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Calling All Incredibles (Ephemerisle Alert)

June 12, 2018

Lebron James is strong.

How strong? So strong that he broke his own hand punching a whiteboard in frustration after losing the game 1 of the NBA finals against the Warriors. He admits he basically played the last three games (all of which they lost) with a broken hand. Clearly, this is not the kind of strength that earned Lebron the title of “King James” – it’s the lashing out of a man whose excellent beard conceals an inner childishness that cost his team the title.

Star athletes are probably the closest thing we have today to superheroes, which makes it all the more tragic when they fall. Knights are gone, as are the samurai. Modern warriors are mostly anonymous, kings are just figureheads (where they still exist), and politicians are mocked and scorned.

Apart from the silver screen, if you want to see superhuman feats, you either watch pro sports or you follow startups. In the Bay Area, entrepreneurs may have an even more prized social status. It’s inspiring to see Elon Musk succeed at launching a rocket and then bringing it back to the same landing spot, and it’s a refreshing break from the dominant leveling ideology that mires everyone in mediocrity.

With The Incredibles 2 coming out this week, I’ve been thinking about how one can embody the positive aspects of the hero archetype, without falling prey to its pitfalls. The original film made the case for “letting supers be super,” and took issue with society’s suppression of differences in the name of equality and extreme risk-aversion. It turned out to be a widespread feeling that we’d taken the culture of mediocrity too far, but no one was able to express it quite like Pixar and Brad Bird. My friend and colleague Caleb Brown just put out a short video essay (full disclosure: I worked with Caleb on the video) to go with the release of the film’s sequel, which picks apart the theme in more detail, and it explains how Bird got away with such a seemingly reactionary message.

Check it out:

But superpowers have a downside, as Lebron James demonstrated inelegantly last week. We can also look to the devastation wrought by strong men with big plans throughout history, and better understand why we’ve collectively chosen to shackle certain kinds of ambition.

To defend the superhero archetype, Bird has to show a change in Bob “Mr. Incredible” Paar from the blustering hotshot we see in the opening shots to the restrained-but-still-super husband and father he is at the end. In Aristotelian terms, Bob is the “patient” – the character who undergoes the most radical transformation at the hands of an “agent” who brings this change about. Helen (the agent) steps up to the many small challenges of motherhood and shows Bob how to find the fantastic in the mundane. You have to be more than incredible to be excellent in the small things and large things alike. Small things have big consequences, especially when it comes to the early stages of a venture, where little cracks in the foundation lead to future headaches.

As important as it is to take risks, we are often saved by the risks we decide not to take. Knowing when to apply strength and effort and when to choose passive restraint is a supernatural talent.

These lessons are especially relevant for colossal challenges like seasteading. Settling the ocean is a foolishly ambitious task. It would be stupid to try to make it in a single leap, but it would be cowardly to not advance the vision at all for those of us who understand the human potential it can unlock. Furthermore, there’s joy in each incremental step on the journey.

The Ephemerisle floating festival is happening again this July, from the 16th to the 22nd. People are already innovating to handle the lack of houseboats this year. People are building stuff:

Pictures from DIYsIsland.

You can expect a lot more DIY projects this year, which bodes well for the original seasteading strategy to start in the Delta and expand out into the Bay, and then beyond. Unlike, say, Burning Man, there are no tickets to Ephemerisle, but anyone who wants to get involved can find a way.

The additional building element brings new opportunities and new risks. Seasteaders in attendance would do well to study The Incredibles, and use the festival as a chance to discover their unique superpowers, maximized by an attitude of humility and renunciation of vanity (my island will be enforcing a strict “no capes” rule).

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