April 26, 2008

Generic Objection Responses

I’m expanding the FAQ to answer some of the comments made on the Marginal Revolution post, and I decide to start with a couple answers I should have written up long ago, because they are so frequently needed:

Generic Response 1: "Cruise Ships"

It’s really amazing how many of people’s questions and objections are answered by these two simple words.  "Won’t it sink?"  "Where will you get power?"  "Won’t it be really expensive?" "Where will the service staff live?" "What if someone gets sick?"  The fact is that over 10 million people a year already visit a floating city, which provides water, food, power, service staff, and safety from the waves at a cost as low as $60/night, which is less than people in many first-world cities spend on the same amenities (although even in Manhattan, they get a bit more space).

This is not to say that seasteads and cruise ships are the same.  We have a different structural design, which we think will provide many advantages, such as more freedom, more space, and lower cost, at the cost of being much slower-moving and not able to pull into a port.  And our ambition is to achieve substantially more autonomy than a cruise ship, so as to facilitate innovation in political systems.

However, using this existing industry as a starting point eliminates many common worries.  Rather than thinking, in isolation, "is that really possible?", one might imagine starting with a cruise ship and then making a series of design changes that reflect our different goals and use cases.  Unless your objection or worry hinges on one of the necessary differences between seasteads and cruise ships, it will get Generic Response 1.

Generic Response 2: "Fine, you’re welcome to disagree"

While the first response comes at the beginning of an answer, this one comes at the end.  It is important to remember that seasteading is an incremental, bottom-up, doing instead of talking movement.  We don’t need to convince everyone that our ideas are practical – only enough people that we can put them into practice.

Ideas can be debated and talked about forever, but at some point, in order to see if they’re any good, you need to try them out.  Those who find ours plausible and desirable will join us, those who don’t will wait.  If the seastead pioneers succeed in creating an attractive society, that will provide evidence to sway some fence-sitters, who will start their own experiments and provide yet more data to bring more people into the movement.

Given how widely varying people’s political beliefs are, and how much dispute there is even among those with similar beliefs, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever get clean theoretical answers to very many political questions.  A little empirical evidence may be just what we need to cut through these argumentative knots.

So maybe you don’t think seasteading will work out.  But isn’t it at least worth a try?