Why not buy a remote third-world island?

 This question is common enough that it is in our FAQ (although buying land and taking over an entire country are answered together – should fix that).  Adam from the Floatingman Island project, recently said:

The latest idea, and this one seems more solid, is to buy an island. We would _not_ have the freedoms that we would have in declaring our own country.  But the simple matter of being separated from the authorities by a body of water would give us some degree of freedom and autonomy.

I share goals with the seasteaders, but have a differing approach.  I think that they’re shooting too big as a first step.  I’d like to first buy an island.  Then we can have a group of smart, creative, like-minded people sharing ideas, experimenting, and working together in person to create new things.  The island can be a stepping stone to move on to bigger and more ambitious things.

That’s my view.  But maybe the seasteaders can convince me otherwise.  🙂

Sure, let me give it a try.

Lets start with the idea that we all have The Dream of creating places where people can have permanent, free lives.  There are two related areas of difference here.  (1) is where you should work on The Dream.  (2) is the question of what the eventual method for autonomy is.

For (1), I don’t see the advantage of their method.  Adam says the goal is “a group of smart, creative, like-minded people sharing ideas, experimenting, and working together in person to create new things”.  But that same goal can be achieved anywhere, including in places which have jobs and infrastructure and lots of other smart creative people.  Like, you know, the SF Bay Area.

If we call the quoted part X, then really what he is saying is “It’s better to have X on a remote island than to have X in a major US city”.  Arguments for this might be: less distractions, less influence from the current way of doing things, and experience with a lower-tech environment.  Arguments against are: it’s good to have income, it’s good to have access to modern engineering facilities (if you work here, you get to use all the tools at Tech Shop, whereas on an island, you only have the tools you buy and fly in), it’s good to be around other smart creative people who like your idea but aren’t ready to move to a remote island for it yet.  To me, it looks like the balance is strongly on the side of working here, but there may be other arguments I haven’t thought of.

There are certainly local regulatory differences, but to me, the excessive regulation in the US is more than compensated for by its justice system, which, while far from perfect, is more just and humane than Nicaragua’s.

Answering (2) is a bit tougher, since I don’t think the Floatingman people don’t have a clear answer as to what their method for getting to The Dream is. So I’ll focus on the related question: is the extra freedom from being in a remote location a step on the way to The Dream?

My dream is freedom *with* civilization.  I could have freedom without civilization by just getting in a boat and sailing to the  middle of the ocean and then sitting there.  That does not seem like much of a life to me, and I doubt it does to most of y’all either.  I am a pioneer, but not the Conestoga wagon type.  I’m a Geeksteader – it’s ok if the power goes out every now and then, but when it’s on, it needs to be able to power my computer and our internet link.  I want community, not solitude, trade, not self-sufficiency, and high-tech even while pioneering.  So moving to the third world would lose me civilization, which would have to be compensated for by greatly increased freedom.

You may get some freedom by living on a remote (but claimed) island, but it is fragile.  It depends on not being found out, and so success will sow the seeds of its destruction.  If Floating Man prospers in a way which takes advantage of their temporary autonomy, it is likely that the Nicaraguan authorities will find out about them, and then they risk getting thrown in jail and having their zone de-autonomized.  Some risk is fine, but here’s the clincher: the greater they prosper, and the more autonomy they have, the greater this risk.  It quickly becomes not a risk but a certainty.  To me, that makes this path is a dead-end.

The seasteading path may be expensive, but I do not believe that it is a dead end.  There is plenty of precedent for flagging nations to ignore their ships (especially Flag of Convenience nations), whereas there is no precedent that I know of for a country to ignore illegal things done on its islands.  So I think that hanging out in civilization and designing structures and business models that could be the seed for a floating city moves me directly towards my goal of freedom + civilization.  It may take awhile, and be expensive, but the end result (say, a single platform that costs $250K/person and holds 100 people, providing water, power, internet, and some food) is something with a straightforward way to become a thriving autonomous city under current international law.  Based on both geography (the seastead can move away due to political pressure) and current international law (which allows it to fly any nation’s flag), it’s in a reasonable negotiating position, unlike an island which has a single, permanent owner.

I want a free city where people use their freedom openly.  A Shining City on the high seas which shows the entire world a better way to live.  I want to start something which will get better as it gets bigger, and thus can grow so big that it has a significant impact on the entire world.  An ephemeral freedom which contains the seeds of its own destruction does not fit the bill.

That said, I’m totally in favor of starting as small as possible, as long as there is a clear path from the small thing to the final goal.  If there is a smaller step we can take, please, tell us about it.  For example, instead of designing new structures, we’ve considered many times just buying and retrofitting a boat, because we could start sooner and smaller.  This was a close decision for us, and we have decided to try the structure route because we think the end result is substantially better, even though the initial parts are harder.  If the initial part proves too hard, or our engineering research shows that the end result isn’t as good as we think, we may well fall back to the boat strategy.


1 thought on “Why not buy a remote third-world island?”

  1. This was a close decision for us, and we have decided to try the structure route because we think the end result is substantially better, even though the initial parts are harder.

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