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.

Plum Opportunity

Plebeian crowds may yet swarm Plum Island — “America’s first line of defense against foreign animal diseases,” and, if you’re a conspiracy theorist, source of Lyme disease*:

The general public could someday get access to the 840-acre pork chop-shaped oasis now that the federal government is moving its animal disease research functions to a new lab in Manhattan, Kan. With a “For Sale” sign about to go up at Plum Island, the General Services Administration is seeking community input on what should be done with the property. A hearing was held Wednesday in Connecticut and another is scheduled for Thursday on Long Island.

Full story here. I realize the island has long been deemed a security threat due to its proximity to New York City and its airports, but I have to question if moving a laboratory researching animal diseases to the heart of the Midwest is sound.

Regardless, what’s shocking to me is the feds actually asked for input from the Constitution State. Opening Plum Island is a rare chance to create another Block Island, Shelter Island, or Fishers Island, and most tourists would enter via the same Cross Sound Ferry running out of New London to Orient Point. But I doubt Plum will be sold for private development; a more likely scenario is that it will be turned over to the Parks Service. At least then perhaps overnight camping would be available, something none of the aforementioned islands allow.

A New York congressman lowballs Plum Island at $50 to $80 million. Still, my guess is it will be at least a decade before the island is closed, cleaned, and pronounced suitable for civilians.

(*I’m not generally, though even I think it’s overly coincidental that Lyme disease, a vector-borne pathogen, appeared less than 20 miles north-northwest of a facility researching just those things.)