Geodesy has long increased the number of claims by extractive industries through remote sensing, and especially over indigenous lands. Yet crowd-sourced tools of geolocation have also enabled a range of counter-maps of indigenous native land claims that have pushed back on how industries that have increased access to the resources buried beneath the very lands to which indigenous groups have ancestral claims. Indeed, powerfully innovative webmaps like NativeLands provide not only a new standard for cartographic literary, but to achieve epistemic change. They offer an opportunity for ethical redress of the lost of lands indigenous have roundly suffered from the uninvited Anglo settlers of North America. And they reflect a broad legal search to redraw the bounds of indigenous maps, rooted less along exclusive claims of property–or property laws of fixed ownership that reflect a history of the session of land by native peoples, often signed under duress and without clear understanding of the historical consequences of treaties that ended precedents for land claims. The growth of consciousness of ancestral land claims has promoted a need to accommodate property claims that had promoted a mapping of jurisdiction along clearly demarcated lines, ending or eroding indigenous land claims, and parallel the search for a new legal framework to acknowledge and recognize past claims of historical habitation that had been eroded by a treaties, land cessions from claims of collective possession, and fit a new legal language of ancestral lands often excluded from property law.
Canada constitutionally only explicitly recognizes three groups of aboriginal or indigenous–the Inuit, Métis, and generic “First Nations”–the multi-color blocks of native lands and historic “cessions” of tribal lands suggested a new understanding of how Canada had long celebrated its multiculturalism as a “mosaic” and not a “melting pot”–but showed the divisions of the land claims of a plurality of indigenous groups never recognized by Canadian law–and still quite problematically recognized in public acknowledgements of respect for land long inhabited by indigenous or “autchothones” proclaimed with piety by national airlines whose flight paths criss cross endangered boreal forests that tribes have long inhabited.
Air Canada went to pains the national company took at presenting a land acknowledgment in the form of a public announcement to all passengers, as if a remediation of the incursion of their airspace. But the video quickly turns to promote the airline as a platform for personal advancement that actual indigenous elders–if not leaders–embraced, affirming the cultural mosaic called into question if not challenged by the shard-like divisions staked on NativeLands, and its maps of historical land sessions. The flight over land seems to acknowledge indigenous claims to regions of pure waters and lands of a boreal forest, that maps an odd acknowledgement of indigenous presence from the air–paired with testimonials from Air Canada workers of native parentage attesting to longstanding fascination with the planes flying above over native lands and in airspace that was never properly defined–and the company’s commitment to secure these rights, as the major national company of state-run transportation.
–that suggest a respect traditions from the perspective of the modernity of air flight–as First Nations asserted data sovereignty over the lands they inhabit by a system of automated drones from 2016, to build a transportation infrastructure available to communities often isolated from infrastructure roads–and the notable fact that Canadian indigenous constitute the fastest-growing population in Canada, a notable fact of increased political significance, raising questions of the integration of their communities that could be reconciled with the historical transfer of land in the numbered treaties, 1871-1012, to transfer tracts of lands to the crown for promises that were rarely kept.
The odd status of indigenous lands in the nation puts the national airline of Canada at a unique relation to indigenous territories in recent years: while Canada’s divided system of federal sovereignty has begun to affirm aboriginal title in legal terms, and recognize autonomy of regions of indigenous settlement within Canadian sovereignty of the entire nation, the status of First Nation’s title are like islands of federal supervision in provinces, leaving national agencies like Air Canada, which reserves Parliament’s legislative jurisdiction over “Indians and lands reserved for Indians,” in an outdated legal formulation, a unique and privileged ties to lands of aboriginal title: the title of the nation is understood as parallel to and not in conflict with historical title of First Nations, which are incorporated into the nation as islands of federal sovereignty which still exists over the regions of the Numbered Treaties, which have never been legally dissolved.
Numbered Treaties and Land Cessions with Indigenous First Peoples, 1871-1921
Is Air Canada, the national airline service, not acting as a proxy of the federal government in acknowledging the continued land claims of Native Peoples hold to old growth boreal forests below routes the airline often flies? The question of indigenous properties and indigenous autonomy is in a sense bracketed over areas Canada acquired from Great Britain in 1867 and purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Company three years later? The increasingly pressing question of how to acknowledge native sovereignty is hoped to be accommodated to the Canadian image of a “cultural mosaic” of sorts, and the NativeLands offers what might be best seen as a response to that mosaic–not an image of interlocking shining cultures of sparkling individuality, but the overlapping rights of possession not rooted in firm boundary lines, but in forests, rivers, and streams, not as a generic bucolic region out of cities or accessible infrastructure, but a new form of mapping, rooted in notions of neighboring places, and acting as a neighbor to places–and inhabiting spaces–that is distinct from an Anglo-American system of property rights.
“To Learn More about the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, Click the ‘About Us’ Onscreen Tab”
For although the maps of Anglo settlers–attracted by the shifting global markets for goods, from cotton, to gold, to petroleum, all claimed without consent from their longtime inhabitants–erased or omitted local claims to land by those seen as nomadic, and of an earlier historical developmental stage, with a cutting logic of relegating their very presence to the past, the reframing of collective memories to inhabiting lands and regions offers a plastic and particularly valuable cartographic resource for remediating the future. The change parallels the first assertion of reversionary practices to land title, marked by. the Nisga’a Land Title act of 2000, which guaranteed title to lands outside of a historic chain of property deeds, allowing the determination of titles dependent on competing interests, by which the state can ensure ownership that incorporate traditional ways of recording property interests, outside of a property system of deeds: the new legal authority of the state may as well have inspired, this post suggests, a new form of mapping, in a webmap able to register mutually competing interests in compatible ways, rather than privileging historical titles of written form. In this sense, the growth of webmaps offer a new form of an open repository for competing claims, not linked to a legal system that has long favored colonial or settler claims.
The problem of a project of decolonization of course was greater than a map could achieve–but the relentless colonization of indigenous spaces and places needed a public document or touchstone to return. The presence of native tribes was never in question during the colonization of the continent–if one can only ponder the notion of the Library of Congress, Daniel Boorstin, who commemorated the approach of European and native cultures as so culturally fruitful for American culture, rather than one of loss. But how to take stock of the scale of loss? Northern California has been recently a site of active indigenous resistance to a legacy of colonization, the cartographic unearthing of land claims offers a new appreciation of increasing pluralistic possibilities of occupying the land.
Webmaps offer the possibility of stripping away existing boundaries, in cartographically creative ways, by interrogating the occupation of what was always indigenously occupied in new ways. Henry David Thoreau was plaintive as he voyaged down the Concord River, realizing how native lands had been not only usurped by the introduction of European grasses and trees, not only leading the apple tree to bloom beside the Juniper, but brought with them the bee that stung its original settlers; pushing downriver and “yearning toward all wilderness,” he asked readers, “Penacooks and Mowhawks! Ubique gentium sunt?” The signs of longstanding presence are not erased, but present on the map. And although lack of fixed boundaries on native lands have long provided an excuse to stake claims that exclude inhabitants who are seen as nomadic, or not settled in one place, and laying claim or title to it, and “without maps,” the blurred boundaries of NativeLands re-places longtime residents on the map, wrestling with the long-term absence of indigenous on the map.
It is, perhaps, not a surprise that the crowd-sourced interactive website Native Land Digital that was the brainchild of Victor Temprano, in the midst of the heady environment, CEO of Mapster who worked on a pipeline-related project, circa 2016. The sourcing of maps for indigenous land claims was pushed by his own anti-pipeline activity that involved remapping the place of planned lines of transport of crude oil from the boreal forest south to New Orleans on the KXL project and to Northwest ports Victoria threatened native lands and the ecological environments exposed to threats by drilling and clearcutting and risks of leaks. The current live charting at a live API offers total coverage of the globe, as may be increasingly important not only at a time of increasing unrestrained mineral extraction to produce energy but the retreat of ice in global melting that will alter animal migration routes, thawing permafrost, and sudden drainages of inland lakes that might call attention to new practices of land preservation.
The rich API provides a reorientation to the global map promising a powerful new form of orientation. Temprano, an agile mapmaker, political activist and marketer, framed the question of a more permanent digital repository of a global database of indigenous geography, that put the question of indigenous map front and center on the internet globally. The product, that led to an ambitious open source non-profit, sidestepped the different conceptions of space, time, and distance among indigenous communities, or the blurriness of fluid bounds, and opted the benefits outweighed the costs of an imagined the collection of maps of ancestral lands in term by the GIS tools of boundaries, layers, and vector files, as a rich counter-map to settler claims, able to collate lands, language and treaty boundaries on a global scale. The dynamically interactive open-source interactive project, known for its muted pastel colors, rather than the harsh five-color cartography that reify sovereign lines that posits divide as tacit primary categories of knowledge, is subtly compelling in its alternative non-linear format, that invests knowledge in sensitivity to the contributions of each of its viewers: dynamic, and administered by a non-profit with native voices on its board.
It is, inventively, able to maintain the dual display of a site where one could easily navigate between native and Canadian place-names and explore “indigenous territory,” as if it might be mapped by mapping space onto time in the broadly used cartographic conventions that have developed and flourished in online mapping ecosystems–and offered the benefit of creating layers able to be toggled among to layers of treaties by which land was legally ceded, overlapping language groups, and a decolonized space that was particularly sensitive in Canada, where the ability to engage outside colonial boundaries had been placed on the front burner by extractive industries. There is a sense, in the crowd-sourced optimism that recalls the early days of OpenStreetMap and HOT OSM, of the rewriting of maps and the opening of often erased land claims that crashed like so many ruins that accumulate like a catastrophe as wreckage that has piled at the feat of an Angel of History who is violently propelled by the winds to the future, so she is unable to ever make the multiple claims and counter-claims in the wreckage at her feet whole, and the pile of ruins constituted our sense of the progress of the present, even as it grows toward the sky. Was this a new take on the cultural mosaic of Canada, now revised as a problem of staking claims to the visions of property that the land cessions of the Native Treatise of Canada erased.
The website was the direct reaction to the active search for possibilities of extracting underground petrochemical reserves on indigenous lands in Canada. The growth of the website north of the border however has resonated globally, underscoring the deep cultural difficulties of recognizing title to lands that was long occupied by earlier settlers. If many of the claims to petroleum and mineral extraction in indigenous land is cast as economic–and for the greatest good–the petrochemical claims are rooted in an aggressive military invasion, and are remembered on NativeLands.Ca as the result of abrogated treaties and land cessions that must be acknowledged as outright theft.
The history of a legacy of removing land claims and seizing lands where Anglos found value has led many to realize the tortured legacy–and the unsteady grounds on which to stand to address the remapping of native lands. General Wesley Clark, Jr. acknowledged at Standing Rock, asking forgiveness in 2016, almost searching for words–“Many of us are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. . . . We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways, but we’ve come to say that we are sorry.” Crowd-sourced maps of claims on NativeLands offer an attempt at remediation, although a remediation that might echo, as Chief Leonard Crow Dog responded at Standing Rock, “we do not own the land–the land owns us.”
The sacred lands that had long reserved sacred lands in ancestral territory to indigenous tribes were indeed themselves contested at Standing Rock in 2015-6, when the 1868 Treaty of Ft. Laramie that assigned Sioux territory east of the Missouri River and including the water that runs through these ancestral lands as including the water, but the protection of these waters as within ancestral lands was not only challenged but denied by the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, even if the water runs through Sioux territory, as it long had, leading the Sioux Nation to bring suit against the US Army Corps of Engineers for having planned the pipeline through their ancestral lands, and attracting support of military veterans who objected to the continued use of Army Engineers to route the pipeline through historical and cultural sites of the Upper Sioux that ran against the lands reserved fort he Sioux nation.
The challenge or undermining of ancestral claims to land by the DAPL offered a basis for accounting or tallying of the respect of previous treaties and land claims. In the rise of the webmaps Native Lands, a new and unexpected use was made of the very cartographic tools that facilitate international petrochemical corporations–and indeed military forces–to target lands valued for mineral production with unprecedented precision have helped to stake a claims for the land’s value that undercut local claims to sovereignty. The website offers a way to preserve claims that were never staked earlier so clearly, and to do so in dialogue with broken treaties as a counter-map taking stock of the extent of indigenous lands. It is as if, within the specters of extractive industries’ deep desire to possess the targeted energy reserves, and at the end of a history of dispossession and destruction, the indigenous that were systematically killed and removed from their lands over the nineteenth century, at whose close 90-99% were killed, in a massive and unprecedented theft of land, forcing them from migratory habits to receive religious instruction and live on bound lands to which they were confined. In Canada, where NativeLands grew, displacement of land rights began from clearing herds of bison herds from Prairies to begin construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the principle commercial artery to the West, that had by 1869 shifted indigenous resources to rations that rarely arrived, to be replaced by cattle on lands settled by European farmers and style of agriculture. The melancholy history Plenty Coups framed of the extinction of Crow sovereignty went beyond land rights: “when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift hem up again: after this, nothing happened.”
Time stopped because the imposition of new modes of agrarian regime recast native lands as terra nullius to be settled by Anglo and European farmers, a surrender of land title from 1871-1921 that nullified local land claims. The cartographer and framer of the U.S. Census, newly appointed to what would be the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Francis Amasa Walker conducted the first review of 300,000 Native American in the United States of 1874, trying to sort out the theft of land over four hundred treaties. Walker’s agency was not clear, but if he bemoaned theft of ancestral lands fertile and rich with game, confined in land that could not support them and dependent on rations, there is some sort of redress in how the NativeLands maps invites us to retrace the sessions of lands that undermined these tribal claims, and erased these nations, not deemed fit to have place or stake belonging in American made maps that Walker helped to codify, placing the loss of land that Plenty Coups did so much to try to protect and retain, against all odds, in making trips to Washington DC to allow Crow claims to survive in this new White Man’s world. Even if the claims that he preserved were less than they had been originally allotted–just 80%–he forestalled desires to claim land for gold prospecting and mineral extraction that are effectively on the cutting block once again today.
The southwest and states east of the Sierras magnify the effects of global warming in the intensity of their aridity. But global warming reveals a new relation of regions to overheating, and reveals the depths of inflexibility to accommodate water scarcity, as well as the tragedy of its effects. As aridity of the soil and reduction of groundwater reaches unprecedented scales, our passivity is accentuated as we are suspended before maps that try to visualize unprecedented aridity magnified by global warming and its magnifying effects.
For the cascading effects of warming on the land and environment might be mapped in ways that cannot essentialize the greater “aridity” of the region, but the effects of increased aridity of soil, air moisture, and dry air on a region that we have remade into a region of food supplies, agriculture, and livestock, but, beyond, on hydropower. While the Colorado mountains long provided an effective basin to gather rainwater for western states that have been funneled to state reservoirs for agricultural irrigation, the man-made irrigation networks were drying up as the snowpack determinedly fell, and warmer temperatures evaporated what snowpack fell.
The logic of this longstanding pattern of appropriation of water from across the Colorado Basin was in a sense begun with the Hoover Dam, but was, writ large, organized by very process of appropriating water rights to redistribute water that had been enshrined in California from the turn of the century, circa 1914 and the policies of filling reservoirs to redistribute water rights. While we have considered appropriative water rights a distinct feature of how water is redistributed unique to the Golden state, the appropriation of water rights by reshuffling of water in state’s now precarious supplies how diverts over 99 million acre feet of surface water diverted along the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers to farmland, created a powerhouse of national agriculture. Much of the 75 million acre feet that flow from reservoirs across the state evaporates before it arrives at crops, however–far more that actually reaches the farms or cities.
–and the growing heat of the Great Plains have likewise diminished surface flow of the Colorado Basin already reduced by diminished rainfall. The increasingly warmer atmosphere of recent years has created a new “Arid Region” of the United States, of even greater aridity than when it was first mapped by John Wesley Powell in 1890, and the renewed aridity of the region not only challenges the calculus of water distribution according by appropriative rights that is structured by the Interstate Compact, but the very logic of redistributing water.
The past two decades have seen the departure of seven trillion gallons from Lake Mead, the largest reservoir on the Colorado River, holding rainflow from the Upper Basin before it crests the Hoover Dam. The drop will trigger hydrologic stresses across western states, as ever ever-increasing amounts of water are sucked up into drying out air and atmosphere, requiring more abundant irrigation of croplands and grazing grounds. This new and expanded “Arid Region” suggests a return of the repressed, returning at even greater scale and aridity to haunt the nation by a lack of groundwater again.
that is not to say it ever left. But the solutions of diversion have been undermined by the cascading effects of climate change and increasing temperatures, across an expanse of irrigated lands where water from the Upper Colorado, as from the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, are funneled to cities, farms, and irrigation projects, and used to generate electricity. Even as Californians and westerners face the threat of further fires more destructive than any in recorded history–potentially enough to energize an implausible recall effort in the state of California–we face the problems of managing not only historic drought, mandated energy shortages, reduced water supplies. The climate crisis appears to have provoked a deep crisis in leadership, but one without easy means of resolution.
The most improbable political candidates–global warming skeptics after Donald Trump’s heart–have argued drought, wildfire, and electrical storms reveal Gavin Newsom’s lack of leadership, even as they stridently object to aggressive climate legislation aimed at emissions reduction as restraining the free market business,– preferring a free market approach for all climes that would be the laissez-faire redistribution of water to the highest bidder, monetizing a scarce resource to consolidate financial profits and gain in response to diminished water supplies.
As more water is being released from Upper Basin reservoirs to make up for the shortfall in Lake Powell, but the shortage of water in Lake Mead–the largest reservoir in the United States–to less than 40% capacity by 2022 will mean reducing water for lower basin states like Arizona of 812,000 acre-feet, Nevada–by 21,000 acre feet, and Mexico, by 80,000, that have led to the call for new “water markets” to be created across the western states. Indeed, even western states no longer carry the brunt of increased use of freshwater for irrigation–
–the demand for conserving water in agriculture is increasingly incumbent on western states, so much so that the shift to less water-intensive crops–like California’s almonds–at a time when many crops require more irrigation, and a shift toward fewer acres of pasturage for livestock–good luck–have become a necessity. Increasing the efficiency of irrigation systems is necessary–ending customs of flooding fields, increasing drip irrigation, center-pivot irrigation, or micro-irrigation, in a New Deal for agriculture, even regulating irrigation systems before water markets price rural communities out of their accustomed access to freshwater. The increased trend toward shifting the distribution of water by “water markets” from lower- to higher-value use is dangerous for farmers, and indeed all rural areas, but also for the western ecology, as it would be the most difficult to preserve water in rural communities or farming areas less able to pay for pricing of water for higher use-value, although they currently consume over 70% of the water in the Colorado basin, or encourage sustainability in regions that are increasingly facing realities of sustained drought, if not megadrought of unprecedented intensity.
Yet the systems of allocating water from the Colorado River by a system of dams, diversions, and canals have led to broad calls to end further projects of water diversion, as the diversion of water to western states may be drying up itself by up leads to calls for new policies of allocating water, not based on the highest bidder, as the river we have made increasingly mobile across boundaries will be divided or redivided between agriculture, urban use, indigenous Americans, and land trusts, as we are in need of redefining the working basis for conserving the redistribution of water rights beyond capture and diversion, and outside of existing water markets and appropriative water rights within states. While the Bureau of Land Reclamation has run the reservoirs, dams, canals, and hydroelectric plants and contracting with individual districts, a broad reconception of practices of regulating water markets, allocations of water, and costs of large-scale water diversion, as demand for water outstrips supply.
Yet as increased farmers are withdrawing water from the ground, or from rivers, from California’s Central Valley to the Lower Colorado River Basin, in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada, the need to reduce the eighty percent of water dedicated to agriculture across the west will demand new practices of conservation, beyond what John Wesley Powell mapped, in 1880, when he advocated new practices of land use, as climate change increasingly destabilizes the Basin, including the thirty sovereign Native American tribes along the river basin. The need to manage demand and riverflow that will begin with the start of the “Tier One Shortage” from 2022, will introduce new rules on water-use and supply that stand to reduce the amount of water flowing to Arizona by a third. Water diversion from the Colorado River has transformed the land west of the hundredth meridian by re-engineering its flow to make the “desert bloom.” Yet the recent dramatic reduction of rainfall, river flow, and increased aridity of the lands, leave us contemplating the viability of relying on water diversion.
The new arid region is reflected in weather maps, but will be a region of radically reduced piped water and a new landscape of hydrologic diversion. If the “Arid Region” was mapped in earth-tones of clear distinction as a cautionary way by explorer and geologist John Wesley Powell, to alert the government to the distinct climate of lands west of the hundredth meridian, the recent area is both based on more detailed and specific remote sensing records, often from satellite observation, but suggests a far more complex area to manage.
For the western states are linked, both by projects of water diversion, and by hydropower, to a region where rainfall and snowpack has declined, and far less water enters into the river-flow of the rivers whose diversion allowed the expansion of agriculture and livestock across the western states. Due to global warming, the earlier “arid region” expanded, returning bigger and better than ever since it was described as extending west from the hundredth meridian by John Wesley Powell, in one of the foundational maps of climate aridity. In today’s parched California, dangerously low levels of rainfall across the central valley seem to belong to the Arid Region. But we have hardly come to terms with its new expanse or migrating edges. The “lands of the ‘Arid Region'” that Powell had hand-colored with earth-tones to communicate the dramatically falling rainfall west of the hundredth meridian long ago mapped a biting response to the eagerness of homesteaders to Go West, cautioning about constraints on water-rights that division by states–rather than drainage districts–would bring. If current rainfall maps of USDA or EPA seem to engage in dialogue with Powell’s old polemical cry, the limited traction of mapping policy against increased pressures of climate change place most maps in a sort of Scylla and Charybdis, located not in the Straits of Messina, but the scissors of decreased rainfall, rising temperatures, and lack of groundwater retention.
1. The problems of managing water rights and ensuring flow are now far greater than what Powell’s creative palette of before the fact overlays even imaged was able to depict, and was a puzzle beyond the interlocking pieces of drainage districts that he–as if akin to the first puzzle-boards composed of hand-painted maps, as this forty-nine piece puzzle map of ca. 1849, painted by Kelly & Levin, of the similar region, that curiously compressed the western United States. Was Powell’s map indicative of the difficulty of solving the puzzle of allocating water resources across arid western states?
While the puzzle pieces rarely echoed the shapes of individual states, undoubtedly because o the difficulty of their cutting the contours of states, the puzzling of how the rivers of the west would align with states in this roughly contemporary 1880 Milton Bradley map-puzzle, an “Outline Map of the United States,” posed by including light blue rivers across a map with little sense of varied topography.
In contrast to the resolution of assembling individual pieces of a map of fixed bounds, the expanded arid region mapped by remote sensing spans a farther territory and expanse, and raises deep questions of access to water or even soil moisture in a region that developed as an agricultural breadbasket and locus of husbandry of livestock.
The growing puzzle broached by how the water supply of the west will be reassigned is rarely faced or addressed, although it is ruminated upon as the sub-text–or super-text?–of terrifying maps of rising aridity and low rainfall across the western states, that magnify a new “arid region” with less clear suggestion of an outcome of land management but pause before the cyclically compounded effects of rising heat, low soil moisture, limited run-off, and the specter of drastic irrigation cuts.
Current remotely sensed maps use far less clearly set boundaries or edges of water-shortages, but pose similarly pressing puzzles of how to resolve the appropriative logic of water rights, as drought intensity reduces the water that once flowed from the “upper basin” of the Colorado, feeding the river and redistributed water, and even more surface water is lost to evaporation.
The puzzle of hydrological access to land-water has become so curtailed across western states, that increased pumping of groundwater risking depleting aquifers by draining vital aquifers, irreparably damaging rivers and riverine waters. The New Arid Region, afflicted by far more aridity and low soil moisture than at any time, parallel to increased global suffering of warming and increased heat, the persistence of private water “rights” to agrarian expanse stand increasingly on a collision course with global warming throughout the new arid West in ways we have yet to address, even as we recognize that we are facing a climate emergency of the sort without precedent in modern memory.
2. No single visualization can, perhaps, adequately come to terms with the unprecedented aridity of the recent years. For no visualization can fully capture the cascading and magnified effects of declining water and soil health, and their effects on ecosystems, as much as on livestock or irrigated crops: the distance from reduced irrigation and new climate specters demands an intensified map. But the terrifying nature of the intense aridity of western states in part lies in how we have seem to forgot the semi-arid nature of the region. The deeper effects of a drying out atmosphere were evident in the huge deficit in water vapor in the past decade during the “fire season” from August to September, dramatically unlike how fire fighters navigated the same terrain in previous decades, when many fire containment strategies were developed and many active firefighters had trained. The map is one that should raise immediate fears of the loss of a landscape of future irrigation, and the need for tightening agricultural belts and shifting our conceptions of food supply and water budgets–as well as the same landscape’s increased combustability and inability to manage or control by an old playbook.
The previous month has brought an even more pronounced record of drought across the Upper Basin of the Colorado on which so much hydropower relies, as do other schemes of water diversion.
The revelation of a new intensity of exceptional drought in many pockets of the Upper Basin of the Colorado River presses the bounds of how we imagine dryness, aridity, and their consequences, even as we rely on older methods of fire-fighting, and fire-prevention, and outdated models of water diversion and energy resources.
The historical denial of what John Wesley Powell had already called the “Arid Region” west of the hundredth meridian, has become a snare for ecological disaster translating into a process of the drying out of long-irrigated zones, with consequences that the nation has not been able to comprehend–and demand a New Deal of their own to replace the diversion of water and generation of energy in the Hoover Dam. Or have we forgotten the intensity of a differential of climate, soil moisture, and increased aridity that Powell long ago mapped in order to illustrate the new regime of government its unique atmospheric conditions it would require, using his uniquely designed palette to hint at the best way to organize the region of water scarcity according to the units that its drainage districts–rather than the state lines surveyed by latitude and longitude?
Powell had explored the canyons, rivers, and plains, as he addressed the Senate Select Committee on the Reclamation of Arid Lands in 1890, he crafted an eloquent seven-color map of rich earth-tones to impress readers with the sensitivity of the region’s texture and urge restraint for expanding the westward flow of homesteaders with hopes to make the desert bloom. Indeed, by circumscribing areas for which sufficient water in this “Arid Region” would be able to providently allow future settlement, Powell neatly divided areas for settlement in a region by hydrographic basins collecting sufficient rainfall for farming. Whereas rainfall maps of previous years mapped a blank spot of water scarcity, Powell hoped to direct attention by a devising a map of the region’s subdivisions that called attention to its soil quality and decreased moisture, focussing on its distinctly variegated terrain in ways foreign to Senators in Washington. Powell hoped to convince who were removed from the region to acknowledge the commanding constraints created by these drainage districts for all future agricultural development and settlement–an unpopular position that ran against the notion of allocating free land in an age of expansive homesteading. If the image of a “drainage district” was foreign to existing state lines, Powell’s image of an “arid region” long haunted the geography of the American West–and contributed in no small part to the subsequent reengineering of the waters of the Colorado River.
In light of the dramatically increased aridity now endemic to the western states, Powell’s map gains terrifying relevance as western states enter severe drought, placing the breaks on once-expanding developments across western states. Powell’s map articulated a historical vision of the limited infrastructure of water in the American west. While the technologies of irrigation that allowed such a massive project of damming and canalization only later developed, did his map inspire the need for a project of such scale as a better model of land management? The intensified aridity that afflicts the western states responds not only to low levels of rainfall. We continue to hope groundwater depletion that afflicts the lower basin won’t extend to the Upper Basin of the Colorado River that has captured water on which so many farmers rely–and thirty-five million north of the border and three million living in Mexico depend, across its Lower Basin. The escalating megadrought has created pressures across the overpopulated west that the water-sharing model Powell proposed for drainage districts cannot resolve, but the distinct forms of water management he advocated have been forgotten, as the declining water level on the Colorado River seems a time bomb as its waters have fallen so far below capacity that while the waters that drain from the Upper Colorado into Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the western states, are only 37% full, and Lake Powell stands at 34% capacity. As less and less water enters the river system of a drying-out west, the future of the river on which so many rely for irrigation and energy is all but uncertain.
Demand for water in the upper basin and older technologies have meant far less water reaches the lower basin, but what does has been redistributed across western states–absolutely none reaches the ocean at the river’s old delta. Supplies of surface water and groundwater barely provide for the border region, as the overdraft of the basin’s aquifers have made trans-border water management a crisis often overlooked in favor of water management north of the border. As unprecedented soil aridity currently seems to run off the rails, after three summers of no rainfall have depleted soil moisture, may remind us how we have missed the lesson of Powell’s map of instilling new set attitudes toward the land, as the volume of riverflow consistently dropped as it crosses the Mexico border since the filling of the Glen Canyon Dam.
Does selective amnesia underlie how we map the drying out of the west? Most data vis of rising temperatures and low rainfall across the western states is already magnifying and escalating the effects of unprecedented heat over twenty years in a deeply melancholic vein, daunted by the scale of dryness across such an interstate expanse, and passive before an absence of atmospheric moisture that seems a modern casualty of global over-heating. If we were already “living in the future” in California’s frequent and increasingly extreme fire regimes, the multi-hued data visualizations electrify the landscape–and not with power or hydro-energy, but by the all-too familiar color ramp of the extremes of climate change we have been trying hard not to normalize. These images chart a landscape that has gotten away from us, outside seasonality changes, making the American West a cautionary case study for global climate change inspires melancholy.
The additive logic and graphic syntax of maps, long before the separate map-“layers” that accommodate information from GPS, provided a basis to define the fungibility of water and the emergence of “rights” to water across the Arid Region, enabling the idea of governing the transference of water and water “rights” across the region, that separated water from the landscape and environment. The flow of water had long been understood and reconstrued in the west by a logic of irrigation needs–and the “rights” to unpolluted water for livestock raising, pasturage, and agricultural needs of land owners–that was removed from conserving groundwater needs. The increased nature of the fungibility of water as able to be transacted across basins, state lines, and counties reflects the legal fiction of considering water as a “good” tied to the needs of property owners, that, long before global warming, had already sanctioned the removing water from the ground.
If we use metaphors rooted in temporality that try to come to scale with the new era of global warming that cut down and perhaps minimize the era of water scarcity. in which we are entering–“heat waves,” for example, that broke records in states from Washington to Idaho in June and July, breaking or matching records of hot temperatures, the levels of aridity that have allowed the ground to grow arid and degrade have not only led to a spate of western wildfires, but have changed the levels of soil moisture over the long term in ways we have difficulty to map in the scale of our weather maps, or even the maps of the U.S. Drought Monitor, as the cascading influence of such unprecedentedly dry conditions–where stresses on river water create extraction of groundwater that stresses aquifers and groundwater supplies–can be scarcely imagined, or confined to the conventions and color ramps of weather maps.
We have struggled for decades to process the cascading effects of waves of unprecedented heat that over time have produced a drying out of soil and reservoirs over the past twenty years, resulting in an expanded and far more destructive fire season and parched lands whose effects we cannot fully come to terms or comprehend, as we have not seen or experienced the extent of dryness of subsoil, soil, and low rainfall which the US Drought Monitor seems to have mapped, as drought expanded not across the entire Pacific Northwest, from Oregon to Idaho, or 86% of Idaho–by the land’s combustibility, impossible to read without premonitions of lost forests–including old growth forests–melancholic fears more than tinged by an acute sense of a lack of agency.
The sense of struggle with an absence of agency–at the same time as an almost moral urgency–reflects the difficult to process such absence of water as a landscape we have inherited from the rapidly accelerating dynamics of climate change. The history of the increased aridity is all the more poignant as a source of melancholy not only because exceptional drought was the standard before President Trump, and a national emergency before his Presidency. We have failed to register this national emergency with the same immediacy, even as the theater of the border was magnified in disproportionate ways in public discourse on migration. The sense of melancholy is compounded as the map seems haunted, if only tacitly, and perhaps without acknowledgment, by the fact that the head of the USGS in 1890 admonishingly illustrated virtually the same basins now suffering severe and moderate drought as distinguished by semi-aridity–if the current levels are nothing like those faced over a century ago, when the transition of public to private lands. We have recently mapped the substantial threat of increased aridity to the Great Plains–less than a tenth of whose croplands are irrigated–where farmers depend entirely on rainfall to grow soybeans, sunflowers, cotton, and winter wheat, the fear of greater “dry spells” as anthropogenic emissions drive decreasing rainfall and groundwater reserves–a term that tries to convince us they are not permanent–led red flags to be drawn in broad brushstrokes in those states, where extreme and exceptional ‘drought’ .
But climate change has created a new concept of “water stress”–stresses best be pictured not by the isotherms of weather maps, but the watersheds and drainage districts that were the basis of Powell’s revolutionary map, and matching the very region of the Arid Zone where the soil scientist Powell turned viewers’ attention to the crucial index of ground and soil moisture, the true determinant of the future of agrarian settlement and the future of food. The regions determined of greatest future stress were the very basins that Powell mapped, and suggest the relevance of his map, as well as his caution of the difficulties of governance in an area of severe water stress-stress being understood and indexed as a relation between supply and demand, as well as rainfall, in national watersheds.
3. The “Arid Region” of the Untied States had been austerely and admonishingly described by John Wesley Powell as a geologist to caution against the administration of its future settlement with a level of clarity that reveals his Methodist upbringing. It is hard to know how clearly we can ever parse aridity, in an age when rising temperatures have unremittingly drained soil of water. As if informed by a deep respect for the map as a clarity of record, possessing the power to reorient readers to the world by preaching a new relation to the land, Powell had placed a premium on cartographic form as a tool to re-envision local governance–and prepared his striking eight-color map of the limited rainwater that arrives west of the hundredth meridian, the eastern border of what he baptized as the Arid Region, an almost zonal construction akin to a torrid zone.
The imposing title of this reclassification of the interior of the United States revealed Powell’s own keen sense of the map as a visual record of the territory, whose transparency as a record of the quality of the land would be a basis for all discussion of settlement. Powell parlayed his own deep study of the geography of the Colorado Basin to query the value of parsing the administration of water rights by state lines in 1890, convinced of the need to oversee later apportionment outside the jurisdiction of the arbitrary boundaries of western states, but joined them to his sense of duty of preparing a legible map of striking colors to convey the constraints and difficulties for its future settlement– not only by the scarcity of the threads of rivers curled against its topography, but the few watersheds.
Powell trusted the map might mark the opening of the “Great American Desert” in order to alert the US Congress that the dry lands west of the hundredth meridian was a divide. Even if the meridian no longer marking as clear a divide of reduced rainfall, as we confront the growth with unprecedented degree of global warming of a parched west–both in terms of reduced rainfall and declining soil quality–it may serve as a model for the map we need for the future governance and administration of already contested water rights. Powell’s place in the long story of soil quality reflects how neatly the American west as a microcosm of global warming is rooted in the conversion of public lands to private ownership, into which warming has thrown such a significant wrench.
For the Arid Region’s aridity has since been unremittingly magnified, producing a region more arid than we have ever experienced and struggle to find an adequate color ramp adequate. But we would do well to try to map the forgetfulness of that arid region, even as we confront the quandary of the stubborn continuity of sustained dryness of a megadrought enduring multiple years, compounding the aridity of the soil, and multiplying fire dangers–and the conditions of combustibility of the region–far beyond what the west has ever known or Powell imagined possible. If aridity of soils and poor land quality has spiraled out of control due to “global warming,” raising questions about the future of farms and livestock, the absence of groundwater and surface water alike, global warming demand we shift from national lenses of water shortage to beyond American territory,–but also to discuss the warping nature of national lenses on the remaking of the sediment of the west–and Colorado Basin.
The difficulties of parsing river-flow by “states” as helpful political aggregations for future settlement was rebutted by the map, which sought to direct attention to the aridity of the ground’s soils to orient its administration in a region where water was destined to remain front and center on settlers’ and residents minds for the foreseeable future. The subsequent attempt to jerry-rig the question of scarcity of water by entitlements that rely on re-apportioning unused water escaped the constraints Powell located in the basic common denominator of groundwater.
As much as the region needs to be mapped outside a national context–despite the national nature of climate tracking–the hope of revealing imbalances of the drought indeed exist across borders, and impact water-sharing agreements, much as the smoke from recent northwest fires has traveled across the Pacific northwest. National territory is as meaningless an analytic category for global warming, or water scarcity, which, this blogpost argues, exists in a global contest of migration, as the migration or transborder transit of fires’ smoke.
4. The conditions of aridity that Powell described in the Colorado Basin and its neighbors offer an oddly productive image of the dryness of the ground, in an era before irrigation, that may be useful for how we can come to terms with the fear of a suspension of irrigation across western states. But it is as if the very definition of aridity was forgotten, as infrastructures of irrigation have re-mapped the region that John Wesley Powell in 1890 mapped as an area of difficult agrarian settlement, as farmlands of agrarian fertility and wealth. Powell proposed to view the “arid region” of the United States east of the Rockies with a clarity approaching scripture in a powerful eight-color map to instructively show how limited water constrained settlement of the region after surveying the Colorado Basin.
Powell probably imagined his map in somewhat revisionary as much as rebarbative, reorienting attention to the dry nature of the soil of the semi-arid region of the Colorado Basin by parsing it in areas by which the availability of water constrainted the settlement of the “open” government lands of the west, obscuring that they were seized from indigenous, to correct the mythic geography propounded by official state-sponsored geologists. Unlike Powell, most state geologists had boosterishly endorsed a site for future pasturage, to be enriched by unknown artesian springs, and ripe for settlement by homesteaders, and Powell’s map posed a more tempered image of resettlement that would obey the laws of the availability of water in the Colorado plateaux and other regions he knew so well, cautioning against the encouragement of settlement and sale to prospective farmers in ways that have improbably made the map something of an icon of conservationist thought. Against promise of prospective bucolic lands of pasture, the dry colors chasten viewers by communicating scarcity of water of drainage basins.
The arid region that Powell correctively propounded was long inscribed in the psycho-geography of the United States to be forgotten, but the arrival of irrigation infrastructure allowing irrigation of western states continues to inform, even in our own era of global warming, the return of the boosterist slogan “where water flows, food grows,” that is still raised in Northern California’s San Joaquin Valley, to protest “cuts to farmwater” in the recent order of an “emergency curtailment” across rivers of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed — essentially the entire Central Valley. The recourse to an engineering “miracle” of making water flow uphill and redistributing more water from reservoirs contest calls for conservation–and only demand the further construction of dams, reservoirs, and water storage for better irrigation. The very promises that the flow of the Colorado River would irrigate lands, that made good on the promises made to homesteaders by describing the region to settlers as a New Canaan, where the growth of future streamflow and even rainfall that had never been documented, would make it suitable for the expansion of animal pasturing and farming, suggests a mythic geography of timeless bounty has replaced its actual conditions.
The mythic geography led to a rewriting of America’s irrigation infrastructure that in itself may be one of those pieces of infrastructure just no longer adaptable to extreme climate change. And as we face the scale of the national emergency of water shortages about to be triggered by falling reservoir levels, the crisis of using and recycling water, and the inefficiency of desalination plants of riverwater and groundwater, on which the world currently relies–and were predicted by the US Bureau of Reclamation back in 2003 to provide a “sustainable” solution to the dwindling water provided by the Colorado River, which had allowed the unexpected expansion of the settlement of western states. While desalination plants currently generate worldwide over 3.5 billion gallons daily, with 50 million gallons produced daily in Carlsbad, CA alone, desalination plants in one hundred and twenty counties, only half using sea-water, its energy expense justified as Colorado River decreased, promoted as a “sustainable and drought-proof water supply in Southern California” in an era of climate change, as if to calm our concerns at the dramatically decreased groundwater of western states.
Reclamation scientists assured the nation in 2016 of future recharge in the Upper Colorado Basin would offset temperature increases in their modeling scenarios through 2099, projecting basin-wide precipitation, the fears of the persistence of a mega-drought of extreme aridity with little recharge that may last decades has left fifty-sevens million living in drought conditions across the west according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, that has brought a new era of mega-fires. The thin blue line of the Colorado River is but a crack or thread coursing through a combustible landscape in this recent map of the expansion of unprecedented extreme drought in western states from National Geographic:
For all the disturbing and disquieting elegant if terrifying spread of deep red isotherms in Riley D. Champine’s map, the consequences of such exceptionally below-average levels of precipitation and aridity are difficult to comprehend as cumulative and deep in our nation’s history, as well as the effect of man-made climate change.
The utter saturation of this data vis of growing dryness of a region where rain far below previous norms fell forces the viewer to process an undue range of measures of aridity that they must struggle to process-if the deep orange and reds approaching emergency warning to suggest that surely a climate emergency is at hand. The absence of text in the visualization invites viewers to acknowledge they stand an eery remove of familiarity with an irrevocably landscape, posing unspoken if also unanswered questions about hydrological infrastructure in the Colorado basin, and greater west, that all but erases the geopolitical formation of this landscape–interruption of a rich color ramp at the southwestern border compartmentalize the large-scale decline in precipitation apart from national categories; but the danger lies in its focus on the economically developed north, more than the global south, as if it lacked adequate resources to prudently respond to groundwater shortages, but as an emergency for the developed world.
The focus of the climate emergency is on a large scale, daunting the possibility of individual response, but focussing on prudence at a local level, even if its scale is not defined, questions whether state politics can even resolve the intensity of the dilemma of declining rainfall levels below a thirty-year norm, a deviation on so broad a scale to be impossible to process save in local terms, but that omits the way the basin has been engineered as a site where groundwater now all but fails to accumulate, increasing the basin’s deep aridity more than the color ramp reveals.
The trust that Powell placed in his maps stand in sharp contrast to the “purple” coloration of regions of extreme heat introduced across western states to suggest so many “red-flag” warnings of excessive heat. In a year already tied with 2017 for receiving “excessive heat” warnings from the National Weather Service, already in early summer at a rate that is increasingly alarming, purple designates the need for caution when leaving air-conditioned environments, and suggests the booming of electric cooling across the west: the metric of a prediction of temperatures reaching 105°F for a two-hour stretch has paralleled the debate in Washington on infrastructure spending that suggest a similar disconnect that Powell confronted when he tried to describe the need for constraints on planning settlement west of the hundredth meridian in 1890.
Four Excessive Heat Warnings issued from late May 2021 have introduced yet a new color to prominence in National Weather Service maps, the new deep purple was introduced in weather maps in 1997 as a venture of the NWS into health alerts; rarely used in other weather maps, which in recent years have shifted from urban areas to large stretches of the nation, shifting from a use of red to designate high temperatures to purple to designate risk of triple-digit temperatures, especially in man-made surfaces like asphalt (able to rise to 170°-180° Fahrenheit–territory of third-degree burns–or cars which can rise thirty degrees above air temperature.
During the decade before 2003, the water-level of Lake Mead had begun to decline precipitously, inaugurating a historical decline that led it to fall to but 35% of its storage abilities. While the decline was not more precipitous than the two earlier declines in its water-levels in the reservoir from the mid-1950’s and mid-1960’s, the current decline in storage capacity of what is the largest reservoir of water in the United States has raised the unthinkable and unimaginable arrival of water cutbacks, as Arizona’s share of the Colorado River’s waters will be reduced by 7%, and Mexico–where the Colorado runs–will lose 5% of its share, in a scenario never foreseen in the dam’s history, but that reflects the increased aridity of the watershed from which the Colorado River draws. The decline to 1,075 feet in the reservoir’s depth that triggered the Tier 1 reductions in flow may only be a harbinger of the arrival of future Tier 2 reductions, should Lake Mead drop to 1,065 feet, as is expected in 2023, and raises the fear of a Tear 3 reduction, should the lake level fall below 1,025 feet, reducing the water allocated to western cities. In ways that the infrastructure of irrigating the Arid District of the United States could never have foreseen, the arrival of the driest period that the basin has ever experienced in 1200 years has brought longer periods of drier weather without rainfall that have reduced the riverwater that fills the reservoir.
The declining level of Lake Mead plunged below average lake elevation of 1173 feet, by 2003, in ways that should have sent alarms across the west, were we not consumed by a war against terror. The Bush administration’s attacks on global warming grew, questioning the science of global warming and the dangers of increasing aridity. But the disconnect between the expectation for irrigation by the farming industry and farming states was dismissed, with global warming and climate change, as temporary shifts that wouldn’t alter the landscape of irrigation or river flow.
The mosaic of ethnicities in the United States today appears so inclusive and diverse that echoes of the state’s sanctioning of the forcible spatial segregation of one ethnic group –Japanese Americans–would seem impossibly remote in time and culture until quite recently. But the tragic and yet state-sponsored episode of Japanese internment by the US military reveals the existence of historical rifts in the historical landscape of the American West, which not only resonate with a history of exclusionary practices, but suggest a striking geography along which practices of exclusion were effected and organized by means of existing maps. And the recent invocation of executive order 9066 by Donald Trump, seventy-four years later, when over 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent were forcibly removed from their own houses and relocated to camps of internment as a precedent for the relocation of resident aliens–which Trump has called a “tough thing,” but refused to condemn in any way–“I would have had to be there at the time to tell you, to give you a proper answer”–not only to cave to his instincts of fueling prejudice if not racial violence among Americans, but to celebrate a precedent for treating illegal immigrants as alien enemies with no understanding of history or the law. As the grossly illegal and shameful episode of internment was cited as a basis for racial profiling during the state of exception of War on Terror by Michelle Malkin, the horrific readiness to accept the episode of internment of those with Japanese ancestry as a part of the American legal tradition is not only an instance of unlearning but an act of amnesia that is utterly irresponsible.
And yet, the continued reference of the non-state spaces of American internment in much of the current American West suggests the survival of the landscape that internment produced. The partitioning of space in maps enabled the exclusionary strategies, moreover, which have a striking overlay with earlier landscapes of exclusion. Despite a stated mission to keep the country “safe” in the face of the shock of war, detainment of Japanese Americans was not at all something of a historical unicum, but rather fit within landscape of ethnic opposition with possible roots in the nineteenth century, whose secret geography informed the use of sites of sequestering those stripped of citizenship at the start of the twenty-first century. The space of Native American reserves, or reservations, had been mapped by F. E. Leupp of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1905 as if it were a hidden nation within a nation–land set off from the four-color map of the United States, if largely concentrated in the lands west of the hundredth meridian–
–an image of spatial separateness that continued by 1941.
The memory of the experience of internment was far more suddenly and deeply inscribed in the national landscape at a single moment, however, if one not without historical precedents. T
he permission Executive Order 9066 gave the Secretary of War to “prescribe military areas . . . from which any or all persons may be excluded” from 1942 that enabled an internal “enemy” population to be stripped of citizenship. The establishment of an archipelago of confinement across Arizona, inland California, and Nevada echoed the confinement of native populations–and resonates with recent attempts to define areas of detainment as “off the map” and consequently removed from legal oversight in ways that we might be all too apt to associate with the Cold War–as much as it was improvised. The geography of the confinement of Japanese Americans provides an instance of something not like race warfare, but the opposition of the state to its enemies perhaps as telling as the geography of ghostly munitions of the Cold War from missile silos, remains of nuclear testing, facilities for storing and developing plutonium, and anti-missile radar that dot the landscapes of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and South Dakota.
In mapping the inclusiveness of national diversity, we are increasingly reminded of the ethnic classification of the nation’s population by the carving out of predictions of the behavior of the electorate at the polls–partly because the distribution is so relatively easy to map, partly because how such divisions map onto political parties is a growing riddle, not only since it is less clear that their increasing political voice maps onto a single agenda, but also because of the scare of predictions of white-minority status by 2045. For the apparent cultural remove of the arrogance of an administration that formally instituted the forced geographic relocation of Japanese Americans to camps away from the west coast seems an odd artifact stoked by the proto-fascist flames ignited by the fear of war.
Might it rather be comprehended as a part of California history? If the episode of Japanese American relocation seems removed from the state’s current mosaic of diversity, it has eery ties to the hidden history of the West–and the political landscape of recent years. Although when trains transported individuals to hidden locations inland,their forced displacement for the general safety of “all” was promoted as coalescing home front–based on their predesignation as “enemies of the state” in ways that have recurred in recent years. It pays to return to them to excavate the map of displacement that defined the west coast, and situate its occurrence within a landscape of longue durée.
The interned painter Chiura Obata was a devoted student of the western landscape of the United States, particularly in Yosemite Park, and created an image that inescapably suggests the portents of a shifting political landscape while interned in Topaz, in his quite contemplative painting of the deeply and heavily smeared reddened sky over the stark landscape of the Relocation Camp where he was interned, after having taught art at the University of California, at a War Relocation Camp that opened its doors in September 11, 1942.
Chiura Obata, “Sunset, Water-Tower, Topaz, March 20 1943” painted in the Topaz Relocation Camp
The smears of rust-colored cirrus clouds that Obata drew as reflected on Utah’s barren desert landscape at the Topaz War Relocation Center overwhelms the barbed wire fences barely discernible beneath telephone wires, lending the landscape a monumentality that dwarfs a makeshift guard tower, and creates red lines like scars across the land. Rather than treat the landscape relocation and internment camps as a panicked response to fears of impending military attack, the rapidity of relocation along fault lines in a political landscape that we may have too readily repressed, when the landscape has been forcibly divided along ethnic or cultural lines in terms of belonging–a division that seems to have been rehabilitated in recent years.
1. The recent mapping of the notion of “diversity” based on data culled into one of the appealing visualizations displayed on the website of Trulia–the realtor which seems primarily in the business of making us feel good about the prospective places where we might live, if we really and truly had our druthers–expanded the maps of demographic density designed by Randal Olson in more interactively searchable ways that offer an opportune starting point for this post. The dynamic visualization is based on self-reported Census data promised to capture the current “racial/ethnic” composition of regions across the country where smallest difference existed between a dominant ethnic subset and secondary ethnic group, ranking the relative levels of “diversity” by that metric across the country’s largest metropolitan areas–from Oakland to San Francisco to New York to Houston to San Jose–so that we might better envision the ethnic compositions of the neighborhoods where we live in an era where ethnic diversity seems the closest metric we’ll ever get to what’s cosmopolitan. It is, however, a map of strong ethnic integration that contrasts with the clearcut demarcation of otherness in the map of several generations past that is the header to this post..
The data visualization is impressive despite its clear limitations–especially evident in the broad equivalences that it draws implicitly between the uniformity of “diversity” as a transparent derivative of data of variety. Building on data encoded in Dustin Cable’s “Racial Dot Map,” Trulia provides a metric for “diversity” that ignores exact ethnicities, providing a new way of reading a single argument in the 2012 data of ethnic differences that Cable encoded by five different colors–which can be read as a follow-up map of the image of ethnic segregation in the map with which the musing of this post began.
The Trulia map of America’s Racial Kaleidoscope nonetheless offers an interesting and somewhat jarring image for all of its superficiality, even with apparent bearing on the sociology of the red state/blue state divide. For all the very slipperiness of “ethnic/racial” categories as meaningful demographic tools of parsing populations–when were these two terms ever equivalent seen as surrogates for one another, and how do the categories of the 2010 Census, which use such undifferentiated envelopes as “Asian” or “Black” or “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin” as authoritative diverse to parse populations?–to image diversity, there may be some meaning able to be extracted in the visualizations that show their difference and distance from a historical past, when ethnic differences seemed far more starkly inscribed in a pre-globalized world.
For the folks at Trulia created a visualization to map “diversity” that erases whatever degrees of actual racial or ethnic integration exist within counties. While this may hardly offer a metric of actual “diversity,” the visualization reveals California as the largest continuous body of “diverse” ethnic groups in the country and of its sharpest non-“majority white” areas:
Even without introducing the potentially complexifying newly trending category of the “transracial,” or those individuals who, to use another term diffused in online media thanks to Rachel Dolezal, realized or felt that they were “miscarried”–a term that has touched a clear nerve, given the unclear meaning “race” retains in contemporary America, and the uncomfortable nature of the term. Where Trulia finds diversity to be concentrated in coastal regions and objectively present in a range of areas that seems to correlate with sites where the home-buying market is tight, the visualization seems most useful to force us to ask what diversity means–as well as to mask the sort of rhetoric of ethnic opposition that so often scarred the landscape of the west.
2. “Diversity” is a new world, but may once have led to the one of the clearest instances in US history of the forced marginalization of a population of citizens during the early years of American engagement in World War II. Despite the frustrating failure of imposing categories to classify the composition of our national population at the start of the twenty-first century, the cultural remove at which Japanese ethnicity became a basis for the forced migration of citizens must be balanced with the proximity of the recent circumscription of individual rights. If panic and fear unjustifiably provoked the systematically organized deportation of Americans of Japanese ancestry–in which a strong dose of economic resentment may have played a large role–the act of remapping civil rights in the United States, if seriously compromised, also sanctioned the remapping of rights in ways that both built on and provided some rather scary precedents.
Did the confinement of a considerable section of the population–and indeed the confinement of a somewhat arbitrarily reclassified class of citizens–created something of a crucial precedent to redefine the rights of citizens by unilateral executive fiat? The decision to reclassify a segment of the American population recalls the legal justification for a “state of emergency” which the “crown jurist of the Third Reich” Carl Schmitt notoriously advanced as an adequate rationale to suspend rights in the hopes to re-establish order, responsibility for which, Schmitt argued, ultimately lay with the sovereign alone, but whose actions created shared bonds preceded the very notion of the state–and rested in a political nature of the opposition between friend and enemy. In a cold-hearted logic ways recently revived in George W. Bush’s administration, such an occurrence “extreme emergency” could justify the suspension of the constitution and law, with striking similarity to the political state of emergency by which internment was justified and understood–and was associated with a state of war, both by Schmitt and in the War on Terror of the early twenty-first century. Nowhere is this more evident than in the remapping of California during the Japanese Evacuation Program, where Japanese Americans were segregated from all “exclusion areas” in the name of a political imperative that transcended political practice.
The institutional order that was created between zones of confinement and zones of exclusion in the “Evacuation Map” created “in satisfaction of the impelling military necessity created by total war with Japan” defined some 108 individual “exclusion areas,” in each of which approximately 1,000 persons were evacuated–allegedly totaling the 100,000 persons evacuated during the two weeks between March 24 and June 6. Many were concentrated in the Pacific Northwest. But the repartitioning of the West in terms of Military Area 1 and Military Area 2–a sort of Newspeak of Orwellian resonance–was premised on the presiding rationality of political belonging against the otherness of Japanese Americans that is so foundational in Schmitt’s thought. The exceptionality of “wartime” provided the basis for suspending their right, and insisting on the primacy of the political for redividing national space, and suspending legal or constitutional precedent by a political mandate that, for Schmitt, would indeed historically and existentially precede any legal or constitutional order.
What sort of networks would have allowed the forced migration of a large section of the Japanese American population to internment camps? The imposition of such a nation-wide policy of legislated relocation remains conceptually remote, both as a practice and conceptual possibility, let alone as one accepted by the region’s residents. Its logic lies in the legend to the map, which echoes a truly Schmittian rhetoric of a “state of emergency” in which constitutional rights are suspended; the necessity of “the political” reveals the deep opposition based on “otherness” whose rationality is revealed in its legend. This state of “otherness” was clearly inscribed in the landscape of the two areas of Military Areas, rather than states and superimposed upon states, is linked to “wartime,” but which echoes of the earlier political orders of the American West: its legend offers the underlying logic of the state of emergency during which local division was inscribed.
The partitioning of the same region that seems particularly noted for its diversity–the western region of California–as in the framing of an “Exclusion Zone” that was deemed so sensitive in its concentration of state secrets to be off-limits to members identified with Japanese immigrants that they could be stripped of constitutional rights–and forced to board trains from the cities to anodynely-named “Relocation Centers” that were located in the state’s interior–suggests a civilian partitioning of the country not only in the name of war-time exigency, but in fact a paranoia that was fueled not by actual military dangers or actual risks of espionage, in retrospect, but something that was more fed by a combination of opportunism and on-the-ground animosity and ethnic dislike. If the notion of such dislike might have lain in economic competition, the ethnic opposition was reified in the boundaries of otherness exposed on the map.
The network of relocation camps are often seen as a unicum–and as something like a quite particular circumstantial combination of jealousy for a group of successful immigrants who had often lived in distinct settlements, and whose difference was now cast into political relief, both by the war, and the culture of imperial allegiance that Japanese were seen as increasingly ready to adopt. But the very network of the camps of resettlement recapitulated narratives of the European occupation of Native America by completely effacing an imaginary frontier between Native Lands and European-American pioneers, placed in evidence by the confining of native peoples in discrete sites that were later known as “reservations,” the bounded areas of the absence of any existence of a Native/American divide across the very western states from which Japanese Americans were banned–and indeed denied narratives of racial or ethnic differentiation, where the destruction of the frontier was replaced by the contained presence of the Native populations in reservations, at the same time as many other reservations were reclaimed as military sites for engineers or the army, in the demand for a wartime effort, even as Native American languages were adopted, as they had been in World War One, to encode military communications and Native Americans participated in huge numbers in the US Army.
The rapid constitution of new networks to displace Japanese Americans from their former homes to the periphery of what became defined as Military Area One in the United States was enabled by the infrastructure of railroads that linked cities to removed “War Relocation Centers” in areas where their inhabitants would not be easily noticed or indeed seen. The forcible relocation of Japanese Americans was largely enacted and by non-military authorities, but led to the removal of the large number of immigrants to the country to remote areas, cordoned off from sight, in the four months from March, 1942, by which time some ten centers of “war[-time] relocation” were established that removed Japanese Americans from the coast region that they had increasingly migrated in the past thirty years, to areas where they were less likely to be noticed, and the stripping of their civil rights–and allegedly inalienable liberties–were not even seen.
The deep suspicion of ethnic difference created a proclivity to separate Japanese American citizens as a military threat. Yet as early as 1930, the Office of Naval Intelligence began surveillance on Japanese communities in Hawaii, wary of the military power of Japan. And from 1936, the same Office in fact compiled lists of those Japanese to be “the first to be placed in a concentration camp in the event of trouble” between the countries–long before the idea of confinement camps were broached as a possibility on American soil.
That list would become the Custodial Detention Index, compiled in 1939-41 with help from the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a tabulation one of explicitly “Alien Enemy Control” as enumerating those ostensibly “engaged in subversive activities” or actions deemed “detrimental to the internal security of the United States.” The list was drawn up a decade after further Japanese immigration to the United States had been banned in 1924, and significantly before Executive Order 9066, issued on February 19, 1942, allowed regional military commanders to designate “military areas” from which “any or all persons may be excluded.” The establishment by the civilian-run War Relocation Agency of what were very euphemistically termed “relocation centers,” together with the six internment camps run by the US Department of Justice, were officially built to house all Japanese-Americans who had been removed from the “exclusion zone” that stretched across the entire western coast of the United States, after March, 1942.
Although the scope of detention was not widely known, or discussed in contemporary maps, a relatively recent map of the Assembly Centers and Internment camps emphasized their existence and geographic distribution in areas that were removed from population centers, lending greater prominence to their considerable geographical remove from areas Japanese Americans had settled and the inhospitable places to which these forced relocations in internment camps occurred–in the desert, in relatively abandoned villages of the High Sierra, in areas often excluded from common maps.
The reparative remapping of such sites as Poston and Gila River to our common memory offers a wonderful way to start to come to terms with the network of civilian-administered internment camps that place into relief a less well-documented or perhaps fully apprehended scale of the effective apparatus of state surveillance and that was in place of over 125,000 Japanese Americans into the desert-liike interior of the country for ostensible reasons of suspicions of a Fifth Column in the country of fully US naturalized citizens, who were stripped of all civil liberties.
The stark existence of such an “Exclusion Zone” or ten euphemistically named ‘relocation centers’ to which Japanese-Americans were without distinction detained from 1942 were inhumanely mapped in purely logistical terms to evacuate the western coast of ethnic Japanese with amazingly well-coordinated efficiency over six months with the sort of reflexive unreflectiveness so often characteristic during the unfolding of events occurring during a war: but the sites were also intentionally created as sites absent from federal law–or international conventions–and in a sense existed as black spots on the national map.
Such practices of forced relocation to sites far removed from cities near the shoreline–and ostensibly near sensitive military sites–depended on a very systematic division and re-assignment of Japanese Americans suddenly dispossessed of their ownership of houses, land, and real estate, which was imagined in a quite cartographical manner–as the movement of Japanese Americans from coastal cities and communities on trains removed them to remote places, as if to expunge their memories, and in locating Japanese Americans in remote areas allowed to be forgotten and go unseen. The subsequent destruction of any buildings, gardens, or evidence of confinement after the war, when the spaces of confinement were promptly shuttered after January 2, 1945–again by executive order–erased any evidence of the space that were bulldozed and razed, effacing memories of the internment, no doubt more problematic after the discovery of Nazi Concentration Camps. Despite the total lack of support for accusations of security threats, suspicion seems to have reigned. If the construction of Internment Camps were officially mandated to be situated in places deemed “climates suitable for people,” from the newly created Military Area #1–western Washington and Oregon; western California; Southern Nevada–to the Mississippi, in ways that created a new geography of the United States during wartime, ostensibly for reasons of state. Yet living in quasi-military improvised unheated barracks ringed by barbed wire that enclosed the thirty to forty blocks of barracks separated by empty spaces, patrolled by soldiers from watchtowers, lacking any privacy or cooking equipment or kitchens, and without any medicine or medical institutions, with only improvised medical care and with nothing but cots in collective rooms, such containment centers were undeniably more than austere–they were dehumanizing by intent. And while not dedicated to a project of ethnic cleansing, they were motivated by a sense of deep suspicion based on ethnicity alone, and reflect a similar fantasia of spatial containment and confinement that was enabled by a new attitude to space that the wartime maps of the Civil Control Administration reveal. The landscape coded in pale pastels masks and obscures the violence of collectively reclassifying Japanese-Americans as if “internal enemies”–and as threats to the national state–within national political discourse in truly Schmittian terms.
Within the intentionally dispersive extended archipelago of camps, removed from centers of habitation, inmates were largely supervised or overseen by the Wartime Civil Control Administration–a civilian unit–because of falsified reports of a proclivity to espionage. Such reports were diffused largely through the military and future Department of Defense (then Department of War) and were also fostered by intense lobbying efforts of white or Anglo farmers (who saw the Japanese American farmers as a threat) encouraged the perpetuation of a race-based paranoia. Even though J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI doubted that any real threat was posed by Japanese Americans, the decision to confine seems to have been preemptively made to quiet a home front: President Roosevelt’s issuance of Executive Order 9066 led to over 112,000 Japanese Americans to be moved to effective prison camps located in nine states–California, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, and the porto-state of Alaska. Although two-thirds had already gained citizenship, they were asked to submit to loyalty oaths and swear not to interfere with the ongoing war effort that had consumed the country. And were excluded from much of the country. The internment sites were removed in the interior–and located in “Military Area 2”–whose definition somewhat bizzarely, and, quite Orwellianly, departed from the boundary lines of individual states.
They created a new logic of displacement and of the suspension of individual rights. 3. We associate the transport of prisoners as human chattel destined for ethnic cleansing on trains with Hitler’s Final Solution, perhaps the paradigmatic instance of the forced migration of populations becoming a national project and mission. But the national network of trains similarly provided the basis for the relatively fast geographic removal of US citizens of Japanese descent across the state from Exclusion Areas, effecting the legal reclassification of citizenship in was that oddly reflected the claims of spatial purification that the abstract order of maps almost inspires. The spectrum of pastel colors of the map issued by the Western Defense Command of the Exclusion Areas where men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry were forbidden to set foot conceals its violent measures.
The process of internal evacuation conducted “in satisfaction of the impelling military necessity created by total war with Japan” created an “evacuee population” in the United States whose movement was to be controlled and supervised by military forces, ostensibly to remove them from areas where there was any military presence that might be observed. When immigrants from Japan had been banned from becoming naturalized citizens of the United States–from either owning any property of their own or the ability to vote–Japanese Americans formed independent communities of their own in the western United States, often with separate schools. The forced transport of Japanese Americans to sites where they were stripped of citizenship and pursuant rights created something of a new standard for the imposition of classification on naturalized citizens for unstated reasons of possible danger to “state secrets”–although the actual likelihood of any attempted infiltration or espionage on existing military installations was not particularly credible. Forced transportation from communities in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle created an archipelago of the confined not only in California–and prevented from entering “exclusion zones” that came to include almost one-third of the country, eliminating the presence of Japanese Americans in anywhere save the less densely populated lands of the interior. While ostensibly directed against possible espionage of those sensitive military areas “from which any or all persons may be [rightfully[ excluded,” the expansion of exclusion zones to constitute a large share of the country became something of a pretense to redirect populations to areas where they were not seen. Not only was a third of the Territory of Hawai’i Japanese–between 140,00 and 150,000–in ways that make it ethnically complex, almost 127,000 Japanese Americans were listed in the 1940 Census as living in the country, mostly in California, Oregon and Washington, of which 40,869 resident aliens, born in Japan.
The rapidly expanding rate at which camps opened across the country over five months testify to the paranoia and unjustified fears that fed the relatively quick establishment of similar internment camps where local rights were suspended or stripped, and the role of the rail in moving a sizable sector of the population nationwide:
This quite carefully planned and strikingly extensive network to move populations from Assembly Centers to Relocation Centers–all since anodynely named–allowed the significant expansion of the areas of exclusion from which Japanese were not allowed to set foot. They were codified quite rapidly in the months after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor led to all of “Japanese ancestry” to be reclassified as potential security threats, despite little evidence of their disloyalty, as attempts to argue against imprisonment that fell on deaf ears: six weeks after Pearl Harbor was attacked, after some ethnic Japanese living in Hawaii helped a downed airman, leading to a questioning of their ability to not be imperial subjects and “unassailable” as such, set the basis for a new geography of confinement and exclusion of Japanese from public areas that Earl Warren spearheaded, creating the basis to prevent ethnic Japanese from entering exclusion zones” of almost a third of the country–and encouraging by May 1942 all Japanese to be moved to network of assembly centers and readied for transport to permanent relocation centers across the country.
The declarative bluntness of the administrative languages in the authoritative public notices placed in the street corners of cities such as San Francisco that trumpeted the specter of foreign racial “ancestry” of Japanese Americans–
or the expanse of almost a third of the country from which Japanese Americans had been displaced–
cannot speak to the surprised faces of the deported who arrived by train in Arcadia, California, fresh from San Pedro, and the machinery that brought them there, and the helmeted soldiers who are staring down those recently stripped of citizenship, who don’t seem to have fully fathomed the reasons for their fate, or what perhaps the suspension of all legal rights would mean.
The role of the trains in moving populations in California would have paralleled the travels that the young Steve Reich made with his governess across the country from Los Angeles to New York in 1939 and 1940, and the “music documentary” he composed that retrospectively juxtapose those trips with the contemporaneous forced transport of European Jewry for ethnic cleansing. Reich’s travels occurred almost immediately before Japanese-Americans were moved en masse from Los Angeles to Relocation Centers as Poston or Gila River. Rendered in the propulsive straining tempo of violins that alternately suggest accelerating pistons and air raid sirens, and accompanied by parallel intonations of porters calling railway stops and voices of survivors, Reich’s braiding of memories intentionally evoked parallel lived geographic relocations as fantasia of forced displacement that mechanized electric rail travel allowed.
4. Was there a precedent for such forced movement under military oversight, in the confinement of native Americans in much of the American West to “reservations”, in a manner that Adolf Hitler himself has been noted to have particularly admired for the effective reorganization of the population of the West? (Hitler was a large fan of Karl May as well as Fenimore Cooper; Navajo reservations provided not only an architectural model for early concentration camps, according to John Toland, which he took as a promise of the extermination of those unable to be “civilized,” in a bizarre bit of cross-cultural reading.) The precedent of the forced 1864 “Long March” of over 300 miles–some fifty of which in fact occurred between designed to create forced migrations of American Indians from more potentially valuable mineralogical resources to reservations of contracting size.
For between 1864-6 of up to eighteen days attempted an ethnic cleansing of Navajo, from the ancestral homelands of hunters and gatherers located in current northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico to the Bosque Redondo internment camp on the Pecos River nearby Fort Sumner–an internment camp that was itself an attempt at ethnic cleansing, where some 3,500 Navajo men, women, and children died and that stood as an inspiration of the possibilities of ethnic cleansing to the Nazi party, as did the camp for Boer prisoners in South Africa, and perhaps a model for the first plans to deport Jews to the area of Lubin to die of disease. (The image of the confined Native American was potent: Karl May remained among Hitler’s preferred authors, and Hitler continued to read May’s stories of the grizzled white cowboy Old Shatterhand as Führer and personally recommended to his officers, David Meier notes, during the Russian campaign–perhaps providing a model for the forced marches of prisoners of war to death camps.)
The forced migration of a hunting and gathering migratory tribe to an arid 40-square-mile reservation with contaminated water, to face failing crops, disease and raids from neighbouring tribes is a not-so-hidden part of the landscape of the “wild” west that must have been present in the minds of those who administered the transportation of Japanese Americans to sequestered sites of minimal economic or strategic value.
While such equivalences in atrocity can hardly be drawn, and should not be encouraged, it remains striking on a conceptual and genealogical level that so many of the camps of internment for Japanese Americans were geographically located not only on state land, but at times on the very reservations on which Native Americans were actually confined–and restricted–in ways that provided a powerful precedent for such practices of territorial confinement and surveillance.
The Poston Relocation Center, for example, built on the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation in Arizona, working to provide the Reservation with electricity; the Leupp Isolation Center on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, northwest of Winslow; the Gila River Camp, approved in March 18, 1942, for 10,00, over pointed objections of the Gila River Indian Tribe; Tule Lake in an area that was the ancestral home of the Modoc, surviving members of whom were exiled to Oklahoma in 1873; Manzanar, located in the Owens Valley, in an area whose farmlands were worked by Shoshone and Paiutes for some time. In these circumscribed and well-defined areas, the Constitution was deemed not to apply. Despite no clear reaction between the Relocation Authorities and future Bureau of Indian Affairs, the director of the War Relocation Authority, Dillon S. Meyer, from 1950 to 1953 worked as the Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
5. Few of these sites of isolation were known to the public, moreover, or showcased in the media, with the exception the “show-camp” of Gila River, Arizona. But the existence of a “hidden geography” necessitated the show-camp among the numerous centers of sequestration Japanese-Americans might have faced. Lying quite literally “off the map,”and not appearing on maps of the west save in those redacted by the government, the internment camps provide more than a solely symbolic predecessors of what Trevor Paglen has so accurately characterized as the “blank spots on the map Trevor Paglen described, run by the National Security Administration, in the wake of the newfound popularity of the juridical writings of Carl Schmitt.
For the that became centers for the rendition of foreign nationals deemed security threats, like dry lakebed of Groom Lake, the area of the testing of the U2 missiles and other military aircraft in Area 51, run by the Air Force, or the National Data Center, sites run by the government but which lie outside the legal administration of the state, perversely, and in which the suspension of constitutional rights that Schmitt had claimed was argued to similarly apply.
The suspension of constitutional rights for the American-Japanese who were sequestered has an analogously long set of precedents of its own: the forced displacement of Native Americans had been an established government policy and project for over sixty years in the nineteenth century, based on denying precedence to claims of residence in lands they had traditionally occupied.
The result created some unique patterns and combinations of interior settlement. The Japanese Americans in one region came to outnumber the Mohave and Chemahuevi in the area of the desert where they had confined: the Office of Indian Affairs, indeed, ran many camps together with the War Relocation Authority, based on the hope was to use Japanese labor to construct larger spaces of confinement for Native tribes–either using the confined to confine tribes already stripped of land, or using the dispossessed to create spaces of confinement for the nation-state that had stripped them of their own property–by the canalization of the desert or the construction of newly electrified living quarters. Native Americans as the Cherokee had earlier been confined to “internment camps” before these were termed “reservations–internment camps whose plans may have served as models for the confinement of Jews in what became Death Camps–in World War II, the US also displaced Aleut people from the Pribilof Islands to internment camps located in Southeast Alaska.
Do such sites of isolation provide an alternate genealogy for the foundation of rendition sites–“blank spots on the map“–that the NSA much more recently operated at a similar remove from the coasts, public memory, or legal oversight? Do they provide one genealogy of the “black areas” of the law that allow the invocation of state secrets by the government and especially by the Air Force and CIA, but also the Department of Justice of Alberto Gonzalez, where the torturous logic of Schmitt’s emphasis on the state’s right to name its enemies regained respect, partly through the validity that the conservative icon Leo Strauss had given his “political theology” as one way for a strong state to unite men against “evil”: it is tempting to see what role Schmitt had in providing a precedent to invoke state secrets privilege to shore up the “black worlds” of the NSA, where extraordinary rendition of foreigners like Khaled El-Masri or the Canadian Maher Arar occur, and Groom Lake stays black–and effectively off the map–removing the construction of Air Force bases in Area 51 from criminal persecution, and effectively sanction violations of both federal law and the international Convention Against Torture in some locations. Indeed, the establishment of Relocation Camps mirror and echo the temporal creation of military sites in Southern Nevada that sprung up in the 1950s, nearby Area 51, which has been imagined both as a site of alien abductions and an alleged site for the US military to dedicated efforts to converting alien aircraft, have long remained hidden, and most probably not only to conceal contact with extra-terrestrial life for reasons of state. The recently expanding government centers tied to extradition offer an an odd gloss on the myths of alien crafts’ conversion to the US military. In a perverse fantasy of military omnipotence and natural providence, where for some the US Government is believed by many to have inherited the manifest destiny of the nation into the otherworldly relations to alien life. Just past Death Valley National Park, the Nevada Test Site and Yucca Mountain almost constitute the areas that the nation has removed from most maps–
–even if the secretive area around Region 51 and Groom Lake, just above the Nellis Air Force Range near Las Vegas, became best-known as sites of an secretive space of rendition and imagined extraterritoriality.
Is the ideal mapping of these areas as removed from oversight, and not subject to prosecution, not only a relic of the Cold War, but a region rich with precedence as offering a theater of opposing the enemy, to maintain enmity, in Schmitt’s curious words, and to maintain such enmities to cultivate the primacy of action, and sustain a not-so-hidden sort of political theology? If nothing else, it is an odd through-the-looking-glass sort of authenticity that seems located in these areas hidden from oversight. The imagined extraterritoriality which the government entertains is after all a sort of fictive escape from recognizing rights agreed to be accorded individuals, by the escapist alternative of removing them from the actual map: it is as if, by leaving the map blank where they lie, the conventional rights accorded to all who inhabit the actual world are somehow exempted by their placement off of the recognized map, and outside the nominally universal rights that are accorded citizens by US law and by international legal conventions. The map, in this sense, seems to have more power for removing people from international treaties and standards that the law could otherwise allow.
Is this a landscape of paranoia, whose contours were poisonously sculpted by a nuclear arms race of the Cold War–or a map of a secret history of sequestration, whereby an expanding nation state subtracted places from judicial review and removed them from public scrutiny?
No region is an island, but divides are defined in ways that create a transmitted insularity along what might be called the Gas-Tax Latitudinal Divide that cuts across the United States, bisecting much of the nation along what almost appears a meridian. Even before the efflorescence of confederate resentment in southern states clear in the 2016 Presidential election, but not at all clearly perceived in recent years, but evident the apparent toleration of the claims of white supremacy and the far right that are rooted in states rights, and, almost perversely, rooted in the limited abolition for slavery and enslavement to expand across territories of the United States titudes north of 36° 30N,–a latitude inherited from the accident of early surveyors’ decision to mark the boundary line between Kentucky and Tennessee.
The latituidinal divide offered both an “objective” basis to extend slavery westward and a fulcrum to guarantee representation of slave-holding and non-slave holding states in the U.S. Congress, a line of apportionment that guaranteed the preservation of local rights of slave-holding, before it marked the secession of the Confederate States of America. The divide has fed a bizarrely enduring discourse on states’ rights in American history that has in many ways colored the complexion of the world, as a repository for the persistence of a reactionary localism in a globalized world, as the initial session of Virginia after Ft. Sumter in the Spring of 1861 was followed quickly by Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina, sectionally dividing the union,–until its disintegration left only the southernmost states defending slavery as an absolute local good.
Long after the practice of enslavement was condemned as sinful by evangelicals, and uprooted in European nations, as was the case by 1848, the inner sanctum of the defense of enslavement lay in the preserve of the CSA–a community-sponsored movement to defend enslavement as a local privilege. Indeed, the depth of memories seem to have been provoked by the stripping of symbols of localism and place like the Confederate flag–the emblem of the separateness of the southern identity–a regional identity perhaps exacerbated by a perceived loss of regional identity and afford continued objects to intrusive federal actions, in a symbolism of nobility that recalls a bend dexter with a bend sinister, and haunts even our most present–and apparently innocuous–as mapping the state of the states in data visualizations parse meaning by blocks whose continuity suggests deeply lying fault lines.
The resistance of localism–and the national drama, indeed, of the attempt to strip the region of its symbol of autonomy–has perhaps not only had a greater impact in how early twenty-first century politics have played out in America, but of the deep presence of the divide of the seceded states across generations. Can the survival of this divide be mapped? Or will it, more likely, continue to haunt the nation, as in the American Petroleum Institute decided to map as a way to lay out ostensively objective record of local variations in gasoline taxes around the country, devised somewhat opportunely in 2014, as the United States was poised to run out of federal money to restore roads, and the chatter on gas taxes rose.
The problem of an alleged discrepancy in tax-rates that the American Petroleum Instituted foregrounded was based on the numbers of cents and decimals–not on percentages, m although the confusion could be excused, viewing the map and its legend without further information, so clearly does it seem to correspond to that blue state-red state divide that has long haunted our social media-saturated spatial imaginaries. If the map was intended to be polemic, and provide fodder to resist calls for calls for raising gas taxes since in counties–the federal tax remaining stable at 18.4 cents/gallon since 1993, the map taps into an ethos of tax revolts by purporting to illustrate an alleged discrepancy in tax-rates along a national fault line.
The divide that the American Petroleum Instituted foregrounded was based on cents and decimals–not on percentages, m although the confusion could be excused, viewing the map and its legend without further information, so clearly does it seem to correspond to that blue state-red state divide that has long haunted our social media-saturated spatial imaginaries. If the map was intended to be polemic, and provide fodder to resist calls for resistance to further hikes in taxes, and suggested the importance of seceding from what it cast, ingeniously in ways, as a sort of necessary secession from higher energy prices–the primary foe of much of the nation, it has seemed for most of the post-Cold War period.
The spectrum of county taxes is indeed much more complicated, revealing that it hardly makes sense to parse in states, although they reflect how some states have passed laws to restrict emissions of dirtier fuels, as gasoline, and have actively sought to do so, in the western states of California, Washington, and Oregon, by placing a larger tax on gallons of gas, in way that “Gas Buddy,” hardly a friend of the American Petroleum Institute, but a data-miner who seeks to give the lowdown on gas prices: the devious color-ramp depicts the bucolic nature of the southern states when it comes to protecting the price of low-cost petroleum for our engines, and the red-hot far west that seems a danger zone that might as well fall off the map.
The website allows one to map in real time, by a color spectrum seeing to affirm that the grass is greener as deeply as you drive into the traditional region of southern states, where the rights to cheap gas seem to be preserved, and the status quo of cheap gas is maintained: the land where cheap gas prices allow fertile fields to bloom, and environmentalism is out-sourced for self-interest, unlike the red-hot far west, of which all drivers should beware.
The data vis in other words affirms that GasBuddy is looking out only for our best interests, showing at a glance “the best gas price, anywhere,” at a glance. It’s not surprising GasBuddy is a big friend of Google, and has gotten rid of any state lines, as well as environmental costs, as if to reveal the county-by-county free market of gas prices for his online audience, in ways that increasingly seem to register the deep danger to the wallet posed by driving out west. This is the map of the triumph of the free energy market, embraced as the United States has become the biggest natural gas producers in the world and the top producer of petroleum hydrocarbons since 2013, raising hopes of the growing green for gas guzzlers nationwide, who try to laminate highway maps and interstates over the green fields that get only greener descending the Mississippi as one approaches the Gulf coast.
“Prices” here are not based on taxation alone, but “average prices” suggest the significant differences that exist between regions that indeed depend on commercial trucking, and ensuring low-cost convenience stores and supply chains, but have made a decision to prioritize free commerce at the expense of infrastructure and the environment. If it can be credibly argued that many costs of road maintenance, from snow-clearing to cracked asphalt, may not exist in the warmer climes of southern states, and rural roads are often less trafficked, the strong sense of separatism and defense of local privileges shines through the above map of gas prices, which reveals just how modulated the spread of up to a dollar and a half of the cost of gas/gallon are inflected by differences in gas taxes, although these only vary by a spread of about twenty cents.
Rather than be a post about road trips, the Gas-Tax Map provided an opportunity to excavate its layers, and investigate the underlying relations of a deep-seated stakes of states’ rights discourse that seems to underly the polemic visualization, as much as the proximity to offshore refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
We read more maps than ever before, and rely on maps to process and embody information that seems increasingly intangible by nature. But we define coherence in maps all too readily, without the skepticism that might be offered by an ethics of reading maps that we all to readily consult and devour. Paradoxically, the map, which long established a centering means to understand geographical information, has become regarded uncritically. As we rely on maps to organize our changing relation to space, do we need to be more conscious of how they preset information? While it is meant to be entertaining, this blog examines the construction of map as an argument, and proposition, to explore what the ethics of mapping might be. It's a labor of love; any support readers can offer is appreciated!