The Serious Intent Behind a Ridiculous Idea

Posted by Pete Shanks June 7, 2011
Biopolitical Times
An artist's rendition of seasteading

The San Francisco Chronicle last week ran an article on seasteading — the concept of building "a floating libertarian nation 12 miles off the coast of California." The piece is extremely funny, if your humor tends to the mordant, and the 425 comments are, by and large, a tribute to the good sense of the reading public. They tend to reference boyish fantasies, the violence of oceans, excrement and other wastes, the 200-mile economic zone, Waterworld and Neal Stephenson's dystopian Snow Crash.

Several commenters note that the venture capital Patri Friedman (Milton's grandson) claims to have raised is ludicrously small: "With his $2 mil in funding he can almost buy a houseboat in Sausalito." None, however, seem to notice that it represents cheap publicity for Peter Thiel's vision of a high-tech libertarian, and indeed transhumanist, future. Thiel, the PayPal-and-Facebook billionaire, accounts for three-quarters of the funding listed on the Seasteading Institute website.

Thiel has recently hit the headlines for his Fellowship, which is paying 24 young people to drop out of college. He has also helped to fund the Methuselah Foundation, which aims to extend the human lifespan indefinitely, and the Singularity Summit, which focuses on the "event horizon" beyond which technological development is thought to be unpredictable.

These various efforts are connected in their individualist approach to social issues. The sums involved are small for Thiel, but the cumulative effect is to bring extreme ideas into the mainstream. We need to respond with more than ridicule.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: