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Friday, September 19, 2014

A series of secessions

1961 brought a centennial observance of Alabama's (attempted) secession from the U.S. I recall little specifically of the observance but that my father, like many men, grew a beard that year. Residents of Montgomery needed no reminder of secession; we had the bronze star, the Winter Building, the First White House, and others. Later in my life, a Canadian company employed me for 24 years during which I came to know the Quebec situation quite well. Most recently, being in the UK one-third of the time, I have been observing the campaign for an independent Scotland that finally failed in yesterday's referendum.

One might conclude that my destiny is to live or work in places where secession is a hot topic, but secessionism is simply widespread and persistent. There are so many secessonist movements in the world active today that Wikipedia has six lists of them. But you need not travel far to see one first-hand. Visit a popular tourist area in Hawaii and you're likely to run into protesters from their independence movement. (Hint to those Hawaiians: you have a valid point, but you are woefully disorganized.) Secession is a perennial option in Puerto Rico too, although most residents know that the island isn't prosperous enough to go it alone. And of course there is still Quebec where sovereigntists carry on.

Should we be surprised? No. We have the microstructuring of a soft drink market into 29 variants of Coke. Islam is fractured to an extent that, despite my knowledge of Roman and Orthodox and Protestant Christianity, I would never have imagined.

Unity is hard work. Attaining and then maintaining unity requires humility, self-sacrifice, tolerance, articulation of high principles, and realization of those principles which almost always include freedom and justice. That's lofty stuff, opposed by tribalism.

I'm not a sociologist, anthropologist, or psychologist but I do know technology and it seems to me that the Internet, for all its benefits, often facilitates disunity because people can now readily identify, engage, and encourage other people who share a very specific belief.

You haven't heard the last from Scotland, I bet. Will a Gaelic or Celtic nation of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and perhaps Cornwall and Brittany arise in 100 years? It's possible. In such a scenario, one person's disunity is another person's unity — a more palatable outcome than a strictly independent Scotland. As geographers know, maps are just snapshots in time.