During my recent interview with CTV talk show host Vicki Gabereau, I mentioned the concept of Cascadia. Gabereau asked me to explain even though the interview was about my desire to move to Canada, a country I see as more compatible with my own political and social philosophy.
I’m not sure who originated the concept of Cascadia, although I suspect it has its basis in the Ecotopia books by Ernest Callenbach. If you haven’t read these seminal works by the American visionary, it’s worth tracking them down. Ecotopia and Ecotopia Emerging (Banyan Tree, Berkeley, CA) are not only full of revolutionary ideas, but cracking good reads, as well.
Cascadia is the name given to the region stretching from Northern California to British Columbia. It is a region that is united by geography, economy, social and political attitudes that transcend the artificial borders that were drawn without regard to such things a couple of centuries ago.
As one who has lived in both America and Canada, I find the borders as drawn to be both anachronistic and irrational. Consider the 49th parallel that divides our nations. Despite protestations of minor officials, the politicians of the day insisted on the arbitrary boundary. Thus, we are saddled with the geographical anomaly of Point Roberts that wreaks immense economic hardships on residents of both sides of the border. It has, of course, made Point Roberts unique and there are some arguments in favor of that.
The point I made to Ms. Gabereau is that residents of Cascadia have far more in common with each other than we have with our fellow countrymen living on the East Coast, be they in New York or Toronto. I feel much more at home in British Columbia than I do anywhere on the East Coast of America or Canada.
Child of Cascadia
I was born in San Francisco and, as fate would have it, ended up on the East Coast thanks to having been born into a military family. I grew up in Florida and hated every minute of it. I went to college in North Carolina and liked that even less. I spent eight interminable years working there before I realized that I just didn’t fit in. I was a child of Cascadia, even though I didn’t know it then. I just knew I yearned for the cool, rainy climate, the soaring mountains and the forest solitudes that no longer exist on the East Coast. Not to mention the less frantic approach to life.
In the early 1970s, I moved back here and have never regretted it. Since then, I have lived in Northern California, Washington, Alaska and British Columbia. I have come to know and love this region as perhaps only a native son can. Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again and it is the only place that you will be comfortable.
I suspect there are others like me who left Cascadia for one reason or another and who were either inexorably drawn back or who have spent many years feeling like they were out of place, out of time.
Dorothy, heroine of The Wizard of Oz, felt the same thing. Despite the wonders of Oz, she never felt comfortable until she was back in Kansas again. I have been in Kansas and can no more imagine living there than I can living on Mars. But that was home for Dorothy just as Cascadia is home for me.
The borders drawn a couple of hundred years ago make no sense today. They do not reflect the economic, political and social realities of the 21st century. If we were a rational people, we would redraw them. But that would require change and change is a fearful thing.
Adapt to survive
My fellow Americans exemplify this fear. Faced with incontrovertible evidence that their way of life is not only endangering the planet, but threatening their own well being, they hide their heads in the sand. They oppose the eminently sensible Kyoto Accords, support wars of aggression against paper tigers, and invest in corporate juggernauts that trample the rights of third world nations. This is not rational behavior. This is, indeed, self destructive.
Charles Darwin, that Victorian theologian, put it this way: “It is not the strongest, nor the most intelligent who will survive. It is those who are most adaptable to change.” I would suggest that it is time to change the boundaries that divide us and seek boundaries that unite us. Idealistic? Yes. Unrealistic? Only if we lack the will and the courage to do what needs to be done. The world as we know it is obviously broken. So let’s fix it.
Not to suggest for a moment that this idealist has the answers about how to attack those monumental windmills. But I do have some ideas about where to start. Let’s begin with redrawing our borders to reflect reality. It is obvious that giant federations such as the United States, Canada, and Russia cannot possibly govern their diverse populations efficiently. There are too many conflicting ideals and interests. Any government that seeks to address them all will inevitably fail.
Perhaps a commonwealth of nation states along the lines of the ancient Grecian city states is more likely to succeed. The nation state of Cascadia is a starting place. Take Northern California, excluding the residence of The Governator. Add Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and the panhandle of Southeast Alaska. Here is a nation state with common interests. Cascadia has a resource based economy that is having to transition to a more sustainable model. Our national governments, based as they are in the East, are focused on maximizing the bottom line. Smaller national entities lend themselves more easily to Callenbach’s ideal of a stable state economy. Our present carcinogenic paradigm of unlimited growth is so blatantly irrational that it beggars the imagination how so many people can accept it. There is more to life than the stock exchange and nowhere is that belief more evident than in Cascadia.
We are united in a love of the land that transcends short term economic interests. British Columbia’s motto is Super Natural. If you want to keep it that way, don’t expect Ottawa to cooperate. No more than I expect Washington, DC, to keep Washington The Evergreen State.
Governments were established where settlement began in the New World. At the time, no one could have imagined that the West Coasts would become the thriving populations that they are today. So do we accept the realities of the 18th century or do we accept the realities of the 21st century?
Throw in Siberia?
Imagine, if you will, a nation state comprised of those northern people who find themselves so marginalized in our current society. The natives of northern Alaska, Yukon, Nunavut, Greenland, Northern Scandinavia and Siberia. They are united in their common ancestry, their reliance upon the environment and their rejection of the values we Southerners espouse. I’ve already described Cascadia, but what about New England? Those fiercely independent Yankees have almost nothing in common with the Americans of the South, so enamored of the glories of their slaveholding past. Utah is the stronghold of the Mormons, originally committed to the nation of Deseret. Why not let them have their nation? It seems to me that it would decrease friction, in the long run.
Let people of common interest join together. They will then have to work out their differences with the world as a whole in order to insure their own survival. Just like the existing nations do today, but without the fiction that they represent often conflicting internal interests.
It is interesting to note that many of the people in America who decry my desire to move to Canada are also espousing the move to split Washington into two states. One, to the west of the Cascades, and one to the east. One wants to represent the liberal, urban west. One wants to represent the rural, agricultural east. They want to have a choice, but brand me a traitor, or worse, for the choice that I have made.
Cascadia is a nation of common interests whose boundaries supersede the artificial lines that a bunch of 18th century politicians drew. I know that the readers of The Tyee are good at thinking, pardon the cliché, outside the box. My purpose in this essay is not to proselytize my own ideas, but to engender a discussion of concepts like Cascadia and beyond. Have at it, Tyee readers.
Christopher Key is a writer in Bellingham who occasionally contributes to The Tyee while planning his move to British Columbia.
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