Quantum physics allows for multiple simultaneous realities. In the United States, very different quantum futures could yet come to pass. Here are some of them, informed by history, science and literature.
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Erwin Schrödinger was riffing with fellow Austrian Nobel laureate Albert Einstein in 1935, poking holes at Niels Bohr’s theories (he’s the guy who invented quantum physics — yet another Nobel winner). This was equivalent to watching Olympian nerd-gods fight. Anyhow, Schrödinger came up with this idea about superimposition. In the simplest terms, a cat is placed in a sealed box with something that can kill it (radioactive atoms: woohoo!); and until someone opens the box to see whether or not the cat is alive, it remains, for the time being, both dead and alive.
That is, we need to hold both possibilities in our heads at the same time — in which case, they simultaneously exist — because we don’t know which it is; and from each potential reality, an entire different set — a universe — of interrelationships (and outcomes) arises.
Some of these outcomes impact the observers greatly, because their actions will flow as a result of one perceived ‘reality’ — a potentiality that may or may not be founded on empirical truth.
While the empirical science of quantum physics was the central focus for Bohr and Pais, ‘truth’ wasn’t the point to Shrödinger or Einstein. For them, it was the philosophical underpinning of things they cared about, and which got Einstein effectively excluded from the quantum physics ‘club’ that he had helped to found.
Schrödinger’s Cat, as it’s now known, is all about the potential realities that exist in as-yet undetermined, and as-yet unobserved present states.
We mere mortals do this constantly when we project our present into the future. Generally, we fixate on one outcome of any action or set of actions we make, as people, to the exclusion of others. In doing so, we exhibit a kind of tunnel vision; and more often than not, we defend that which we hope to be true, whether or not it is.
We are seeing this play out in dramatic form on the streets: during election season, during Black Lives Matter, and in the midst of a pandemic about all of which Americans deeply believe in polar opposite “truths”.
Until any outcome arises and is observed and accepted to be thus, multiple “quantum states” exist.
I am no different from anyone else. I’m guilty of doing it often, especially this week, when it came to the election results. I have been so offended by the anti-democratic actions of one side — so panicked by ‘thug tactics’, and separately, about the long-term damage that has already befallen this country — that I’d assumed we were headed for the dustbin of history.
I wrote many pieces to that effect, over the past week.
As unhinged as most of the country is right now, and whatever each person may believe, the truth is that the full story of the United States has yet to be written. Like Schrödinger’s Cat, there are still multiple co-existing potential realities that at the moment exist simultaneously. I’ve spent too much time focused on the outcome I fear will occur — my ‘reality’. But if I step back, there are still many different Americas that could evolve from where things stand today.
We can look to history to imagine at least a half-dozen Americas, right now; and probably several more that don’t have a perfect historic roadmap (or cautionary tale) to illuminate us adequately. Let’s look at a few of them, in brief.
Scenario 1: A Second Civil War
I hadn’t thought of it until I calmed down enough, but the United States could easily go the way of the U.S. Civil War, in which a democratically elected subset of the country, under Biden, for example, and a self-governing “shadow nation” akin to Jefferson Davis’ Confederate States of America, under Donald Trump, could simultaneously operate under a contested, but still powerful, 10th Amendment. The Amendment states:
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
The 10th Amendment is how Mississippi seceded from the Union on January 9, 1861, leading Jefferson Davis — a senator there — to become a Confederate man. It wasn’t long before Davis bombed Fort Sumter in Charleston, SC in response to Lincoln’s earlier snub of his entreaties, thereby kicking off the civil war, and making Davis into the Confederate President.
In all, 11 states seceded.
Mississippi’s stated rationale?
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest in the world.” The National Parks Service referred to this as “the source of white wealth, identity and values.”
Today, the 10th amendment has been used to legalize marijuana in 15 states so far, as well as Washington, D.C. It was also used to refuse to shelter African Americans in Georgia, in 1964, flaunting the US Civil Rights Act. It was invoked to block Trump from withholding funds from New York when that state also used it to ignore his initial Muslim travel bans and immigrant witch hunts. And it’s been used to overturn state regulation of pharmacy benefits; to uphold Brown v. Board of Education; and even for water rights.
As Andrea Fox put it in her article for gov1.com, “Grappling with Tenth Amendment rights is a slippery slope.”
A number of historians have already written about this possibility, today.
No less a man that Robert E. Lee, the General in charge of the Army of Northern Virginia of the Confederate States Army and its most famous combatant, used the Declaration of Independence itself to justify what he couldn’t otherwise, within his own psyche. Therein, he:
“…appealed, not to statutory law, but to “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” It referred to “unalienable rights” under these higher laws, and declared:
“Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government.”
Lee invoked the very spirit of the instrument by which Americans declared their independence from Britain — their then-rightful overseer, and government. Lee (and Davis, et al) used the Declaration to justify seceding from their perceived “long train of abuses and usurpations,” to borrow another passage from our foundational justification.
With enough of the nation supporting Trump, believing him to be some form of prophet, or messiah — or, more profanely, believing that the Democrats are guilty of a “long train of abuses”, per se—then the potential ‘out’ endowed by the 10th amendment could encourage them to follow him into secession, like the eleven U.S. states that did it almost exactly 160 years ago.
A huge number of states bleed Republican Red, and are armed to the teeth with not just the weaponry but the will to defend themselves against governmental abuses. The Second Amendment is just that: a justification to weaponize oneself against potential abuses.
The good news here is that the Civil War ended, and not long after, the U.S. entered a long period of sustained growth and relative inner peace, leading it not only to advance rights for those it enslaved, but also to become a huge and prosperous global superpower, where depending on your view, it either remains today, or from which it has recently withdrawn.
So a “third wind” of prosperity could yet alight in the United States, even if it comes at the steep cost of a bloody civil war. In all, 625,000 Americans and Confederates lost their lives — 2% of the nation. But — and I’m not being ironic here — sometimes, a broken system needs to be smashed to bits before a new one can be born.
I am not encouraging this; I am merely observing.
So concludes Schrödinger Reality №1.
Scenario 2: Hitler’s Germany—Take Two
An equally rosy outcome for the United States, this one will emerge out of hellish death and destruction. In all, 291,000 Americans perished between 1941 and 1945. In all, 85 million people died, worldwide, in the bloodiest conflict in history.
Hitler’s National Socialist Party (Nazi, for short) was, like many other “Folk Parties” created in the wake of World War I, borne on the backs of massive misgivings held by a large swath of Germany’s populace. According to jewishhistory.org, three clear themes underpinned Hitler’s party. See if these sound familiar, here in the U.S.:
“First, they said, Germany did not lose the war [WW I], but was betrayed into losing [it]. Usually, the corollary to that was that the leftists and Jews betrayed them.”
“Second, the parliamentary democracy set up after the war to run Germany, the Weimar Republic, was hopelessly unwieldy and inefficient.”
“Third was a call to law and order. German culture abhors chaos and if nothing else post-war Germany was chaotic. Therefore, the Folk Parties appealed to the German peoples’ sense of law and order. Better to have an autocratic regime than allowing the chaos to continue.”
Put bluntly, this is pretty much exactly what the outgoing U.S. president is saying, today.
And there, in my view, lies the potential — for the first time in a century — for a real third party alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. Which is exciting, until you realize that enough of the country might defect to actually elect them!
And, once elected, well… we know what happened in Germany.
That would give Trump the perceived mandate — authority — to remake the Republic in his image, much as Hitler did. No longer beheld to the standards of Red or Blue, the Orange Party (why not?) would move former Republicans to the extreme right, empowering white supremacists and the like, itching to use their 400 million guns, to “free the land of fake Americans”. The Jews would fall here, too, as would African Americans, Muslims, many within the media community, and others, in an American Abrechnung, or “settling of accounts” with the loathed parties, to use the Nazis’ own euphemism for genocide. The Nazis had many such euphemisms, like aktion (a mass murder operation, like ‘aktion T4’ — mentally ill — or ‘aktion Reinhardt’ — every Polish Jew).
Here’s the good news: Germany eventually emerged as a democratic nation once again, post-Hitler, once Europe had been destroyed. Not only that, but a total powerhouse. Today, it is the largest economy in Europe, and a formidable contributor to modern life there, with a strong school curriculum that teaches of anti-Semitism and German’s erstwhile moral failings to every school child, thereby relegating any latent tendencies toward hatred to simmer in the background.
For that matter, not only Germany remade itself in its former democratic image. So did Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, Pétain’s France and Hirohito’s Japan. All of these fascist European nations, as with Japan’s totalitarian Empire, returned to democracy; while the two biggest belligerents of all — Germany and Japan — became global leaders in their own right, which they largely remain, today.
There’s a huge “but”. The difference in those cases was that many, many nations rose to help defeat them, none more than Russia, without whose 27 million dead the war wouldn’t have been won in Europe; and where without the use of nuclear weapons, the Pacific theatre wouldn’t have, either. The US was a major factor in both theaters.
Who would come to the subjugated Americans’ defense?
The most powerful militaries in the world today are, in order: the United States, Russia, China, Germany, the UK, France, Japan, Israel, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Do you think Russia would battle Trump? Or China? It’s highly unlikely, unless it was an act of economic self-preservation, given their authoritarian forms of government; and moreover, when the only two nations with a real nuclear arsenal remain the U.S. and Russia. They each have twenty times the warheads of the next three.
Russia joined WW II only because it was directly attacked by Germany, in 1941.
So an Orange Party may find itself unopposed, to run its course until the country collapses.
Or, an Orange America may take inspiration from colonial Britain — the largest and most successful empire of all time, covering 25% of the world, and dominating for centuries. In this case, the Americans’ influence, driven by a strongman with an insatiable appetite for ‘winning’, and backed by both the world’s most powerful military and a feverishly aggressive, armed population itching to use their firearms and export their particular brands of supremacy and religious zeal, could be immensely successful.
While admittedly a thin tie-in with a number of *asterisks*, the current Netflix series, The Man in the High Castle, visually evokes a version of what daily life under authoritarian rule could look like in the U.S.A. It presents, quite literally, a quantum reality — a multiverse world — in the convenience of your living room.
Thus goes Schrödinger Reality №2.
Scenario 3: Fertility Rules
A third — admittedly odd, yet entirely possible — potential America emerges from the birth rate trajectories across the world. The Total Fertility Rate of a population is the minimum number of children per couple that must be born in order for a population to maintain its size, and not shrink. Globally today, that number is 2.4, according to the United Nations.
That’s where the problem comes in.
Fully 48% of the world — 3.3 billion people — live in sub-sustaining TFR nations. That is, they are shrinking with every generation. These include all of the European Union (with some nations at half the replacement rate), wealthy Asian countries like South Korea and Singapore, as well as Canada, Australia, Iran, Brazil, Russia and China — the last three of which are currently among the ten most populous countries on the planet.
The only reason Western countries are still growing is due to immigration, which is the central point being made here. If trends were to continue — and many/most/all economists, futurists and statisticians believe this to be the case — then as goes the population, so goes the power. Certainly this is true historically, through empirical eras.
Here, the United States is alone globally, in its projected growth, according to the UN. Most of it — 100 million additional people, by 2070 — will be immigrants, due to the fact that the current white-dominated population — 76.3% of American are white — have a sub-sustaining TFR. Thus the US will become a “minority-ruled nation” by 2045, according to the Brookings Institute. Meanwhile, Africa will emerge as the global seat of economic might, according to many, including the Financial Times, here, in an article named This Will be Africa’s Century. It will be fueled by a population explosion on the backs of the world’s highest fertility rates. By 2100 — but felt long before then — nearly half of the global population will live on the African continent, including five of the world’s ten most populous countries: Nigeria, DRC, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Egypt.
What does all of this mean for Americans?
There are two seismic outcomes of natural birthrates. First, the nation will likely become less authoritarian, over time, as white Americans ‘sunset’ as a majority for the first time, and as a larger share of minorities — and an unrelated trend toward urbanization, which almost always yields a more tolerant citizenry — rise to the fore of the voting public, and the economic driver’s seat. Thus the United States could well become the pluralistic society it was always — in words — inspired to be. The “browning of America” will be due both to the direct net immigration of people from other places with other national narratives, and to the higher birth rates of those demographics for at least one post-immigration generation, before they, too, settle into the “rich nation’s quandary” of low birth rates due to higher levels of education, lower rates of child mortality, lower levels of poverty, and families in which both parents work.
Second, as other nations continue to flourish, their economies and international clout — in trade, in policy, in global treaties, in digital security — will continue to rise, as well, which is the whole point of a “global African economy”, as Spears put it in an article earlier this year. That means that Americans’ influence — and our ability to bully the world into submission — will dwindle, globally. This is good, because it will have a leveling effect in the United States that will force it to be less bombastic, and more participatory.
In other words, a pluralistic, minority-ruled America, as a strong, yet non-dominant global player, will bode well for our own future, as it dials down the rhetoric that is currently pulling it apart.
This third Schrödinger Reality carries a whiff of optimism.
Scenario 4: Brave New World
Of course, we could yet take our plummeting TFR and wield science to manifest a very different destiny through stringent controls, within a generation. The United States has a long history of eugenics. I covered it broadly in Slavery’s Long Shadow, just last week. I mentioned then that the Nazis themselves based their eugenics programs on the Americans’, in 1927. So if Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World — a UK-based dystopia that subdivides the world into a “BF” (Before Ford) and “AF” (After Ford) era, honoring the father of the assembly line who inspired an efficient model of human reproduction — were to become a reality here, then the American future could look very different. In “AT” (After Trump) America, as in the novel, every birth will be controlled, requiring a permit. Alternately, it could be controlled by the water supply, an implant, forced sterilization, or simply enforced by lawmakers. In AT America, babies could be genetically designed by those who can afford it — much as they were in the movie GATTACA, which was based on Brave New World. [GATTACA are the first seven letters in the human genome.] Thus an empowered pro-white, pro-Trump administration could maintain (artificial) control over the population, sterilizing swaths of minorities, or enacting severe legislature around birthing, as they did in China, from 1979 to 2015, with their “one child” policy. In China, under the law, many families were allowed to have additional children. But the point is, that the decision, permission and enforcement were all regulated successfully, by an authoritarian government.
An AT America could become increasingly white. Moreover, with “designer babies” as they’re called now, AT America could further widen the gulf — economic, intellectual and social — between “haves” and “have nots”. Today, in 2020, income disparity in the United States is growing and unlike anywhere else on Earth. With the right controls and money, we could supercharge that.
Today in the world — broadly — we can already select the sex of a child, deselect known diseases and cancer predispositions in vitro, and make choices that cost tens of thousands of dollars, but are available to those with the connections and the means.
So even if they weren’t regulated, per se, the economic barriers to designing a future “master race” would be huge; and we could see, as in Brave New World, a social order — akin to the Indian one, which has dominated their culture for 3,000 years — take hold. In the novel, Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons are not only preordained to live very different, stratified lives, they have been designed accordingly, intellectually, physically, etc. An epsilon is a barely sentient, intellectually lobotomized, physically thick worker; whereas the alphas are the master race, full of parties and pleasure, intellectual repartee, and built for nothing more than leisure.
Forget Trump and politics. This whole topic is very real and being hotly debated today, everywhere. We are on the doorstep of being able to engineer human beings, and those in control of any nation — or enough global influence — will determine what form they will take “at home.”
Thus an AT America could well become a white supremacist America, fueled by a super-race of overlords, with an intellectually and reproductively neutered sub-class, comprised of the majority of the “undesirables”. To the religious right, abortion could turn on its religious head. Consistent with the notion of the Rapture, sterilization could become a moral imperative, handed down by God, to ensure that the faithful (and genetically enhanced) flourish, while the (neutered) “unbelievers” are left behind, by the God they have ‘forsaken’.
For Schrödinger Reality №4, we won’t have to wait until Africa’s population blossoms to “reap the rewards” of a New America. We just need legislation and science to align in the near future.
There are other possible Americas living simultaneously in a quantum sense, today. There is the Hollywood America, in which famous heroes save the day in the final seconds of the doomsday clock’s countdown. Americans suddenly wake up, realize their warring foibles, and are led to the promised land of true democracy, realized. Like the Quebec of my youth, in which a separatist (10th Amendment-equivalent) party came within a half-percentage vote of seceding from Canada, Quebeckers suddenly woke up to the reality that they almost manifest, and the plans for another referendum were quickly shelved, where they largely remain, today.
In Hollywood (aka Happy Ending) America, another century of growth and hegemony smiles upon the Land of the Free, and the guy gets the girl. Cue credits.
Then, there’s Silicon America, in which our current tech titans use the combined might of their data-crunching and analysis empires to birth a Creator Algorithm that is able — well beyond the reach of our simple human minds — to bestow upon us a roadmap to our own salvation. At that point, we will need only to follow it; and President Zuckerberg (or one of his super-friends) will lead the faithful to an ad-filled social orgy: a real or virtually immersive utopia. Here, too, the nation will be saved. (Disclaimer: China may engineer their own competing reality.)
Whatever form our future takes, the larger point here is: we don’t know what will happen. Each of these scenarios, however preposterous they may seem, have a precedent in the real world upon which we can draw the possibility that they could come to pass.
Some will be disastrous, leading to millions of deaths. Others will ‘sunset’ the United States in a world that passes it by. And one of these — so far — leads to the fulfillment of the words invoked in the founding documents of the nation: “where all [people] are created equal,” and where “they are endowed… with certain inalienable rights.” Where the words of Emma Lazarus’ poem, The New Colossus, cast into bronze on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, ring true: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Well, the golden door could remain the United States of America for a while longer, yet. Who knows? Like Schrödinger’s Cat, we’ve yet to open the lid of the future we’ve placed in the box, and observe it. For now, a number of quantum possibilities exist for America. They represent very different versions of a world, our survival, and our future.
I guess we will see.
But that won’t stop me from exercising my rights to a quantum imagination.