Beyond the Sea

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

J.D. Tuccille of Reason.com has rounded up the latest denunciations of seasteading — the concept of autonomous man-made islands:

Criticism of seasteading now takes on an oddly strident tone, and from unusual sources.

A week after reporting on DeltaSync’s Seasteading Implementation Plan, Global Construction Review, an online publication of Britain’s Chartered Institute of Building, ran an attack on the idea as an abandonment of social responsibility. The publication’s editor, Rod Sweet, took time away from the business of covering engineering and construction to “to lay bare the motivation behind the movement—the libertarian urge for the freedom to profit without having to contribute to the social conditions that make profit possible.”

In recent years there’s been a trend toward attacking Information-Age developments based not on the deficiencies of the technology or issues but rather on the perception that said plans are libertarian schemes to avoid taxes. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies? Libertarian criminality. Secession — not from the US, but into smaller, more responsive state or municipal bodies? Perfidious libertarian tax evasion. Seasteading? A misguided dream by “adherents of ‘libertarianism,’ that peculiarly American philosophy of venal petty-bourgeois dissidence.” This last written by none other than China Mieville, the Marxist don who moonlights as a successful science-fiction writer.

Any news story about seasteading invariably descends into Rapture jokes in the comments but there’s nothing inherently libertarian about man-made islands. You could just as easily use the technology for a floating kibbutz as for an art-deco Galt’s Gulch. Even one of seasteading’s major advocates has said, “We can’t build libertopia … Whatever we build will have to have security forces who will bust in your door if they think you’re designing nuclear weapons or funding terrorism.”

Regardless of seasteading’s practicality (while cautiously intrigued, I have several unanswered questions about it myself), it is disturbing that scientific futurism is met so reactionarily — especially by readers and writers of speculative fiction (to see examples by readers, check out the comments sections of any io9 article on these subjects). Setting aside the questions of when and why did libertarians become bogeymen to the left (Radley Balko keeps a list), what the hell happened to sci-fi? Are Martian colonies not dismissed as libertarian conspiracies because they are decades away while Bitcoin, etc. are happening now or very soon? When did imagining a better world of tomorrow go from Heinlein to thought-crime? After all, the first proponent of oceanic utopianism was the 19th-century hero of the left, Jules Verne, who inspired those seeking an escape from the -isms of capital and czar:

“Also,” [Nemo] added, “true existence is there; and I can imagine the foundations of nautical towns, clusters of submarine houses, which, like the Nautilus, would ascend every morning to breathe at the surface of the water — free towns, independent cities.”

I think it’s more likely that, in the words of another 19th-century author, these same writers and readers, so eager to throw out the old idols, have sworn loyalty to another, and to turn your back on it is heresy.

Or maybe it’s simply because misery loves company.

From the Halls of Massapequa to the Shores of Port Jeff

Michael Trinklein, author of the book currently topping my Amazon queue, says the scheme for Long Island to break from New York has legs:

Seceding from the nation is illegal and, practically speaking, impossible. But seceding from a state to form a new state is allowed by the U.S. Constitution — and the specifications are straightforward. Article IV Section 3 says a proposal first needs to get the approval of the existing state legislature. Dozens of plans have been debated in statehouses over the years, and in a handful of cases, legislatures have passed measures to split their states. In 1819, for example, the Massachusetts legislature voted to release its northern district — unconnected to the rest of the state — to become the new state of Maine.

Trinklein goes on to argue that potentially liberal new states — likely to send more Democrats to Washington — need to pair themselves with conservative secession attempts elsewhere to encourage bipartisan Congressional approval. That’s reminiscent of state-making efforts early in our country’s history, when the southern states agitated for the creation of Kentucky and Tennessee to balance the addition of abolitionist Vermont.

Trinklein’s essay in the WSJ here. Me on Lawng Island secession here.

Lost States has a bonus backstory further endearing it to my heart: the original edition was self-published. Yet more disproof of the corporate lie that self-publishing is harmful to a writer’s career.

Jonesing for Something

At the risk of turning this into a one-note blog, I refer you to this book review in the WSJ about another alleged secession effort:

Such is the legend of what became known as the “Free State of Jones,” a county deep in Mississippi’s piney woods. The area was one of many pockets in the state where dissatisfaction with the Confederacy boiled for much of the war, but only Jones County was elevated by folklore, ­especially in the decades after the war, into a scene of noble rebellion.

Reviewer Michael Ballard, a Civil War historian, gives The State of Jones a mixed opinion, asserting Jones County wasn’t so much an independent state with an organized government as it was a rag-tag concentration of Confederate deserters.

But it begs the question: Why are American autonomy movements in the news so much? Apparently in a world of recession, socialized industry, central planning, and overreaching presidencies, secessionism is hot.

Give Me Armband Tattoos or Give Me Death

During a visit to Long Island last weekend, my in-laws were grousing about their high taxes and the proposal to make it easier to dissolve villages, which would reduce local control. My brother-in-law argued Nassau and Suffolk counties should secede from New York and become their own state.

Apparently he isn’t alone:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Long Island Wants to Secede
thedailyshow.com

As someone who went to school upstate, worked in NYC, and married a Long Island girl, I’ve always found New York’s personality to be apples and oranges and bananas. For one or more of those selves to break away isn’t as crazy as it might seem.

Though it may not matter in the end. I think my in-laws are moving to Florida.

More 51st-state talk here.

But Will There Be Zeppelins?

The WSJ‘s Weekend Journal has a cover story on modern American secessionist movements. Unlike most press on the matter, writer Paul Starobin posits economics rather than politics or cultural differences may drive a hypothetical devolution of the Union:

[George F. Kennan’s] spirit, the spirit of an anti-federalist modernist, can be glimpsed in an intriguing “mega-region” initiative encompassing greater San Diego County, next-door Imperial County and, to the immediate south of the U.S. border, Northern Baja, Mexico. Elected officials representing all three participating areas recently unveiled “Cali Baja, a Bi-National Mega-Region,” as the “international marketing brand” for the project.

The idea is to create a global economic powerhouse by combining San Diego’s proven abilities in scientific research and development with Imperial County’s abundance of inexpensive land and availability of water rights and Northern Baja’s manufacturing base, low labor costs and ability to supply the San Diego area with electricity during peak-use terms.

Cali Baja has no intention of seceding; the point is, necessity is the mother of state-building.

Image courtesy of WizKids Games. And if you don’t understand it, then you haven’t been playing the right video games.