“Yes (sort of),” says Chris Hables Gray, a “pragmatic anarchist feminist revolutionary” who works as a lecturer of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cal State Monterey. He believes “devolution” of large nations into smaller regions will improve democratic decision-making.
Is this a “transhumanist” topic? Indeed, it is.
The Terasem Survey revealed that 20.1% of H+ responders predict “Abolition of Government” in the next 100 years, with an additional 15.% foreseeing “Thousands of Small Fractured States.” California secession fits handily into the latter category.
I interviewed Dr. Gray via email last week on this controversial topic. Our e-dialogue is below:
Hank Pellissier: hi Chris - can you tell us a bit about your family background and upbringing?
Dr. Gray I was born in Bishop, California in 1953. On my mother’s side I’m a direct descendant of Jose Francisco Ortega, pathfinder of the Portola expedition, a number of other Spanish and Catalan explorers and, in two cases, of the Native California women they married. But I don’t claim any real indian heritage. These women’s real names are lost. But I did grow up thinking of myself as Spanish and Catalan (my great-grandmother who raised my mother lived in an adobe in King City), my favorites of the 23 nationalities that my parents have documented in my background.
How you define yourself politically and how did you reach that position?
Dr. Gray I’ve been an anarchist since I was 14 and a revolutionary feminist since I was 18. As a frosh at Stanford in 1971 I was arrested and beaten (not for the last time) during an anti-war protest and as I became an organizer I realized that feminist process, consensus decision-making, and anarchist organizational principles were what I believed in. For people interested in the anarchist-feminist
perspective I strongly recommend the autobiography of Emma Goldman, the fiction of Ursula Le Guin (especially The Dispossessed), and also the writings of Alexander Berkman and Colin Ward. I am a pragmatic revolutionary, working toward the logical conclusion of the saying (popular with American revolutionaries such as Thomas Jefferson): “The government is best that governs least.”
What’s your career history?
Dr. Gray I have had many jobs, including over a decade doing blue collar and white collar work as I organized and took part in nonviolent direct actions around the Vietnam War, US support for apartheid, union organizing, the American Empire, nuclear weapons and nuclear power.
Currently I lecture on the cultural studies of science and technology at the University of California, Santa Cruz (where I got my doctorate in 1991 in the History of Consciousness) and California State University at Monterey Bay. I have published a great deal. My book Postmodern War (Guilford Press, 1997) is now free on my web site (http://www.chrishablesgray.org), my other academic books are still for sale (Cyborg Handbook (ed.); Technohistory (ed.); Cyborg Citizen; and Peace, War and Computers) and I’ve put my memoir of my 19th year on-line (http://issuu.com/chrishablesgray/docs/19thyear), as well as a punk magical realism novel I wrote in the 80s (http://www.scribd.com/doc/76210205/It-Could-Be-Magic) while living in San Francisco.
Why would California thrive if it seceded from the USA? What is your motivation for wanting this?
Dr. Gray The United States as we now know it will not last forever. In the long term I am working toward an autonomous California that will be part of an American (North) Union, not unlike the European Union but with much less bureaucracy and most of the power at the local level. Empire is
the enemy of democracy and as long as the US is an empire we will see our democracy erode. California (Alta) has more in common economically and culturally with California (Baja) than with Alabama. We share a bioregion and culture with Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia
while we share much less with Missouri (where a majority of people don’t even accept the reality of evolution).
But I don’t believe in total isolation (of the individual, let alone larger political entities). Humans are profoundly social, and so I believe in belonging to many different associations. It certainly makes sense for California to keep relations with places such as New York and Chicago. A looser system, think of the Articles of Confederation with a Bill of Rights made stronger by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is what I dream of.
I have spoken to many people sympathetic toward the idea of California as an autonomous region (such as Euskadi—the Basque Region in Spain—or where Scotland and Catalunya are heading). In Hawaii there is a real and growing autonomous movement. It is inevitable here in California as well. It is just a question of when it would make sense to make it formal and start really organizing for it. At this point, with the American Empire such a threat (to our democracy and to world peace), with the world climate in danger, and with the incredibly stupid economic system of greed seen as natural and inevitable (when is certainly isn’t), my organizing work is more focused on bringing direct democracy to the University of California (I am an active militant in the AFT), more power to the local level, supporting like-minded revolutionaries around the world (Spain, Egypt, and Greece in particular) and working against the worst excesses of rampant neo-liberal capitalism here in the Americas.
California is a net exporter of federal taxes to other states. In fact, in general, Blue states send money to the whiny Red states who bleat about hating the central government while they take money from California, New York, and New England. While the West and East Coasts and the civilized parts of the Midwest are becoming more cultured, more tolerant, more ecologically aware, other sections of the United States are grimly holding on to their racism, trying to enslave women’s bodies to their old Testament-style Christianity (which has nothing to do with the Jesus who preached the sermon on the mount), promoting an economy of greed and a relationship to nature that is as stupid as it is dangerous to our survival. I have traveled all over the world, hitchhiked 100,000 miles (10 times across North America, for example) and lived in New England, Montana, Oregon, Catalunya, Spain, and Vietnam and I cannot abide small-minded, fearful, hate-filled people. They not only disgust me, they threaten my freedom and my very survival.
What other states historically and presently have plotted or are plotting secession? Besides the obvious Civil War guys. I have read that Texas and Virginia are also talking secession.
Dr. Gray Hawaii is the only independence movement I totally support. I also support the people in Vermont who have raised this issue somewhat seriously and those in Cape Cod who have made Cape Cod independence an interesting joke. But Texas and Virginia people who want independence are, not to put too fine a point on it, racist assholes. It is true that secession probably really isn’t unconstitutional, but that doesn’t mean I don’t support the Civil War because, despite what Southern idiots say or what Marxists argue, the Civil War was about slavery. And this “original sin” of the US Republic had to be washed away with blood, sad to say. We can still see the heritage of the racism behind slavery in the millions of white Americans who can’t believe Obama was born here.
What are your long-term ambitions in terms of world governmental structure?
Dr. Gray Decades ago, Peter Berg argued that politically we should move toward what he called devolution. Basically, as much as possible, decision-making power should be vested in the smallest units that make sense and grow weaker the higher up the food chain it goes. But it is one world and we need one world governance system, although at the highest levels it should be very, very weak—a network really. Bioregional and cultural realities should underly political organization. Democracy to be real must be as direct as possible.
The thing about anarchism is that it is very complicated and varied. For every window-breaker there are dozens of more nuanced anarchists working at the grassroots to bring power back to our communities and to empower ourselves by defending our freedoms of thought and action. Now this doesn’t mean that the Black Block (to use a well known example of a certain type of militancy) is always wrong. I have supported many strong actions (tearing down the Seabrook nuke in New Hampshire, for example, which twice I tried to do with a few thousand other wonderful people). I don’t believe destroying property is always a violent act, and I am not a pacifist although I am committed to the most nonviolent social change possible. But it isn’t hard to see that much of the energy of some actions, such as trashing small businesses in Oakland or Santa Cruz, is unthoughtful masculine anger and has no real political analysis behind it.
The ends cannot be divorced from the means and the appeal of violence, especially to young men, must be contextualized in any useful strategic or tactical analysis. In some cultures armed defense makes sense (as with the wonderful Zapatistas). In others, taking the streets involves strong (yes violent) actions, as with the heroes (some of them I’m honored to call friends) of the Egyptian Revolution (still ongoing). But here in the US, now, these things make no sense at all. Taking over empty buildings, shutting down ports during general strikes? Yes. Throwing rocks at police or smashing shop windows and running away? No. Grow-up.
What nations in the world today are presently fracturing? Belgium is one, there’s also some African states (Sudan just split)…
Dr. Gray I am not impressed by Belgium. Their divisions are driven by stupid nationalist “imagined communities.” They should split and stay in the EU and get onto solving real problems. The divisions in the Sudan are driven by elite greed, religious and racial intolerance and gangs of well-armed violent young men. Nothing to emulate in either case. Europe, for all its problems with the EU tending toward centralization and too many rules, is the best example. My friends in Barcelona, Bilbao, and the Balkans have managed to achieve a significant level of local autonomy both culturally and politically within the context of a larger political entity that, in part, is committed to human rights.
When I first visited Spain it was illegal for 3 people to speak Catalan on the streets. Progress is real. Yes, the EU is also structured around the greed system of neo-capitalism and the massive production of garbage for people to consume to try and fill the empty holes money and alienation burns into their souls, but it is one step at a time. Remember, I am a pragmatic anarchist-feminist revolutionary.
Eventually, we have to overthrow the money system altogether. Read David Graeber’s incredible book Debt. It explains what is wrong at the heart of the current economic system. And as for Libertarianism (US style) it is half right. Yes, liberty is a crucial ideal, but what it misses is:
1) Community is real and a crucial ideal as well;
2) capitalists would invent government if it didn’t exist, because controlling government is the best way to maximize profits;
3) gold and other forms of money are not magic, they are systems of oppression;
4) work produces value while speculation and exploitation does not; and
5) it is not an accident that so many Libertarians are racist and sexist, for profit and power can be maximized by dividing and exploiting people.
Do you think California would evolve in a different way that the rest of the USA if it seceded? Why would it be better off without the other 49?
Dr. Gray California is evolving in its own way even without independence. Cultures live and change just like other organisms. When California has more autonomy we won’t really be “without” the other states, it will just be that we won’t be hobbled by their stupider tendencies and decisions and we can grow closer to the parts of Canada, Mexico, and the rest of the world that are more sympatico.
How could secession be accomplished? Did you read Ecotopia? Would you want Oregon and Washington to join us or are we just better off alone?
Ernest Callenbach’s novel Ecotopia certainly has been an influence, although I supported California autonomy years before I read it. The focus on bioregions is wonderful and the specificity of his vision is fascinating. Another great book I love is Starhawk’s novel of a post-collapse San Francisco, The Fifth Sacred Thing. But neither of these are exact models for what to do. The great thing about the future is how surprising it is. I don’t want to move to the next level of political development through violence or even the threat of violence. I’d look to Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest for a model of nonviolent change before I try and steal nukes or hope for apocalypse.
Doesn’t fear of China or other world powers keep the 50 states together? Strength in numbers?
Dr. Gray No, it isn’t fear, it is tradition. And, for all its racist imperialist history the United States of America has been a great revolutionary nation that has been an improvement over most of the large scale political organizations of the past. But not so much anymore. Empire eats at our democracy every moment. It is getting time to move on.
The Chinese Empire is a much less coherent political entity than the US and it will devolve before the US. We can only hope that as its various subjugated people achieve autonomy and independence politically, and as the kleptocracy that runs the Chinese Empire finally loses power, the whole world won’t be drawn into a terrible bloodbath. With the technology we have today, fundamental political change has to be as peaceful as possible or there will be horrific consequences, not just for humans, but for the whole planet’s ecosystem.
Any books that you recommend reading?
Dr. Gray Besides David Graeber’s Debt, the other great books I have read recently are John Keane’s The Life and Death of Democracy and Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Between them they demonstrate that the struggle for a better world goes back to the very origins of humanity and much progress has been made. Democracy is an ideal that has been advanced by many different cultures throughout human history. I learned so much from Keane’s careful scholarship. Pinker’s wonderful analysis proves that the struggle for democracy, for freedom, for tolerance and for enlightenment has produced a better, less violent life, for people today. For all the problems of the empires of today, of the philosophies of greed, of the damage they do to us and our environment when combined with our incredible technoscience, things can change.
Things can get better. Things must change. Things must get better or we are lost. Real Democracy is possible and necessary. A better world is possible and necessary. And we can win it if we are brave and persistent. If we live, in the words of my friend Carl Harp (murdered in Walla Wall prison by the State) with “Love & Rage”. —c. h. gray