Alex Massie

The Freedom of the High Seas

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I'm a sucker for Seasteading. That is, I can't resist articles about what's called "homesteading on the high seas" - tiny floating communities based in international waters and thus, happily free from government interference. This is not just a kind of hippyish utopia, there are serious public policy issues at play too! Wired has a fun piece - "Live Free or Drown" - on Patri Friedman's (grandson of Milton) vision for the future:

Anyone can build a game-changing social-network platform or a virtual community or a set of open APIs. But the people here want to start a nonmetaphorical revolution by creating their own independent nations. In the middle of the ocean. On prefab floating platforms....

Friedman launches into what he calls "my standard rant"—a spiel about government's shortcomings and why they're so hard to repair. In his eyes, government is a sclerotic monopoly that can count on high customer lock-in thanks to inertia and the lack of alternatives. "Government is an inefficient industry because it has an insane barrier to entry," he says. "To compete with governments on existing land, you have to win a war, an election, or a revolution." He points to the democracy that emerged from the American Revolution as the last successful rollout and attributes the subsequent dry spell to the lack of uncolonized space on the map. "We've run out of frontier," he says.

But there's still one virgin realm left, and it covers 70 percent of the earth's surface.

The purpose of the Seasteading Institute—and of this gathering—is to figure out how to make aquatic homesteads a reality. But Friedman doesn't just want to create huge floating platforms that people can live on. He's also hoping to create a platform in the sense that Linux is a platform: a base upon which people can build their own innovative forms of governance. The ultimate goal is to create standards and blueprints that can be easily adapted, allowing small communities to rapidly incubate and test new models of self-rule with the same ease that a programmer in his garage can whip up a Facebook app. "You could roll your own government out of pieces copied from all the societies around you," Friedman says. "Google set my standards for how fast something should grow. This has potential to exceed those standards—if we make one seastead, there's room for thousands."...

Over the next couple of years, Friedman and Gramlich assembled a 150-page book on the logistics of seasteading. Their guidelines were intensely pragmatic, explaining everything from how to fend off barnacles (a "continuous discharge of low-level chlorination") to how to fend off foreign navies ("sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missiles like the Chinese Silkworm are fairly cheap and quite effective"). They described the least far-fetched, least expensive design for a safe seastead they could find—the floating spar. The hypothetical dwelling looks like a giant dumbbell standing on end, with a large steel ballast underwater and a 48,000-square-foot platform suspended above, where 120 people could live. They estimated it could be built for about $3 million. "That's the same price as a nice house in San Francisco," Friedman says...

Friedman is quick to acknowledge that not everyone will share his vision. "At first blush, this all sounds kind of crazy, and to see the potential beyond that—that's pretty awesome," he tells his fellow enthusiasts at the seasteading conference. "There's a lot of good craziness in this room!"

But good craziness alone will not make seasteads work, and most of the day is spent discussing the nuts and bolts of creating a floating community...


Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSociety