[SC] Motive Theory Looks a Lot like Realism, and What It Means for Micropatriology

Ives Blackwood has shared a very compelling paper on what he calls “motive micropatriology,” that he has both allowed me to reproduce below and told me is still a work in progress. I would like to respond to the ideas he has raised, offer a few points of (hopefully) constructive criticism, and also discuss the state of the field of micropatriology.

Blackwood’s Motive Theory

Blackwood’s motive micropatriology takes the study of micronations in a new direction, to the study of the actual activity a micronation has and the motives behind that activity. He has developed an interesting two axis model of micronations that places micronations on a range between hobby and achievement-oriented micronations and between ludic vs. narrative micronations. His theory has wide-ranging implications for the study of micronations’ ontology, that is, the study of their being and very existence.

The first axis, hobby vs. achievement-oriented micronations, as I understand it, examines the motives behind a micronation’s activity. Is a micronation primarily for fun, or does it serve a larger purpose? He notes that “many micronations will be an achievement[-oriented] micronation to some extent” (emphasis kept). This is overwhelming true: most micronations will, even if their primary motive is entertainment (therefore, as a hobby), have another motive in the context of the micronational world. He does not specify, but a former micronation like Brienia, that was for much of its existence associated with a satirical micronation like Pavlov, or even Pavlov itself, could be categorised as a hobby micronation, and yet both have an implicit “goal,” some sort of telos to which they aim. (In both micronations’ case, it is of the more traditionalist and conservative side of the political spectrum than, for example, Sandus.) The distinction between a hobby- and an achievement-oriented micronation is really about a micronation’s own teleology, or its design and purpose and the end that it points toward.

The second axis, ludic vs. narrative, again to my understanding, is about the relationship between a micronation’s activity to the wider world. Ludic micronations, derived from the Latin term ludi meaning sports or games, see their activity as an enclosed reality in which they take the political decisions they make absolutely seriously, while narrative micronations are about “a story the citizens are writing together.” At its heart, this distinction is really about mimesis, or how micronations imitate or mimic the activity and behaviour of macronations. While narrative micronations are directed toward a certain plot about the world and (at least from the examples) seem to conform to a top-down storyline, ludic micronations imitate macronations in the ways that they “play the game,” as it were, but from bottoms-up directions. At least, that is what the examples furnished suggest. Suffice to say, both ludic and narrative micronations are not mutually exclusive: a micronation can be both at the same time.

His desire to place micronations on a range, rather than as occupying one or two categories, is a good change from the oversimplified categories into which micronations have been placed in the past, something that I and my micropatriological school have been guilty of. We should keep in mind that these are descriptors and that micronations in fact may have instances of either of these. A micronation may in fact not fit neatly or even quantifiably within these ranges: how can an observer quantify whether a micronation is, ontologically, hobby- or achievement-oriented? What is hobby-oriented may be achievement-oriented at the same time, especially in a world where everything is political. The same is true of narrative vs. ludic micronations. A country like Sandus has a fairly clear narrative (we have an official philosophy established by law and traditions) but it also operates like a ludic micronation to an outsider.

The connotations associated with both “ludic” and “narrative” too suggest that micronations are fictive, ephemeral, and fleeting. And, indeed, they are—but to many micronationalists the purpose of having a micronation is integral both to their own identity, it is also the basis of a large part of their social lives. Blackwood explains that in his own micronation, that he categorises as “ludic,” political debate was “blown up to epic proportions in the press and the historical record because we treated it like an event in a real country” (emphasis added). Rather than a game, his micronation Glastieve was in fact like a real country—ontologically, in its existence.

A Response to “New Secessionism”

Blackwood and his motive micropatriology is a continuation of his efforts with “new secessionism,” the idea that, according to its MicroWiki page, “while micronations will likely never be recognised as macronations and actively striving for that goal is pointless, micronational projects can and should be used as a framework to provide services and protection to a small group of people and build a collective sense of identity.” Both are formed as a disjunction from and a response to “classical secessionism,” that Blackwood has defined as striving for real independence. The concept was developed in 2019 when critiquing the dichotomy and preference for secessionist micronations, rather than simulationist micronations that has existed since 2015 in the MicroWiki community, as he dates it.

As one of the people responsible for this dichotomy and preference given to secessionist micronations, if not the person responsible in the MicroWiki community, I feel that I should respond.

Blackwood’s efforts to question the “classical” categories of simulationist and secessionist are a sobering reminder that these categories are porous and descriptors. They describe how a particular micronation is, but they do not prescribe how they exist in fact. This has had the effect to rehabilitate simulationism as a legitimate micronational concept and to distinguish between “different sources of inspiration for a micronation’s culture.” And he is right to critique the idea that micronations exist on some sort of separate plane, an idea that is still current in micronations that subscribe to antiquated ideas about “imperium.”

As a scholar, I agree with his holistic clarion call that micropatriologists must attend to micronational categories that have been traditionally ignored in our community. That is why I think that the field must attend to virtual micronations and even to geofiction, when some understand them to be under the micronational “umbrella.” (That is, except many micronationalists. I take my colleague Adam von Friedeck’s rebuttal that they are ontologically different. They are, but we must articulate how: that is, they still fall under the object of micropatriological study.)

Yet Blackwood’s new secessionism seems an awful lot like the realism of 2012 and later that seeks to rehabilitate micronations’ politics within an understanding of the movement’s place in the wider world. Realism has already sought to understand the motives and ontological relationship between micronations and their macronational “originals.” I have long been left bewildered about how Sandum Realism has been left out of this picture, especially when Sandus has long understood that micronations inhabit an ontology that is different from macronations but that, to the chagrin of classical(?) simulationists, is nevertheless part of the same “plane” or dimension (or universe or reality?) as macronations. We simply exist separate from them.

There is much more to realism, and I invite you to read more about it and its insights at the Year of Realism page here on Sandus.org. Perhaps unknowingly, Realism has contributed to our own understanding of what micronations are, but it has also sought to understand how activity in micronations works, what factors go into activity, and also the relationship between politics and culture in a micronation.

I think now is the time to attend to the fact that it was not only “classical” and “postclassical” micropatriology in question, because realist micropatriology has existed since the “classical” period and yet exists, operates, and inquires as a field much like “postclassical” micropatriology or “new secessionism.” In fact, Blackwood’s contributions with motive theory are indelible to Sandum Realism in how we understand micronations’ own motives, teleology, and mimesis. In the Year of Realism, that is, on the tenth anniversary of Sandum Realism, I think now is as good a time as any to articulate the differences, if any, between these micropatriological fields, and I invite Mr. Blackwood and others to meet to discuss these important topics. Let’s arrange a time and place!

I also think that we must distinguish between what is an academic and descriptive exercise versus a political and volitional one. In my opinion, micropatriology is both a scholarly and a political pursuit, much like feminism, gender studies, queer studies, or any other “studies” fields. When Sandum Realism opposed simulationism and put it lower in its hierarchy, it did so because that was politically expedient and politically constructive. To use Blackwood’s motive theory, Sandus was carving out its own achievement-orientation, and simulationism (which seems to us to be too close to hobby-oriented micronations) was portentous of continued political upheaval and crisis all for the sake of fun. Micronationalism is, after all, serious professional business—and, by that, we mean Sandus is. As a country coming into its own realist awareness and motive (or, to use Blackwood’s terms, as a developing ludic and narrative micronation), we decided politically to deprioritise simulationism. Since this sentiment was in Sandum realist literature from 2012 onward, Sandum Realism (or, as I believe Blackwood has imprecisely defined or categorised it, if he has, Sandus’s and my own particular “classical secessionism”) has been politically very anti-simulationist. That is, strictly speaking, from the point of view of what we have wanted as a country in Sandus.

The State of the Field of Micropatriology

My thoughts here have made me realise that, as micropatriologists, we must address the state of the field. For years, we have attempted to set up and to run a regularly published periodical or to sustain continued efforts for the study of micronations. Forgetting my own lessons from “activation energy,” these efforts were doomed to fail. But we must address the state of knowledge in micropatriology.

There exists no single resource dedicated exclusively to micropatriology. Micropatriological Notes promised something similar to this, but we need something more basic: we need a reader, our own website as a field, some sort of database that micropatriologists can use. We frequently use MicroWiki, meaning that our useful contributions to the study of micronations are lost in a sea of knowledge about and made by micronations themselves. The two ought to be parsed out, and we ought to invite micropatriologists to contribute to their own “state of the field” explanations about their theories.

Relatedly, we need to begin to categorise and map micropatriological schools and concepts, and name names. Ives Blackwood’s “classical” and “postclassical” notions are helpful, if a bit too simplistic. We should also address the state of knowledge in field of micropatriology or in micronations before this supposed “classical” period: this means historians must ask micronationalists about what they thought or knew about micronations and when. Ontology is key here: did they understand micronations to be different from macronations and, if so, how? Already, we have lost valuable archives of knowledge since the passings of Prince Roy of Sealand and Prince Leonard of Hutt River, but we still have many people who lived through the rise of Sealand and of micronations in the 1980s and 1990s.

I think we must also begin to realise that we are hampered by our own theory, and this is certainly true of my own contributions toward the field since 2015. Micropatriological theories to date have largely relied on different theoretical approaches and frames to how micronations exist, and often rely on too rigid ideas about categories. (This I am especially guilty of.) We must move away from theories about categories and ontology and, I think, begin to understand how micronations exist as assemblages of technologies. Attendant to this is also an attention to functionalism, a topic not frequently focused on in micropatriology, I believe, but now all the more necessary with Blackwood’s understanding of motive theory. That is to say that micropatriologists, in addition to mastering an archive of different theoretical knowledge about how micronations exist differently ought to also attend to how micronations operate technically similarly or differently.

Each micronation relies on its own particular activities or technologies, and here I do not mean just practical technologies like phaleristics or philately or vexillology or heraldry (though these are all also important to understanding and describing how micronations are different from the world around them). I also mean how these technologies, broadly understood, inform and produce knowledge or meaning in their micronations. How do medals, stamps, flags, or coats of arms (by using various methods, such as a case study, for example) provide meaning to a micronation and its citizens or subjects? How do micronations also use different technologies of governing and government, and how do these affect the construction or function of micronations? Here, the contributions of governmental/governance studies, a Foucauldian field that studies government and governance as technology, may be particularly relevant. These technologies also include the artistic, cultural, social, and political impetus of different micronations, such as Flandrensis, Westarctica, Slabovia, Ladonia, or Lorenzburg, for example.

There are and will still be debates on how micronations are different from macronations and how they exist in relation to one another. I am not suggesting that these questions and debates are no less important, only that they often are reductive and circular. We can and should attend to other theoretical and historical questions in the field, and keep in mind that politics of being both micronationalists and public intellectuals interested in the knowledge of our own movement, hobby, or (I prefer) our way of life.

We are, afterall, both the objects of other fields’ and disciplines’ research and the subjects that can talk back.