Seasteading: A path towards real micronations?

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Just a few days ago, I was talking with my officemate about micronations and how awesome the concept is (he had never heard of Sealand before). We both liked the idea, but didn’t exactly see how it would be possible. All of the land on Earth is already claimed, leaving no room to create a new nation in, and the Sealand approach, declaring a new nation on an abandoned World War II-era naval platform off the coast of England, isn’t exactly a widely applicable solution. How conveniently timed, then, that Ars Technica should publish an article on seasteading.

The basic seasteading approach is to create more platforms somewhat akin to Sealand, but to do so far out in international waters, where there is no pesky United Kingdom around to claim ownership. The first few seasteading projects will be pretty expensive, and will only be affordable by the rather wealthy. Don’t look to them to alleviate the problem of overcrowding in developing nations anytime soon — although living on one would sort of be like living in a developing nation, thanks to the very limited real estate and the basic nature of the amenities — facts of life likely to scare off all but the wealthy most dedicated to the concept. I feel an amazing draw to living out in the middle of the ocean, though, and if I could make a living on a seasteading platform, I think I’d like to do so for at least a few years. I should point out that my attraction to the concept is based far more from a survivalist/return-to-nature viewpoint than from a libertarian one.

The concept is perfectly doable with today’s level of technology; that’s the really neat thing. All that’s missing is the capital investment. The basic structure of the platforms is very simple: ballast tanks underwater, a narrow concrete pole at surface level to minimize wave contact, and then a spread out platform on top. Multiple platforms can be attached with cables, gangways, flexible pipes, and wires. If the concept really takes off, a bunch of platforms could go in together on an underwater fiber-optic Internet connection to shore, and then share the connection amongst all of the platforms using a local network.

The Ars Technica article pretty thoroughly covers all of the technological and governmental aspects of making seasteading work, but amongst all the talk of libertarianism and being free from governmental intrusion, I think it’s missing something important. The concept of seasteading isn’t attractive just to libertarians. There’s an undeniable novelty to living in the middle of the ocean in a close-knit community that appeals to some fraction of the population. The idea is very survivalist, very individualist, very science fiction. If it can be done cheaply enough, I don’t think there will be any shortage of people clamoring to get into one, especially on a less-than-permanent basis. It’s true, most people have too many connections to family and friends in their communities to move out into the middle of the sea — but who wouldn’t want to go for a month at a time? Talk about the ultimate get away from it all vacation!

And in the long run, seasteading will play an increasingly important role in human society. As construction techniques get better and economies of scale come into play, land on seasteads will be significantly cheaper than in many places on Earth. Eventually, millions of people may be living in seasteads not because they choose to, but because there is no room for them anywhere on land. The oceans take up two-thirds of the planet’s surface; isn’t the spread of permanent human habitation to them inevitable?

Oh, how amazing it’d be to be one of those first lucky few who go by choice.

When government efficiency descends into insanity

Friday, September 7th, 2007

My previous job, before I graduated university, was programming at a government research laboratory. I spent over a year in total working there, spread out across three summers and winters between university terms. In that time I managed to get a pretty good idea of how governmental agencies operate, warts and all. My favorite quirk of that lab was how the climate control system was set up.

During normal work hours, the climate control system would function normally. In the winter it would heat the building; in the summer, it would air condition the building. So far so good. But, outside of normal work hours, the climate control system switched into “energy efficiency mode”, which is government speak for “it turned off”. This being a laboratory, there were scientists and technicians coming in at all hours of the day and night to check up on experiments, or just do additional research. But it would get so cold inside during the winter when the heating system was being “energy efficient”.

The solution was to install climate control override switches in each hallway that activated the system in that section of the building outside of normal work hours. These switches consisted of unlabeled, nondescript, little circular black buttons on beige electrical boxes mounted at the ends of hallways above eye level. I suppose information on their purpose got around by word of mouth, because most people wouldn’t even notice the switches on their own, and the few that did would have no idea of their function (and in general, in a laboratory, you don’t go messing around with buttons whose function you do not know).

The really evil thing about these buttons, and the reason you can tell the “solution” was one that only a government agency could think was reasonable, is that the override only took effect for one hour. After one hour, the climate control system would go off again (another “energy efficient” feature), and someone would have to walk back down to the end of the many-hundred-feet-long hallway and hit the button again. Every hour. I saw people setting egg timers so they wouldn’t forget when they had to go hit that infernal button once again. And God help you if you’re suited up in the middle of an uninterruptable experiment in the dead of winter with no one else in that section of the building. You’re just going to have to learn to enjoy the freezing cold. Some scientists kept interns and post-docs around after hours that they could send to go Press The Button for just this reason.

Modifying those damn buttons was the number one request on the electronic bulletin board for that agency. But rather than requesting a simple on/off switch for the climate control system, scientists seemed to just want the button’s effects to last longer. The average request was to have the override last for four hours. They didn’t object to the concept of having to press the button like a trained lab rat; they just wanted the freedom to be slightly lazier trained lab rats.

That’s the government for you.

Prescient BBS posting regarding oppressive governments and terrorism

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

My friend sent me this old manifesto he dug up from a long time ago today and it was so apt I just had to post it. He recalls downloading it from a BBS sometime in the year 1994. The essay is by a group calling themselves the “Underground eXperts United”. It reads like anarchist paper literature, except this was out and breeding on the web, and is chillingly accurate regarding terrorism and the state’s response to it. You almost can’t help but think “Yeah, that happened” as you go through reading it. So here it is:

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