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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces




Went to the inaugural social meet-up for those who interested in Seasteading. Now, this is the kind of utopian, enthusiastic, optimistic, small-chance-of-not-being-doomed, high-chance-of-being-fun libertarianism I can get behind!

Well, perhaps more a brand of meta-libertarianism: Patri’s underlying theory is that the reason why governments aren’t terribly efficient is because the market for governments isn’t very competitive: there are terrible barriers of entry to becoming a government, and your customers don’t have much room to shop around. The solution? Dynamic geography — in which one builds states composed of units that can wander off when the state they’re in (or rather, tethered to) becomes less than ideal. Homestead the seas with mobile, inhabited, relatively self-sufficient platforms, able to join together, outside of current jurisdictions, and you can create competitive governance experiments with free movement between them. Allegedly.

I’ve actually been tracking seasteading for some time — long enough, I notice, to have written a fond parody of it back in 2003, herewith enclosed below.

Sitting in and arguing the finer points of it with a crowd of fellow bipolar skeptic-enthusiasts was fun: like a Marvel no-prize, you really only scored points if you could come up with an objection and a potential solution at the same time. My parochial objections were about bandwidth — Ryan from Sealand, who’s back from wiring Iraq, ran through the possibilities of getting Kb/s out into the deep sea, and we ended up talking about the positive benefits of being a radio-frequncy test-lab relatively free from ITU and FCC regulations. Your latency to the bigger Internet might suck short-term, but the intranet would be fantastic. Oh, and the perennial social problems of creating an environment whose selling point is a freedom from current jurisdictions, but which runs into attracting only people who are primarily interested in escaping current jurisdictions because they’re doing things that no current jurisdiction (or sane person) would like: what I’d describe as the Freenet problem.

At the risk of being the person who postscripts their letters “I am not a mental or anything”, the Seasteading group aren’t your straightforwardly crazy idealists. They’re far more practical, and rather better funded (they got half a million of funding from Peter Thiel to play with this idea, and are already dancing with nautical engineers to run up a model of their idea in the waters near to SF).

It’s really easy to see the first-order problems with seasteading, but I don’t think those are the ones that will sink them, because they have mostly good responses to those. It is however a lot harder to envisage the problems that are one or two steps after that. Crazy ideas don’t fail to work because they cannot be implemented: it’s that they can’t be implemented and stabilised to work for fifty years or more. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, and it doesn’t mean you can’t be skeptical, hopeful, and willing to help out simultaneously.

The first Seasteading Conference is next month in Burlingame; it has all the hallmarks of being one of those fascinating meld of pies-in-the-sky projections and gritty earth engineering arguments that spells everything I like the most about California conferences. Come along!

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petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.