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Partitioning America: A Bioregional Approach

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Earlier today I was reading a hub called Partition America, by James A Watkins, who proposed dividing the United States of America into two separate countries based on Red/Blue political divisions. I disagree vehemently with Mr. Watkins on virtually everything, and take considerable exception to his (frankly vile) misrepresentations of liberal political philosophies, but on this issue, I actually find myself increasingly in agreement with him.

As the summer wears on and turns to autumn, I find myself more and more depressed about the state of the country. After eight years of a president whose policies I detested, I had really been looking forward to a break, a little relaxation from what had been a seemingly neverending cycle of despair as President Bush threw everything I loved and valued about America, from our civil liberties to our beautiful wilderness areas, under the bus in pursuit of policies that ranged from the stupid and misguided to the actively criminal.

No such luck.

Instead, the country has been taken over by blithering idiots, the sort of people so willfully and maliciously ignorant that they show up at town halls to protest health care reform waving signs that say "Keep government out of my Medicare," the sort of people so violent and paranoid that they show up at Obama rallies with guns, and signs proclaiming "It is time to water the Tree of Liberty."

It seems increasingly likely that the extreme divisiveness of political discourse in this country at the moment is going to end in blood, so perhaps Mr. Watkins is right.

Maybe we really would be better off if we simply shook hands and agreed to go our separate ways.

2004 electoral map

2004 electoral map

2008 electoral map

2008 electoral map

How many separate ways, though?

Mr. Watkins proposed two, based on the Red State/Blue State divisions dictated by the electoral map, though he divided the country somewhat curiously according to the 2004 electoral map rather than the 2008 map. Perhaps he doesn't like to be reminded how much of the country Mr. Bush's policies ended up alienating.

Regardless, however, I consider such a simple division into red and blue to be rather inadequate. The United States may indeed be split into two increasingly divisive camps, politically, but it is not split neatly along state lines. Instead, in most parts of the country, liberals and conservatives are all mixed in together to create one giant purple vision of the United States of America:



I think a more reasonable approach to dividing up the United States would be to take a bioregional approach to the matter.

Bioregionalism defines different regions by looking at the ecological and cultural characteristics of an area rather than a bunch of arbitrary lines drawn on a political map. I've always suspected that the world would be a more pleasant place in general if people had paid more attention to the principles of bioregionalism when they started dividing up the world into countries. To take a very obvious example, look at the British division of the Middle East after World War I. Iraq might not have collapsed into such brutal civil war when Saddam was removed had the British only taken the region's ethnic makeup a little more carefully into consideration.

America is no exception. The sharp differences in culture and industry between the North and South were already evident during the US Civil War, when the North's higher degree of industrialization played a major role in its victory. Today, the US can be divided into even more distinct regions.

An early attempt to identify and name these regions was done by Joel Garreau in his book the Nine Nations of North America. Although the book is nearly 30 years old, it remains surprisingly relevant to the United States today:



Garreau offers one of the best and most practical ways to divide the United States into smaller nations based on local ecology and culture. A loose confederacy of smaller nations, similar to the European Union, could enable Americans to make peace with each other's differences while offering a greater degree of choice in governing structure and lifestyle. Garreau's nations even take into consideration some of the biggest in-state cultural divisions; for example, the wide gap in political philosophies and lifestyle between the residents of Eastern and Western Washington state, or Northern and Southern Illinois.

In "Beyond Red and Blue," Commonwealth Magazine offered an alternative to Garreau's Nine Nations, focusing specifically on the US and dividing it into 10 specific regions. Though not as practical as Garreau's nations due to the geographical separation of different parts of some regions, it still offers an interesting view of a possibility of a United States divided yet at peace.


Another recent thought experiment by Neil Freeman of postulated a United States where state boundaries were reconfigured periodically according to population shifts. It is based on a division of the country into 50 states with more or less equal populations of about 5 to 6 million each, and it seeks to preserve existing boundaries where possible.


Other bioregionalists work from the perspective of specific aspects of culture or ecology.

One of the most interesting recent examples is Slow Food USA's map of the "food nations" of North America, which focuses on regional food traditions and is explained in the fascinating book Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods.

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Environmental scientists also have a competing set of "ecoregions" developed by the World Wildlife Fund and the United States Environmental Protection Agency respectively, which were created to improve ecological management programs. Here is a map of the Level I ecoregions (there are four levels total) of North America as developed by the EPA:


Bioregional understandings of place are already commonly utilized among sustainability activists. An example is Ecotrust's Salmon Nation project, which uses bioregional principles to educate residents of the Pacific Northwest about protecting their watersheds to save the wild salmon.

"One nation, indivisible" is rapidly becoming "one nation, divided." Perhaps the time has come to apply the principles of bioregionalism to political boundaries as well as ecological and cultural ones.


William R. Wilson from Knoxville, TN on September 23, 2009:

Great job Kerry.

Amanda Severn from UK on September 18, 2009:

Wow Kerry! I read James' original hub and was so incensed that I couldn't even leave a coherent comment. You've done an excellent job here. Well done!

Things Considered from North Georgia Foothills on September 16, 2009:

Interesting hub.

kerryg (author) from USA on September 16, 2009:

"In every war, prisoners are held until the war is over."

Yes, but the "War on Terror" by definition will never end. You can't go to war against a concept. There has always been terrorism and there always will be terrorism, and meanwhile, we're locking up innocent men and boys (some of the Abu Ghraib prisoners were as young as 11) in ways that contribute to the radicalization of the Middle East. The stories leaking out of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo horrified and infuriated ~50% of Americans and many more of our own allies around the world. Imagine how much more strongly they affected the friends and relatives of the innocent prisoners held there. How many of those friends and relatives now hate America passionately enough to want to strap a bomb onto their body and walk up to a checkpoint manned by American soldiers? How many of those prisoners can now never be released because they were locked up with genuine radicals and terrorists who used their mistreatment as a tool to convert them?

"You want to put enemy combatants on trial in a courtroom?"

In some cases, yes. This is a situation where there is much to gain and little to lose by being as open and above ground as possible. In some cases, such openness is not possible for security reasons, I recognize that, but locking people up indefinitely without trial or even examination of their cases is not an option either, especially considering the tactics we used to acquire many of the prisoners. It's not like they were all captured in the act of fighting against us. Many were handed over by locals to settle old feuds or in exchange for bounties, and there is some evidence that corrupt officials in Pakistan captured large numbers of innocent men and sold them to the US as insurgents:

Under circumstances like these, yes, the prisoners at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib should have had their cases examined much earlier than they actually were, and in some cases should have been granted trials.

"Who are you aware of who was illegally wiretapped?"

That is precisely the problem, isn't it? Nobody knows who was illegally wiretapped because it was done *illegally.*

"Who do you suppose started that rendition business?"

Clinton started it, and it was as wrong then as it is now. (Believe it or not, I am not all that fond of Clinton. He's okay only by comparison with the walking disaster who followed him.) However, what was a limited program under Clinton was dramatically expanded by Bush.

James A Watkins from Chicago on September 15, 2009:

In every war, prisoners are held until the war is over. You want to put enemy combatants on trial in a courtroom?

Who are you aware of who was illegally wiretapped?

Who do you suppose started that rendition business?

James A Watkins from Chicago on September 15, 2009:

gkerry—regarding the borderline calls, I added the votes together from the elections to break the tie. Regardless, what I called for was a fair vote of the citizens, like now. And however it goes everybody should accept it. Democracy in action.

kartika damon from Fairfield, Iowa on September 15, 2009:

I love your article and share your frustrations with the insane rhetoric and plain stupidity of the far right! Last night I was horrified to see the signs that were held up at the recent event in D.C. with pictures of Obama as Hitler etc. and the misinformed begging to get their country back and the freedom they feel was taken from them. Perhaps they are unaware that the majority of people elected the President and the Democrats in Congress. This time the election was not stolen!

valeriebelew from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA on September 15, 2009:

I loved your article, and found it very creative, and true. Your critics insist that no one lost civil liberties while George Bush was president. Well, that is a matter of opinion, and because we did not lose them all, your critic is still able to express his.

Like you, I am quite frustrated with sore losers making a lot of noise. The lies and fear tactics used against healthcare reform are especially frustrating to me. Why is a public healthcare option any more socialistic or scary than public school systems, police protection, or military protection. It is simply public defense against disease. Where would we be if only those who could afford it earned military or police protection, and could no longer call an officer if they had been attacked over so many times. I wish some of these people would leave the union, if only they had somewhere to go, but I don't advocate them taking any land with them, since the election went overwhelmingly in our favor in 2008. The angry are loud, but they are not the majority.

Hopefully, you stay in contact with your representatives to remind them that there is still a silent majority out here who has nothing to be fearful or angry about. I knew I became you fan for some reason. Now I remember why. Thanks for confronting this right winged garbage. I'm so sick of hearing such talk I can hardly stand to turn on the news.

kerryg (author) from USA on September 15, 2009:

Political issues:

I personally have not been affected by any civil liberties changes except the ones affecting air travel, which were minimally connected to Bush. My mom forgot a jar of homemade raspberry jam in her carry-on once and got hauled away for 30 minutes (I wish I were exaggerating!) of questioning, for example.

Only caring about human rights being infringed if they personally affect me is a very strange way of looking at things, though! Haven't you heard this?

"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out-- because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out-- because I was not a socialist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out-- because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me-- and there was no one left to speak out for me."

I strongly opposed Bush's use of torture (and "rendition" to country's known to practice torture) on both moral and practical grounds. The fact that I personally am unlikely to be tortured doesn't matter to me in the least. It's wrong, it's unworthy of America, and it doesn't *work*.

I strongly oppose wiretapping without warrants. If you can get a warrant, hey, do whatever you want, but wiretapping without one is not only illegal, it's also unconstitutional, and for this program alone Bush deserved to be impeached.

I strongly opposed his denial of habeas corpus to prisoners. I don't care that they weren't technically US citizens. Everybody deserves a trial, and if you can't come up with the evidence to win one, maybe you shouldn't be holding that particular prisoner. It's known that a high percentage of prisoners originally held at Guantanamo were innocent. At Abu Ghraib, the figure was estimated to be as high as 70%. This is unworthy of America.

As for the wilderness areas, where do I even begin? One of the very first things he did in office was repeal the "Roadless Rule," reopening nearly 60 *million* acres of wilderness to logging, mining, and drilling. It only got worse from there.

kerryg (author) from USA on September 15, 2009:

Map issues:

Nothing to do with being "unable to resist" changing it back. I just copied the map from Wikipedia and didn't flip flop the colors. Red for Republicans and Blue for Democrats is the standard now, and I don't have a big enough political axe to grind to bother putting in the effort to confuse people.

Regardless of whether your intention was an "aggregate" of the last four elections, you've managed to produce a map that exactly matches the electoral map of 2004. Iowa has gone Democratic for three of the last four elections, yet you give it to America, not Amerika. Why? New Mexico likewise. Several other states, including Ohio, Florida, West Virginia, and Nevada, have split 2-2 Democratic-Republican over the last four elections, yet in every case you've given them to America, not Amerika. Why? If your map really is an aggregate, it's a very strange one.

James A Watkins from Chicago on September 14, 2009:

First of all my dear, there is a history behind the Red and Blue colors you might have missed. For 100 years the states won by Democrats were Red—as in Communist—and Republican states were blue. When Ronald Reagan won 44 states, ABC's John Chanceller said, "Ronald Reagan is swimming in a sea of blue tonight!" Democrats hated being the Red states. Why? It was a reminder of their complicity with Soviet spies from the 1920s through the 1950s—which are well documented. And their unwavering praise of papa Joe Stalin before the publication of the Gulag Archipelago in 1973. Bill Clinton in 2000 pushed through the change and suddenly—the Republican states were Red!!! Typical Liberal move. To obfuscate the Truth. Conservatives have NEVER been associated with the color Red. I notice you couldn't resist changing my map back.

Next, I am curious as to what civil liberties YOU personally lost under President Bush? I have yet to find a single soul who can name one except Islamist terrorists. And what beautiful wilderness have YOU personally seen ruined when Bush was president? And what—I really do want to know—what was "vile" about my representation of your views—exactly.

I told you directly that my Red/Blue map was based on the aggregate of the last four elections—two of which have gone each way. Instead of acknowledging the Truth, you imply I have tampered with the map. I copied the map from Wikipedia—all I did was flip-flop the colors. I did not alter any of them other than that.

Other than that, the rest of your Hub is not bad. :0

kerryg (author) from USA on September 14, 2009:

Sticks and stones, dear. I am comfortable with my reasoning behind naming the hub what I did. Your opinion frankly doesn't matter at all since this is not your hub and neither was the hub that inspired it, but you can go on having it.

tony0724 from san diego calif on September 14, 2009:

Or lets just call It what It Is a lack of creativity . In my opinion ! :D

kerryg (author) from USA on September 14, 2009:

You would.

The similar title was deliberate due to the fact that this hub was inspired by his. I changed the verb tense because his hub is more of a call to arms and mine focuses more on the process, making the present progressive more appropriate than the imperative, in my opinion.

tony0724 from san diego calif on September 14, 2009:

I think James Is quite good . And there Is a bit pf plagarism In your title .

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