source).
The internet is even changing our allegiances. Citizens from Western countries, including the US, have been radicalized by jihadist online, joined terrorist cells, and died overseas in war.
That’s an extreme example, but it illustrates quite clearly the impact the internet is having on human behavior and how the internet affects the concept of a country.
A country by any other name
It’s debatable what type of country the United States is: nation-state, multinational sovereign state, etc.
Poli-sci majors can debate these labels, but for our purposes, the US is a large sovereign state made up of people from a variety of nationalities, ethnicities, and backgrounds. It’s a unified conglomeration of semi-sovereign states, a model going back to the beginning when the 13 colonies combined to revolt against the British.
In fact, this same diversity is what may accelerate the crumble of the US, as internet-enabled echo chambers pry us apart at the fracture lines that already existed.
What are the benefits and services of a sovereign state?
As empires fell, and a more modern system of Westphalian sovereignty arose, a smorgasbord of countries arose as Kings consolidated power and took control over their own territory and agreed to not meddle in the affairs of other countries.
The benefits of being your own country instead of a territory in an empire are many. Each sovereign, independent country has control of its own:
- Rules and laws
- Rights (or lack thereof)
- Relationships with other countries
- And taxes, that they keep
Along with this go the benefits of being a citizen of one of these countries. You are protected by your country, you enjoy the infrastructure the state pays for, and rights bestowed by the government, you enjoy the use of the financial system and currency. Here in the US and in many countries, you have a say in your government through voting.
You get all this in exchange for loyalty, abiding by the laws, and paying taxes.
Up till now, this was a good deal, especially if you were lucky enough to be a citizen of a wealthy country like the United States.
So what’s changed? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it right? Well...
The internet has entered stage left
We know that the internet is altering our daily lives, how we connect with others, and the groups we find ourselves in on the internet, but how does it impact the concept of a country?
Currency and trade
The internet and internet-enabled technologies are in many ways superior to the benefits of a state, particularly in finance and trade. With cryptocurrency, no one state controls the currency. There’s no printing extra crypto to cover the state’s debts since that’s not necessary, and because crypto is not beholden to any one country.
This allows anyone to do business with anyone else in the world in a global, universal, decentralized currency. Furthermore, the blockchain and other crypto projects allow for smart contracts which remove some of the other burdens of local and international business and trade. There are no trade deals and currency exchanges with crypto, just business.
Military and protection
There are numerous factors that apply here, but one of the most powerful is the nature of warfare itself. I believe the days of tanks and machine guns are largely behind us. There will still be some flare-ups in some parts of the world, but most warfare is heading the way of cyber-warfare. E.g. Some dude in Russia crippled the US East Coast by tripping up a gas line.
All maneuvers by hostile foreign powers are bluffing these days. Russia has no need to fight against the US directly, they just use hackers to disrupt elections, stir the pot on Twitter, and to shut down critical infrastructure (we don’t know if the Russian hacker was acting on behalf of the Kremlin, but regardless you better believe the Kremlin took note).
The upside is less life lost, the downside is that the internet makes warfare and counter-warfare ubiquitous, and renders the concept of a standing army obsolete. US citizens no longer stand behind the protection of the most powerful military in the world, we stand behind the protection of a government that can’t stop the Russian hackers from disrupting us economically.
Remote -> global world
Already many smart companies operate globally, now with remote work on the rise, facilitated by the ease of global communications through the internet, the world is one place. Only time-zones to deal with.
All companies are global, all business is international.
Even your local coffee shop is a global business as they can contract a marketer from anywhere in the world, get supplies from anywhere in the world, and market themselves online anywhere in the world.
Local -> global
For the vast majority of human history, we had far more in common with the people that lived near us than we did with anyone else. If you go back to tribal times we lived in small bands of a handful of families. The agricultural revolution led to societies with much larger populations and earth’s first cities.
But still, we had more in common with those that were in close geographic proximity to us than across the world.
Fast forward to the Industrial Era, the one that’s coming to a close now. Up until recently we still had more in common with our neighbors than we did with people who lived thousands of miles away.
Then a remarkable thing happened.
The internet-connected all people to one another. Everyone with a common interest, political belief, hobby, or business endeavor can connect, regardless of location.
And now it's completely flipped, we have more in common with people across the globe, than we do with our neighbors. I have more in common with people in my writing group than my neighbor. I don’t even know my next-door neighbor’s name.
Now we develop our own worldview and values and then find the other people that share them with us.
Look at the rise of the far-right in the US and in Europe. Despite the fact that they live in different countries, the followers of Marine LePen and deeply conservative folks in the Southern states in the US have more in common with each other than they do with the liberals in Atlanta, Georgia. The same could be said for the far-left.
On a positive note, the internet brings together hobbyists the world over through subreddits and YouTube channels on interests as diverse as woodworking, to music, to you name it.
In the Industrial era the people of a country were presumed to be homogenous. The country was a smaller unit than an empire, and in theory better able to handle the needs of the people. And maybe they were for a time.
But now we connect globally on the internet, and the internet shines a light on our differences even within what were supposed to be homogenous countries. Our loyalty to our governments weakens.
The internet connects us to fellow humans in other states and countries we agree with, and thus stokes existing fracture lines in each country.
When we take all this into account, and see the internet playing a prominent role in the political polarization of the US, it’s not an absurd prediction to see that the internet-based communities are quickly superseding any concept of a sovereign country.
Ok, what happens then?
That doesn't mean that people won't be citizens of a government. There are certain services that a government provides that the internet can’t. Streets and sewers, police to keep your property safe, hospitals, and healthcare. These basic services that can’t be replaced by the internet will continue to be offered by the government — it’s the scale that will change.
We’ll see the continued fracture of countries until they are homogenous territories of people with similar ideologies, goals, maybe even hobbies. These territories may often be city-states, but some regions of the United States may band together and form their own country such as the majority of Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.
I anticipate that the vast majority of the population will live in the cities - as they currently do - and each city will be its own country.
When we look at the world as a whole, there are some examples of successful, small countries. These countries will be the blueprint for the future. There’s Singapore, a shining beacon in South East Asia. In Europe, there are numerous examples, like Liechtenstein and Monaco, active contributors to the European Union through many treaties and agreements, but with their own sovereignty.
If you take what a government is and fracture it down further and further to its smallest natural unit, you arrive at a city, and thus in this new fractured world a plethora of city-states.
These city-states and regional territories will be interconnected through treaties, peace agreements, trade agreements, international organizations like the UN and new ones yet to be invented, and most importantly all these countries will be connected to each other through mutual interest. Much the same way that there are trains that run all across Europe, we’ll see the same here.
In fact, the United States may persist as a new organization dedicated to the advancement of the countries formerly within the territorial United States.
The Great Reshuffling
As the internet connects us to our like-minded community, reduces the bloody wars to cyberwars, enables business globally and so on, the very concept of a nation will make less and less sense. The United States will fracture along many lines that have already existed, and fracture along new ones yet to be discovered.
We’ll see city-states arise.
During this transition and shortly after it’s a reality we’ll see “The Great Reshuffling”. People will vote with their feet and move to the countries that most closely align with their views, values, jobs, etc. For example, any remaining conservatives in San Francisco will move out while any remaining liberals in the countryside of Georgia will move to the city-state of Atlanta, a liberal enclave in the Deep South. The filter bubbles of the internet will materialize in the physical world in our lifetimes.
Likewise, new territories will be established in less incorporated areas, driven by the internet and remote-enabled work. There may be enclaves of former Americans and Europeans forming a new city-state along the Baja Mexico coast in an isolated part of what used to be Mexico.
What to do about it?
The fracture of the US is not something I want to happen, it’s something that’s inevitable. The internet is the best technology we’ve invented, but it’s a disruptive force. In previous eras it took millenia or centuries to realize a transition, this time around it’s happening within our lifetime.
If you’re reading this you’ll likely see the fracture of the United States, and the internet will play a significant role.
What to do about it? Since there’s no stopping this, the most prudent thing to do is mentally prepare, watch for the signs. Take a deep breath and relax. In the short run it will be chaotic, in the long run I believe we’ll be better off. We’ll move into a new era of human history.
Second thing you can do is prepare yourself skills-wise. There will still be business, play, trade, etc. It will just all be on the internet across a lot more countries than currently exist. Uplevel your communication skills, start working for a remote first company to get ahead of the curve.
Last, but maybe most important, think about where you want to be after the Great Reshuffling and get a head start. Move there.
As the series progresses we’ll dig more into how the fracture will happen, what to do about it, and what will happen after.
Till next time.