Seasteading - Floating City Design
Seasteading Design From The Institute's Contest
Country At Sea
Seasteading - Claiming The High Seas
Seasteading is an idea that is often associated with the libertarian movement and the type of people who generally best associate with political presidential candidates such as congressman Ron Paul and the temporary hacker utopia of Black Rock City during Burning Man. The most basic concept is that permanent colonies can be built amongst the waters of the Earth's various oceans in order to develop new and unique societies that exist away from the laws and governments of any currently existing nation-states. The architectural design of these seasteads may be built upon retrofitted seagoing vessels such as barges or cruise ships that would allow mobility perhaps in a modular sense. These mobile stations offer freedom for even smaller sects within the seasteading society to break off and join other portions of seasteads at will. This ultimate goal would in theory give the most individuality to the persons making up the resident population. In this case, if a larger seastead has began to exert too much power over the smaller population they can simply disengage and continue to plot their course through the sea at their own leisure and under the governance of their leader or collective whatever the case may be. Other utopian visions encapsulate more stationary floating islands that could be built upon the basis of existing oil platforms commonly known as oil rigs. In this second case there might also be modular sections that could attach and detach from the main base at the will of its people for recreation, security, or simply political purposes. Either type of seastead, and there are others not listed here, seems to many to be a perfect ideal micronation and their is something like the hippie movement growing for those libertarians who believe that the governments of countries (in particular that of the United States government) have grown too large and inefficient and that there is no current location where the people are truly represented by those elected to represent them. But as with many great ideas there is an almost unmeasurable number of details that must be worked out if we are to harness the high seas or homestead them as Wayne Gramlich said in an article in 1998.
While these challenges are great this has not stopped the seasteading movement from progressing forward and pursuing new avenues despite the failings of such attempts in past history. On April 15, 2008, the Seasteading Institute was officially founded by Wayne Gramlich and Patri Friedman. Gramlich is the author mentioned above who is thought to be one of the originators of the term "seasteading" in his early article titled "Seasteading - Homesteading of the High Seas." Friedman is a political activist and the grandson of Milton Friedman a notable Nobel-prize winning economist. The institute's purpose is to promote seasteading ventures and their website seasteading.org is a wealth of resources and provides a large community and forum for those wishing to further pursue the ideas found here and elsewhere regarding this trending topic. They also hold regular conferences for advocates, ambassadors, and other interested parties to gather and discuss the intricate details. The next one of these conferences will be the Seasteading Conference 2012 with a date and location to be determined. The problems may be many but some of the greatest minds have taken interest in this pursuit and some of the wealthiest have also signed up to jump aboard. As I once read in a Chinese fortune cookie, "Everything originates from the seed of determination." That is a good motto for potential seasteaders and the critics should not be allowed to disrupt the progress of a movement for it is precisely this ideology that those who dare to dream of floating cities or countries are looking to depart from. It is an especially relevant slogan due to the fact that the most promising ongoing undertaking is that of the Blueseed Project which has just recently received a kickstart of funding from Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel and is looking to be open for business in 2013.
So what sort of varied problems would a seastead present to the designers and the subsequent inhabitants? Well, in some ways the issues are very similar to those that space agencies such as NASA and the ESA have wrestled with as they seek to develop missions capable of colonizing the moon, asteroids, or other planets of the solar system. That could be called spacesteading to denote the similarities. Thankfully, the oceans seem to be more readily obtainable than other points within our galaxy and also a lot lest costly with the state of modern physics. The oxygen is already there as is the water and that little difficulty with gravity does not have to be dealt with. But, that is ok because there are countless of other intricacies that would probably take a large set of books and many volumes to fully lay out. I will try to outline a few below and follow up with more articles specific to the individual areas. While I am no expert I will lay out some concerns and the city design will certainly require experts from all areas of expertise to devise the precise blueprints. It should be noted that most of the challenge is in building a high-tech platform upon which daily life can be much like the current one. After all, if one chose to ignore most of the luxuries of modern existence then getting started would not be too hard at all. In that case it would be much like surviving on a deserted island. Tents, Fire, source of food, water and you would be just about set.
Of course you have the general necessities like food and water. It may seem simple but where do all of these things come from? Do you grow crops like in the Biosphere experiments? Import food and water? Convert sea water to potable water? A seastead depending on outside food imports would be very vulnerable.
So one of the next most basic necessities would be living quarters. In that respect, at least in the initial iterations, the early seastead projects will probably most resemble the current cruise ship industry. In fact it is highly likely that the Blueseed project may turn out to be a recycled cruise liner for that purpose. There is probably going to be a tradeoff between comfort and economy. Engineers may decide that 1000 passengers or some other arbitrary number is the maximum limit and some will have better rooms than others. Perhaps suites for some of the higher ranking members or richer of the seastead community. One argument often heard by critics is that the tight conditions will be hard to deal with for long periods of time. After all, even cruise line voyages are only temporary for the traveling tourists and are often interrupted by frequent stops at ports of call. I reject that argument and posit that the spirit of those who would undertake to build and work on a seastead would allow for some compromise for the greater good. Ultimately, if the social experiment can be proved to work, then the more permanent designs could be manufactured and allow for urban sprawl on top of the waves.
One of the next most important items on the checklist would be finances and there are a variety of options for these maritime projects. The logistics can range from the most simplest barter system to mind boggling economic systems that are only fully understood by economists with upper level degrees. The best choice probably lies somewhere in between those two extremes. There have been discussions of everything from a safe full of gold and the return to a monetary system that is truly gold-backed as well as more modern solutions such as the Bitcoin P2P digital currency. There are advantages and disadvantage and deep thought must be put into the process. However, initial shipsteading will be an incremental series of advancements and will most likely begin with the utilization of the neighboring country's currency or at least an existing country's. So in the case of the Silicon Valley extension of Blueseed that would probably mean paychecks with the good old American dollar. Although, I hope serious consideration is given to different routes. Furthermore, it should not just be a bunch of rich CEOs taking their money out of the bank to go live somewhere else. The system would do better to develop a sustainable economy based on businesses. That has been the problem of some seasteading attempts of the past and is an area where Blueseed may indeed have the upper hand. There is a lot of business genius going into that project and it will be furthered by the locating of start-ups and entrepreneurs looking to be close but not too close to the USA. A visa free zone will be developed where companies are fostered and hopefully will be able to create an ecosystem like none other seen before.
There are medical concerns to be handled. Sure you can have an onboard medical team with some doctors and staffs but what happens if a person suffers something serious that must be handled by a full scale hospital? Similar to the living arrangements, the initial voyages could choose to handle medical emergencies in much the same way the cruise ship industry does. But this does leave a lot of loopholes and open questions. If it is only required to have a passport to work on the seastead then will a person not holding citizenship or a visa be able to enter a country of convenience? Helicopters and the necessary landing pads can be designed into the renovated ships but the further out from land it becomes more of an issue for a seastead wanting to be sovereign but not able to maintain complete self-sufficiency.
Finally, one of the most important aspects that attracts libertarians and others to the whole idea of seasteading is the law or lack of. What exactly are seasteaders looking to remove themselves from? Blueseed is based upon the idea of eliminating restrictions for great minds to enter the marketplace. Disposing of visas is a handy, if not clever, way of going about that. But then what of drugs? Are would-be citizens looking for places to exercise their right to use any substance they desire? For some it would be nice to smoke marijuana but how far does it go? Complete legalization? Prostitution? Murder? It is precisely this "blank slate" that attracts the activists who want to experiment with writing new constitutions and remaking the laws to the satisfaction of the population who will actually participate in the process. There would need to be methods of holding court and finding someone guilty. Then punishments. Deportation? Burial at sea? The seriousness of all this will require advisers and think tanks with deep experience in international maritime law and other pertinent arenas. There is also the issue of security from outside forces. Would the seastead maintain an army? What about pirates?
In conclusion, there are of course many more difficulties in undertaking a seastead enterprise but the idea of itself is one I find fascinating and one that I could get fully behind. I hope that the innovators behind the next seastead projects are able to pull these things off in big ways and forge a path for future endeavors.
Floating Futuristic Platforms
Links To Seasteading Resources
The first commercial seastead coming out of the work of the Seasteading Institute. Projected to open 2013.
- Burning Man
Burning Man is not a seastead but is a veritable study in temporary community and a festival for the underground and hacker culture.
- Seasteading Institute
An authority on seasteading with a great community forum for delving into discussions