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Wired article on seasteading and Patri Friedman

This topic will be familiar to a few readers, as will one of its main protagonists, Patri Friedman. But via the excellent Alex Massie blog at the Spectator, is this interesting fresh take on the issue, in a Wired article about the topic of seasteading and politics.

It is easy to scoff at such things – as scoffers no doubt laugh at other attempts by people to get away from governments they dislike. But it always struck me as valuable to get the meme out there that existing national borders are not sacrosanct, and that they can and should be challenged. The earth is a big place. Why should its current divisions be regarded as sacrosanct? The way things are going, it pays to think of options, such as these guys.

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29 comments to Wired article on seasteading and Patri Friedman

  • Laird

    How could you post this without including a link to the Seasteading Institute?

  • And speaking of free state projects, don’t forget those folks out West, either.

  • Patri Friedman

    Looks like I’ll be giving a talk at ASI in London on Tu March 31, be happy to talk to any of y’all there.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Patri, it’s a deal. See you there then!

  • llamas

    Unfortunately, all of the ideas along these lines tend to underestimate the negative aspects of human nature. They’re really no different (in spirit) than the ‘community’ movement that was active in the US and elsewhere in the C19 – places like the Amana and Oneida communities are perfect examples. Both fell apart after (relatively) short times because they failed to take human nature into account, or thought their arrangment so perfect that the weaknesses of human nature would be overcome. Alas, it was not so. The ‘buccaneer’ communities of the C17/C18 perhaps get the closest to the idea of ‘sea-steading’. You wouldn’t like their rules at all – but they had to have them, to keep the community together at all.

    As the wise old sergeant told me – son, out of every 100 people you meet, 90 will be perfectly-normal, agreeable folk that you can get along with just fine. 9 will be feckless idiots to a greater or lesser degree. And one will be a certifiable sociopath. The trick in life is to recognize Mr 1% when you see him (it’s almost-always a him). ‘Independent’ communities, whether or not floating, will be subject to the same odds, and the dream of perfect liberties, unsullied by the oppressions of the Bad Evil State, will not change that. The Lord of the Flies is so scary precisely because we know (unconsciously, maybe) that people really are like that.

    Like a Caribbean cruise liner, you couldn’t get me into a community like that for any money. I’m afraid that real life has taught me that I should not rely on the general good-will of strangers for my security and prospects.

    Nice principles, though.

    llater,

    llamas

  • llamas

    An astute e-mailer reminds me of the example of Burning Man, which has gone from a libertarian’s idea of paradise to just-another-regulated-mini-state – in 20 years. It used to be a festival that would have delighted the heart of any libertarian. Now they have speed limits, and fences, and things are Banned, and you have to get Permission to do this-or-that, and there is a police force, and Rules. And all because people can’t behave reasonably to each other when left to their own devices. Burning Man is now the Carnival Cruise of the younger set, except they’re using dope instead of alcohol and the accommodations are more spartan.

    llater,

    llamas

  • I will be doing my own version soon, as I’m moving to New Hampshire this month.

    I understand the pessimism expressed above, but keep in mind: extrapolating from the fact that every previous attempt to cure cancer has failed, and concluding that Cancer can therefore never be cured, is erroneous. Everything is impossible right up to the moment when somebody figures out how to do it.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Unfortunately, all of the ideas along these lines tend to underestimate the negative aspects of human nature.

    One might as well use all of your arguments, llamas, against existing states now. The point is that in a world where there is more chance for people to get the heck out of dodge, so to speak, then the sociapaths will not be able to wield so much power. After all, it is not as if the world does not have more than its share of power-crazed nutters now, such as our own wonderful UK government, just for a start.

    One only has to look at the how large countries bully, or try to bully, so-called “tax havens” to see how much of a threat these small jurisdictions can pose.

  • Everything is impossible right up to the moment when somebody figures out how to do it.

    Amen to that. I find the perpetual pessimism on ‘our side’ rather irrational for exactly that reason.

  • Unfortunately, all of the ideas along these lines tend to underestimate the negative aspects of human nature.

    A legitimate observation but as as JP says, that also applies to the other side. That said, I for one am not looking for ‘chaos’ but rather liberty, and for me that means an escape from capricious rules and rent seekers, not living in either Chav-land or, given our side’s affection for fully automatic weapons, a secular version of Somalia…

    …so I am quite happy to have no building codes, no educational conscription, no state monopoly on money but to have my home owners association fee fund periodic firing squads that take care of that Mr. 1% Psychopath of whom you speak.

    As for the notion that a better environment will ‘improve’ humanity, a very justified observation in my view, well to quote the great Captain Reynolds (Malcolm, not Glenn), I don’t hold with that notion.

  • llamas

    Well, call it pessimism if you will, although that’s not my intention. I’m afraid that it’s more-like realism based upon long observation. Individual humans can be remarkably altruisitic and principled, but humans en-masse will regress to the mean and are generally not very nice at all. And the first-adopters of any such plans will inevitably be those who want to indulge in impulses which are forbidden to them in more-conventional states and societies.

    JP observes ‘in a world where there is more chance for people to get the heck out of dodge, so to speak, then the sociapaths will not be able to wield so much power.’

    Don LaFontaine, RIP – but seriously, although you may well be right that people who have the ability to go elsewhere may be less-likely to become the victims of sociopaths and the like, I was thinking more about the practicalities of ‘sea-steading’. There’s no practical way to get off a ship-like vessel that’s far out at sea. At least those who disliked the realities of the Noyesian communities, or the anarchic excesses of an event like Burning Man, can simply walk away. How far can you swim?

    (I only refer to those two examples because I referred to them before, and don’t want to broaden the discussion unnecessarily – but if you have better exmaples, please, by all means . . . .)

    PdH wants to have bi-weekly firing squads to eliminate the unrighteous. So his will be a nation of laws, it would seem. Who makes the laws, and how?

    llater,

    llamas

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Individual humans can be remarkably altruisitic and principled, but humans en-masse will regress to the mean and are generally not very nice at all. And the first-adopters of any such plans will inevitably be those who want to indulge in impulses which are forbidden to them in more-conventional states and societies.

    What, you mean these “first adopters” will want to indulge in such terrible “impulses” as choosing to live a life away from punitive taxes, laws banning consensual behaviour between adults, etc.. These folk who want to live away from “conventional” states where the government seizes 50% of their wealth and regulates a good deal else, are hardly impulsive nutters.

    And unlike many states, the Seasteaders, remember, do not ban, shoot or otherwise harrass people who, for whatever reason, might have second thoughts and choose to leave.

    The best protection against oppression is the ability to exit and the consequent existence of plenty of potential future destinations. Seasteading today, space-steading tomorrow.

  • PdH wants to have bi-weekly firing squads to eliminate the unrighteous. So his will be a nation of laws, it would seem. Who makes the laws, and how?

    You might have taken me slightly too seriously… I am all for constitutionally very extremely profoundly limited democratically moderated power separated government as it seems to me that dealing with predators is indeed the legitimate role of the state (the alternative being lynch mobs).

  • llamas

    JP wrote:

    ‘What, you mean these “first adopters” will want to indulge in such terrible “impulses” as choosing to live a life away from punitive taxes, laws banning consensual behaviour between adults, etc.. ‘

    No, I mean those ‘first adopters’ who want to practice polygamy, practice their ideas about race/gender relations, enable their desires to foster relationships with children (in all the many ways that that can manifest itself) , or indulge their passion(s) for modd-a nd mind-altering substances. Among other things.

    Stand by, here it comes – the stock ‘libertarian’ answer . . . . .

    ‘Well, people should be free to take drugs if they want to!’

    Sure, they should. But it is one of the fatal conundrums (conundra?) of these libertarian principles that they can only be practised within a system which also regulates the behaviours of others. In other words, you need the protection of laws – some of them sometimes somewhat-erosive of the liberties of the individual – in order to make it safe and secure for you to smoke – whatever you want to smoke. Experiments (organized and otherwise) where drug use is uncontrolled have always ended up with the strong preying on the weak in one way or another. This would be no different – and no different for any of the other activities which many of the ‘first adopters’ of such a scheme would be keen to undertake. Ironically, you might well end up with a ‘society’ that is more repressive of the rights of the individual, because of the efforts required to make sure that all the folks engaged in all these ‘freedoms’ are actually doing so of their own free will and noone is being harmed as a result. The Law of Unintended Consequences will apply here, as always. And – once again – people en masse havb this nasty tendency to not be very nice to each other. Ask any copper. Sunfish – what’s your take on these ideas?

    PdH – I have no problem with the idea of bi-weekly firing squads, to eliminate the unrighteous – not at all. What I want to know is – whose laws are to be applied to sentence them?

    llater,

    llamas

  • llamas

    I feel that smite a’comin’ . . . . .

    llater,

    llamas

  • Petronius

    I think the seasteads would be very nice, right up to the moment some Somali pirates show up and take them over, whilst feeding the seasteaders to the fish.

  • llamas

    JP also wrote:

    ‘And unlike many states, the Seasteaders, remember, do not ban, shoot or otherwise harrass people who, for whatever reason, might have second thoughts and choose to leave.’

    Says – who? How do you know that these fabled Seasteaders will be the wonderfully-tolerant and inclusive people that you envision?

    Just because the folks who propose these ideas expect that the people who sign on will all be of the best and most-enlightened types, with perfected libertarian ideals and spotless credentials – doesn’t mean that they will be. They will be, for the most part, just people, en masse. See my previous observations on how that usually turns out.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Johnathan Pearce

    No, I mean those ‘first adopters’ who want to practice polygamy, practice their ideas about race/gender relations, enable their desires to foster relationships with children (in all the many ways that that can manifest itself) , or indulge their passion(s) for modd-a nd mind-altering substances. Among other things.

    Well if people want to live like that, so long as it does not involve coercing adults, say, why would it bother anyone apart from the peope concerned?

    But it is one of the fatal conundrums (conundra?) of these libertarian principles that they can only be practised within a system which also regulates the behaviours of others.

    There is no fatal conundrum. Consensual relations between adults are respected. That is all.

    Experiments (organized and otherwise) where drug use is uncontrolled have always ended up with the strong preying on the weak in one way or another.

    Incorrect. Prohibition (booze in the 1920s US, the War on Drugs, etc) have proven to be disasters on an epic scale. And where the ability of adults to acquire substances is banned/heavily restricted, organised crime gets involved, and that is definitely a case of the strong predating on the weak. The evidence is too strong to ignore.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    How do you know that these fabled Seasteaders will be the wonderfully-tolerant and inclusive people that you envision?

    Well I suppose it is quite possible that some seasteaders could all be authortarian shits who stipulate under their terms of contract that folk are not allowed to leave, but I doubt that’s going to get a lot of interest. I guess it is theoretically possible that someone could create a communist community or whatever. They are welcome to try and see how popular – ie not – it would be!

    Of course such things can always go wrong. But to repeat the point so that it sinks in, Llamas, it is not as if we do not have problems in our existing nations now. At the worst, allowing new communities to crop up will create more variety, thereby more choice for people to exit from the nations where they reside through the lottery of birth.

  • llamas

    JP – you’ll get no argument from me that Prohibition (with both upper- and lower-case P) is a dreadful idea too, and that past experience proves this.

    But because Prohibitions are almost-always Bad, doesn’t mean that untrammelled liberty is almost-always Good. As I said, the Law of Unintended Consequences applies to one, just as to the other.

    I stand by what I said regarding experiments in unregulated use of drugs. It has always ended in tears, because drugs cloud the judgement, suppress the inhibitions and render their users extremely vulnerable – that’s why people take them! I’d include alcohol in that party, too. The least-worst in this regard may be MJ – but any Libertarian worth the name will stand fast on the right of every individual to inject as much heroin or meth as they can stand, and unlimited use of drugs like that has always led to misery and victimization for the vast majority that do so. Whether or not ‘legal’.

    You wrote

    ‘Well if people want to live like that, so long as it does not involve coercing adults, say, why would it bother anyone apart from the peope concerned?’

    and of course, I agree. But the worm in the apple is right there in what you wrote – how do you know that people are not being coerced? Whether adults or not? When you start with the warm, hazy Libertarian notion that people should be free to do as they like, as long as they don’t hrt anyone else, you have to accept that there are people – quite a few people – who want to be free to do as they like in ways that will hurt other people, and they will flock to arrangements like this like moths to a flame because that’s where they stand the best chance of doing what they want to do with minimum risk.

    Why did Paul Gadd travel to Thailand to do what he did? Because that’s where his risk of being caught and punished was the lowest, because that’s where what he did has been much-more-tolerated than in other places. This will be no-different.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Nick Timms

    My understanding of the world envisaged by most libertarians – I am aware that there is a pretty broad range – is that ‘libertaria’ is not a place with no laws, but that those laws are just those needed to enforce contracts and to ensure transgressors pay compensation.

    Libertaria has courts and can restrain violent people although it is also a society of armed individuals who may well form voluntary groups for self protection, or pay a private company to provide protection. I am not talking about vigilante ism.

    I mention this only because some people seem to misunderstand the libertarian vision and think that a libertarian society is a society without rules. It is not. It is just that the rules are those that protect an individual from other individuals behaviour. They do not regulate your own behaviour. That is a matter of personal choice. Each individual is free to do what they choose. Provided they do not choose to harm other people. Doing that could result in penalties ultimately including death.

    Those 1% of certifiable sociopaths exist but the penalties for transgression are far harsher in a free society and being sociopathic is not the same as being stupid.

    No society is safe. Currently I live in the UK where I am not permitted to defend myself, my family or my home other than with ‘reasonable force’ which is a meaningless phrase wide open to lawyers and a system where transgressors are hardly ever effectively punished and the victims of crime suffer uncompensated harm and loss.

  • Nuke Gray!

    Too many people suffer from the New-Start syndrome! We’ll make a new start somewhere else. Yada-yada-yada. It’s much better to reform your own country from the inside. It might seem harder, but the number of colonies and settlements that turn authoritarian should warn you that the fault is endemic to human nature- a craving within some people for more power than they have earned, or can handle. It would seem far better to design a system which distributes power widely, than to move. Colonies also usually turn into authoritarian communities because the first years in a new place are usually tough, and Someone is put in control to make the tough decisions. Won’r the seasteaders face emergencies, with a ‘captain’ to tell them what to do? How soon before the Captain is the Governor?

  • Tushar

    I could be misreading, but people seem to be missing the point of seasteading. It is not about the seasteaders, but, the idea is to create a NEW INSTITUTION which drastically reduces the cost of entry into independent self-governing entities, and hopefully generates vigorous experimentation. People here seem to think the seasteads themselves are to be libertarian but this is completely false. If a bunch of voluntary socialists want to have their own seastead and create a commune they will of course! The point is to enable exit, innovation, and social experimentation voluntarily.

  • Laird

    I recently came across an interesting quotation which seems relevant to this discussion:

    “[T]here’s no difference between a pessimist who says, ‘Oh, it’s hopeless, so don’t bother doing anything,’ and an optimist who says, ‘Don’t bother doing anything, it’s going to turn our fine anyway.’ Either way, nothing happens.” — Yvon Chouinard (founder of the outdoor gear company Patagonia)

    So I’m with Tushar on this. If seasteading catches on there will undoubtedly be good seasteads and bad ones; that pretty much describes all of human history. Their beauty is that these will be “microcountries”, and by their experiences will serve as either inspirations or cautionary tales, as examples or warnings for the rest of us.

    Oh, and Nuke Gray!, there’s nothing inherently wrong with “the Captain [as] the Governor”, especially if he is also the owner of the seastead (and someone will have to put up the capital for the structure and thus “own” it; you don’t think they’ll all be joint-stock companies or formed by philanthropists, do you?). Humans are by nature heirarchical creatures, which is why “leadership” is a prized quality. In any group there will always be a leader; what matters is how he leads. And a multiplicity of seasteads (and “normal” countries, too) will give options to people who don’t care for his leadership style.

    I’m pulling for Patri.

  • lukas

    I think the seasteads would be very nice, right up to the moment some Somali pirates show up and take them over, whilst feeding the seasteaders to the fish.

    Who will Somali pirates attack, armed seasteads with nothing much to loot or unarmed shipping vessels, carrying millions worth of cargo, owned by companies with deep pockets?

  • I dont think Friedman’s vision will ever come to pass, because of the human nature argument. Not only do pirates exist, but so would pirate seasteads.

    However, social behavior in new conditions always manifests itself in unexpected ways. There is just such a social experiment occurring right now which is similar in scope and condition to seasteading… Second Life.

    If you arent familiar with this free online game, you can try it for free (www.secondlife.com). It consists of a very large grid of computers which simulate plots of land, upon which the residents can build just about anything they can imagine. Land can be joined into larger areas, or float independently in the ocean. Each ‘island’ simulates 65535 square meters, and is owned by an individual or group, who pay the monthly fees to Linden Labs. I am such an owner; I currently hold two islands.

    How this pertains to the topic is that an interesting social equilibrium has been reached in SL. Island owners define and enforce their own laws.

    Some islands are very libertarian, some are very statist, and there is everything in-between. My islands are run by a charismatic benevolent dictator with no patience for foolishness. If you dont like my rules, you can go somewhere else, or pony up your own money and have it your way.

    While seasteads are completely autonomous entities, and not all the social dynamics would apply, SL provides insight into how multiple small petri dish societies can innovate socially in ways simply unavailable to real life landlubbers. Certainly it is worth checking out if you have a good gaming computer.

  • I dont think Friedman’s vision will ever come to pass, because of the human nature argument. Not only do pirates exist, but so would pirate seasteads.

    So? North Korea and Switzerland also exists and that does not seem to preclude nation-states.
    My assumption is that seasteads would not be defenseless and would indeed have order. Nothing un-libertarian about either of those things.

  • I should have expanded a bit more why I dont think ‘Friedman’s vision’ will come to pass, and not just because of piracy.

    I am going to optimistically assume that the technical issues associated with keeping a city block safe, stable, and able to handle just about anything the High Seas can throw at it, can be resolved with enough money or design time.

    Friedman’s concept of hatching many little labs of social experimentation is very libertarian, but the implementation on each of these will necessarily be much more socially restrictive. Floating cities are more like space ships than cruise ships, in that they are meant to remain isolated from the mainland.

    If I spend 300 million ducats on my city, you can bet I’d run it with an iron fist. You can tell from the article that Friedman cant wait to start up his own nation that legalizes pot and makes Vegas look like Kindergarten. Giving rocket launchers to guests on a floating island doesnt sound realistic to me.

  • Quaere: are pirate seasteads more likely to occur before the Seasteading’s vision? What about abandoned oil rigs(Link) being taken over by economic refugees.