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Podcast: Human Matter w/ Jacob Lyles

February 12, 2018

Lutte_de_Jacob_avec_l'AngeI recommend Jacob Lyle’s young-but-excellent podcast, Human Matter, to all readers of this blog.

It was clear from the first episode (on existential crisis), featuring Dane Johnson, that Jacob has a knack for making his guests feel comfortable – drawing out their stories and ideas – and “exploring the anomalies at the edges of human experience.”

The second episode features Thousand Nations founder Michael Gibson on Poly-centrism, Community, and Utopia.

The third episode has some discussion of Ephemerisle (Ep. 3 – PERMA-(sub)culture with Scott Jackisch) featuring the founder of the Oakland futurists.

I was honored to be Jacob’s guest on the fourth episode (The Holy Sea), talking about seasteading and competitive governance, along with my evolution from secular agnostic/atheist, to Christian, to Catholic Christian. We could have kept talking (and did after the mics stopped rolling), but I’m hoping there will be other chances to explore these ideas in person, in podcast format.

It’s worth noting that the figure of Jacob in the Bible is the one who wrestles with God, and is given the name Israel (“He Struggles with God”) as a result. I look forward to future installments. You can subscribe in iTunes here.

Joe Quirk on WIRED, “Seasteading: Come for the Algae Bacon, Stay for the Freedom”

January 6, 2018

WIRED podcast, Geeks Guide to the Galaxy, has a new hour-long podcast with Joe Quirk, in which he makes the case for seasteading to a sympathetic host:

Eventually the Seasteading Institute hopes to develop floating platforms for individual families, which would make it easy to leave one seastead and join another. Hopefully that sort of freedom would force seasteads to compete over who can treat their residents the best. “The idea is to vote with your house,” Quirk says.

It’s nice to see the single-family seastead concept making a comeback, even though Joe missed a golden rhyming opportunity (“vote with your boat”).

It’s also nice to see WIRED coming back around to the idea of seasteading. Their 2009 article, Live Free or Drown, was one of my first introductions to The Seasteading Institute. However, in 2015, they reported a greatly exaggerated rumor under the headline, SILICON VALLEY IS LETTING GO OF ITS TECHIE ISLAND FANTASIES.

Joe notes that the seasteading movement is as much about people as it is about the ideas of competitive governance, dynamic geography, OTEC, etc. I especially enjoyed this anecdote:

“A reality TV show got in touch with the Seasteading Institute and got very interested in showing the conflicts that occur between people trying to build a new society that floats. They scouted out Ephemerisle and became discouraged, because everybody was getting along—because you can take your house and float somewhere else. So they decided not to do Ephemerisle, and they basically imitated Ephemerisle, and went back to the UK, and tried to set up a TV show on several forts—old, abandoned military forts on the water—that are sort of set on land, where people are forced to live together. So basically they removed the dynamics of seasteading, which is if you don’t get along with people, you can simply take your house and go float elsewhere.

I wonder what ever happened to that reality show… Let’s keep Ephemerisle drama free in 2018 and beyond.


Moonbeam Howls

December 6, 2017

Governor Moonbeam is howling, and it’s not on account of this week’s supermoon.

“This bill will divide the blue states from the red, the Democrats from the Republicans. It is evil in the extreme,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a call with reporters.

Governors howl: Why tax plan would hammer blue states, SF Chronicle, 12/5/17

I’m not a fan of the GOP tax bill, but when my governor calls something “evil in the extreme,” my ears perk up.

What’s so evil about the bill? It gets rid of the state income tax deductions, so Californians will have to report higher incomes on their federal returns than citizens of states with lower income tax.

California has much to lose because it relies heavily on the income tax. It has the nation’s highest state income tax rate, 13.3 percent. And the income tax generates 32.2 percent of all state and local tax collections, the fourth highest of any state.

On its face, eliminating arbitrary deductions should be a neutral way to raise taxes – something we need to do at the Federal level unless we drastically cut spending. But blue states like California and New York tend to have higher income taxes, so it’s perceived as warfare.

Policy always involves winners and losers. A complex tax code, replete with special deductions and exceptions, makes any changes to the policy a source of contention and division. Governor Brown is under a lot of pressure because of California’s own long-term financial outlook. Now, increasing the income tax will be an even less popular option for digging out of the fiscal hole. I honestly sympathize–and I’m bummed that I will no longer be able to deduct state income tax–but this what happens when states become overly dependent on the Federal Government. California is a net contributor to other states, tax-wise, but the fact that it is so sensitive to small distributional changes in the tax code makes me think there’s a structural problem, and it’s not the GOP’s fault for exploiting it.

Mark this as another data point for “bad Federalism.”

Assorted Links

November 28, 2017

1. World’s first floating village to breathe new life into old dream, NBC News seems to like the environmental angle of the floating city project in French Polynesia:

A community afloat on the ocean, sometimes known as a “seastead,” has appealed to generations of thinkers and dreamers. Among the notable ideas is Triton City, designed in the 1960s by the American inventor Buckminster Fuller: a town of 5,000 people floating on Japan’s Tokyo Bay, as a seaborne extension for one the world most densely populated cities.

Bucky lives.

2. Trump advisors aim to privatize oil-rich Indian reservations, Reuters.

Native Americans make a distinction between privatization and self-determination:

“Our spiritual leaders are opposed to the privatization of our lands, which means the commoditization of the nature, water, air we hold sacred,” said Tom Goldtooth, a member of both the Navajo and the Dakota tribes who runs the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Privatization has been the goal since colonization – to strip Native Nations of their sovereignty.”

3. Man investigates noise, finds turkey knocking on window

Offered without comment:

“I heard a knocking on the window and took out my phone thinking it was something peculiar… and worth recording,” Seastead said.

What distinguishes a seastead from a vanity project?

November 27, 2017


When a writer of the calibre of Izabella Kaminska critiques the economics behind seasteading, it’s wise to take note [On the (non) viability of start-up islands, Financial Times, Nov. 17, 2017]. Right off the bat, however, she’s blinded by the assumption that seasteads are fundamentally akin to special economic zones or tax havens, rather than being something brand new.  She’s right that a seastead cannot compete with the existing options on the basis of tax or regulatory evasion alone. Dubai, Shenzen, and the Cayman Islands already have that market cornered.

She also takes issue with the analogy of seasteads to the member nations of Hanseatic League – a maritime trade alliance among medieval city states – since the latter were not governed anarchically, but were subsumed under the authority of the Holy Roman Empire:

To the contrary, they boasted highly complex systems of civil governance which levied domestic populations. Some had a democratic flavour where decisions were forged according to representative consensus, some less so.

But no one has suggested that individual seasteads be governed anarchically. An alternative slogan for seasteading to “Let 1,000 Nations Bloom,” could be “Let’s have more, better rules,” or more accurately, more systems of rules.

Hansa League

The institutional ecosystem precedes the technological development.

But while Kaminska appears not to have done her homework on these counts, she does have two valid, related points:

1) Although she entertains the idea that seasteaders might be motivated by other concerns – like the American settlers escaping persecution – she maintains that there would not be enough intrinsic resources to sustain even the most die-hard pioneers. With nothing to trade, the platform would have to sustain itself with constant injections of capital.

2) In the absence of any real “homesteading” opportunities, artificial islands would have to provide services, and would be economically-disadvantaged compared to the aforementioned havens:


“In a global economy which already provides plentiful access to much cheaper special economic zones and tax havens, the exercise amounts to nothing more than a vanity project for billionaires with more money than sense.”

This brings me to the essence of seasteading, which has to embrace and the alleged “ocean tax.” Patri has predicted that seasteading will become a reality when the land tax (i.e., the costs of increasingly dysfunctional governments) exceeds the ocean tax, or the added engineering costs of building on the high seas. This formula computes the current (non) viability of politically autonomous artificial islands – vanity projects that may or may not ever come to fruition. But a politically autonomous artificial island is not a seastead. A seastead becomes a seastead when it turns the ocean tax into an ocean windfall, and reimagines the vast expanse of wind-swept waves as a dynamic, moist solar collector, ripe for harvesting in novel forms like algal biofuel.

What distinguishes a seastead from a vanity project? The seasteader isn’t afraid to get wet.

Settling the seas no longer science fiction, says NY Times

November 14, 2017

The New York Times has an article about seasteading:

[I]n 2017, with sea levels rising because of climate change and established political orders around the world teetering under the strains of populism, seasteading can seem not just practical, but downright appealing.

It mentions Ken Neumeyer’s “Sailing the Farm,” and gives an early history of the Institute – starting with Patri Friedman’s Burning Man talk, and  Peter Thiel’s 2009 Cato Unbound essay. The article is surprisingly optimistic about the prospects, and with good reason. It’s worth remembering that Thiel framed seasteading as the more realistic option for building the future when compared to outer space:

 In a 2009 essay, Mr. Thiel described seasteading as a long shot, but one worth taking. “Between cyberspace and outer space lies the possibility of settling the oceans,” he wrote.

The open oceans are still a desolate place. Outside of a few die-hard cruisers, we don’t really know how to safely, comfortably, and affordably inhabit them.

French Polynesia lowers the barriers to entry, by allowing certain geographic and political barriers to perfect mobility and autonomy. It makes sense to try to align the seastead’s interests with the political unit – in this case French Polynesia – to achieve something like an incubator for seasteading technology. These are the same technologies that islands will need in the event of extreme climate change: steady open-ocean platforms, next-generation transport vessels, and life-support systems for a new kind of society.

Seastead incubator

Update: Both the NY Times piece and a more recent VICE news article strike a different tone from most previous coverage. The change in major media reports on seasteading brings to mind Thomas Kuhn’s idea of the paradigm shift – the tipping point, when a new theory becomes recognized by a majority of the scientists in a field. First a theory seems crazy, but gradually, it begins to explain more and more of the anomalies of the old paradigm. Seasteading can be thought of as the ultimate counter-cyclical industry. As government/climate/the economy become less tenable in their present, a radical “reset” becomes more attractive.

Reading between Trump’s lines –– Jurisdictional arbitrage at it’s most comical

November 10, 2017

The on-going political theater – a real-world House of Cards – brings to mind the old Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times.” Some are happy to sit back and enjoy the show, but it’s even better entertainment if you can apply filters to understand what’s happening beneath the surface of the statements coming out of Trump’s White House.

The latest episode is “The Meeting With Native American Leaders,” [The unfiltered version of Trump’s meeting with Native American leaders,] in which Trump can’t stop calling the tribal leaders “Chief,” and makes creative use of the Nike slogan to imply that regulators won’t go after tribes for using aggressive drilling techniques on their lands.


“Chief, chief,” Trump continued, addressing one of the tribal leaders, “what are they going to do? Once you get it out of the ground are they going to make you put it back in there? I mean, once it’s out of the ground it can’t go back in there. You’ve just got to do it. I’m telling you, chief, you’ve just got to do it.”

Trump’s opponents will seize on this episode as more evidence of his simultaneous brilliant criminality and sheer idiocy. I’m neither a Trump supporter, nor a fracking enthusiast, but this analysis is lazy (it’s also not very funny). Fracking may be the least bad solution to America’s dependence on the Middle East, in spite of the big unknowns, like the effects on the water supply (not to mention those weird Oklahoman earthquakes).

Scott Adams has proposed the “persuasion filter” for understanding Trump’s methods: speaking directly in simple words, repeating himself, starting a negotiation with an outrageous first bid to frame a more sensible middle ground, pacing and leading, and on and on. That’s not my specialty. I’m exploring a new filter for the hip/woke/based reader in 2017. The Straussian filter helps you read “between the lines” to grasp Trump’s sometimes hidden, and sometimes not-so-hidden meaning.

Political theorist Leo Strauss suggested that this way of reading has been out of fashion in the West for many years (centuries?) because we’re used to an atmosphere of free expression. Historically, the consequence of speaking truth to power was death, so the best writers/orators learned to conceal their esoteric message within a harmless coating. A Straussian might embed a single line “in a terse and lively style,” which contradicts the rest of a writing that otherwise promotes the established narrative. Shakespeare used villains and fools to deliver the bitterest truths about humanity because it placed a layer of plausible deniability between him and the message.

Imagine the “unfiltered version of Trump’s meeting” if he had explicitly stated, “You don’t need to follow the EPA regulations. They’re a paper tiger, and besides– you guys are the left’s favorite historical victim group. EPA v. Cherokee Nation is never going to happen.” A lot of people would have to feign outrage, and Cherokee Nation would probably get fleeced again. Instead, we end up with another funny article about “Trump acting crazy.”

Trump appears to be playing both the fool and His Royal Highness. Although he’s ostensibly the most powerful man in the world, Trump still needs to use jester tactics to advance his agenda. The previous administrations installed a new governmental operating system called the administrative state that keeps their technocratic worldview crunching away in their absence. In a sense, Bush/Clinton/W. Bush/Obama are still in office.

Trump may be king, but secretly he is a weak king. More than legislation, his main instrument is his voice, which cuts through red tape by its implicit message: “I am stronger than the shadow state. I am a real person; I speak in words you understand. The faceless bureaucrat who you think is breathing down your neck is not going to be around forever.”

The Obama administration passed over 3,000 rules and 30,000 pages of environmental regulations. There are too many rules for bureaucrats to be expected to enforce them all. However, a business person in a regulated industry like energy won’t know which laws will be enforced, leading to paralysis. That’s why the native Americans are knocking on Trump’s door, why the U.S. still exports its pollution to the third world, and why you and I still have to fund radical brainwashing every time we fill up our gas tanks.

Trump’s esoteric, or hidden message is one of jurisdictional arbitrage. By calling the leaders “chief,” he is affirming that native American lands are a sort of special economic zone in which new technology can be tried. If it works, the tribes will get more revenue, the U.S. will lessen its dependence on foreign powers, and this meme will be more appropriate than ever:

4d9a291a4177698171e015c89ea48c52 (1)

This is also a great opportunity to create funds and zones for testing renewable energy. Much like Saudi Arabia has started to plan for its own post-oil future, the native peoples of America could dedicate a portion of the windfall to developing clean energy alternatives.

Let 1,000 reservations bloom.