15 November 2011

Occupationism vs Seasteading

Huffington Post | Robert Teitelman | Anarchism, Liberterianism and OWS

Here's Graeber on Rose in 2006 with his short definition of anarchism: "Anarchism is about acting as if you're already free. ... Anarchism is democracy without the government. Most people love democracy, but most people don't like the government very much. Keep one, take away the other -- that's anarchism. Anarchism is direct democracy." He elaborates. "Anarchism is the commitment to the idea that it is possible to have a society based on principles of self-organization, voluntary association and mutual aid. It's not the belief that we are necessarily going to have it but that we could have it. You can't know it's possible. But by the same token you can't know that it's not possible."

Graeber's description of the anarchist impulse, as an experiment without government, veers awfully close to Ron Paul-like "End the Fed" libertarianism. Venture capitalist and libertarian Peter Thiel, for instance, has helped fund The Seasteading Institute, whose "mission is "to establish permanent, autonomous ocean communities to enable experimentation and innovation with diverse social, political, and legal systems." One of the founders of the institute is Patri Friedman, a grandson of Milton Friedman, and a former engineer at Google. What is the difference between Zuccotti Park and a free, autonomous and sovereign community located in (presumably warm) international waters? Well, the seasteading idea remains theoretical, while OWS exists, albeit with the fragile and ironic permission of the police and city. The emphasis of a Thiel or a Paul (who Thiel has endorsed for president) involves a far more profound belief in markets than the anarchist belief in direct democracy, which has its market-like aspects but which is no fan of the wisdom of markets. Paul and Thiel-style libertarianism has an Ayn Randian edge -- meaning a kind of Nietzschian belief in supermen dragged down by the demons -- that is utterly lacking in the consensus style of Graeber and anarchist theory. The OWS crowd, naively or not, seem to believe it can transform the larger community by example, like medieval monks praying for our souls in giant monasteries; the steasteading crowd seems to argue that they can only carve out their free space outside the oppressive shadow of the nation-state.
I want to point out three particular contrasts between Seasteading and Occupationism.

First, it's true that a big impulse behind Seasteading is to "carve out their free space outside the oppressive shadow of the nation-state." To put more plainly, it's the desire not to be coerced. But an equally important aspect of Seasteading is that no one else needs to be coerced either.

If me and some buddies want to go live out on the ocean in a community with no income taxes, free trade, and autonomous marijuana dispensing robots then we could.  And we wouldn't need to force anyone else to live by those rules. If you want to live by different rules in America — may less taxes, maybe more taxes, maybe outlawing limited liability corporations, maybe easier bankruptcy laws, whatever — you'll need to force everyone who disagrees with you to submit to your desire. Maybe the dissenters are 49.9% or the populace, or maybe they're .01%, but you'll need to force the minority to shut up and obey.

This issue is (I believe) why the OWS people keep repeating "consensus" as a mantra. Unfortunately consensus is impossible in a diverse group,* so they've redefined it in practice to mean 90% majority rather than 51%. This is of course only a difference of degree from the way our society is governed not one of substance. Look at all the internal strife at OWS dealing with the "Finance Committee" or the
"Spokes Council":

(That first link is especially good.)

You can get 51%, 90%, even 99.9% of people to agree with you, but at the end of the day you've still got populism, and that's a fancy way of saying you rely on bullying.

The second difference between OWS and Seasteading is about the approach.  The former is trying to create social chance through social approaches.  That's why you hear people in Zuccotti saying things like they want to "enable a new consciousness." Maybe they'll have better luck, but historically that doesn't work very well.  Humans are not that good at achieving social goals through convincing people to hold new opinions or behave in new ways.

Seasteading, on the other hand, is trying to create social change through technological solutions.  And humans are extremely good at goal-directed technological change.  The key observation behind Seasteading is that you can side-step the very difficult task of convincing other people to live in free societies if you are willing to instead tackle more tractable challenges like "how do you provide fresh water and electricity for thousands of people in the middle of the ocean?"

Thirdly, Seasteading is a mechanism.  It's true that Thiel, Friedman, and other supporters are behind this because they want to create libertarian societies.  But if you wanted to live in a society with no limited liability corporations, 100% capital gains taxes and free university education you could use seasteading as well!

* Impossible because the most important diversity is diversity of opinion, not of phenotype, or linguistic group, or cultural heritage.


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