September 21, 2009

Conference Schedule, Ground Rules, The Market For Ideas, and Reality

TSI must regretfully announce that Professor Romer has decided to withdraw from his speaking engagement at [our upcoming conference]( His reasons were related to the content of another speaker’s blog (Mencius Moldbug). We do not yet clearly understand his objections, and we do not want to misrepresent Professor Romer, so we can’t be any more specific at this time.

Regardless of Romer’s reasons, his withdrawal triggered an active internal debate around exactly what ideas and people TSI is or isn’t willing to affiliate with. We reviewed Moldbug’s blog, and after much discussion concluded that while Moldbug’s ideas are interesting and worthwhile, his recent content contains many gratuitous personal attacks. We reached consensus as an organization that we do not wish to support such discourse, and so we wrote Mencius the following:

> _Dear Mr. Moldbug,_

> _The Seasteading Institute appreciates controversial ideas, including many of yours. We also value rigorous debate. But we do not wish to be associated with personal denunciations against people of good will. Your recent post, “From Cromer to Romer and back again,” crossed that line._

> _In the spirit of a constructive exchange of ideas, we encourage you to post a retraction and apology to Professor Romer. Until you do so, we are disappointed to inform you that your invitation to speak at our conference is withdrawn. We apologize for the late notice._

> _p.s. We would like to clarify that this action is being taken by TSI on its own initiative, not at the request of any other party. Professor Romer has unilaterally and irreversibly withdrawn from speaking at our conference, and this triggered a re-examination of our policies and your invitation. He made no requests, express or implied, about this decision._

I find it intriguing to note how these issues tie into the ideas of seasteading. Part of the idea of seasteading is to provide a framework within which ideas about how to best organize a society, even controversial ones, can compete on their merits and with consensual participation. However, even such a general, competitive framework as the market for governance needs ground rules about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Seasteads whose residents [are not permitted to leave](, or (more topically) which attack each other, are violating the basic rules of good-spirited competition.

These principles apply to ideas as well as to nations. TSI believes that an open exchange of ideas, rigorously debated without personal slurs, is the best way to allow ideas to compete. These are the standards which apply to our events, and while we have no problem providing a forum for Mencius’ ideas, the personal nature of his attacks is unacceptable to us, so he will not be speaking at our conference.

There are so few political theorists on competitive government that we must admit to some sadness at such a conflict manifesting so early. However, we think that in practice, these disagreements are ultimately unimportant to the fate of our movements. We are not here merely to debate ideas, but to act in an attempt to change the world. Regardless of the intellectual interaction between these competing ideas of how best to form and advocate for better societies, in the end their success can only be decided by the ultimate arbiter: reality.