A recent article in Slate.com characterized seasteading thus:
Seasteading, a movement to create law-free floating communes based on voluntary association. Led by Milton Friedman’s pajama-wearing grandson, this may be the most elaborate effort ever devised by a group of computer nerds to get invited to an orgy. (Let’s build our own Deepwater Horizon with legal prostitution!)
As this article has generated a lot of traffic here, this seems like a good opportunity to briefly explain what seasteading is about and correct some of these misinterpretations.
To start, the piece is exactly right to say that we wish to create communities based on “voluntary association”. In fact, it is one of our most basic tenets that groups of people should be able to choose to live together under any system of government they agree on. The right to political self-determination through voluntary associations is fundamental – and of course, has an American tradition dating to the Declaration of Independence:
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Since change to an existing government is unlikely to be unanimous, it will generate controversy and perhaps even violence, so seasteading takes an easier route to “institute new Government”. We believe in peacefully starting new countries on the ocean, an unoccupied frontier, so that no one is forced into the new system. Only those strongly attracted to the new society will choose to join. Thus seasteading is based on a deep and inherent respect for differences of political opinion, and a refusal to force any political system on those who do not want it.
The idea that these communities will be “law-free” gets our goals exactly backwards. Any community larger than a single hermit needs rules to govern the interaction of it’s residents, and seasteads are no different. We are so pro-law, in fact, that our core mission is to increase the diversity and quality of legal systems! What we are against is the idea that today’s laws represent the ultimate pinnacle of political perfection and the global political monoculture where new institutions are rarely tried. We instead favor experimentation with a diversity of societies to find better ways of living together.
Our approach recognizes the deep connections between America’s founding principle of federalism, with states competing and experimenting via different policies, and the Silicon Valley culture of technological innovation through decentralized experiments. Federalism no longer works in 21st century America for a variety of reasons: the weight of power has shifted to the central government, states are too large to agree on truly innovative experiments, there is no more frontier for new states to form, and now that the country is stable and mature, most citizens don’t want to try a radically new form of government.
So our goal is to make the ocean a startup sector for government, where most new attempts will fail but those few that succeed will advance the state of human civilization. The idea is much grander than any one political system, such as libertarianism – we wish to enable numerous entrepreneurs to produce numerous new startup countries, testing numerous theories of government. Our goal is nothing short of a Cambrian explosion in government that will discover the political equivalent of Google and the iPhone – new ideas that will fundamentally improve our lives.
If American democracy is truly the best form of government possible today, then these startups will fail to unseat the current market leader. If it is not the best, then Americans, and the whole world, will benefit from seeing – and copying – new ways of governing. Perhaps the winner will be libertarianism, perhaps it will be communism, more likely it will be some new political system as yet undreamt of. As with any grand experiment, we cannot know in advance what the answer of all our trials and errors will be. That’s why the experiment needs doing. But we can know that by trying many more sets of rules than we have today, by enabling political theories to be evaluated by real world testing instead of endless arguments, we will dramatically advance our knowledge about how people can best live together.
To characterize our audacious effort to better humanity as being motivated by prostitutes and orgies is a juvenile lowering of the debate to the level of ad hominem mudslinging. Unfortunately, this is all too common in political discourse in many countries today, including America. If Jacob Weisberg wishes to know why some of us are headed to the frontier, why we want to create brand-new political systems with fellow pioneers and social visionaries whose passion is trying new ideas instead of tearing them down, he need look no further than his own article. Or he could just ask Thomas Jefferson.
Interested in learning more? Check out these links: