The value of creating micro-nations on the oceans – a simple case for Seasteading

in #philosophy4 years ago (edited)

I believe that seasteads, habitable dwellings that preferably lie outside of international waters, will become widespread in the 21st century.

The creation of habitable dwellings on waters is not something of the future. It is already here. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, has for example built an entire neighborhood of floating homes.

The most obvious benefit of seasteading is that it does not put pressure on the limited availability of land, and that it can protect us from floods and climate change. What, however, is the main benefit of seasteading from the perspective of political philosophy? I have sought to answer this question for a talk that I gave at the Prague Conference on Political Economy in last April.

My answer to this question runs roughly as follows:
1. Political philosophy is to an important degree focused in the idea of political disagreement;
2. Democracy deals poorly with value pluralism and political disagreements;
3. We should look for political possibilities beyond democracy;
4. For discovery of such political possibilities, an experimentation space for different forms of social organization have to be created;
5. Seasteading provides us with such an experimentation space and disrupts the industry of governments.


1. Political philosophy is to an important degree focused on the idea of political disagreements.

Considering that every person is unique and has different values, desires, and goals in life, it is reasonable to say that we are living in a world of value pluralism. The role of political philosophy is to find a way through which such disagreements in values and politics are harmonized to the extent that the public can lead flourishing and meaningful lives. In this sense, political philosophy must provide us with an underlying basis of moral agreement to maintain a social order in a divided and pluralistic society.

An emerging question then is whether a representative democracy, the most common form of political organization in the world, deals properly with the issue of value pluralism.

2. Democracy deals poorly with value pluralism and political disagreements.

What most people find attractive about democracy is the idea that the electorate embodies the general will of the public. So when the constituency votes a group of politicians in power, the voting outcome is some kind of general agreement among the people. This system is based around a system where public agents, the politicians, form the unifying force of the public’s many different values.

The libertarian anarchist Prof. Gerard Casey puts this view as follows:

“[T]he central characteristic of representation by agency is that the agent is responsible to his principle and is bound to act in the principal’s interest.”

However, I find it highly questionable that the electorate can truly represent the constituency. A growing branch in economics, called public choice theory, maintains that voters are often rationally ignorant. One becomes rationally ignorant when the cost of being politically active – keeping oneself up-to-date with political actualities and being involved with political campaigns – is higher than the benefits of such activities that make one politically enlightened. Most people do not know who their political ‘representatives’ are, their political history and what policies they pursue. The consequence is that these ‘representatives’ become discouraged from paying attention to the public interests.

Prof. Casey is right, I think, when he says that there is

“no interest common to the constituency as a whole, or, if there is, it is so rare as to be practically non-existent. That being the case, there is nothing that can be represented.”

Imagine for example that 35% of the constituency favors a piece of legislation against the other 65%. If the legislation is passed, our representatives will represent the 35% and ignore the wishes of the 65%.

“It is not that it is difficult to represent a constituency – it is rather that it is impossible.

3. We should look for political possibilities beyond democracy.

I believe that a representative democracy is inadequate in dealing with a pluralistic society. I think that it’s even inherently violent as it divides people along the lines of their comprehensive doctrines. People are encouraged to organize themselves into groups to campaign against people who hold conflicting ideas. They use their votes to enforce their preferred rules or legislations unto others.

In order to deal more effectively with value pluralism we should look for political possibilities beyond democracy. The question is then: how can better forms of social organization be discovered and be allowed to flourish?

4. For discovery of such political possibilities, an experimentation space for different forms of social organization have to be created.

At the moment there is little room for experimentation with new forms of social organization, because most land is already owned by states. An important attribute of states is that they hold a monopoly on the use of force and violence in a given territorial area. Being the only social entities that are allowed to use force and violence, they effectively maintain monopolies on jurisdiction. It is therefore difficult to start a revolutionary new form of social organization. As with most unnatural monopolies, a state is not much encouraged to provide good services for the public, since there is no competition. If states would operate on free market conditions, meaning that the costs of exiting and entering territories with a social organization of their preference would be lower, they would have been under greater pressure to implement attractive policies that attract and retain productive citizens. Without productive citizens, institutional expropriation (taxation) by the states would become impossible.

If one is discontent with the state, what could one do? One could (a) continue living in the same state, (b) emigrate to another, (c) use the political process to implement changes, or (d) use violent revolutions to change the state. All options bear considerable personal costs and are therefore undesirable. Choosing (a), would mean continue living in perpetual discontent. Choosing (b), the person will have to go through tedious bureaucratic processes, find another state with a more preferable social organization, find a new workplace, leave friends and family behind, find a new place to settle, and maybe learn a new language etc. Choosing (c), one has to organize a great following, campaign against political opponents, operate within an already existing and poor social organization (democracy) etc. The probability that the person heavily influences public policy through the democratic process is extremely small, let alone to implement a revolutionary new form of social organization. Changing the state through (d) is costly as it often involves war and widespread private property destruction. There is also no guarantee that a revolt against the state will be successful.

How can we encourage governments to serve us better? The most obvious answer is to eliminate monopoly in the industry of governments. We should eliminate the barriers of entry and exit as much as possible so that people have choices to move from one form of social organization to another.

5. Seasteading provides us with such an experimentation space and disrupts the industry of governments.

First seasteading projects are small-scale and within territorial waters. However, as technologies improve and large-scale projects become more feasible, it is very well possible that we will have micro-nations on the oceans. The possibility of having a large variety of seasteads with different social organizations existing next to each other, and the possibility of providing the people with the opportunities to migrate to the territory with their preferred social organization will, I believe, contribute to greater social stability. Those who are willing to experiment with new forms of social organization can start their own seasteads. Those that are successful will attract most citizens and flourish, while those that trample human rights and dignity are most likely to wane away – truly disrupting the industry of governments.

Seasteads provide an interesting experimentation space. It will lead to deeper understandings of social organizations and will hence enrich political philosophy.

Mao Zedong is famous for having said,

“Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools contend”

when he openly invited criticism of his regime. With seasteads, millions of people will be allowed to engage in an experimental political process. 

Thus, let a hundred seasteads bloom and let a hundred social organizations contend. 

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Hey Lin.
Another very in depth informative post. It looks really good.. :)

@chhayll, thanks Lem! :)

Excellent piece on the philosophical benefit of seasteading. I would absolutely love to see this reality come to pass. Who knows? I might even be able to convince my wife to move with me to one if a nice, voluntaryist seastead comes around that I can help contribute to.

Haha, we may one day become neighbors. I would want to join a voluntaryist one too.

I wish you had earned more for this. It's very well-done. I'm new and can't vote for any more posts today. But if I could vote for this post I would.

Thank you for your kind words @lori.jean.burke! I appreciate the fact you are taking the time to leave a comment. And welcome on Steemit. I hope you will have a great time here! ;)

What do you mean? Is there a limit as to how many votes we're allowed?

I don't think there are limits as to how many votes we are allowed. I assumed, and maybe @lori.jean.burke can clarify this, that he/she meant that his/her voting power has decreased too much due to too much voting.

The ability to experiment and bootstrap new forms of governance and society is great, but even if it is not the topic of your post, it seems that there are still some engineering and practical issues with building autonomous seasteads on international water

Yes, that's true. That's why I think the first seasteads will be built close to already existing land and with cooperation with governments.

Another great post. This could be the first philosophical analysis of seasteading!! keep up :)

I wrote my MA Philosophy dissertation on Seasteading in 2014. It was back then, from the literature review I did, the first philosophical analysis of Seasteading I think.

Really nice article! -upvoted

I didn't know anything about seesteading and now I'm reading about it! Thanks!

I'm glad to have introduced you to Seasteading. :D

I suggest that this can better be implemented by developing a small, inexpensive modular approach.
Something like

Single family or individual dwellings.
Mass produce them onshore, tow them to a site.
Key word is CHEAP...and I mean really, really cheap. Provide an affordable alternative to expensive land dwelling.