Peter Thiel responds to Folk Activism

Peter Thiel, the founder of Paypal and the major donor behind Seasteading, responds to Patri Friedman’s article on “Folk Activism” (See here).

It’s always reassuring to find yourself in good company, and in Thiel’s response, he hits on the three frontiers I blogged about back on Freedom is Found at the Frontier. Yeah, it’s not like it’s hard to figure out where there’s no government, but then again, not many people are pointing this out, so I’m going to take this opportunity to pat myself on the back.

Now that I’ve done that, there’s one frontier that isn’t being talked about, and that is the frontier of day-to-day life that transpires outside the purveyance of Big Brother. Indeed, that is most of our lives, so this frontier is immensely important. Indeed, many, many people live most of their lives incredibly freely beyond the view of government. It should go without saying that one of the preeminent goals of any liberty-minded person would be to advance ways to expand this frontier and further shield life from government. And yeah, cyberspace can help do that, but we need more realspace solutions.

Day-to-day-life-steading?

(1) Cyberspace. As an entrepreneur and investor, I have focused my efforts on the Internet. In the late 1990s, the founding vision of PayPal centered on the creation of a new world currency, free from all government control and dilution — the end of monetary sovereignty, as it were. In the 2000s, companies like Facebook create the space for new modes of dissent and new ways to form communities not bounded by historical nation-states. By starting a new Internet business, an entrepreneur may create a new world. The hope of the Internet is that these new worlds will impact and force change on the existing social and political order. The limitation of the Internet is that these new worlds are virtual and that any escape may be more imaginary than real. The open question, which will not be resolved for many years, centers on which of these accounts of the Internet proves true.

(2) Outer space. Because the vast reaches of outer space represent a limitless frontier, they also represent a limitless possibility for escape from world politics. But the final frontier still has a barrier to entry: Rocket technologies have seen only modest advances since the 1960s, so that outer space still remains almost impossibly far away. We must redouble the efforts to commercialize space, but we also must be realistic about the time horizons involved. The libertarian future of classic science fiction, à la Heinlein, will not happen before the second half of the 21st century.

(3) Seasteading. Between cyberspace and outer space lies the possibility of settling the oceans. To my mind, the questions about whether people will live there (answer: enough will) are secondary to the questions about whether seasteading technology is imminent. From my vantage point, the technology involved is more tentative than the Internet, but much more realistic than space travel. We may have reached the stage at which it is economically feasible, or where it soon will be feasible. It is a realistic risk, and for this reason I eagerly support this initiative.

Freedom is Found at the Frontier

SFS Interior
photo credit: patrissimo

I’ve heard it said that the success of the creation of the United States was due in part to the American society being founded on a frontier. Of course the Native Americans were already in North America when the “white man” showed up, but the land was sufficiently “up for grabs” for some element of force and technology to overtake “we were here first.” How that unfolded is unfortunate, but I believe generally moot.

The overarching nature of North America was a place without property rights or government. This frontier paved the way for the establishment of a new form of government, a Constitution, and the United States.

Today, what is left unclaimed? Where are the frontiers? How can we experiment with new forms of government if we have no more frontiers left? I think Patri Friedman has enumerated this problem: lack of competition due to both a lack of options (frontiers) and high transaction costs to changing governments means society stagnates within archaic, increasingly bloated and controlling bureaucracies. We need a lot more frontiers if we want to see alternatives to the status quo. However, all the land save the uninhabitable Antarctica has been claimed, so where can we find any frontier, much less the needed abundance to really see a plethora of options take form? And of the options available, which are actually likely to take form? After all, putting “practicality aside” is easier said than done.

Revolting against current regimes can create a frontier of sorts, but if history is any guide (a poor guide), post-revolution governments (again U.S. being excepted for various reasons) don’t tend to be much better than the one’s they replace. Out with the old boss in with the new boss. To some extent, the New Hampshire Free State Project is taking this approach. I wish those liberty-minded folk the best of luck.

Another solution to the shortage of frontier is to go to the oceans. The oceans make up a huge amount of “unclaimed” frontier. Sure, they are water and not land — slight problem. But there is an ounce of historical precedent to support new sovereign nations at sea: see Sealand. This solution to the frontier-problem is what the Seasteading Institute is pursuing. I’m lending my support to TSI however I can, and I wish Patri the best.

Assuming mankind doesn’t blow itself up and we eventually learn to cheaply blaze a trail through the universe, space truly will be the “final frontier” (Save transdimensional pioneering). There are untold millions of planets out there that are just waiting for bungalows and Wal-Marts. Human existence in space could look something like Firefly or perhaps a new frontier is made from the Moon a la Robert Heinlein. Homesteading space just presents a few teeny logistical hurdles.

So where does that leave us?

What about the Internet? Even having advanced radically over the past two decades or so the Internet is still very much a wild west. Could the Internet be the frontier we have available right now to secure increased human freedom?

The logistical problems are fairly obvious, of course. The internet is virtual and as much as our lives become digitized, we still have to eat and live in real space. However, the government can’t tax what it doesn’t know you have. Encryption creates frontier by obscuring information from the taxman. Further, there’s a natural progression that increases the likelihood we move more of our lives beyond the purveyance of Big Brother: as governments make our existence in real space more onerous, there will be ever-increasing incentives to take life to cyberspace, encrypt it, and thereby restore freedom. For practicality purposes, this may be the best option we have for at least increasing our freedom in the near term. To some extent, it is already happening (i.e. see The Pirate Bay’s fight against the RIAA and MPAA).

The frontier problem is real, but human ingenuity is vast. Are there other frontiers out there worth pursuing? Freedom where art thou?

Strange dream coincidence (Huge moon)

I’m not very good at remembering my dreams. And even when I do remember my dreams, I usually don’t tell them to others or write about them. This isn’t because I think dreams are meant to be private, rather I just doubt anyone would find the random musings of my subconscious mind interesting.

So bear with me.

You may have noticed recently two bright spots in the sky — they are Venus and Jupiter. I’ve enjoyed seeing them floating out there, reminding me how vast our own solar system is.

For some reason, last night I dreamed that Venus was looming huge in the night sky — visible like the moon, but even bigger, maybe even 5 – 10x the size of the moon. It was a bit frightening (seemed awfully apocalyptic to see a planet so close to the earth) even as I justified its nearness in my dream by thinking, “It’s just in a closer orbit — totally normal.”

The punchline is that tonight the moon will be just about as close to the Earth as it ever gets in its orbit. Here’s an article on the event:

On 12 December, the Moon will enter its full phase, when its disc appears completely illuminated by the Sun, just four hours after reaching its closest point to Earth. This will make it 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full Moons in 2008, though the difference will be hard to distinguish by eye (see the difference in the full Moon’s size in 2004).

It will be eight years before the Moon appears so big again. “This evening’s Moon is not only the largest for 2008 but also during the period 1993-2016,” says Anthony Ayiomamitis, who lives in Greece.

Just a coincidence, it still struck me as odd.

Our minds are funny.