Thursday, July 4, 2013

Seasteading and Independence

Happy 4th o' July, kids!

To celebrate this, our glorious American Independence Day, I'm going to talk about one of the more interesting ideas that I've become smitten with since hanging around with libertarians: seasteading. Just look at this idea porn!


Seasteading basically means creating more-or-less permanent societies in international waters, outside the direct jurisdiction of any given national government. It's colonizing the oceans. It's government, hell, it's society through the ethics of a start-up business. Libertarians are in love. So am I, for totally different reasons.

This guy here seems stricken with the idea that a society on the water would need to have infrastructure as if it was on land, because obviously, we would need to have cars, and therefore highways, to seastead. That's much better than boats. Then there's electricity: it's so incredibly difficult to run power lines out to new members of a community or withdraw them from those who are leaving. Same for internet, because wireless hasn't been invented yet.

Then there's his idea that an ocean community would wake up one day to find itself having been moved to a totally different aquatic location, because people in positions of power just do goofy shit like that all the time, especially when no one's looking. I think Mr. Lee might be mentally retarded. Either that, or, as a young child, he fell down and fractured his imagination, which never healed properly. Until it became truly massive, any seasteading community would probably look more like Venice than NYC, and thank God for that.

Other commenters have brought up a more sensible worry, at least for them: these seasteading communities would be basically akin to either manors or medieval towns, and the result of all this would be some form of neo-feudalism. I agree. I just don't think that certain ideas like lifetime indenture or pure slavery would be making a comeback, and otherwise, I don't see feudalism as an insult. Feudalism basically meant a system of authority by property instead of by democratic fiat. Fine by me!

As I've said before, I have no problem taking capitalism over democracy.

What I don't pretend about seasteading are a couple of points that libertarians seem to really be in love with that I think are absurd. One is increased economic welfare due to non-involvement by the government. The other related point is that seastead communities would be so easy to leave, the frictional costs of uprooting so low, that an almost boundlessly fluid individualism would be created.

Nope, and nope.

With the first, it depends on who you talk to. Feudalism comes to mind because anyone who is not landed - aka, anyone without a boat capable of indefinitely long-term living - would be at the mercy of those who had the infrastructure to survive. Those with said infrastructure might bring people in with work and pay, into safe arrangements (like villeins on manors). That's not always a bad way to live, but it would not be a material improvement over our current society, unless you happen to be the one in possession of the infrastructure. Voters like the easy life, and we've given it to them. It would be no easier to find on the ocean, and given the rigors of living with no arable land, no fresh water, dealing with barnacle and salt corrosion and the occasional massive storm, seasteading would certainly be more difficult.

You don't go out and live on a man-made hunk in the middle of nowhere, with no resources, because you're a utilitarian and you want your life to be easier. You go for some other reason.

For the second point, there would have to be ideological commonalities between people to get them cooperating long enough to make this work. That could easily develop, because frictional costs to leave would not be lower than they are on dry land. Probably quite the opposite, which would help to establish some hierarchical stability. The libertarian set might not like it, but if seasteaders turn out to be the kind of brats who will pull up anchor and break off their personal relationships for "greener pastures" every time they feel "oppressed" or their mutualism costs go up by 3%, then they will never be able to invest in a community and establish a damn thing, and not being able to do that would mean getting their economic and military ass handed to them on a very regular basis. The only way a seasteading community would have a chance in hell is to be economically strong, trading with other societies on beneficial terms. Any advantage of low taxes is probably offset by the complete lack of exploitable natural resources other than fish and sea salt, so you'd need a hell of a work ethic and a willingness to cooperate. If you think this happens without infrastructure, including social infrastructure, then you're a fool. If you think the government is hurting its own people in these areas now by wickedly and horridly oppressing them, then you might be a paranoid schizophrenic and you need to shut up and take the meds.

The people who are best equipped for this sort of thing are not libertarians. Getting cooperation out of libertarians in the face of political disagreement, for the sake of some greater good, usually turns out to be like herding cats, and it would take someone with all the bullshit tolerance of a drill sergeant to put them in line, defeating the purpose from their perspective. No, the people best equipped for this are A) the devout religious types, and B) men who are tired of paying for the feminist welfare state. In other words, the people who could make this work are the people who have a problem with modern liberal society in principle.

This brings to mind those sexy Puritans, with their belt buckle hats and pimp shoes.

For the faithful, no rigor is too great for the freedom to build a society according to the perceived wishes of their God. For men, we might have to pay through the nose for mail-order brides until we dominate trade with the withered husk of the landlubber societies, but we can deal with it. The prostitution business will probably explode, but it's better than the current state of things if you want respect more than comfort.

But that, of course, is why this hasn't happened yet. The vast, vast majority of people very strongly prefer comfort to respect, or anything else. The technologies for seasteading exist. It could have been done decades ago. But it hasn't been done, because that shit is hard. Not enough people hate the status quo enough to really make it happen and tolerate the incredible amount of work and risk necessary to really break contact. It will be hard, very hard, to make this happen.

I'm interested in it, but I don't see it as likely really soon. The Seasteading Institute is supposed to have something up and running in 2014 in the San Francisco Bay area. We'll see.

Anyway, it is Independence Day. So for all of you for whom freedom means living on easy street, take some time this 4th of July to hoist a beer to America for taking care of your fat ass. For those for whom freedom means having something of your own, the prerogative to create a new culture built on ideas that are worth taking a chance for, then start drafting your boat plans. TSI might be a good option for you. You will be in a minority, but it won't be boring. Would you really want anything else?

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