If you observe modern politicians, academics, intellectuals, and activists long enough, you can get the impression that these loud talkers believe that they can change the world with their words alone. They may be right — in terms of destructive change. But to construct a better world, we will need a better class of activist — one who can creatively and competently design and build a better world from the nuts and bolts up.
Patri Friedman of the Seasteading Institute may be one of this new breed. He published his ideas on activism in an important essay published in 2009 in Cato Unbound. Here are some excerpts:
Folk activism broadly corrupts political movements. It leads activists to do too much talking, debating, and proselytizing, and not enough real-world action. We build coalitions of voters to attempt to influence or replace tribal political and intellectual leaders rather than changing system-wide incentives.
…If we are ever going to move beyond philosophizing on barstool and blogs to change the power structures of the world, we must accept that power equilibria have considerable inertia. We cannot shift them with hope and outrage alone — we need carefully calculated action.
…the first steps toward settling a frontier are to come up with a new idea, spread it, and build a coalition of people ready to live it — the same procedure and instinct as folk activism. The difference is the strategy of actually implementing the vision with the number of people one can reasonably enroll, rather than one which requires millions to agree before it can be put into practice.
…Seasteading is my proposal to open the oceans as a new frontier, where we can build new city-states to experiment with new institutions. This dramatically lowers the barrier to entry for forming a new government, because expensive though ocean platforms are, they are still cheap compared to winning a war, an election, or a revolution. A lower barrier to entry means more small-scale experimentation. Also, the unique nature of the fluid ocean surface means that cities can be built in a modular fashion where entire buildings can be detached and floated away. This unprecedented physical mobility will give us the ability to leave a country without leaving our home, increasing competition between governments.
This plan is one of immediate action, not hope or debate. It makes use of the people we have now rather than trying to convert the masses, and avoids entrenched interests by moving to the frontier. Most importantly, it increases jurisdictional competition. It will not just create one new country, but rather an entire ecosystem of countries competing and innovating to attract citizens. Like any market, the process of trial and error will generate solutions we can’t even imagine — but that we know will be better for customers. _CatoUnbound
Read the essay in its entirety, which includes several excellent reference links.
It is easy to see that the frontier opportunities that remain: the oceans, the atmosphere, underground, outer space …. will all require a greater degree of personal competence and commitment to colonise than the parts of Earth that are easily settled. Persons must be highly motivated to even contemplate moving from safe and secure homes and communities to the wild hazards of the oceans or space.
Dreaming and talking are one thing — doing is qualitatively different. People who are competent and bold enough to “do” are becoming quite rare in modern, pampered societies of psychological neotenates. The ability to act adroitly and in a timely manner is being bred and indoctrinated out of ever-smaller young generations of westerners.
Friedman’s discussion of democracy’s failures is extremely pertinent to the problems that free-thinking individuals face. Democracies are essentially helpless when faced with the significant problems of the present and near-future. Anyone who allows himself to become too wrapped up in the democracy without understanding that a “discontinuity” may be required, will be unable to adapt to the exigent change of phase.
Learn to do, not just talk.
The above article is adapted from an earlier Al Fin blog entry
Seasteading Book (Beta)
How Rich Countries Die Review of The Rise and Decline of Nations by Mancur Olson
Let a Thousand Nations Bloom — a blog project meant to envision some of the many possibilities of free nation building