Timothy C. Draper reminisces “I grew up in the state that was number one in education, the number one place to do business and the best place to live,” in the hopes that he can find that past by mapping the state anew. Draper’s short-sighted initiative to “divide” California into six Californias–six separate states–picks up the inventive cartographies of division that partition the United States into more “rational” or “reasonable” mega-regions, macro-states, or mini-countries. His proposal stands at interesting odds to how, back in 1837, the German-American jurist Franz Lieber famously doubted that altering hues of a map’s regions could effect its political economy, or “that the face of our country would change . . . if the engravers were able to sell their maps less boisterously painted and not as they are now, each county of each state in flaming red, bright yellow, or a flagrant orange dye arrayed, like the cover produced by the united efforts of a quilting match.” Lieber studied topographic mapping in Dresden before coming to America, and meant to contrast political economy and the coloration of maps–probably contrasting the four-color maps of the United States to those of Prussia with his Berlin-trained mind’s eye; the flagrant color-scheme of a map, however, becomes a device for Draper to urge that we remake the state of California into six “political entities” that most of those living in them would not actually be able to recognize.
By converting California to six cantons, the hope is to remake the state as six more manageable mega-regions to bridge the distance of government to each region. Draper represents the remapping of the state as an easy means to reconnect its residents to a model of good government in something of an extension of the argument of states’ rights. The graphical division of the Golden State into six entities, maxi-regions or mini-states, each emptied of local meaning and purged of cities, provides the rallying cry of the venture capitalist’s movement for the May 2016 ballot, having gained over 1.3 million signatories of in-state residents at the time of its submission in mid-July–and of a charge that Draper hopes would open up the possibility that other states follow the lead of his movement to break into separate states as well. Perhaps the initiative isn’t motivated by the desire to make one state in charge of border control, or break off West California [to] include much of what most Americans think of as stereotypical California – L.A.’s tangle of freeways, the movie industry, Disneyland and the surfing beaches up to Santa Barbara,” but to distance concerns that seem to address only part of the state from anyone living elsewhere by selective severing of what seem purely regional problems.
Even those who champion local community should be taken aback by the apparent popularity of the proposal to subdivide California as a state. Despite continued questions as to the proposition’s legality, debate about the benefit of dividing the state–and about doing so by putting the issue up to voters to decide by California’s somewhat awfully anti-democratic proposals–has provoked a small storm in an era of widespread drought. Despite Draper argument that his success of forecasting is revealed by his skillful investments in Tesla, Intel, LinkedIn, and more, his discernment of the “different issues important to different people in California” might overstate the divides into which he proposes to break the state to help its future growth. The debate is framed by proponents of the cause on their website, where Draper’s initiative, energy and funds, have animated catchy graphics that animate a cartographical fantasy.
1. Revising borderlines is certainly a great way to create distance in the name of promoting greater transparency that the initiative promotes. The declarative finality of the map seems a great way to close debate, rather than advance it, by revealing and promoting fault-lines of which Californians weren’t even aware. The finality of the map that is the logo of the proposal that Draper hopes to put before voters in 2016 is, tellingly, both bleached of toponymy and of local knowledge of the regions that it separates by whitespace borders. In indicating six districts or proto-states in which he imagined the monolith “California” might be good to divide and cantonize, the image is conveniently oblivious of what the “new borders,” for all their alleged objectivity, might in practice mean–assimilating hinterlands to major cities would surely diminish consensus and accentuate new divides; but he argues the divisions reflect the “very different personalities” and economic and political priorities of the residents of each of these regions. Indeed, the habitual carving of countries by data visualizations lends increased credibility to new parsing of provocative lines of political divisions that effectively work disrupt their symbolic unity, presenting an argument that the size of these six state offer a template to restore the good days of local government, as if that would somehow leave California both more responsive and responsible to state-wide problems.
The proposal seeks to redress the distance at which each region’s interests have come to lie from Sacramento. For Draper’s movement, the division would respond to the balancing of the different interests of each region, although only those of Silicon Valley seem defined: Draper has discussed, for example, how a “large group in Sacramento” grew so “very isolated” from the “very different personalities” of each region to find it impossible to prioritize such concerns as Silicon Valley’s prioritizing H-1B_visas, or Southern Californians’ concern with immigration, as if their distance in Sacramento exacerbated the problem of “trying to balance the interests of people all up and down this coast” more than partisan gridlock. The image of the coast indeed seems central to the canonization his group advocates: five coastal regions seem the template for the division of the state; names of most coastal regions include “California” as if to remind residents that they only seek to preserve the best interests of the state: “North California,” “Central California,” and “West California,” remind residents they have the state’s best interest at stake, notwithstanding the peripheral “Jefferson” and the massive new regional”Silicon Valley,” which is expanded to include choice properties around San Francisco, as if spatially linked by the web of private commute buses not only to the Bay Area but also much further north to Mendocino. (Perhaps this is one of the true agendas of the movement for Six Californias: not to break up California into regions like “South California” and “Jefferson,” but to make “California” a setting in which Silicon Valley, the place where Draper lives and works, can expand to attain the sort of place on the map that it deserves.)
The notion of repartitioning the state echoes past proposals of splitting off or partitioning of states. Andrew Shears of Mansfield University has taken the time to collate and synthesize many of these movements in a stunning exercise of an “alternate history”of what might have been, using a list of U.S. State Partition Proposals, that multiplies the familiar fifty states in the union to a whopping 124 proposed states–with a disclaimer about advocating such multiple proposals.
The similarities between the “Draperized” map of California and collapsed movements of secession that Shears mapped in the state are curious. They probably partly reflect the massive settlement of the California coast and its concentration of capital–the proposal carves “Silicon Valley” out of California’s coastline and adds both West California and North California to it. Unlike previous calls for downsizing California that predate the announced secession of “Jefferson” in 1941, before the entry of the US into World War II, the argument is to create more responsible government, rather than that distinguishing the region of “Coastal California” would allow an ample conservative voice for denizens of the interior of the state. The map that demonstrated the splitting of the state has, moreover, itself become a sort of rallying cry: rather than a grass-roots phenomenon of secession form below, the disbanding of California creates a collage of cantons in which all residents will better recognize themselves.
The divisions mapped above are meant to promise “more direct contact” of the citizens with a government “now ruled by detached and isolated politicians in Sacrament,” which Draper and friends suggest splitting to six legislatures (five more), electing five more governors, and passing six separate budgets, all out of the belief that small, rather than big, is beautiful, and that local problems will be more easily resolved locally, rather than gridlock. Of course, the habitual carving of countries by data visualizations lends increased credibility to how redrawing six states would provide a better reflection of its political divisions, as if intentionally confusing such electoral divides with the state’s actual topographic landscape. For the notion of divvying up states into red and blue does create a difficulty for California, if one’s been trying to parse the ostensible national divide in the electorate that we’ve seen on news screens from at least 2000, and that now substitute for political debate–in order to create a set of state-like sectors that would reflect voter preferences that would vote reliable, we could benefit from Draper & Co.’s design, which would individuate some new “red states” in California in the electoral mosaic.
But the initiative is not only seeking to parse blue from red.
2. While data visualizations are great for challenging disrupting inherited symbolic forms too often burned onto the back of our retinas, does Draper’s six-color proposal really open new space for debate? While abandoning a five-color scheme to display data, the odd choices of hues used in the “Six Californias” logo makes one wonder what is trying to be conveyed–aside from the heat of the Sierras and sandiness of the desert–save the fundamental fact that these districts should be disjoined. Sick of charges of gerrymandering, the notion is perhaps to take both the revenues produced by Silicon Valley for its local education budget and SoCal tax franchise and keep it for oneself, and leave the Central Valley a distant poor cousin where per capita income would fall below that of the state of Mississippi; now that the reduction of property taxes have dispensed with one of the best ways of reallocating capital in California, just let the tax franchise be divided to create a spectacularly wealthy shore and poorer satellite states with minimal populations, and really big water problems, posed only to accelerate with the growing drought.
What goes on with the aqueducts, rivers, canals and reservoirs is a crucially omitted point to which the end of this post will return. Putting aside problems posed for the University of California system, jewel institution of the states not to mention the wide network of community colleges, the budgeting for a far-flung elementary public school system would be immense–if the Regents would have to reconsider the whole question of in-state tuition, as well as the viability of the system. (Forget about questions of what in-state tuition would mean; would we have not only ten new senators, but six Regents?) As one who made much money on LinkedIn, does Draper envisage online education replacing the state universities? Although Draper has insisted that the division of the state into a region with twelve senators and six governors would cut a bloated bureaucracy, what, one might ask, about the work of the California Coastal Commission at a time of increased concern with rising ocean-levels and tsunami?
Or does the imagined legal elevation of the region of Silicon Valley to statehood–the apparent essence of Draper’s imaginary future division of the map, only seek to remove Sacramento’s oversight of its economy? Since the basic motive behind the division seems to be to allow the newly-forged state “Silicon Valley” to hire cheaper labor from Asia without restriction, it’s probable that he wouldn’t be so interested in cultivating in-state employees, anyways. The new entity of “South California” (the amalgamated Orange and San Diego Counties, but leaving out most of Los Angeles to create a more homologous demographic) might even work to tip the balance of political representation in the US Senate, with “Central California” (the San Joaquin Valley)–assuming each of these regions would, by constitutional amendment, have two senators. The ‘proposal’ exemplifies a pretty perverse cartographical wish-fulfillment that seems more distant from reality the more closer that it is considered, or the ways that California works–the website addresses issues such as pension-retention and the future of in-state tuition, barely belying its deep self-interest and suggesting few questions of collective resolution–and little (if any) sense of awareness of the state’s geographic location or the increasing precariousness of its environment. Is proponents seem to distill all problems of governance to questions of geographic proximity, and prefer to see all resolutions as springing from the fragmenting of the state’s map into six separate sectors.
To be sure, the above parsing of the state reflects the rhetorical reconstruction of the nation into mega-regions or sub-divisions that have become increasingly popular, and play out a deep anxiety that the map has changed in ways that representational government no longer reflects, or no longer does well. Our political map needs to be redrawn, the argument goes, to better account for how the ground has changed beneath our feet. Such newly popular maps, perhaps hastened by the eye-grabbing nature of digital web-design and computer-assisted reporting, greatly profit from the ability to convert digitized cartography into a compelling meme, take their spin and part their power from the recent division of the country’s political preferences into “red” and “blue” states in news media–no matter how mutable such divisions might be, and how the division of California into two settled poles might provide a balance–as much as an argument for separatism per se. In Draper’s initiative, indeed, it has been remarkable how much the image of re-drawing the state has become the story, as if the map, rather than illustrating the situation on the ground, can become the basis for future debate and, even, the infographic the issue itself, now liberated from a purely illustrative function. It even invites the question if whether the sorts of divisions that infographics have accustomed us to see reveal actual obstacles to civic consensus or debate.
Indeed, the recent re-divisions of our chorographic maps into sharply distinguished choropleths that better distinguish divides in the nation and explicate the imagined oppositions between who’s red and who’s blue in the national news seems to have generated a range of unique solutions to better parse the nation into who watches the World Cup with attention and who doesn’t. The map provides the basis for a more eye-grabbing news story, as well as a satisfyingly direct–spare me the time to read the paragraphs–model to consume information. Such divisions of the country into allegedly “more accurate” cartographical parings have come to seem omnipresent signifiers that circulate in the blogosphere, removed from a storyline or caption; in elevating “place” as an object of true meaning, these divisions of demography create ghosts in the machine of the nation: it’s not so surprising we’ve created alternative demographic divides and performed futurologies of the fragmentation to be brought by impending demographic shifts, or past signs of inevitable unbridgeable differences across regions that have not yet been sufficiently recognized in other maps.
The idea of the initiative is to bring the map into better correspondence with reality, so that the map better reflect the lost idea of an efficient and productive state. So why not use the five-color scheme that divides the nation to divide the nation in different ways? Creating a new national architecture for understanding our identity is not only a form of mise-en-abyme of the current rage for dividing the nation into more sensible units than that followed by the electoral college, and projecting the new sorts of urban constellations of paved earth–and the sectors of commuting they allow–that divide the nation in new ways.
Draper might indeed be seeking to create a similar exercise of cartographical futurology, by improbably linking San Francisco to Silicon Valley, and merging San Diego with Orange County, and then parsing the rest of the current state to most appropriately divide whatever is left over.
Some have argued that such a division already exists–and might be historically back-projected to the country’s origins, perhaps in order to rectify the errors of the founding fathers who fathomed the federation in the first place, noting that several nations in fact exist, based on the research of the reporter Colin Woodward into the eleven nations that now make up our nation:
The currency of this notion that we’d do better to just divide the nation into regions seems particularly appealing as an exit-strategy to the toxic arguments of those who continue to advocate the confused concept of “states’ rights” to advocate NIMBY policy or to resist recommendations that society might be profitably adjusted to profit those disenfranchised. If we partition “Greater Appalachia,” the thought might also run, we get rid of a lot of other problems to affirming the unified policies of “Yankeedom.” (Of course, it goes unspoken that the notion that such a division of a country into mini-nations seems a way to sanction a set of “just wars” about political differences, which wouldn’t have to be “civil” but just just.) Once drawn on a chart, and hopefully in straight or straight-ish lines, the divisions of regions seem to make sense–especially if they can all be given logos that approximate new flags or a board game.
This is by no means the only means recently advocated or devised to divide the country. Creative parsing of the country into regions that the demographic of Facebook users seems to map into clusters of “Friendship” might be an alternative division of constituencies, if you posit the idea that regions should possess some inherent coherence or identity, measured that they be more likely to be Facebook “friends”–as if that could create consensus, or that it takes to much time to arrive at consensus by political debate, which in themselves map interestingly onto Woodward’s divides.
The data-visualizers like might also opt to divide the regions of the US into its greatest centers of population, as in this gridded cartogram that exaggerates geomorphology as weighted to number of inhabitants, in ways that reveal the increased political problem posed by the concentration of the population outside of rural regions: the population-weighted gridded gridded cartogram of the sort that is warped by the energetic cartographer Bejamin D. Hennig posits the question of how to best distribute the political process across the country that might merit a rethinking of the role of the electoral college, to be sure, and to the notion of “super”-senators to augment the voice of specific states.
Let’s pause to reflect on the specific gridded distribution of population across the state the proposal would divide to six, and ask where its major centers would be–and reflect on how the distribution of population might inspire libertarian ideas of separatism within the state:
But how to parse populations into greater divisions doesn’t seem to be the most evident answer to problems of arriving at consensus, if that notion of national uniformity is what one really wants.
ESRI mapped the country into ‘eco-regions,’ which might, as much as anything else, prove a manner of dividing the land, if it weren’t already inhabited-and if the divisions didn’t prove so irregular. The result would be closer to the land, and to its geography, than the divisions the libertarian Draper put on the table–although few at ESRI would surge that these eco-regions provide effective lines of governance or of mapping onto discrete economically viable units, and nor would Jefferson have arrived at such a solution when we still remained an agricultural state.
3. But something like this seems to be going on in Draper’s somewhat immodestly self-promoted proposal to divide California voiced as a libertarian solution to the ostensibly increasing distance of current state government in Sacramento from the people’s will. The notion that this “aims to address a variety of issues the state faces today” begins from the not so imaginative invitation “ever really think about how big California is?” that passes as a form of cartographical reflection, asking how can only one governor even be expected to look after all of its inhabitants, and resolving problems of representing Californians by the illusory simplicity of a DIY cartographical exercise that anyone should be free to weigh in upon: “you can create your state from the ground up . . . [and] have a say in what your state becomes.” The graphic indeed seems to drive the argument for how Six Californias can bridge the divides that have grown with governments that have so receded from local issues to become “further distant” from the very folks they represents them–“six smaller states with more local and more responsive government,”as the website has it. To shift the business plan of the government, as it were, and its “parts” are spun off to spend tax dollars more effectively and responsibly–and, despite the stacked deck of the considerably large economy in California, to compete among one another, rather than be overseen by Sacramento.
Such “draw it yourself” form of libertarian cartography is particularly deceptive as a way to resolve the state’s deep problems–and seem not only create multiple problems for the state’s existing infrastructure and educational systems with the illusion that one has done something to solve them, and argues that more problems are solved by the disaggregation of the state as a powerful means to dismantle governmental control.
The logic underlying the project of dividing the state seems be to allow each “region” to express its own interest in the most transparent ways.
Draper’s idea that remapping six California’s would be a basis to “recreate your state” that may be on the 2016 ballot has been fittingly lampooned by the cartoonist David Horsey of the LA Times in his own revisionary map of the possible divisions of the Golden State into proto-states with their own diffident mottoes, each no doubt phrased with a suitably separatist inflection. Horsey played much more creatively with the proposed regions’ toponymy to point up the quite interested (and urban) perspectives that animate the venture capitalist’s dismemberment of the state–taking the “more effective” map of “six Californias,” but renaming “Jefferson” as “Weed,” for example, and using the “iState” as a designation of Silicon Valley, whose motto might now become “I’ll Google It” while “Border” has selected the simple declarative “Send ‘Em Back!” (The mottoes reflect something of the self-interested nature of the initiative Draper sponsored in exempting Silicon Valley from the regulations that surround work-visas, which would allow Silicon Valley industries to hire the technological whizzes that it wants to hire, without inconvenient legal obstructions.)
For Draper has proposed that a belt from Marin to Tahoe as “North California,” as if to endow it with homogeneity, and greater San Diego becomes “South California,” revealing just how much creating regions of cultural continuity depends on one’s perspective. If Draper’s promise is to put voters back in touch with their representatives and destinies, the funny map into which he wants to carve the region removes the relation of the state to its major sites of agrarian production, but also to the snow packs and aquifers that until recent memory sustained much of the state, streaming down from the Sierra, or the quandary of whether the dismembered state would be able to better deal with issues of drought. Hollister farmer Andy Griffin of Mariquita Farms made similar concerns, and asks the deeper question, in a his own nice gloss to the below cartoon, by asking how the planned subdivision of the state remain removed from any awareness of where we are–and muddy regional awareness of even more pressing issues such as “mass transit and traffic congestion, even rental prices and housing supply”–perhaps “all regional concerns,” but ones “that need cooperation across county and city lines.” Does the map Draper uses even serve as a tool of disorientation to obscure these issues, by reducing the state to questions of local self-interest?
Griffin’s points are hardly demanding of cartographical demonstration, but raises questions of the lack of a tabula rasa from which the division of the state into administrative entities might begin–and the alienation of such a proposal from the lay of the land. While it looks like it might work in Photoshop, it evokes the specter of multiple desalination plants along the coastline that would presumably provide water to “Western California” and “Northern California” if they weren’t getting such a good deal from the network of reservoirs, aqueducts, Owen River, and canals that currently service not only the economy of the Central Valley, but the large cities that have grown up along the coast, let alone the sites of water storage that keep supplies of water uniform in an increasingly dry state. (Or the question of where the SoCal amalgam of “South California,” far better named ‘Bling’, might deposit its trash, save in Border or in the Pacific.)
Just how connected Los Angeles and San Diego are to this matrix of water-transportation from the Columbia River to the Colorado River becomes apparent if one considers the map, cleansed of toponymy, of where it is that the Southland’s supply of drinking water derives–and the extent to which the SoCal watershed derives from the expanse of the entire state, in ways that would be a potential disaster of litigation to disentangle, if not a natural disaster in the making, once one imagines the negotiation of water across multiple pseudo-state lines.
Indeed, not only do the Sierras provide over half of the total flow into the Sacramento Delta–the lynchpin of the complex system of irrigation and aqueducts that provides water to 25 million Californians and some three million acres of actively and intensively farmed agricultural land, and create a water structure that provides clean water to the state, but the linked ecosystems of the Delta and Sierras demand an increasingly collaborative policies and oversight that the very idea of division seems particularly shortsighted and would not only blindside but obfuscate. Look a bit closer at the situation of the linked region of the Sierra-Delta at the center of the network of water that allows inhabitants of the states to live, and drives its land-based economy:
One arrives at an even more strikingly persuasive map, no doubt, by bleaching it of local toponym and topography alike, and foregrounding the web of water transport that reaches out of a thick central vein, and reaches most of the southern state that would ostensibly, in this perverse proposal, hive off as separate units, disconnected from the prime manmade surface aquifer which, albeit artificially, carries water to their residents across the very lines that the Draper-backed proposal mandates the law artificially sever:
The historically built web of water supplied down the California Aqueduct and from the watershed that leads to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to the rest of the state is artificial in nature, but a web that animates the ecosystems of the farmlands around where we live. Indeed, the web of freshwater that we have created links the state as an organism–with some 60% coming from the Sierra. After the break-up of the region into proto-states, perhaps we can dispense with the diversion of water to the Central California’s valley to San Diego and Orange County? In those regions, desalination plants could crowd the coastlines, at least in the short term increasing the number of local jobs if at massive cost to those new states.
It’s a good way of forgetting the ways that we are bound to the allocation of resources, and to imagine that by going back to the drawing board with the idea that it can be a tabula rasa, we might be able to better sculpt the future out of the confused state of the present, and find clarification in letting us forget where we are by remapping out sense of the present lay of the land or our responsibility to it–rather than removing us from the land.
Making maps that might attend more to natural resources, and less to administrative reorganization, would be a good place to start to think about our relation to the land. Francis Leiber was particularly concerned to develop administrative solutions that would lead to good government, reflecting his dedication to questions of political economy, and no doubt might stress administration of the land as an individual responsibility: Nullum jus sine officio, nullum officium sine jure (“No right without its duties, no duty without its rights”). Libertarians as Draper lose sight of this.