(Our) Two Apolitical Futures

American democracy is crumbling before our very eyes. Trust in our institutions and leadership has been measurably declining since the 1970s. [1] Today, it measures at one of its low points in recent history. No matter what happens in the 2020 elections, there is sure to be a sizable chunk of America that will be angrier than ever. Our politics manufacture these divisions, but we can use the same process to heal. We’ll explore different forms of apolitical eras and why it might be our best next step.

The word apolitical brings a vision to each of us that is mostly a product of our circumstances. Where we were born, our identifying social labels and norms, and how we connect to our higher self all shape our politics. There is also the recognition that everything is technically political because politics shapes our ways of being. For the sake of this article, let’s define apolitical as a series of moments where the primary driver of progress is a shared belief in something greater.  So much so that the idea of party loyalty gives way to national and global unity.

Contrast that to present-day American politics. We are in the midst of a class struggle where many of our elected representatives side with the oppressors. The population is split on fringe ideological issues, distracting from the broader vision of our future. But it wasn’t always like this. We have great eras apolitical progress in our past that went far beyond party divisions. War has been the primary driver of apolitical ages. The most productive economy ever in the U.S. was during World War II. Imagining how to create an apolitical era requires us to separate our transformative power from crisis.

Our next apolitical era may also be unavoidable. There are scenarios that we can see in our horizon of possibility today that may trigger apolitical eras. We may be unable to avoid another world war, and global leadership seems unwilling to unite against the climate crisis. In these scenarios, divisions still melt away, but we return to a cycle that we’re trying to escape.  

The Disunited States of America

Social disunity is an increasingly worrisome trend in the United States. The root cause is almost certainly the corporate control of our public media. For the past three years, Fox News has been the number one most viewed “news” channel in the United States, consistently beating out CNN and MSNBC. While each of these stations is guilty of biased reporting, omissions, and misleading information, Fox News injects a level of fear, anger, and misinformation into American society that is beyond comparison. The result is a growing isolationist section of our population. Angry, afraid, and unwilling to cooperate with the “other.”  

An apolitical America may take form as a result of the continued ideological divides. Conservative law professor F. H. Buckley argues that secession is both possible and probable in his book American Secession: The Looming Threat of a National Breakup. He claims that the growing progressive sects of our populations will eventually call for separation from America’s more theocratic and regressive counterparts. Buckley argues that politics will ultimately be our divide. The result would be a system of smaller nations functioning through expanded states’ rights. Putting aside the more obvious challenges like what would happen to the military, or our nuclear arsenal, it presents a possible scenario to examine.

We could imagine a secession scenario that climaxes with deep political turmoil but results in apolitical aftermath. A population so divided that collectively we decide it’s better to part ways. It would be the most direct path to avoid a second civil war. With the separation of the nation into different sects, the laws preventing the rapid mobilization of society into new directions give way to collaborative projects amongst like-minded states. The immediate future becomes programmatic, what change do we want, and how do we get there? Without the enemy of the other, presently framed as liberal or conservative, these new proto-nations begin to work towards reconstruction.  

Secession would be a redefining moment in American history. It is an expression of our inherited burden as a nation, the revolutionary spirit that brings to life new ways of living. Existing political players would have no claim to any existing offices they held, and a population would be right to reject them. Splitting the federal system of the United States questions all rules, including the power of the states. Many communities would likely demand a total revision of leadership, one more aligned with their vision of the future.

Progressive unions would arise in northeastern and western coastal states, combining resources to scale efficiencies towards programmatic reform. Investments would become more focused on energy infrastructure modernization, healthcare, education, economic arrangements, and the democratic process. A people united around the central theme of investing now for future dividends.  

These progressive states would also begin to redefine the cultural and social norms that are presently frozen by the constitution. Religious freedom would be more precisely defined, to prevent the present abuse of public monies funding religious private schools and the public safety dangers of medical exemptions. Much of the politics around hot button issues like abortion and guns dissolve away as people migrating to the progressive unions would share similar beliefs. Apolitical progressive societies would likely rely on a more direct democracy approach towards prioritizing projects, giving more people more say in their collective destiny.

Pulling again from present-day ideologies, the new conservative unions would likely cut back on social services and public investments. Relying instead on private-sector innovations to drive progress. These market-first policies would incentivize profit seekers and create an environment of short-term gains over long term strategic focus. We would probably see natural resources opened to the highest bidders – a move that could lead to a brief resurgence in fossil fuel production. We can imagine that initially, the conservative states might appear to be better productivity engines. Long term, we would observe higher degrees of wealth stratification than we do presently. Conservative unions would be a very challenging place to exist for poor people.

It wouldn’t be shocking if the theocratic influences attempted to form a union of their own. Replicating a deeper integration of church and state found around the world. This union creates various forms of social, economic, and legal oppression under the guise of God. A theocratic state would also be apolitical for a while, rapidly restructuring itself to better support biblical (or other) laws. They would likely strip women and LGBTQI communities of rights and agency in their personal and professional lives. Theocratic states in America may hold the most extended eras of apolitics because when you claim to speak for God, you can justify anything – including despotism.    

A secessionist scenario offers an apolitical alternative for a brief moment in time. The break of conservative and progressive factions would bring with it a broader and more unified vision of alternative futures but eventually will give way to a new politics. Conflicts internally and externally over resources and direction would emerge.  

A 2019 report from the Rockefeller Institute demonstrates that our most significant federal government contributors are from the northeastern United States. New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut all contribute significantly more to the federal government than they receive in benefits. [3] The data also demonstrates that the states that receive the most money compared to what they give are states that would likely end up as part of the conservative nations given their geographic and ideological alignments. Because the secessionist scenario suffers from unequal resource distribution from the start, it’s hard to imagine a happy ending.  

Whether we like or not, our ideological divisions don’t override the fact that we’re deeply dependent on one another. One problem with the disunited states of America is that it doesn’t present an ideal scenario for any ideology. It results in less collective power and resources for all factions and may ultimately lead to violence. What these scenarios do offer is the real potential of developing into engines of radical change. With populations united around new (and comparably incompatible) ways of living, humanity is, for a brief period, freer than we’ve ever been. 

Ascendent Apolitic

A more idealistic pathway towards an apolitical future also happens to be inevitable. Technology has been the most consistent factor in the transformation of the human being through our entire existence. No aspect of life defines our understanding, capacity, and potential more than technological ascendancy. Our apolitical future may be the result of technological advances that simply transcend our need for a centralized government.

Administrative A.I. isn’t a thing yet, but it’s probably one of the technologies closest to our grasp. Local, state, and national governments all have varying levels of bureaucracy. Many of these tasks are routine. They are the same actions applied to different people or directions. They involve the standard operation of a community, everything from infrastructure repairs to resource allocation. These decisions are apolitical by nature.

Allowing machine learning algorithms to track and understand the tasks associated with governance provides a new pathway towards automating community management. If formulas for resource distribution and management are democratically selected, entire communities could operate without local governments. Elections would only serve the purpose of discussion and debate about the next project or direction. Politicians, as representative leaders, would lose their function. 

One example of an apolitical project that will have to arise from present-day politics is green energy infrastructure. Transitioning into these new energy paradigms changes humanity forever. We’ll apply nearly free, renewable energy to every vertical of our lives. Agriculture, transportation, housing, production, entertainment, the list goes on. Our political struggles are rooted in a foundation never having enough. A networked green-energy infrastructure radically changes what is and is not possible in human society.  

If structured correctly, the benefits of this infrastructure are passed directly to the people. The results are dramatic cost and price decreases in nearly every vertical. Free energy reshapes almost every possible direction we would hope to pursue as individuals and as a collective. 

Eventually, what we label as 3-D printing will evolve into replicator technology. If you’re unfamiliar with Star Trek, replicators are devices that are to create things like food, beverages, and materials out of particles. The ability to precisely manipulate and arrange matter at the atomic level would allow us to create anything we wanted, anywhere. The wide dissemination of this technology changes the morality of being human. When you can create anything you want or need at will, it eliminates the need for politics as we know it. All of our present political discourse takes place in the framework of scarcity. Replicators eliminate it.

Replicator technology would allow every person to pursue their life in whatever fashion they desire beyond the barriers of the present day. It would eliminate entire economies overnight and would dethrone dollars as our primary form of social glue. Humanity would reimagine community, allowing people to connect primarily over passions and personal growth. 

At this stage of technological ascendancy, nation-states lose almost all power in a national direction. People now decide their collective destiny, brought together around shared passion projects to create and innovate. Earth becomes a collection of micro societies, people congregate around projects and interests. Productivity explodes in near every direction, more people focusing on the futures they desire to create.  

If this technological apolitical era ends, it will be due to circumstances beyond our present comprehension. It could be technological maturity, a stagnation period that drives us back into old habits. Perhaps some universal revelation will change our perspective so profoundly that we descend into squabbling once again. There will likely be a more direct democracy to help guide and direct global projects. Still, the era of political machines and corporate candidates will end.

We’re at this weird point in human existence. Change is changing, the speed of which is forcing humanity to deal with circumstances that history did not prepare us for. Technology forces us to consider alternatives to our ways of living that make many of us uncomfortable. We see in real-time the decay of systems revered for generations. Like an old car we love, we’re finding it hard to face facts and let go.

In the end, the most likely catalyst for an apolitical future is with the passing of generations. When Millennials are in their late sixties and early seventies, Earth will have voting generations who have experienced a life of deep connectivity and rapid technological acceleration. It will empower an empathic approach to organizing society. The culmination of generations coming together around a broader vision of our shared destiny. Focusing on what we are capable of instead of what we have known.

[1] Public Trust in Government: 1958-2019 Pew Research Center April 2019 https://www.people-press.org/2019/04/11/public-trust-in-government-1958-2019/ 

[2] Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2017 by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) https://www.irena.org/publications/2018/Jan/Renewable-power-generation-costs-in-2017

[3] Giving or Getting? New York’s Balance of Payments with the Federal Government by Laura Schultz & Michelle Cummings Jan. 2019 Rockefeller Institute https://rockinst.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/1-7-19b-Balance-of-Payments.pdf 

If you like this essay you may also enjoy...