German TV show Titel, Thesen, Temperamente announces Seasteaders as “Totalitarian.”

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Audrey Stimson, Producer at ARD German Television, emailed us 10 times while requesting an interview, promising, “Millions of viewers will be watching.” We hosted her camera crew at Thiel Capital, where they interviewed Randolph Hencken and myself on camera for about 15 minutes each.

They asked us for high-res footage.  We sent them 8 Great Moral Imperatives video series, The Floating City Project,  5 Things You Need to Know about the Floating City Project, and a 30-second video that sums up the theory of seasteading.

Audrey forwarded the footage to TV journalist Joachim Gaertner, author of I am Full of Hate, and I Love That: A Documentary Novel based on the Columbine massacre. Joachim served as the author and editor of this segment. He only used a short quote from each of us, and the videos of seasteads were used as a backdrop to ominous music and narration worthy of Vincent Price. These were interspliced with short quotes from humanitarian economist Paul Romer, Blueseed cofounder Dario Mutabdzija, and Google cofounder Larry Page. Joachim then declared the whole lot of us…

… totalitarian threats to democracy.

Max Moor, the host of the show, opened with this, translated from the German:

“Welcome, respected viewers, to Titel, Thesen, Tempramente. Those of us who believe in freedom and democracy did surprisingly have cause for joy … But while we enjoy our small victory, the gentlemen of Silicon Valley are already many more steps ahead, taking off into megalomaniac spheres full of new worlds and new societies completely divorced from our real lives. Except of course that we, the old-fashioned fans of democracy, have to pay for it– with our money, our freedom and our very dignity.”

and concluded the show with this:

“The vision of running whole nations like start-up companies suggests something totalitarian. Even if they’re meant to be created far out on the ocean, they threaten our basic democratic rights even here.”

As these words were spoken, Joachim Gaetner and Audrey Stimson’s names were emblazoned across the screen.

They don’t permit viewers to debate or comment on their videos, so we wrote an email in protest.  Joachim wrote back immediately:

“If you present a concept in public and you agree to discuss it you have to face the concept being debated and commented on. And yes, in my view there is something totalitarian to the idea of a society that is governed like a startup company … I cannot see anything unethical or shameful in making a well-founded comment.”

Joachim claimed:

“Honestly, when I first heard about Seasteading I was intrigued by the idea to create floating cities on the ocean in order to try out new forms of government and living together as we all search for concepts for future societies to develop.  But in fact, it came as a surprise and a great disappointment when I watched the interview Audrey did with you and Randy … you are not able to answer the most basic questions.”

Joachim forgot that we asked Audrey to send us the questions a week ahead of time.  We wrote out answers in preparation for the interview.  We don’t have the video transcript of the actual interview, but below are their questions exactly as written, and the answers we prepared and placed on the table in front of us during the interview.  You can decide for yourself whether the answers we prepared give any indication that Larry Page, Paul Romer, and seasteaders are totalitarian threats to democracy.

————–

Q: Let’s say 10 years from now, how do you imagine yourself being living in a floating city off the shore?

A: With our Floating City Project, we hope to see a new small experiment with governance offering superior prosperity and employment for local people, showing that small startup nations can discover new solutions.

Q: What will a seastead be like? Who is setting up the rules, who is running the place? How about legislation, law enforcement, taxes?

A: Imagine European monarchists in the 17th century asking, “What will American states be like?”  We can’t know.  The political structure of all new nations is up to the people who found it, and we hope aquatic pioneers discover a diversity of political structures.  We’d like to see hundreds or thousands of novel arrangements competing to attract immigrants to their seastead.  As long as people can voluntarily join, and voluntarily leave, we expect to see a market driving improvement in governance.

Q: You are just providing the infrastructure, but nevertheless you must have a certain vision of what kind of social and political experiment you would like to set up? What drives you to be part of this?

A: Seasteaders don’t seek to impose one vision of society.  Seasteaders seek to provide anyone with the technology to start their own nation.  We think a fluid frontier will fundamentally change the relationship between government and the governed.

Imagine if your city was like a floating Lego set. You can shift and assemble and reassemble at will. Governments can only form if people choose to attach to each other.  If you got in a political fight, you can detach your houseboat, sail somewhere else, link up with your allies, and found your own nation.  If you can vote with your house, governments will be like companies and citizens will be more like customers.  We think this will create a market of governments competing to attract citizens.  On a fluid frontier, citizens wouldn’t struggle to survive government’s choices, governments would struggle to survive citizen’s choices—just like companies that go out of business when they fail us.

Q: Usually in a shared flat after some time people start to create problems over who is going to wash the dishes. What gives you confidence that like 250 people on a platform out in the sea will not start fighting at a given moment?

A: Three hundred and fifteen million people live in the US right now, and they argue passionately but peacefully.  If I live in a flat with people who argue too much, I leave and find a more peaceful flat.  Current governments make it very difficult to switch to a better government.  Seasteading allows people to join and leave more easily.

Seasteads with too much conflict will not attract more people to voluntarily move there.  Seasteads with peace and prosperity will attract immigrants.  In current governments, it’s very difficult to try something new.  Seasteading gives people the opportunity to try something new.

Q: It is obvious that at least at the beginning of seasteads being put in practice it will be pretty expensive being accepted as a seasteader. So what can you learn from a social experiment of mulitmillionaires?

A: Ninety-two percent of the people who filled out our survey to express interest in moving to the first floating city are not millionaires. We estimate that the cost per square meter in our Floating City Project will cost about what it would in London.  As seasteads get larger, economies of scale may drive prices down  Cruise ships used to be for rich people only.  Mobile phones used to be for rich people only.  Now they are for everyone. Our ultimate goal is to provide better jobs and opportunities for the poor.

Q: How about citizenship, when you settle on a seastead. Will you have your own citizenship? And if you keep US citizenship for instance you will have to pay taxes in the US, if you take on another passport, you lose your citizenship?

A: Seasteads are nowhere near the stage where they are recognized as sovereign nations, but we hope they will be in the future.

Q: What if the regime of a host nation changes?

A: All people everywhere have to cope with what happens when regimes change. If seasteaders follow the examples of defenseless island nations like Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands, Singapore, and Trinidad and Tobago, they will provide value for larger nations.

Q: The name “Seasteading” recalls the homesteads that settlers in the 19th century were able to reclaim. What kind of vision does this name resonate with?

A: The United States was a giant life raft where dissatisfied people could arrive and try out new ideas. Nothing worked out the way anybody planned, but in the cauldron of competition for new citizens, Americans forged new kinds of governments that changed the world.  Disruptive new ideas come from the fringe on the frontier.

Q: San Francisco and the Silicon Valley is one of the most vibrant and innovative communities worldwide. What experiences can you take from the Silicon Valley, what economic and political strategies that can help build new forms of societies?

A: Our experience with the rollercoaster of Silicon Valley teaches us that the smartest experts can’t predict which startups will succeed, but that granting people the technology to try lots of startups allows people to discover solutions. We’d like to bring the startup sensibility to governments. Right now we live in the IBM of nations.  We’d like to provide the technology for people with fresh ideas to try their own Microsofts and Apples in governance.  If people chose to move to those places, we know we’ve created something valuable.

Q: Can states, can societies be run like a startup company?

A: Every society starts as a start-up.  The United States was a start-up country.  The problem is, once they are successful, they don’t allow new startups. Seasteading is a technology to start new startups.

I know it’s strange to think of government as a technology, but when we created democracy in the United States a few hundred years ago, that democracy then spread around the world and created health, wealth, and happiness for millions of people around the world, but now we don’t have a chance to try something new.

[This the first quote they used, and their narrator spoke over Randy’s words in German, saying:  “It might sound strange, but democracy is a dated technology, a few hundred years old. It’s brought prosperity, health and happiness to millions of people on the whole world, but now we want to try something new, and there’s no chance to do that here.”]

In our current systems, governments have monopoly control over captive citizens.  There are many people out there with novel ideas, and no place where they can try their ideas out.  Seasteaders want to provide them the technology to try out their ideas.

[This is the only other quote they used, and their narrator spoke over Joe’s words in German, saying:  “In our system, governments have a monopoly. We citizens are prisoners. There are many ideas for other forms of government, but no space to try them out.”]

Q: It seems like the desire for new forms of social and political systems, the search for alternatives is growing. Where does this come from? (Economic crises? Tax systems? Incompetent governments?)

A: Human beings are creative.  We all profit from this creativity in other industries.  Governance is the one industry that does not permit peaceful disruptive technologies that show us a new way.  We’d like to empower all the people out there with new governance ideas.

Q: Now some of the most successful states in the world like China or Singapore demonstrate that technological success and economic growth is possible without democracy. What does this tell us about future political systems?

A: It tells us we don’t have enough examples of what can work.  Singapore is an island nation. When it gained independence, the average yearly salary was $511 USD.  Today 17% of their population are millionaires.  We’d like to see more unique experiments.

Q: Let’s say like 50 years from now what do you think Seasteading will be like? And what will its contribution to solving the most urgent problems in the world be?

A: We hope in 2065 floating islands nations will discover new ways of living together the same way the American frontier discovered and demonstrated that democratic republics can work.

——————-

Given that none of our answers were used, we wrote Audrey and Joachim the following email:

Joachim:

Consider the political spectrum.  At one extreme end is totalitarianism.  Now look at the opposite end of the political spectrum.  That’s where the seasteading community resides. To introduce seasteaders as totalitarian is a perfect lie.  Calling seasteaders totalitarian is like calling Joachim Gaertner an ethical journalist.

Seasteaders will not dictate our particular plan for government. That’s what a totalitarian would do. Seasteaders seek to technologically empower anybody to start any kind of government they choose. Seasteading is more democratic than democracy, because in the seastead vision, citizens can leave and sail their homes elsewhere any time they want. Seasteading is radical democracy.

You claim you were “intrigued” by seasteading until you listened to our interview and discovered we were totalitarian threats to democracy.  I suppose you were also “intrigued” by Larry Page and Paul Romer, and upon investigation discovered they were also totalitarian threats to democracy?

The great threat to democracy is not a floating island. It’s a press that lies.

Joachim, it can’t feel good to do this kind of reporting, where you portray humanitarian efforts as the opposite of what they are. Larry Page and Paul Romer and many seasteaders are working hard to make the world a better place. You severely disrespected your audience with this fiction piece.  You and Audrey and your colleagues could chose an honest career in journalism.

19 comments

  1. Profile photo of ellmer - http://yook3.com
    ellmer - http://yook3.com 6:10 pm

    I suppose running a background check on Joachim Gaertner would have avoided that – as German native speaker i could have supported the Seasteading cause with digging up German written background on the guy (next time just contact me)

    Now that i have done this check the short version of my impression is: “This kind of stuff is what he does for a living…”

    On the other hand in South America people say it is important that media talks about you – bad or good – it’s just the same.

    The more controversy the better for the Seasteading movement – the people who matter for our movement are not really following “yellow press” for orientation about what to think about Seasteading so the damage “Gaertners” can do is minimum.

    Keep up the good stuff – media presence of any kind is what we need in this discussion warm up phase.

  2. spark 1:16 pm

    I wrote it before, and it was deleted, but the only thing I can say is: this kind of thing is explained in the move “Thank You for Smoking” Any news is good news. The news is there is opposition. The best news is that the oppositions is afraid of the success of Seasteading. -))) Even they think it can succeed. Good news.

  3. Neike Taika-Tessaro 2:59 am

    “But in fact, it came as a surprise and a great disappointment when I watched the interview Audrey did with you and Randy … you are not able to answer the most basic questions.”

    I get the impression Joachim doesn’t understand that the focus the Seasteading Institute has is on the technology and the political potential, not on any one, singular political result. The purpose of your efforts is for variety to emerge. That very premise *demands* that you can’t “answer the most basic questions” – you can’t say what laws on seasteads will be like, you can’t say who will be attracted to which seastead, you can’t say how much the whole thing will cost in a few decades from now.

    That he’s *disappointed* by this shows that he hasn’t understood anything about seasteading at all.

    What I’m most upset about is that (judging by the Q&A) they apparently expressly *had* the information that The Seasteading Institute has a varied community where not everyone is super-rich, and they decided to ignore that entirely by pretending that the only people into seasteading are CEOs of Silicon Valley companies. As much as I’m sure we’d all like to be that successful, the truth is quite different.

    I think I’ll translate my conversation with TTT for you guys.

    I’ve got to agree with the other commenters so far, though – the movement is getting press. Even if it’s bad press, at least things are advancing to the point where others are taking notice.

    Thank you for everything you do. :)

  4. Joerg 6:33 am

    Two comments:

    (1)
    The example of that editor (J. Gaertner) shows, how hard it is to convey concepts that go beyond those of static nations and traditional governments.

    Whilst there might well be an inherent tendency to consciously scandalize matters on TV, I think, at the heart of the problem it’s an issue of intellectual restriction. It’s just one level of meta too high for the editor to grasp.

    A classic tragedy of intelligent people underestimating the stupidity of other people. (That said: I am all for expecting any person to be reasonably intelligent. Hence, that’s such a tragedy.)

    In this particular case, the non-understanding is amplified by Mr. Gaertner’s ignorance and self-righteousness.

    And yes, you are very right in what you replied about threats to democracy. It’s is dangerous, when stupid people act as teachers.
    The world’s at loss, when stupidity coincides with stubbornness.

    (2)
    I guess I can – to a certain degree – comprehend, how he initially misled himself into thinking of totalitarianism, when speaking about startup-like government.
    Even how they overlooked the fact, that empowering people to install any kind of governmental system, means this includes the possibility of installing a democracy, is something I can reconstruct, seeing the progression of the given communication.
    (Yet this is certainly both poor, reactionary (non-)thinking, and thus bad journalism.)

    However, I have a really hard time trying to reenact why they concluded, that people outside of seasteads would have to pay with money, freedom and dignity.

  5. Wilfried Ellmer 6:54 am

    Neike, i think your comment is based on the flawed idea that “yellowpress” can made “informed press” by just “explaining it right” – Randy has a exceptional refined way to explain things about seasteading, but not everybody wants to hear the truth about it because “murder stories” fit their business better, so they get one. Maybe we should stop talking about politics in first place and change things by developing technology.

  6. shreddy 7:26 am

    By making his response this long, Joe Quirk does a disservice to his own goals. Joe, please don’t validate quacks by taking them too seriously. I realize the only media we can get is like Faux News and people like this German nutcase. Take the publicity and RUN with it! A much shorter response that concisely rejects the psychotic imaginings of people like Joachim Gaertner is you should provide. Cut your response to 1/3.

  7. Markus Roecker 7:35 am

    Seasteading meets statist television (they are forcing people to pay almost 20€ a month regardless of wheter you even a tv).

    As a german I can only apologize. Next time if ARD or ZDF shows up demand the final version before giving clearance to air it. I can translate it and tell you if it’s ok.

  8. Immanuel 8:00 am

    “If seasteaders follow the examples of defenseless island nations like Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands, Singapore, and Trinidad and Tobago, they will provide value for larger nations.”

    Singapore spends 20% of their budget on military. Not exactly defenseless. Fact-check next time please.

    reference:
    “Singapore spends 20% of its government budget on its military, making any war improbable and, even if one happened, likely to be short-lived.”
    http://qz.com/208243/near-and-far-small-countries-are-worrying-over-russias-and-chinas-territorial-grabs/#/

  9. Zoltan Istvan 8:47 am

    Here’s much better recent press on seasteading. This went out through The Huffington Post, Yahoo News!, Real Clear Technology, and was found in hundreds of other sites including Salon and Inagist. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zoltan-istvan/transhumanism-and-libertarianism_b_5248966.html?utm_hp_ref=politics&ir=Politics

  10. Profile photo of Elwar
    Elwar 8:45 pm

    I would not be surprised if the idea of democracy for the producer is that of a central, well armed, entity forcing the minority to abide by the will of the majority.

    For such a definition I would say that seasteading does threaten democracy and it should.

    Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner.

    Seasteading is two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner and the sheep deciding to leave the 2 wolf 1 sheep seastead and go live on the 2 sheep seastead.

  11. Profile photo of
    KatOnTri 12:45 pm

    Elwar said : “I would not be surprised if the idea of democracy for the producer is that of a central, well armed, entity forcing the minority to abide by the will of the majority.”

    But the capitalist republic of the usa has that, and i expect all nations will. There’s just too little common sense, too much cutting-of-corners, too much self-centeredness, and too much outright fraud.

    The problem is when the majority is wrong, or the courts are corrupt, or the people cannot relocate, and i hope living on the ocean where no one owns my home or the water it floats on, or has eminent domain, will solve all that.

  12. Profile photo of ellmer - http://yook3.com
    ellmer - http://yook3.com 3:23 pm

    The core benefit of seasteading is that EVERYBODY can have his own Interference free space and move away or closer to anybody else as he pleases – “non consented interference” is no longer a problem.
    http://concretesubmarine.activeboard.com/t56351996/business-and-third-party-interference-freedom/

  13. Profile photo of
    KatOnTri 4:22 pm

    So you build a massive floating city, there’s no police, and some jerk moves in and every day he tosses smoke bombs into people’s homes. Rather than pay him extortion money to stop it, everyone just goes away to some other city, leaving him all alone on that city? That’s very nice of you.

  14. Profile photo of Elwar
    Elwar 8:49 pm

    “So you build a massive floating city, there’s no police”

    Which massive floating city will have no police?

  15. Profile photo of
    KatOnTri 9:03 pm

    Elwar, you seemed to be against a armed police dept enforcing the majority rule, and Ellmer said “The core benefit of seasteading is that EVERYBODY can have his own Interference free space and move away or closer to anybody else as he pleases – ‘non consented interference’ is no longer a problem.” so i expect he is also against enforcing rules for peaceful cohabitation. This will be real interesting when the Fonseca platform is boarded by someone who drives off everyone else so he can have the whole platform to himself. Ellmer is very outspoken in favor of these massive floating cities that everyone is free to leave, when hoodlums tell them to.

  16. Sevarin 12:52 am

    Do they misquote and misinterpret? Yes, sure.

    Do they have a point with Seasteading being “an attempt to escape the responsibilities of living in a democracy”? Absolutely.

    I’m pretty sure they could have found enough arguments for critical coverage without misrepresenting the interview, though.

  17. Profile photo of ellmer - http://yook3.com
    ellmer - http://yook3.com 6:34 am

    Kat, seasteading is not about choosing a specific model of anything – it is about creating interference free space for everybody who is suffering from undue unconsented exagerated interference and create a space where “out of the box” ideas, livestyles, business startups, forms of living together, and working together, can prosper, based on the free will and agreement of the inhabitants.

    For me the “one person solitary eremit seastead” (a sphere of 6m diameter in mid ocean) is as good as stadion sized stem cell research facility with hundreds of researchers.

  18. Julian 8:31 am

    Well that’s what happens if you talk to a statist TV station in Germany. One of the most brainwashed countries on earth. Germans are hating on technology, are xenophobic and despise everything that is against “the common good”. Very communist place. You don’t need mainstream media to succeed. They are going to die anyway. The internet is waking people up, millions day by day.

    Greetings from communist Germany

    Cheers

  19. peter grimley 3:00 am

    Congratulations Seasteading Institute, you’ve officially lost your own plot. You’ve remained true to the ‘Sea’ but what about the “Steading”?
    Look up homesteading on Wikipedia. The key concept there is self-sufficiency.
    SELF-SUFFICIENCY.
    You want a city!
    Homesteaders wanted to be independent.
    Governments -of any stamp- are about sharing, allocating and defending shared resources.
    Independent homesteaders didn’t have to share resources, THEY WERE INDEPENDENT.
    We finally have the technology to be truly independent as individual households. Solar panels, wind turbines, wave pumps and above all, hydroponics, mean individual households can be self sufficient; capable of surviving alone.
    Lift your imagination out of the 20th century, sea(not)steading institute.
    Imagine a modular housing unit, TOTALLY SELF-SUFFICIENT.
    Each individual unit capable of producing its own power and food.
    Each individual unit self propelled. Don’t like your neighbours? Detach and move on.
    Each unit fractal; capable of joining to one unit or a thousand, -or being capable of surviving alone.
    New forms of Government?
    Why have any government.
    PIRASS-SEASTEAD.NET
    Practical. Independent. Realistic. Affordable. Self-Sufficient SeaSteading.
    Every journey starts with just one step.
    Every city begins with just one home.
    You’re worrying about politics when you should be worried about eating.

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