Stephen Fry, as you might know, is an English institution in his own right. Author, tv star (Jeeves & Wooster, etc), game show host, Cambridge man, droll chap, gay icon, the Second Coming of Oscar Wilde without all the Queensberry crap, brilliant in the way that only the truly brilliant can be – even when he’s faffing about, you’d better listen up, as he’s saying something quite perceptive. He was invited to give a lecture to the Royal Geographic Society (English institution meets English institution, natch) on the subject of America, which he’s traveled probably more than any of us, and for which he has a profound affection and boundless curiosity. It’s terribly long, loopy like Tristam Shandy, and terrifically entertaining, which means you should read the entirety here. But toward the end, after discussing the infinite contradictions of America, he states something of profound seriousness:
“I REPEAT an earlier asseveration: there is nothing you can say about America whose opposite is not also just as true. That is part of the allure of the place to me. And conversely, surely there are vulgar, obese, gullible, infantile Europeans? I don’t need to ask the question. None such in this lecture theatre of course. Well, two perhaps. Okay, three…
You know, I’ve a pet theory that none of this will matter in ten or twenty years, for America is almost certain in my unreliable view to be plunged into a cataclysmic and catastrophic civil war by then, one from which it may not properly recover for decades.
No, this internecine conflict I am picturing will not be fought over ideologies. It will not be a war of left versus right, religious versus secular, rich versus poor – nor of race or sect, nor white versus black, Christian versus Moslem, nothing like that. No, my visit to America showed me that the real tension will come as state declares war on state over … water. Who takes how much water from upstream of which river that runs through which states, who dams and reservoirs and controls the waters, these are the questions that will count. Utah against Arizona, Texas against Oklahoma, Colorado against California, Tennessee against Kentucky (I may even have to use my colonelcy and fight for Kentucky after all). Believe me, water will be a greater casus belli than abortion, gay marriage, global warming, race and the economy all rolled into one. The silver ribbon of time that is the Colorado River has still a bestarring role to beplay… but that’s another story and another lecture from someone who knows much more about these things than I do.”