Mr Thiel and his colleagues say their ocean state would have no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.
It sounded way too similar to the arguments that those rights many of us fought so hard for are just in the way of making money.
Still, i decided to check it out. After all, i have suggested my own experiment, though that one with family forms.
I listened to Patri Friedman’s talk on The Feast. I agree with many things Patri mentions, especially he emphasis on systems: “Invisible processes lead to the visible things we see around us.” His talk, though, helped me sharped my concerns. First, he seems to be making just as many assumptions as those not advancing governmental experiments, ignoring the invisible processes he is assuming. Then, he does not take into account findings in science. And finally, many of the feminist critiques of the liberal approach to ideas of justice are very applicable. I will address each in turn.
Assumptions & Processes
The first assumption Patri makes is that something that was started more than a decade or so ago is bad. Just because we get new techie toys every second does not mean that we have to reinvent everything. Take that saying seriously: There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Sure, improvements help and yet, the basic structure remains the same as it has been ever since it was first invented. Patri is not advancing any other reasons for the need of new governments. There is another assumption tied in here, which is harder to untangle because Patri doesn’t seem quite as clear: He seems to refer to government both as an industry and as a product. If it is an industry what is it producing? If it is a product what is it exactly? North and South Korea have different products, he claims. Okay, that doesn’t mean, though, that the government as a whole is a product. This premiss seems to be ill-defined yet necessary for his whole idea to work. If there is no product, there is no product testing needed.
The invisible process that Patri subscribes to, he does not question: Growth is good and progress means new, faster products. The idea that growth is good has fundamentally contributed to several crises we are currently facing as a planet, including global climate disruption and economic collapse. Last i checked there is only one Earth and even if we start populating the high seas, there is a limit to growth simply by the fact that the Earth is a limited resource.
Living on an oil-rig is tough. Workers there are facing challenges that go way beyond experimenting with governmental forms. I don’t see much on the Seasteding website that would design a system of assistance. For one, there are no psychologists on staff. Although i haven’t researched it, i am certain that there are a host of psychological challenges people face by simply living so far removed from what they are used to, confined onto a platform to live with the same people for an extended period of time.
Patri lists the core challenges as political autonomy, engineering, business models, and community. The website, though, concentrates on engineering, law and politics, and business. No research into community, whatever that might have meant in Patri’s talk. This probably also means ignoring much of the learning from existing intentional communities, many of whom are experimenting in ways of governing different from democracy.
There also does not seem to be any awareness of the influence those invisible processes Patri mentions have on us. Research in neuroscience could be enlightening here, though it would again require moving away from a focus on business toward a focus on people. For example, some neuroscientists are finding that conflict resolution programs might not work unless we address the underlying differences between the two groups in conflict. Even in an environment where people come together with the intention of healing the conflict, not acknowledging those differences can reek unexpected havoc. Which leads me to my final concern.
From a sustainability perspective, importing food does not work. The Seasteding Institute plans to import most foods, not aware of the invisible processes that currently enable long-distance food. The times of cheap energy are rapidly coming to an end and we need to figure out ways of growing our food more locally again. It probably would be possible to design a seasted as almost self-sufficient. The website does not indicate that there’s in interest for doing that.
Iris Marion Young pointed out that a focus on an ideal system ignores the invisible processes that perpetuate that system. Seasteding is supposed to avoid this, i guess, by completely removing people from the existing system to let them design and live in a new system. As pointed out in the previous section, though, that isn’t that easy. I consider myself a feminist – viewing all genders as equally worthy and valuable. Yet, i still notice how i react out of sexist beliefs that i carry around, like valuing male attention more than female. It is embarrassing and frustrating to uncover these beliefs. I can only choose to consciously counteract them if i am aware of them. There is nothing in the Seasteding proposal that would allow for such consciousness raising. The assumption seems to be that people don’t bring their beliefs, ways of behaving, or habits to a new place. Or maybe the assumption is that those things would simply fall away on high seas. Neither assumption makes much sense when we simply look at immigration.
Overall, the Seasteding proposal seems to be an elaborate way of circumventing laws that were meant to improve democracy – improve rather than reinvent the wheel. In a lot of ways, Seasteding does not go deep enough: Government is not the invisible process we need to experiment with. It’s how we interact, how we live our lives that is creating massive inequalities between people. Maybe Seasteding is good for business. Most of us are already hurting from this business as usual and these ideas sound like they would enlarge the inequalities further rather than making our society more compassionate.
The story of Iceland shows that oil-rigs aren’t necessary to create a new government. And the new government people fought for put an end to financial services gambling. No oil-rigs required. Just people fed up with inequality.