Lester Earnest, a former Stanford computer scientist, spent a decades-long career in various technical roles, from working on the SAGE Air Defense System to building the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
But now Earnest spends much of his retirement spreading the word about his idea to save the country — that California, Oregon, Nevada, Washington and Hawaii should secede from the United States and become a nation called Pacifica.
“Part of the Pacifica proposal is not only to split off,” the 86-year-old said, “but to recreate a true democracy in which everyone has a say, not just the rich white guys. And that is a challenge.”
He said that, like many other Americans, he was disheartened by President Donald Trump’s win, and he found himself increasingly frustrated with the unfair state of the political system.
“It’s the quality of life that needs a lot of improving,” Earnest said. “We live in a paranoid world where wacko politicians and rich people run things. It is possible to create a more peaceful and productive world.”
Some of his inspiration for the Pacifica idea came from visiting a tribal community in Alaska. His oldest son married a woman who belonged to the indigenous Yupik community, so his son moved to a village of about 300 people on an island in the Bering Sea to start their family.
When Earnest went to visit, he discovered how hunter-gatherers lived.
“It’s one-for-all and all-for-one,” he said. “They provide food for each other. They help in any way they can within their group, and this works very well.”
Unfortunately, that form of government doesn’t scale, he said, but there are still ways our government can change to help all Americans.
“Having elected congressional groups is the right way to go, but not gigantic ones,” he said.
He envisions fewer politicians — about a dozen or so — representing larger areas and actually talking to each other and working together to make decisions.
Earnest said he’s made one of the goals of his retirement to end corruption in government. He tries to get the word out about his ideas through his website and his email lists. His primary list has about 300 subscribers.
“I’d like to try to change things,” Earnest said.
According to Earnest, part of the problem is that people like to pretend they make decisions based on rational analysis, but mostly they make impulse decisions based on fantasy. For example, the celebrities people admire — actors, musical performers, politicians — all have one thing in common, he said: They promote fantasies.
“I’m a bit Asperger-ish, so I live a little closer to reality than most people,” he said. “I don’t read fiction. I don’t understand artwork at all. I like to look at photographs or drawings of proposed ideas, but not artwork that many people enjoy. All artwork is fantasy, as are fiction articles.”
He said, to him, Trump is a showman, too, dealing entirely in fantasies.
“He swept up a bunch of people who think they’re being trampled upon by our government,” he said. “They’re pretending to cater to the needs of people who are the oppressed. It’s a case of catering to fantasies while actually doing a different job; namely, further enriching the rich who pay them well to do that.”
Earnest doubts Pacifica will happen, as he says the idea hasn’t caught much traction, but he continues to speak out about his ideas.
“Pacifica would serve as an example of what can be done with a more rational approach to government,” he said. “I’d really like to see that happen.”