April 18, 2008

Made To Stick

This morning I took a leadership class that used the principles from Made To Stick, a fascinating book about what I’d call "memetic engineeering". The authors try to figure out what makes some ideas spread so fast, even when they are false (like urban legends), so that those principles can be applied to spread important true ideas.

One of the keys is to tell a story. What’s below is my attempt at an introductory story for seasteading. I don’t think it’s very good, but it’s a different style than I’m used to, so y’all might find it interesting. And maybe it can be improved into something sticky.

It is tough to imagine now, but a few hundred years ago, democracy was a crazy new idea that seemed absurd to most people, who lived under hereditary monarchies. But a few brave pioneers valued political and religious freedom enough to take the incredible (for the time) journey to the New World. Eventually, they founded the United States, with this radical type of government that many thought would be a disaster.

Now, what was once crazy has become the norm, and the rich nations of the world are almost entirely democracies.  Yet it seems unlikely that this is the perfect system, the end of the evolution of government. After all, are you completely satisfied with your government? Sadly, without a frontier, there is currently no place for the next grand experiment to show the world a better way of living.

That’s what we want to change, by opening the Earth’s last frontier, the ocean, for settlement. If we can build new societies on the ocean, we can turn the almost unused 70% of the world’s surface into a vast laboratory for experimentation and innovation in government. Different groups with different visions of an ideal society can go live them instead of arguing about them to try to convince the majority. And the whole world can watch and learn what works and what doesn’t.

There are substantial engineering problems involved, which is why we’ve founded a research institute to study them. But one thing history clearly shows us is that humans are damn good at solving engineering problems. If a new engineering technology can revolutionize politics, maybe there’s real hope for the future.

(thanks to JW for the point that democracy was once considered radical).  Comments welcome.