Ep 18 Transcript: Ethos Island

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Carly Jackson: Hello seasteaders! Today, I’m happy to introduce two founders of Ethos Island, Will Otey and Jan Spiekermann. Will has been a Seasteading Institute Ambassador for California for a year and a half. He is the author of The Micronation Revolution. Jan has been a Seasteading Institute Ambassador for Germany for over a year and currently studies law in Hamburg. Ethos Island was founded in 2021 with the goal of placing an ocean-going city-state in international waters. Welcome Will and Jan.

William Otey: Hey, Carly. Thanks for having us. 

Jan Spiekermann: Hello. Thank you.

Carly Jackson: Thanks for joining me. So first I’d like to get started and just hear from each of you, how you learned about seasteading and The Seasteading Institute.

William Otey: You want me to go first, Carly? 

Carly Jackson: Whoever would like to go first. 

William Otey: Okay. Yeah. Seasteading. So. I, just briefly, I had already been onto the concept of creating new countries for many reasons. Ultimately, it’s to help transform the way that governance works in the world. And so, I had been thinking about a bunch of different things that could be done.

I’m looking at governance in the United States and in the world. And I’m thinking, this is pretty much of a disaster. I went through a bunch of different ideas about what could be done. And I ended up coming to the conclusion that the only way to really change things is to have completely new nations to just essentially start over.

And so I started thinking in that direction. And I started writing and some of that writing got to people at the Carl Hess Club, which is, it’s a libertarian or classical liberal dinner club in Los Angeles. And one of the people there read an essay that I wrote and they asked me to do a presentation. So I’m doing all this thinking and writing.

And I did my first presentation at the Carl Hess Club, and I think it was at my second presentation. They asked me back. And at that point, somebody in the audience said, have you heard of seasteading? And there’s a recording of this, but I said something like, I believe I might have heard about it. I wrote it down.

I went back, I looked it up, and I went bingo. There’s other people who are onto the same thing that I am. And in fact, many ways they’ve probably gone much further. And so I contacted The Seasteading Institute. This is back in, when I first contacted The Seasteading Institute, it was probably back in 2012. So I contacted The Seasteading Institute and ended up meeting Charlie Deist who worked there at the time and him and I became very friendly and started corresponding. So that’s the way that I found out about seasteading myself. 

Carly Jackson: Very cool. And Jan, how did you hear about it?

Jan Spiekermann: Yeah. In some ways it’s similar from, I would even say childhood on, I wanted to change something for better in society. I got involved with local politics, but there was no group or party where I could really say, yeah, I think they’re really gonna change something for better. It came that I got involved in the micronational community. It’s really a big community all over the world of many micronational projects or projects to establish small new nations from projects, with thousands of members and already real physical territories, local currencies, but also small projects.

And it came that I also got in touch with the Republic of Molossia. It’s a micronation in Dayton, Nevada, and the President of this micronation is befriended with the chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party. So I learned about the United States Transhumanist Party, and I realized that I share a lot of their ideas and values.

So I became involved with U.S. Transhumanist Party and, yeah, I surprisingly noticed that they support the idea of micronation and seasteading in that program. At that time, I didn’t know what seasteading really was, but then I wanted to find out more about it. So I of course discovered a Seasteading Institute and I was really, and I am, enthusiastic about the concept.

So I became an Ambassador for Seasteading Institute and, yeah, here I am.

Carly Jackson: I wanted to ask you about that. For folks who don’t know, can you give a short description of what transhumanism is? 

Jan Spiekermann: Yeah. The transhumanism is the idea that the quality, as well as the quantity, the length of life can be expanded through science and technology.

And there are many different factions in seasteading. United States Transhumanist Party is a libertarian transhumanist party. Yeah, I think basically that’s, it’s the idea to let us all live longer and to healthier improve our possibilities in life, through science and technology. 

Carly Jackson: And so how do you see that overlapping with seasteading?  I know that because I look at our social media, sometimes there’s folks from transhumanism commenting. And so I know that there’s some overlap, but I’m just curious if you had an observation of what that overlap is between seasteading and transhumanism, you know, how are our goals aligned?

Jan Spiekermann: Well, the U.S. Transhumanist Party is very much open towards seasteading and micronation and. I think this innovative search for new technologies for better ways for humanity to live together. I think that’s really overlapping this innovative way of facing the problems humanities have and this courage to look for new opportunities. 

And also on the personal level there’s connections, like you mentioned, for example, the founder of the U.S. Transhumanist Party is also an Ambassador of The Seasteading Institute. And yeah, there’s also a scientist who’s supported in his research on longevity. It’s a Dr. Aubrey de Grey who is supported by Peter Tiel. I know in the moment, Mr. Tiel is not involved in seasteading, but he was for many years.

So that’s also something, both communities sharing with each.

Carly Jackson: Yeah, that’s interesting. And so, Will, you wrote a book, The Micronation Revolution. So can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration to write that book?

William Otey: My inspiration, as I said earlier, I was looking around at the world and the United States government, and what’s happened in the United States government.

And I came to the conclusion that there was no way to truly reform the U.S. government. I had been in the Libertarian Party for a long time. And I finally came to this moment where it became clear to me that there was absolutely no possibility that the United States government was going to be taken back to the Constitutional Republic that the founders gave us that would entail convincing Democrats and Republicans, uh, to do a lot of things that, in my opinion, they’re absolutely never going to.

And so I started looking in other directions. And again, as I said earlier, after considering all these different possibilities, I recognized that the only way to truly achieve, like, a classical liberal libertarian nation would be to completely start over. There was just absolutely no other way. So once I understood that, I also came to the realization that if this was to happen, if people were to start completely new nations, that there would likely be a proliferation of those countries.

And then something else would happen, which is you would have a completely new environment where an evolution of governance could take place for one thing and where people could have any form of governance that they desire. So all of a sudden my search to just find an answer to what happened in the United States, in seeking to once again, have something close to what was originally founded in the United States, or maybe something even better. That search turned into an understanding that this can be taken much further.

And so that was the basis. And I started. I just started writing and I had to make a decision as to whether to talk about the United States or not. And I ended up deciding that I did have to talk about the United States because the United States has been the beacon of liberty and self-governance for a very long time and it just simply is not anymore. 

So to me, I’ve had to deal with that reality that because if you cannot truly reform the United States, to me, it says that you have to do something else. And what that’s something else is seasteading micronations. And ultimately what I call the micronation revolution, which is not just one or two or several new and independent new nations, but an environment where people can have any form of governance that they want. And an evolution of governance can take place.

Carly Jackson: Sure. And you both became Ambassadors and you’ve both used the word micronations as one of your interests before you were involved with seasteading. So you met on an Ambassador call, which is great because this is exactly our goal with the Ambassador program is to help people meet each other so they can collaborate on seasteading projects.

But how did you to proceed from there? So you met each other on an Ambassador call and then what happened next in starting Ethos Island? 

Jan Spiekermann: Yeah, it was that we started some philosophical calls and we were just exchanging ideas. For example, when we met it was that back then, I came up with an idea for a seasteading project and the Pacific ocean and the territorial waters of the Pitcairn Island.

And this idea was also, I remember, discussed in an Ambassador call. In the end, it was not realized, but that for me was the moment where I thought, I want to start a seasteading project. So Will and I just came together and collected ideas. What we could do. And this was how Ethos Island was born. For example, many ideas from this book, The Micronation Revolution, played an important role in this creation process of our seasteading project.

Carly Jackson: Right. So I noticed on your website, you had a few things listed that was missing from the seasteading movement. So I’d like to hear more about that. So the things listed were: you wanted to see a well planned endeavor, you didn’t think working with an existing government is the right approach, and that it must be affordable.

So can you tell me a bit more about why those are some of the foundational concepts around Ethos Island?

William Otey: Yeah, I’ll take that. As far as when Jan and I met, both of us recognized that there are these existing problems. One of them is that for me, I wasn’t seeing any projects out there that I felt would actually get people onto a seastead.

So this is an enormous problem. And so that was one of the issues. And from the very beginning, I always felt that going to existing governments would be a big mistake for a variety of reasons. And I hate to be so blunt, but, I just, every government on earth that I’m aware of is, it’s one form or another of a sort of racket or organized crime syndicate.

And that’s an unfortunate reality. But so to me, going to an existing government, it would be something that I would not want to do. And the third thing that you asked was what?

Carly Jackson: It must be affordable. 

William Otey: Affordable. Yes. So that’s the other big problem? It seems like this is one of the stumbling blocks for seasteading is, obviously it’s going to be extraordinarily expensive to do this.

And again, I was looking out at different projects and ideas and I’m listening to different people and this problem of affordability is. And in my book, I had considered this problem and I thought about it for a long time. And the idea that I came up with is essentially this. I realized that in the United States, and I’m sure most places in the world, you have a system where condominium structures are built and sometimes very large condominium structures. A ski resort as an example.

And I knew about this. And so I keyed in on that and I recognized that this would be a for people to be able to afford, to get onto a seastead, uh, without having to go to an existing government or having to go to extraordinarily wealthy people. The way that condominium structures are often built is a private contractor comes along, they have a plan, and they let it be known that they’re going to be building a condominium structure as an example, at a ski resort. And, uh, people come together. What they do is they invest their money. And all of a sudden this private contractor now has 500 people and they have the money to build the structure.

So that was the essence of the idea. And to me, this solves that problem of having to go to extraordinarily wealthy people or to go to existing government.

Carly Jackson: Yeah. Very interesting. So like a more dispersed way of getting funding for that.

William Otey: Yeah! And it only makes sense to use something like that. And I had not seen that concept before.

So when we got together and created the 10 year, three stage plan for Ethos Island, I simply reached back into my book and brought that forward. So not only do we have, I think, a reasonable and achievable way to get to a seastead, we have a way to pay for it. 

Carly Jackson: Sure. Now, do you have a goal for the cost of purchasing a floating condo? What would your goal cost be?

Jan Spiekermann: Well, the final costs, we’re working on that, but we are still in the phases where we are looking for technological solutions. And this will in the end, decide how much money or everything will cost. For example, an idea could be collaborating with Ocean Builders, as their seasteading solution seems to be very affordable as their SeaPod won’t cost more than an average U.S. one family house.

And I think that could really be a good financial solution. Some kind of colony of SeaPods and EcoPods with maybe a floating island, for example. An abandoned restored oil rig or a cruise ship as a provisional basis for community areas for businesses. But we are still working on that and we are very much open towards any engineer or architect who wants to join us and to help us on working out the technical solutions so we can start with the concrete, financial planning.

Carly Jackson: I was just gonna say, I think the other guests of our podcast this season might have some solutions for you, too. And it’s not like you’d have to pick one and not pick the others.

You can use a SeaPod and you can use an Arktide structure and they’re able to all be in the same community if that’s what the members of your community want. So that’s a benefit. Of seasteading, right. You get to pick and choose so much more than in a traditional community. Were you gonna ask me something, William?

William Otey: Yeah. I just wanted to add to what Jan said and I’d like to address your question. So you’re asking, like, what would the final cost be. And I guess what I would like to say, it is that this method or this approach that we wanna take towards paying for a seastead, it really comes down to how much does it cost to get a seastead that houses approximately, just as an example, 200 people.

How much is that? And of course at the beginning, it’s gonna be a lot more, but our basic method takes into consideration that it allows for that cost to be within reason, almost anything. Let’s say it’s $50 million and you have 200 people who are gonna be making an investment. Obviously the first people are going to have to be a bit on the wealthier side.

But you’re still dispersing the money in the same way. It’s still achievable. The cost is being broken up into at least 200 different parts. So it’s really the essential concept I think that is the most important thing, which is that people collectively put in money for this and they end up owning a structure.

And of course condominium structures that are built in this manner, all of the particulars about how it’s going to be maintained, what your rights are, what your ownership, what does that exactly mean, how do you sell it. All those things are worked out in advance, and I think that’s really the beauty of using this.

We’ll just call it a condominium concept. That’s the beauty of it. Again, at first, you might need people who have a bit more money, but the cost of course are gonna go down. And as that seastead expands, and this is one of the beauties of a seastead structures, that it can expand. It’s going to get less expensive for the people who come in. Really it’s that essential concept of being able to break the cost up in a way that a lot of people can make a relatively modest investment and be part of a larger community.

So it may be very expensive at first, but of course over time, those expenses will be driven down.

Carly Jackson: Sure. So I would like to get into more detail about your three stage structure and we can expand on that if needed. So the first stage is the online community and you have listed three to five years for building this online community. So tell us a bit about that, how you’re building the community and what it means to be part of the online community at this stage. 

Jan Spiekermann: We put out that, that most people came in when, whenever we reach out to other organizations to other projects to individuals and yeah, of course we have our website. We are building social media strategy.

For example, we already have a, a good Twitter account. We have a volunteer from Egypt who is very much helping us with this social media strategy. The basic strategy is reaching out to as many people as possible, getting volunteers, committed members, and to first building a community because we can have the best plan if we don’t have members, it’s worthless.

So yeah, we’re now in this stage. And, uh, yeah, that’s basically, I think for any seasteading project for any micronational project. This very first stage of bringing together as many people as possible. That’s essential.

Carly Jackson: And so what is the goal for this stage? One? What would you like to have accomplished with your online community before moving on to stage two?

William Otey: Really, I would say, we want to get as many members as possible. And so, in doing that, we’re getting the word out and raising consciousness. You could even look at it that way, but the way that the world works at the present time, membership is currency. So I look at it like the more members we have, the better it’s going to be, because some of those people will end up at stage two, which is a marina community, a boat harbor community.

In other words, if you have 50,000 members. Not every one of those people is going to end up at stage two. And so the more members that we have as part of this organization, the greater likelihood that we will get to stage two and be able to do it in a successful way.

Carly Jackson: Yeah, so let’s talk about stage two. So on the website, it says the plan is to have a harbor located in Florida. And so what are the goals for stage two?

William Otey: Yeah. So the goals of stage two are to get a community that is essentially going to be part of stage three. The whole idea is going in stages. Even the psychological idea of this endeavor that we’ve undertaken. Before we came up with this three stage method, what I was seeing is the idea that you simply go from the life that you know, now onto a seastead and I just thought, this is an enormous endeavor that we’re taking on here. And the psychology of it just alone is of going from the life that you know, now onto a seastead, it’s too far of a leap. 

So the idea is that, again, go in phases and phase two, being a coastal boat harbor community, where people can go and get acclimated towards ocean life. And you can build the kind of community that you need. Having these phases, part of the beauty of it is that you’re allowing time for people to come together and figure out exactly what needs to be done for the next phase.

So you’re allowing the necessary time for all of these things to develop, instead of simply going from, like, this is my life and I’m moving on to a seastead. When we started this, people started asking about the ten-year, three stage plan. What I would say is if you want to get somebody to the moon, you don’t just hop in a rocket blast off, go to the moon, land, blast off again, come back to earth, and land. It goes in stages. 

So we’re talking about altering the way that people live, altering the way that people have, have formed their societies. And that’s an enormous endeavor, especially at the beginning. And so that’s one of the main reasons for the phases. It allows time for us to bring together the right people, to solve problems, etcetera, to create a sense of community and so forth.

And so it’s not all just, let’s fly out to the seastead and live happily ever. After you go in phases, it evolves, it develops.

Carly Jackson: Yeah. I think that’s really important to get to know and build relationships with the people that you wanna go live with, especially. And figuring out how to resolve any conflicts. I worked, I was part of an activist group and in a leadership position.

And even among people who have a very, like, particular set of values, we were a libertarian activist group. It’s very particular. And yet still there’s, there can be disagreement or there can be personality clashes. So navigating to work through those so that you can build a cohesive community. That’s, I think that’s really important.

So it’s good to have a stage where you’re focused on that. And then I think that’s a really interesting point about just the psychological effect of moving from a house on land, to a house on the water. Not only is it the physical difference of being on the water, having to be very conscientious about your maintenance, right?It’s a whole new industry, you can’t just call the top three seastead repairmen in your area. That’s all stuff that we’re gonna have to figure out. 

And so there’s that aspect of it, but then the aspect of being in a community where you get to help write the rules, right. It’s not like you don’t have a hundred years of law and precedent to tell you what to do and how to do it. That’s the exciting thing, but it will also be a challenge. So I think that’s a really good thing to think about as we try to move out on the ocean.

William Otey: And I would like to add to that as an example, when we get to the boat harbor community or stage two, and we’re acclimating, and we’re creating cohesion within that group, let’s say it’s 250 people at this boat harbor community. Now you can prepare to go to stage three, which is the seastead, there’s a lot to prepare for. But one of the key things is we’re gonna have some form of governance. For us, it’s going to be privatized governance, but there has to be some kind of compact or constitution, some legal agreements, personal, citizen, legal agreements, with a compact.

Now, you’ve got the time. Now you’re in a community with people you’ve already gone from stage one to stage two. And so you’ve got the time and you’re together as a, hopefully a cohesive unit and people, you’ve got all this input. Now people can figure out what they’re going to do in terms of what is their final governance.

But I can tell you this, one of the absolute keys to what we’re doing, one of the most essential Ethos Island concepts is that we want to have a society that’s based upon natural law, that the non-initiation of force principle, and complete privatization of all governance. So we’ve got these basic principles. I can say this. I plan on being a part of this. I would not be a part of it if you don’t have those three basic elements.

Carly Jackson: Yeah, I wanted to make sure that we flesh that out a bit. So natural law. Tell us what that means.

William Otey: Yeah. I mean, natural laws, really what the United States was supposed to be based upon. The concept of natural law goes back far in history. But essentially it boils down to the, a concept that you have inviable, inalienable rights that are not given to you by anybody. You could look at it as, they’re natural or they’re given by The Creator, any way that you want, but those rights are inviable and that you own your own person. So, as an example, natural law in the American system was exactly that. And the Bill of Rights is a monument to that very concept.

It means that you have rights that cannot be transcended under any circumstances. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Along with that, and I think one of the things that the founders didn’t necessarily do it, they didn’t codify it in the original documentation is, one of the other essential aspects that we will not give up under any circumstances, which is the non-aggression principle.

And it means that you own your own body and you’re free to do whatever you want, as long as you’re not harming another person. So your life is your own, as long as you are not directly harming another human being. And so this is another one of the essential elements that we have to have. There’s really three. So I look at ’em as sort of the pillars of our, you could say guiding principle. And the third being complete privatization of governance.

Carly Jackson: Yeah. So privatized civic functions is what I read on your website. And so that means that if you want your trash picked up, you pay for that service. What else do you envision in as part of those privatized civic functions?

William Otey: All the government services, the civic services would be provided by private contractors.

Those private contractors would be responsible to the citizens. It would be laid bare, made transparent. Every scrap of money spent by a private contractor would be available to the citizens. Everything that they do. And a lot of people might say, well, that’s crazy. I mean, but here’s the thing. It already exists in Sandy Springs, Georgia, and it has for a very long time.

You can just do searches and you will find essays and synopsis of how governance works in Sandy Springs, Georgia. This is exactly what they’ve done, including the judiciary. As an example, if you have some judge that ends up transcending the rights of a person, then the natural rights of a person, the private contractor who runs the judiciary is gonna be responsible for that.

And that private contractor is gonna be held to account. If that private contractor doesn’t make good on what they’re supposed to do, what we’ve contracted them to do, clearly and clearly stated what they should do, we just get rid of the private contractor. Again, um, if this sounds too far-fetched, it already exists in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

Carly Jackson: Sure. Anything you’d like to add, Jan?

Jan Spiekermann: Regarding the privatization, I think there are also other existing examples where aspects of public life, which were before organized for decades, or even hundreds of years, by the state, were privatized and now it’s normal. For example, the train network in Germany, this was state-owned for a very long time.

And then it was privatized. It’s still mostly run by a company which is mostly state-owned, but it is a private company or the telecommunication today. We have so many companies in that field of telecommunication. There are so many possibilities for customers to look for a contract which really fits with their needs.

And if we go back 30 years or a little more, there would be no choice for the customers. There would be one state-owned entity which offers the telecommunication service and one option for contract and that’s it. And today customers have many options to really choose what’s good for them. 

So I think there’s so much possible when we try it out and even in these fields like telecommunication, some decades ago, people could have never imagined that it would be possible to privatize this. They would’ve said it’s impossible, it’s technically impossible, and it will be bad for the customers. But the opposite. How many things are getting more and more expensive, but in the telecommunication sector, I noticed that the last years, many things got cheaper due to the many options.

Carly Jackson: I think it’s important to point out those examples of how this movement of seasteading, we’re just building on what has come before, right? Yes, I like to say it’s a brand new industry, but also it’s building on what has come before.

We’re not starting from scratch. We wanna take the wisdom from the past and grow into the future. And so I would like to hear those examples, like Sandy Springs and that privatization of telecommunications lowering cost, improving accessibility. Like all of that is great to just constantly remind ourselves and remind people that this is why we support these ideas.

We’ve seen that it has a good effect on society. I’d like to wrap up a little bit, tell our audience where they can learn more about Ethos Island and become a member if they’re interested.

William Otey: Yeah, our website is ethosisland.co. So it’s ethosisland.co. And that’s the primary place. And I just wanna say that this organization really just launched. 

Right now we have, I think we’re getting very close to 300 members, but we just started. And so the place you want to go at this time would be our website. That would be the best place. And you can also contact Jan or I, if you have queries of any kind. There’s a lot of information on there. 

And there’s also a video series. There’s part one of a video series that is just three short, uh, videos. And it’s called The Micronation Revolution Series. And those are all very short and they’re less than two minutes each. And it gives a fundamental understanding what this is about and where we think it’s going and where we want to take this.

Carly Jackson: Very cool. And do you have a Twitter account or you’re still in the process of setting that up?

Jan Spiekermann: Yes. We already have a Twitter account. Yeah. 

Carly Jackson: What’s the name of it? 

Jan Spiekermann: @EthosIsland.

Carly Jackson: Great. We’ll be sure to link to those, the website and the Twitter and any other social media in our show notes page. If people wanna find those. And Ethos Island is E T H O S, Island, I S L A N D. So anything, any final remarks you’d like to make before we say goodbye today?

William Otey: Thank you very much for having us, Carly. It’s just great to be able to talk to you about this and to get the message out. And it costs nothing to join Ethos Island, our organization. And, uh, we’d be very happy for people to go onto our website, check out the website, become members if that’s what you would wish to do at this particular time.

And I just wanna say, thanks a lot once again for having us on and a very enjoyable talk. Thanks. Thanks a lot. 

Carly Jackson: Thank you.

Jan Spiekermann: Also, thank you so much for having us here. Yeah. What I notice is that sea study is more moving forward. As it’s already mentioned in some mainstream media. I see that it’s more the technical aspect on which mainstream media is focusing.

For example, there’s project starting now in South Korea where they build small new city directly in front of the coast, but of course that will be under the jurisdiction of South Korea, but this aspect of seasteading as a solution for the rising sea level, that’s absolutely going into the mainstream and it’s more and more accepted.

Yeah, but I would say to all those who might think that this idea of creating seasteading micronation is unrealistic, that we just have to look in the second half of the last century. And now we have Sealand, which is existing for over half a century directly in face of Great Britain. And they are de facto independent.

Although no nation really recognizes it, they are independent. They are not under the jurisdiction of the UK, but they accept it. So this model shows that it’s possible. And yeah, I think really seasteading is a solution for the future. And I encourage anybody to join us on our journey. We are still building the vision. We are still building the project. So everybody is welcome to join and to bring in his or her ideas. 

Thank you again for having us here.

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