It is November, 2012, and I ask you to join me in a thought experiment. Let’s cast our minds back, and imagine…
Imagine it is 1998, and Digital Equipment Corporation’s “AltaVista” is the most popular search engine on the young internet. Two Stanford graduate students, Larry Page & Sergey Brin, have an idea for a better search engine. With DEC’s annual shareholder meeting coming up, Larry & Sergey organize an activist campaign, soliciting their community to write letters to the board of directors and distributing material to current shareholders. Their goal is to get nominated, then elected to the board of DEC so that they can implement their new algorithm in Alta Vista.
With no proof, no website, no users – only claims about their algorithm – their attempt fails. DEC assigns a small research team to investigate new search algorithms, but with a successful and enormous popular website to run, company management is only willing to authorize small tweaks that don’t risk offending current users. Larry & Sergey go back to focusing on their studies, and Google is never born.
Imagine it is 1975, and the most popular personal computers are Tandy’s TRS-80 and Commodore’s PET. Steve Wozniak, an Engineer at Hewlett-Packard, and Steve Jobs, a technician at Atari, have an idea for a computer called the “Apple I”: smaller, faster, more capable, and more elegant than any personal computer to date. Both Steves pitch the idea to their employers, but Atari is happy making video games and HP making calculators; neither company wants to risk a personal computer enterprise.
They try pitching their design to Tandy & Commodore, whose in-house engineers, resentful that these outsiders are better designers, convince their management that trying outside technology isn’t worth the risk. Tandy, Commodore, Atari, and HP “stay the course”, Wozniak creates brilliant new graphic calculators for HP, Jobs starts a health-food store, and Apple is never born.
Imagine it is 1775, and the Thirteen American Colonies of the British Empire are unhappy with how they are being governed from afar. But the British-American colonists are determined to “stay the course”, and so they continue petitioning the Crown, protesting unfair laws, and hoping for change. Some colonies manage to get new Colonial Governors, but with the same system, and the same incentives, little changes. America is never born, the world doesn’t see the tremendous power of constitutionally-limited representative democracy, and monarchies last an extra century.
Fortunately for the world, events did not turn out like in our imagination. Larry & Sergey skipped the DEC shareholder’s meeting and built Google. Jobs & Wozniak – after trying unsuccessfully to pitch their employers – started Apple. And the Thirteen Colonies gave up on the British Empire, fought for independence, and “We The People” created a brand-new government the likes of which the world had never seen.
In every one of these cases, the world benefited enormously from a group of bold pioneers, willing to leave the beaten track and try something new. And in every case, innovation would have been difficult or impossible within existing companies and power structures.
I don’t believe that America needs another Revolution – change by violence rightfully belongs in the past. Nor do I believe in inflicting a political experiment on a huge population – Communism did that, and a hundred million people died. Nor do I believe that no one should pay attention to elections – it’s important who control current systems. But it’s also important to create new ones.
As today’s systems age, innovation becomes more desperately relevant to modern politics every decade. Yet while tens – perhaps hundreds – of millions of people are focused on which way the dinosaur will lumber next, almost no one is focused on what new political species we could evolve. Electoral activism is bad for your blood pressure, and it doesn’t need you. Structural activism will help you feel empowered, and there are so few of us that every person matters.
This is my platform: we need Googletopias and Appletopias: brilliant new political systems, built on fresh ideas, started in empty areas, and governing only those who choose to opt into them. And I believe that seasteading is our best bet to create this startup sector for government.
So as the November Presidential elections dominate every form of media, I ask that you take a deep breath, disengage from the popularity contest, and think big. Vote: Seasteading.