What is the purpose of Inter States?

Is it to entertain, to frighten, to posit a prediction, to study and learn, to express a world view, or something else?

These all may be results of reading Inter States, but the purpose since the start of this project has been to develop a learning resource that citizens and students of public policy and management can use as a tool for planning and decisions.

Inter States was originally conceived as simply a plausible scenario, to be used in a strategic management course at the SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont in 2004. Scenario planning is a method used in corporate, military, emergency, and other forms of management. With SIT being the kind of mission-driven institution it is, the strategic management course needed to consider issues of sustainability, social justice, and global issues along with more traditional business and NGO/non-profit issues. It was therefore necessary to weave in such threads as climate change, fossil fuel availability, the health of America's democracy, and the prosperity of its middle class. Being based in Vermont in the USA, it seemed reasonable to develop a US-centric and even Vermont-centric scenario. Given the air of military, social, economic, and political crisis surrounding the two terms of George W. Bush, and the disturbing erosion of civil liberties that took place at that time (and has continued under President Barack Obama), it seemed wise to take nothing for granted as forever stable or improving.

As I developed the scenario, I found the intellectual process to be much more rewarding than the conventional academic research and writing I had engaged in before coming to SIT. However, I also found it extremely difficult, because I was drawn not to simply pasting up a static scene somewhere in the future, but to describing and explaining the logic that hypothetically gets us from here to "there." The vast majority of works of speculative fiction, as engaging, well-written, and thought-provoking as they may be, simply deposit the reader in a supposed future with vague references to the processes of change and the exertion of specific interests that end up creating a world that is different from our own in key ways. From Bellamy, Zamyatin, Huxley, Orwell, Ayn Rand, Walter Miller, and George Stewart to Gerard O'Neill, Ernest Callenbach, Jim Kunstler, and the Jericho TV series, there you suddenly are - in a different reality - possibly with vague references to some sort of nuclear war, epidemic, invasion, or political crisis. The story picks up from there, and explores "what if?".

In Inter States, I found I couldn't settle for that. It wasn't enough. Literally anyone can come up with a detailed canvas depicting a future scene. In itself, as a guide for thought and action, it falls short. In Inter States, I try to build a plausible bridge from here to there, employing the processes of human life that generate the path-dependent changes that continually emerge around us: basic needs, sensemaking, individual interests, institutional interests and inertia, culture, ambiguity and unpredictability, material (i.e., economic, natural resource, and environmental) conditions, a basic goodness and desire to act ethically among most people, and a relentless sociopathy or psychopathy among some. In Inter States, discernible "forces" that build on these include America's becoming "ancient," energy descent (declining EROEI), geopolitics, and various political and economic arcs that have their origins in our day and even well before. As a result, you have people contradicting themselves, working against their ostensible party or personal interests, or acting opportunistically in ways where (I hope) the reader says, "OK, that could happen." Examples are Gov. Remington's counter-partisan facilitation of Vermont's secession and the Republican Party's opposition to a relief mission that could meet the basic needs of millions of suffering people. Given path-dependency, such unexpected human twists or wrinkles, along with "acts of God," continually move the conditions of the future further and further away from familiar current reality, and you can watch it happen. Indeed, this is how historians track the development of the past into the present, one Pearl Harbor, Black Plague, and Gandhi at a time.

Inter States is a complex work. There are many threads. I truly hope you will find it both entertaining and useful. Please let me know, either way.

Human reality is stranger than fiction - a constant challenge to the plausibility-seeking fiction-writer.

I mean, you can't make these things up! But you can try.

Enjoy, and beware,

Ralph Meima, August 2012