December 14, 2008

Seasteading and Optimism

From Max More’s excellent essay on dynamic optimism:

You may be against many things: crime, war, being overweight, the budget deficit, intolerance, aging. Optimists restate anything they oppose in positive terms. Rather than being against government, be for liberty and responsibility. Rather than being against your company or office manager, be for making improvements. Instead of saying no to drugs, say yes to healthy pleasures.

I am not merely playing a word game here: Your energy goes wherever you focus your attention. When you are against something you will expend your time and energy attacking it, complaining about it, and reacting to it. When you are for an alternative, you focus on changing it, creating alternatives, exciting others about new options, and feeling productive and creative—you will be proactive rather than reactive. Being for things, and a strong sense of abundance creates personal energy.

An optimistic sense of abundance encourages cheerfulness and activity. In a high-energy optimistic state you want to tackle tasks because you expect to enjoy the activity and expect to make progress at it. This creates a self-reinforcing cycle: Optimism breeds increased enthusiasm; this leads to effort and progress which validates optimism and generates more of it. The virtuous circle of optimism replaces the vicious circle of pessimism.

Like many people who are dissatisfied with existing political systems, I often get sucked into complaining about the world as it is.  Less so since coming up with the alternative of seasteading, but still more than I’d like.  I completely agree with the quote above about the problems with this worldview.

The world is how it is.  There is nothing we can do to alter it in the present moment.  What we can do is to see the problems of the current world as opportunities for the future.  Rather than being against monopolistic government, be for competitive government.  Rather than being against current social systems, be for experimenting with new social systems.  Rather than being for an escape from what is, be for imagining and building what can be.

One of my core beliefs is the power of technology to positively transform the human experience.  Seasteading can be thought of as this idea applied to politics and human social organization.  Movements based on technology, like futurism, extropianism, and transhumanism, often have a positive, optimistic tone – in part because technological progress is such a huge, positive factor in our lives.  Technology works!  Political movements, on the other hand, especially fringe ones such as libertarianism and market anarchism, can get trapped in a mindset of complaint and pessimism[1].  In part this is because political progress has been so slow, and politics so often has a negative impact on our lives.

Seasteading is a young movement, and our work in these early days will set the tone for the future.  Let’s bring the optimism of technology to the world of politics, and focus on being for seasteading, and not against current governments.  Let’s point out problems in the context of offering solutions.  After all, unlike most political movements, we actually have a solution!  We don’t need the negativity and disempowerment inevitably generated by large-scale democracy, because we know that something better is looming on the horizon.  And we’re going to make it happen.

[1] Look at  Ron Paul, for example.  I agree with much of what he sees, but when talking about his work, he comes across as a bitter old man.  Always voting against things, complaining, and pointing out wrongdoing.  As a principled man in the den of thieves and liars that is Congress, I can certainly understand why he would have that mindset.  But I think he serves the cause of freedom best when he focuses on the possibilities for the future, and how we could live better lives in a world with more freedom and integrity.