We are waiting for Fort Sumter.
[NB: Written in 2006] The originating premise of this novel did not come from me. Donald Mustard and his partners in Chair Enterainment had the idea for an entertainment franchise called Empire about a near-future American civil war. When I joined the project to create a work of fiction based on that premise, my first order of business was to come up with a plausible way that such an event might come about.
It was, sadly enough, all too easy.
Because we haven’t had a civil war in the past fourteen decades, people think we can’t have one now. Where is the geographic clarity of the Mason-Dixon line? When you look at the red-state blue-state division in the past few elections, you get a false impression. The real division is urban, academic, and high-tech counties versus suburban, rural, and conservative Christian counties. How could such widely scattered “blue” centers and such centerless “red” populations ever act in concert?
Geography aside, however, we have never been so evenly divided with such hateful rhetoric since the years leading up to the Civil War of the 1860s. Because the national media elite are so uniformly progressive, we keep hearing (in the elite media) about the rhetorical excesses of the “extreme right.” To hear the same media, there is no “extreme left,” just the occasional progressive who says things he or she shouldn’t.
But any rational observer has to see that the Left and Right in America are screaming the most vile accusations at each other all the time. We are fully polarized — if you accept one idea that sounds like it belongs to either the blue or the red, you are assumed — nay, required — to espouse the entire rest of the package, even though there is no reason why supporting the war against terrorism should imply you’re in favor of banning all abortions and against restricting the availability of firearms; no reason why being in favor of keeping government-imposed limits on the free market should imply you also are in favor of giving legal status to homosexual couples and against building nuclear reactors. These issues are not remotely related, and yet if you hold any of one group’s views, you are hated by the other group as if you believed them all; and if you hold most of one group’s views, but not all, you are treated as if you were a traitor for deviating even slightly from the party line.
We are today a nation where almost everyone in the public eye displays fanaticism with every utterance.
It goes deeper than this, however. A good working definition of fanaticism is that you are so convinced of your views and policies that you are sure anyone who opposes them must either be stupid and deceived or have some ulterior motive. We are today a nation where almost everyone in the public eye displays fanaticism with every utterance.
It is part of human nature to regard as sane those people who share the worldview of the majority of society. Somehow, though, we have managed to divide ourselves into two different, mutually exclusive sanities. The people in each society reinforce each other in madness, believing unsubstantiated ideas that are often contradicted not only by each other but also by whatever objective evidence exists on the subject. Instead of having an ever-adapting civilization-wide consensus reality, we have became a nation of insane people able to see the madness only in the other side.
Does this lead, inevitably, to civil war? Of course not — though it’s hardly conducive to stable government or the long-term continuation of democracy. What inevitably arises from such division is the attempt by one group, utterly convinced of its rectitude, to use all coercive forces available to stamp out the opposing views.